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Yeechesh Cha’alk (A Woman’s Heart) by Dr. Alexandria Hunter and Eva Trujillo


When this project presented itself to us, we knew it was important to incorporate elements of our culture. It was a natural choice to share the life of Sinyahow, the first woman, and the essence of what she brings to Kumeyaay women. Her story is our story, and the events of her life have shaped ceremonies, oral traditions, and cultural lifeways of the Kumeyaay people. This poem is in honor of her and all Kumeyaay women, as it is important to see her through our eyes, the land, the sky, and the animals.

Colonization has played a part in diminishing many native women’s’ voices, the attempts to silence them have only raised the voices of the brave. It is important to remember that, long before colonization touched these shores, a powerful female form brought together the earth and sky to bring her two sons into existence, who then created the world. She graces this earth today and walks with us.

Yeechesh Cha’alk

We were born of her yas, created from the lands that intersect with her deep haslith. Sacred are the ha from where we came. We were drawn from the haslith, beyond to her mountains and deserts that always uusáwa our nya'warr spirits. Sacred is the mut here, from where we came. She calls to me from the ewik, her voice is the wild eeyipe that brushes past my maat and whips my Helmu naap around. Sacred are the eeyipe. I will wamp the same path to her, for my feet and maathow know the way, just as the ancestors before me. Sacred are the kwamayheeye. When I find her in the wii uuha, she will speak of the strength and uuyaw kwa'taay for myhashaan and I will descend into the kwellhup, for I am not alone there. 'Iikuuych apesiiw are our myhashaan.

My ahwat is sacred. The shla newh shows me my power and know it is time to honor my space. ‘ehmaat is sacred, just as the land. I wear the wreaths the ancestors wore around my head, shally and mil to guide me through. My maathow burns bright and strong. ‘Ehchaa. The sacred sand paintings kahnop.

I can hear the cha’alk singing and moving like the beautiful ashaa, the sacred humpachoka and mesh ha leeapa, their melodies of flutter wail for me down there. 'Iikuuych apesiiw are our songs, they have healed many. I can smell the sweet peltye and topsch burning over the wii ‘iipat, glowing under the moonlight covered in my rabbit-skin blanket. With sweat at my brow, I will lay in the kwelhup and malay there. Sacred is her medicine. I gaze up at the kwashlop as they are our watchers. I am honored by their wisdom. When I emerge, the ‘elmum is left behind and the new one shall lead, for I now have the marks of a cha’alk on my chin and body. 'Iikuuych apesiiw are our cha’alk.

She is kwahmay, she is ‘elmum, she is ‘eshashches, viewed in all forms, from the beginning of time. Great-grandmother Sinyahow, hear me chio to you, fill my lungs just as you did for my ancestors. Great-grandmother Sinyahow, see me eema for you, bless the earth below my feet, for they have danced here before. Sacred is the land, one of the first ancestors. Great-grandmother Sinyahow, know that this is done in your honor, for I haven’t forgotten you.

May your sunshine down upon my skin, for it is good medicine. May I harvest plants under your full moon in a ahun way, they remember the gathering songs as I do. With great care, I place my hand and forehead on the halasii. I ask permission to take for my sheyoulth, her maathow is within it.

I’m guided by the sacred presence of ahwat and nyilth’ and the awii who helped us all. The hasilth draws me in as the eshpunk sing their song in greeting with a graceful display of eema. I gather here just as the cha’alk did before me. I koolasow my yeechesh, maat and maathow dipped in her ha as my wet hilltah shines in the warm enya. My maat is adorned with hayak, beads and sacred ack, gifts from the hasilth and the old ones.

I raise my arms with offerings to you, my tumuul filled with sacred ha and the wild oop, for I know to give back to you. Sacred is the ha, my nyapume kwi. I sing to the land as she restores my weary maat, tired mind and dim spirit. Again, I will stand supur and think quick as my ah-ow burns bright inside overflowing with uuway. I know now. Myha, always remind me of the journeys my people wamp and root the cha’alk songs in my memory for they show us the direction. I remember. Enya yeechesh eeyay ahun, as peace washes over me. To be a wah I choose freely. To be a cha’alk, I choose me. Please watch over me as I bow my shamoo in honor and eeyay ahun. Myha watches over all. Blessings to the hechane sin, the el mum sin, the cha’alk, she is all of us.

Author Bios

Dr. Alexandria Hunter

Dr. Alexandria Hunter (Kumeyaay/Rincon Luiseño) is an enrolled member from Jamul Indian village. She is a graduate of the Joint Doctoral Program (JDP) at UCSD. Through this program, she has dedicated her time to relearning about Kumeyaay women’s women's roles and the contributions ceremonial elements play in helping native women heal historical trauma from within.

Dr. Hunter is also part of the Mot koo la hoo ee research group at UCSD. Started in January 2021, a team of Kumeyaay community scholars were brought together for a design-based research project that aims to examine and share the cultural significance and rewrite the history of Mot koo la hoo ee (land of the caves) that is known as La Jolla, California from the Kumeyaay perspective.

“It is important to me to focus my research on Kumeyaay women, our role in the creation story, songs and ways of life throughout Kumeyaay culture and to share the history and culture of the land UCSD currently sits on. It is important for everyone to know the truth. This research is part of my commitment to the sustainability of Indigenous traditional knowledge, language, and culture.”

Eva Trujillo

Eva Trujillo is a Siny ‘Iipay (northern woman) from the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians reservation. Eva’s devotion to the sustainability of Indigenous traditional knowledge, language, and culture has always been her driving force. Eva currently resides, works, and thrives within her traditional ancestral territory, the Kumeyaay Nation.

Eva obtained a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, with a concentration in Archaeology, from the University of California, San Diego and a minor in Biology at San Diego Mesa College. She has been employed at UCSD for over 20 years in various positions. Her current role as UCSD’s Repatriation Coordinator allows her to build equitable and collaborative partnerships with various Indigenous communities across the U.S. and to repatriate and return Ancestors and Cultural Resources back to their home communities.

Eva’s interests led her to contribute to and participate with a team of Kumeyaay community scholars whose primary goal is to rewrite the history of present-day La Jolla, California from the Kumeyaay perspective. She also enjoys serving her community on the Board of Trustees at the San Diego Museum of Us, the Board of Trustees for Kumeyaay Community College, the Board of Trustees for the Mesa Grande Business Development Committee, and as the Chair for Mesa Grande Education Committee.