The Desert has a Memory

A. Hemmers - Photo 2022

Ashley Hemmers

Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, Tribal Administrator

Ashley is an enrolled member of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, a Federally Recognized Indian Tribe, whose reservation spans the states of California, Arizona, & Nevada. She is the Tribal Administrator for her Nation with specialization in multi-state cross-jurisdictional development & management of Tribal economies and government. She holds over 15 years of experience in Tribal enterprising & operational development, with emphasis in sovereign fiscal & capital wealth strategies, Nevada gaming, and public service operations. Ashley holds a B.A. from Yale University, and a Graduate Certificate in Non-Profit Management & Masters of Public Administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She enjoys creating dialogue with Tribal Nations & federal/state partners, as well as sharing content that amplifies indigenous voices in the areas of business management, social policy, and climate action. Follow her on Instagram @tribalreclamation.






good morning everybody how are you guys


doing today




yeah so my name is Ashley hemmers


of Eco Manwich


so one of the things that I’m going to


do is share with you about the desert


and its memory


um I’m Mojave I’m from Avi Kwame which


is Spirit Mountain which is about 40


minutes south of here right in the


Desert Canyon that the the last speaker


was talking about I believe we have some


slides that are coming up right


and so I wanted to talk a little bit




um co-stewardship place and position


because when we think about Coast


stewardship we do the things that we


think about in terms of building


relationships with nature and building


relationships that can help us engage


and live with it


this this slide area shows where I’m


actually from it shows Avi Kwame


and it’s a large expansive place and for


Mojave people we believe we came from


that mountain and so for


people of the river we believe that we


were built out of the clay in the mud of


the Colorado River and that the


mountains and the animals and the


relatives were all here before us and so


the plants the birds the insects the


Scorpions The Gila monsters all of those


things are part of my natural landscape


my natural habitat and one of the things


that we do from a very young age for our


children is we teach them those things


when they’re small we teach them how


small they are in comparison of their


natural landscape of their natural being


and we share it through indigenous


ecological knowledge through shared


story so that when they grow they have


deeper conversations about what their


interaction with their environment means


and how that’s impacting everything we


have to live around and so I’m going to


take you down a little bit of


positionality in terms of what we what


we can think of when we think of the


history of the Mojave Desert there’s


three pictures here they’re kind of


small but we’re going to talk a little


bit about the vanishing Indian Sin City


and the Antiquities act so around the


turn of the 20th century there was this


notion called The Vanishing Indian there


were so many people moving into the


American southwest that


we didn’t know if mojave’s or other


people who look like me were going to be


around because of assimilation because


of interaction because of policies meant


to hurt my people because of policies


meant to remove my people those are


things that are part of American history


and so the first picture is a picture


from the Library of Congress from and


it’s entitled Musa which is Mojave girl


and it’s from a uh a very well-known


historical photographer of Native


Americans called Edward S Curtis and


when we think of the vanishing Southwest


and the vanishing natives of the




oftentimes this picture of the Mojave


girl is posted but one of the things


that we like to tell people or share


with our friends is that Musa


was actually an entrepreneur


she was a businesswoman the railroad is


close to where my Village is and so when


Edward S Curtis


um made his way to Mojave territory he


was looking for people who look like me


and at that time we did what we did what


we do now we go to coffee shops we go to


Railroad stations we have cell phones we


weren’t set aside into our Villages not


uh knowing that there were other folks


who were there so when we think of these


Indian territories we have to think of


them not as separatists but as engaged


ways of people interacting with one


another and building those relationships


and so for him


his his vision of capturing the Mojave


people is actually asking someone hey


would you dress up in your regalia would


you wear your regalia so I can take a


picture of you because at the beginning


of the 20th century it was a scare that


there would be no more mojave’s in the


way that we were living before then


fast forward 100 years and I’m still


here dressed as a Mobby living on my


homelands right so people don’t really


know too much right


needless to say that second picture is


very instrumental for Las Vegas because


that’s a picture of the Fremont depot


which is the railroad station a couple


blocks from here so when we think about


the place and the position of the desert


there were people migrating into the


desert 100 years ago 150 years ago and


we were having these same discussions


about the vanishing Indian in the


environment and what Revolution or


Industrial Revolution or technology was


going to do with it


the the final picture there is of


President Theodore Roosevelt who signed


the Antiquities act has anyone ever


heard of the Antiquities act probably in


like eighth grade government right


and what the Antiquities act did was


that it allowed the federal government


to protect large Parcels of public land


for public trust and that’s something


very familiar with Indian communities


because when we made our negotiations


with the federal government when we


became government to government


um when we built our government to


government relationship with the federal


government the federal government told


us that hey we will put these lands in




as part of the United States and we will


protect them in the way so that we can


keep them stable for the whole country


right and so for us we’re like okay cool


they’re in trust we’re still going to


have this conversation and so the


Antiquities act came about because those


public trust lands were then looked at


as a place for easily establishing


development in what looks like


non-existent parent land right hey


government can I put something here to


help develop a railroad to help develop


technology to help develop energy and so


in this conversation of the vanishing




Sin City coming to be and also the


Antiquities act what ended up happening


was that


through that Act Congress said well wait


a minute before we start releasing all


of these lands right not having a


conversation like hey we made we made


agreements with tribal governments but


before we start releasing all these


lands for development maybe we need to


protect those that have a cultural or a


scientific or a physical


or physically special to what it is that


is America


and so this Joshua tree is the largest


Joshua Tree in the state of Nevada


and it is located only 30 minutes south


of where we are right here now Joshua


trees take two to three inches of water


a year


this Joshua tree is 24 feet high so it’s


a two-story Joshua Tree


28 feet wide


and so from what we can understand about


this Joshua tree is that it’s around 96


to 150 years old


and when we think about how


we protect things like this we use it


with the Antiquities Act is it cultural


for me as a Mojave woman that’s medicine


to me


we teach our children how to use its


roots so that they can heal it provides


a shade and culturally we have stories


about the resilience it takes to live in


the desert


32 species of birds live in the Joshua


tree from our stories 32 birds all at


once and so when we think about the


cultural significance yes there’s a


cultural significance when we think


about the scientific significance how


did a Joshua tree live for 150 years and


one of the most drought-ridden areas in


the American southwest and be


undiscovered until 2020


right so when we think about the memory


of the desert the desert has so many


secrets and when you are building a


relationship with the desert it allows


you to build that memory with it because


our short period of time is this small


in comparison to everything else that


the desert protects


a Joshua tree is one of the younger


trees in the Mojave Basin mesquites can


grow even older Willow Cottonwood they


all build there and so when you think


about people people’s time frame within


that environment are very small and


that’s what we teach our little guys


when they’re growing up so we tell them


when you walk with the land know that


you’re only a visitor because people or


our relatives are Joshua Tree relatives


are going to be here much longer than




so think about the responsibility that


you have


to help them continue their Journey with


the desert when you are long gone when


your children are here when your


grandchildren are here


now the third aspect of the Antiquities


act because we hit culture we hit


science is physicality right the




can we use this act to protect a 150


year old tree you know for for many


people you know when they look at a tree


they’re like well we’ll just grow


another one yeah in 150 years on two and


three inches of water that’s pretty hard


to do right and so what we know as


indigenous knowledge and some people


call you know aspects of its science is


that people we can move right we can use


our arms and our legs to move away from


all of the things that don’t necessarily


have to harm people


and for indigenous communities who have


been found to have been Protectors of 80


percent of the remaining world’s


biodiversity 80 percent in the world are


protected by indigenous cultures and


peoples like


minecuff people of the river people who


understand not why they know that the


river is important but people who have


stories and history that remind us that


we are younger siblings of that river


that we are caretakers of that River and


that we have a responsibility and you


might feel a calling towards that you


might feel a calling towards that when


you come to my homelands and go into the


canyons and visit the Grand Canyon visit


the Havasupai in the Hualapai who


continue to live there in an indigenous


way and then come South through the


canyon through Black Mountain who


continue to to Steward that land to have


the relationship with that land and the


easiest way that I can help explain that


is for a parent to a child that’s what


stewarding is not that we are the parent


but that the Earth is our parent it


gives us life without water we don’t


have life without the sun we don’t have




these are realistic tangible things in


indigenous mindsets that still continue


to be taught in my homelands throughout


and this is why I’m here sharing it with




so I wanted to give you a little


framework because when I’m not taking


pictures of Joshua trees I am a policy


provider and Advocate and I also work


with my nation to help continue these


conversations with the federal


government because one of the things we


know about American society is that we


grow at a rapid rate and so sometimes we


forget those agreements that we’ve made


with governments like mine and we forget


the responsibility that those agreements


hold for protecting the things that we


all can hold and Trust together and so I


call it leading with Merit and the first


part is identifying where you fit in it


me where am I do I have good medicine am


I walking in a good way do I know my


environment do I know where I’m living


do I know the resources I use do I know


how I got here do I know who lived here


also do I know if that is you know


sacred land if it’s not sacred land if


it’s common use these are things that


that we have to think about if we’re


going to lead with Merit the second part


of that Target is to reclaim all right


so sometimes when we have dialogues


about the environment it becomes so big


that it’s like what am I supposed to do


to help this situation I don’t take a


straw right all that’s that’s my I won’t


do that or I’ll recycle I’ll do that but


you have to remember that even though


America is so big it’s also based on the


premise of that individual and so when


you reclaim your voice in that then you


can ask your leaders what they think


about protecting these spaces are they


protecting spaces with cultural physical


or scientific


necessity are they interested in that do


they know about these things that’s how


we can engage together and when we start


to reclaim that process then guess what


leaders who are responsible for looking


at policy


who are responsible for leading to


overcome something when you’re driven


with a goal you’re often tunnel vision


right you’re often thinking how do I get


to that next step but for people who are


working in an indigenous mindset you


have to slow that down and open not only


to think about how I’m getting to that


goal but how that goal is affecting and


impact the people that I live with how


is it impacting the people that rely on


the land that we’re using and how is it


impacting the people or the animals the


plants the birds how is it impacting


them all right


and when we get there it becomes less of


a this or that and more of a how do we


do this and that’s why we’re here having


events like this because we’re talking


and we’re sharing about how we do that


and one of the ways that we can is


through impacts by asking leaders to


think about how they’re reclaiming their


place and their responsibility with


those older agreements to protect this


land and to Steward it alongside one




as a Mojave woman I know that America is


not going anywhere


all right we made agreements with




made agreements with us


and so now we have to move beyond that


and talk about how we’re going to make


those agreements work


and that’s when we get to transform when


we finally reclaim our place in the


process when we talk about how our


actions impact our everything around us


and our environments in our communities


then we can have transformative


conversation of whether or not this is


the right thing to do whether or not


we’re going to be able to come together


and protect it together


and then we will finally be able to have


that conversation of whether or not


we’re a true friend of the desert this


picture was put in the LA Times I love


this picture and it was recently posted


in 2022 but is a place called Avi Kwame


it’s a sacred place to my people my


people believe that we came from this


mountain but the picture doesn’t just


depict Mojave leaders or Mojave women


it’s a picture of an ecologist of a


Mojave of a cultural preservationist of


a policy leader of an athlete of an


intern of a volunteer and of media and


so if we can come together around this


space then the desert might remember us


as friends


and if we live in a meritorious way and


understand our place and position with


our environment then we can Coast


Steward it together


thank you so much for your time today I


really appreciate it