WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY EVAN BENALLY ATWOOD
Reclaiming ancestral knowledge has allowed photographer Evan Benally Atwood to explore their gender beyond colonization. For our latest issue, Atwood honors their family and femininity in the Diné tradition through a spirit-led relationship between themselves and their lens.
In Diné, nádleehí is a masculine-bodied feminine person. Reclaiming ancestral knowledge has allowed me to explore my own gender beyond colonization. I hold a balance of what I see as the beauty of femininity as well as the self-discipline of masculinity. Since my shimá (mother) told me that tears are powerful forms of prayer, I’ve let them flow when they come. For as long as I can remember, being with water has brought me balance. I see such beauty and resilience in how my shimá takes care of her people—she is a matriarch in my eyes. To honor the feminine looks like this. To honor traditional ways looks like this. To honor the spectrum of gender looks like this. Reclaiming Indigeneity looks like this. Just as Mother Earth replenishes the land with medicinal herbs, my shimá shares her wisdom through her words and actions.
Documenting such an intimate moment, my intention is there between me and my camera—it’s a spirit-led relationship. In an Indigenous way, it’s a mystery. Honoring the mystery is trusting the unknown. My vision for my shimá putting my hair into a tsiiyééł (traditional Diné bun) in the creek coincided with her dream the previous night of a former patient of hers, a Diné elder named Thomas who had recently passed, by a creek with his feet in the water. In this way, the spirits of our loved ones were not only with us during these moments but also guiding us.
As the water flows, the spirits of the land and our people wait for us to step into our purpose. To defend the mother of us all, the Earth. She who is exploited and raped from colonization and the patriarchy, begs us to stand up for her against the greed of capitalism. White supremacy brings terrorizing of the land and people. Through connection with the lands we inhabit, it’s time to focus on creating change in the ways we know how to—and to know that won’t look the same for each person. When we can unify together, from Indigenous solidarity to Black liberation, we are stronger against the violence enacted by the same oppressors.