qšiqšimuʔ, many stars, many olivella

Sarah Biscarra Dilley ts?iłini, 2020 stop motion animation Courtesy the artist
Sarah Biscarra Dilley
ts?iłini, 2020
stop motion animation. Courtesy the artist.

kʔimitʸɨ, we are far away.

tsʔiqɨʔ, the tides are low.

qšimuʔ, like many words in tɨnɨsmuʔ tiłhinktitʸu, explains a story rather than a fixed or singular vocabulary.[1] Olivella biplicata has a gorgeous shell, with colours that smoothly transition from stark white to milky lavender to rich honey golds, in combination or alone, along a softly curving spire. A being reflecting spiritual wealth and a symbol of exchange from our homelands spanning mountain ranges east to nitspu nakota ktitʸu, south well beyond recently imagined lines of occupying nations, and along margins of the sea north to nitspu unangan ktitʸu, qšimuʔ grounds yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini in a vast network of relation.[2] yakʔitɨnɨsmuʔ wa yakʔitotomol, which echo the cadence, vocabulary, and sewn-planks of many other nations, extend these connections well across łpasini, the one ocean.[3]








                        c o n s t e l l a t i o n s


Most of my family is living in diaspora from our homelands due to dispossession: matriarchal lands now submerged by dammed rivers once glistening with rainbow trout, enclosed with barbed wire to herd the cattle that replaced us, or mediated entirely by military bases and removal to private collections.[4] Though privileged to be a visitor at xučyun nitspu chochenyo ktitʸu, within the range of extended neighbours, cousins, and kin, I make the four‑hour drive regularly to watch freshwater bloom in saltwater tides and gather along beaches our family has had since time immemorial. We have always been well-travelled people.


that tether us


to the spring


                            of who


                     we are

qšimuʔ also situates us within the mirror of the sky. The word is also used to describe stars, each relation an anchor in constellations of movement, navigation, shifting tides, and shared ceremony. Indeed, it is this movement that iterates across waters and continents that brings me to this place again and again. Epeli Hauʻofa explained in Our Sea of Islands that the “once boundless world” was transformed into a mythology of confinement. This extends to the edges of what is designated as “Pacific,” or “Atlantic,” “Caribbean,” “Arctic,” or otherwise—in yakʔitɨnɨsmuʔ, as in many of our languages, we know it as one connected being. In all our rupture and resilience, some have forgotten about the full expanse of relatives on other shores. But like the tides that call multitudes of stars to the softly churning surf at tsɨtxala, yakitspułhitsʔišaʔ, our world is in continuous motion, wa yatsnatšaqinɨsmuʔ tsʔisaqwa yakʔikɨnitʸaninitspuspu, and this knowing makes our worlds whole.[5]

kʔitutyinaha, we are returning.

tsʔiłhini, the tides are full and high.


  1. ^ Renée Pualani Louis, author of Kanaka Hawaiʻi Cartography: Hula, Navigation, and Oratory offered this understanding of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi placenames in a conversation at University of California, Davis on 24 October 2019.
  2. ^ nitspu nakota ktityu (in the land/world of Nakota people) [Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan] ; nitspu unangan ktityu (in the land/world of Unangan people, Tanam Unangaa [Aleutian Islands, Alaska and Kamchatka Krai] ; yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini (the people of tiłhini, place of the full moon) [San Luis Obispo, California].
  3. ^ yakʔitɨnɨsmuʔ (our language) wa yakʔitotomol (and our tomols). Tomols are sewn redwood plank canoes used throughout the Santa Barbara Channels Islands and the southern stretch of Chumashan cultural areas in the Central Coast of California in smuwič (the language of Santa Barbara region) and mitsqanaqa’an (the language of Ventura region) speaking relations and cousins on Limu’w (Santa Cruz Island) and Wi’ma (Santa Rosa Island).
  4. ^ Namely, the dam on the Nacimiento River (tributary of the north-flowing Salinas River in Central California), Hearst Corporation, Camp Roberts National Guard Outpost, and the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at University of California, Berkeley.
  5. ^ tsɨtxala, place of the big red ants (Cayucos, California), one of the author’s home villages.

Sarah Biscarra Dilley is a yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini artist, educator, and PhD candidate in Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis, whose written and visual texts connect extractive industries, absent treaties, and enclosure to emphasise movement, continuity, sovereignty and relation.

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