Uhm ha’gah-vun’dum, Where are you from?
By Fawn Douglas
I remember the late ‘80s in Las Vegas. The city of Las Vegas was growing, and we walked in areas that were on the edge of development. We walked through the dirt side of Craig Road, near the old Craig Ranch in North Las Vegas. I am with my grandmother with our empty plastic bags in hand from the grocery store. Cars honk at us as they speed by. I feel embarrassed, roll my eyes, “Gramma! Why do we have to be here?” Kicking rocks and just being a brat.
Grandma gives me “the look,” and I get back to work. My finger nails stained green from snipping the tops off the wild spinach. “This is where the tumud grows, that’s why we’re here,” she says. The faster I picked, the faster I figured we could leave.
She had picked wild spinach there since she was a young girl, as our ancestors had done before her. There is nothing left of the tumud in that area today. Our foraging area is now filled with stucco homes and commercial centers.
Fast forward to today: It’s the season for gathering spinach. The warm air and cool breeze are a reminder of the season. I go out to (place undisclosed) and am delighted to see the baby spinach leaves starting to grow. Just a few more weeks and I can harvest. I picked just a handful to process. I am careful to leave enough growth for the desert tortoise to feast on. The tortoise shelters are near the tumud and when they come out of their homes, they will have an abundance of food for their desert family. Only the taller leaves are for our harvest.
I think about the return of traditions and how long I have been away from my culture. Present yet absent. So goes the dilemma of identity for many “Urban Indians.” The knowledge is always there, it’s just hard to hear past our own thoughts in a busy city. Letting colonization cover my ears to Indigenous knowledge. My hands over my own ears. “Why do we have to be here?”
How do I fix this? I needed a more productive use for my hands. Put a paint brush in it. Hold a pencil. Get the grit of charcoal in my grasp. Tell the story. I paint and am inspired by the cultural landscape around me. Inspired by our food ways. The more I paint, the more I learn about myself.
My grandmother’s ways are not lost, just dormant. With each brush stroke I tell a story. With every tumud that grows in our southern Nevada desert, I am reminded that there is hope. It is still here. We are still here. Our cultural preservation and traditions will be passed on to the next generation. In this new time, in a new tumud growth area, my daughter gives me a look of boredom as she harvests with me. “Why do we have to be here?”
Fawn Douglas is a Southern Paiute Artist. Cultural preservation and conservation work drives her passion in the arts and education. Art, culture, identity, activism, education, community, and place, all play a role in her work. She was the 2018 NPR Artist in Residence and teaches American Indian- Indigenous Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She created the award artwork for the 2019 Nevada Humanities Awards, The Children Will Lead Them.