~ Sheri Watson

Trauma is in the air. It hangs like the yellow acrid

smoke carrying human ashes and animal ashes

and tree people ashes and grass people ashes

from the burn area in the hills down into the death

valleys below and onward out to the Bay area also

surrounded by so many spirits. I feel the trauma

and the dead shock hit me as the days go on and

on without any sign of rain without any sign of a

break in the simply beyond painful burning of the land. 

Nothing has happened to me... nothing has happened to any of my friends or my family. Nothing has happened to anyone I know.  I have not been in the fire area; I have not seen the animals first hand nor have I met any survivors of the two legged kind.  But somehow the drama and the dead and wounded....emotionally and physically... around me....infiltrate through the cracks of stability and normalcy like acid fingers triggering emotions I have not felt before. I feel this so much in my spirit;  there is immense pain. For the first week I felt it was another fire... just 'another' fire.  But in the next week the sense of it all sunk in. The destruction made no sense yet the sense of it descended upon me even after the smoke cleared. As I said I have never felt these feelings before so strongly. I knew what was coming next: the sense of hopelessness as the survivors realize there’s no place to call home. There’s nowhere to go "HOME".  And, 'How do we begin again?'  How do we transition?  

I know-- the end of the chapter is a long way off. It will take years for the traumatic devastation of their lives to even begin to heal just a little bit. I sit here with tears in my eyes and a catch in my throat as I recount this unimaginable creation of Destruction as I read the stories of heroes, survivors, and likewise of the four legged. I know that following the hopelessness is the hard work of:   going through the red tape to get any funding.... to get any housing... to get any benefits long term.... to deal with the insurance companies....FEMA...and not least... dealing with the pain of looking for their pets and for their relatives and for any remnants left in the ashes. I have been through a fire in a house but not like this. I have been homeless but not to the traumatic dead shock PTSD will filter through them for the rest of their lives. This is living at it’s most difficult.

I had a neighbor friend who was homeless staying with me for 3 days. During the time of the fire. It was during the time of days of really bad fire smoke.  He was living in his car.   I had him come and stay in my second bedroom. He had been homeless since November 1st. He’d come by a few days before and I had offered him a cup of tea and some company and indoor time. It had been about 16 days of homelessness. He lost his apartment due to a lease non-renewal. The day had come when he found himself living in his car. It is a huge period of loss going from one home to nothing, losing all your possessions in the meantime and having all you own either on your back or in your car. It was tough for him.  He had been taken care of for many years. He was not used to functioning at the level of rules of other people and living around a bunch of other people in a shelter situation. It was not like him to go fill out paperwork and get in the system of care. He needed a doctor; he needed Psych Care; he needed food and shelter. It was a huge adjustment for him.

Trauma can come fast or slow.  There are those who have been through death and unimaginable destruction in a Flash in a matter of hours.  Then others see it coming and are paralyzed by disbelief and perhaps...perhaps denial. Trauma happens in either and any case.  Recovery is agonizing and slow.

As I sit here thinking about the way I felt about this fire for the very first time in my life, I wondered what Wounded Knee...Sand Creek....Standing Rock..... must feel for my fellow native people who have lived with the trauma and dead shock for years from of all the horrible consequences of Europeans coming to this country. It is the day after quote Thanksgiving unquote and I think about the winter coming for so many people.  That it is going to be difficult and cold and deadly. This is a different kind of firestorm of  dead shock and Trauma. It is constant in ideology and worse in winter....always renewing day after day...year after year.  Protection action after protection action. And ceremony after ceremony.

Recently my friend Gray Wolf went to Alcatraz to the sunrise ceremony on the national day of native Mourning.  I wish I could have gone but I honor those who did go to this necessary and honorable ceremony.  A stronghold was built there that morning and it was wonderful. These many ceremonies across the Nation recount to us to remember our past and remind us of Who We Are...then and now. 

I cannot pretend to understand the pain that my fellow native people have carried and buried and altered their genes with. Even having gone to Sacred Stone where I preceded all the violence and action against the water protectors, I could not feel the way I did about the fire told of earlier. Sacred Stone did not carry for me the pain. Probably because I was in the wrong camp but I had come to pray and did not know there were front lines. It was my first action. I will never forget it. It leaves traces of its own within me. But I can never feel what Wounded Knee....Sand Creek... Standing Rock... and so many other tragically unneeded and ignorant killings of life and/or action and/or spirit left behind in traumatizing the generations after.

In the trauma of the native people, tgeneratie, anger, and bewilderment against and about the colonial establishment and  government is constant.  The frustration from civilians who perpetuate the ignorance of the violence to the denouncement of our natural native cultures and ways...repeating people’s hate upon hate, is flabbergasting. 

These aspects I have mostly missed except from what little I have gleaned from history and the feelings of native people I have met.  To deliver infliction of this kind of trauma and dead shock upon another people has a level of inhumane reasoning and lack of compassion to it that is unbelievable. A fire is arbitrary unless set by someone on purpose. But genocide has reckoning behind; it has foresight. It has implementation and it has the lack of guilt. Lack of regret....lack of remorse.

I’m left with comparing oranges to apples but in the end the harm of the fire has brought to me so much pain about human beings. I need to find a place to go, to sit, and reflect upon the scarring of all people and the land that absorbs, but particularly my roots which have suffered so much from the genocide and subjugation. 

I relate to the trauma of the fire survivors through of my own life experiences.  I relate to my friend who now is homeless as I have been homeless. And I reach out within my heart and spirit to understand the great pain inflicted upon my people. It’s all related as it resounds through places in me and hundreds of thousands of other people. 


It finally rained to dampen the fires...and my friend went to a shelter and began the programs... and I understood that I was native and white and would never know the suppression of my people but that I could fight against any more trauma done to them. To US. There is power out of pain. And there is resonance out of both.