BLEEDING BLACK: A Lakota Novelist Confronts the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Artwork by Carises Horn

Bleeding Black
by Amy Krout-Horn

The first time my feet touched the sugary sand of Passagrille Beach, Florida and I felt the tide, warm as bath water, rushing in as if to hold me, I wept. Her beauty, power, and magic, opened, and then filled me, and though I arrived, born from a people whose Lakota ancestral lands ride upon the center of the Great Turtle’s back, I felt welcomed home. She greeted me as if we had always known one another, and as the sun touched the horizon, I laid my hands upon the water and said, “Mother.”

Since that sunset, a decade ago, I have rarely traveled from my home near the Gulf of Mexico. Only a few days each year, I return north to visit family. The Land of Flowers holds me under its sultry spell and when away from the ocean, I long for her. I go to her in ceremony, celebration, and sorrow. Lying on the sand, listening, my soul always finds what it is searching for, in her song of wind, waves, and rustling sea grass.

There, I have met many relatives: a gull I call “Tokaa” because he always arrives first, asking if I’ve brought bread crusts, the pair of crows that land soon after, conchs crawling along the sand bars, sting rays flying graceful as butterflies, myriad fish, the small ones schooling around me as pelicans glide above the sun-shafted shallow water. And, at the base of the dunes, a sea turtle’s nest symbolizes the continuation of her nation. They all bring their lessons; even the forceful bump I once received from a shark continues to remind me that respect must accompany love. Nowhere else have I found such a strong feeling of mitaku oyasin, the sacrosanct connection existent between all living things. Nowhere else have I been more certain of my place within the sacred hoop. Nowhere else have I experienced a more comforting embrace with our mother, the Earth.

But now, she bleeds.

The Earth, mother to all, bleeds from a wound thaty her human children have inflicted. Those of us, who feel her suffering, struggle against the blackness spilling into our souls, the blackness that threatens all light, all life. As the death toll rises for the birds, the dolphins, the turtles, and the countless uncounted casualties, my heart aches, and I wonder if something in me is dying, too. Our killer, a civilization founded upon greed and gluttony deceptively deemed “prosperity.”

The systematic plunder callously called “progress,” has taken our planetary parent to her brink. Will the toxic tar balls and oily filth wake America up from its dream? Will our collective eyes snap open; to the realization that the nationalistic dream we are all supposed to strive for, is just a cleverly marketed nightmare? But these questions find their answers in the indignant politicians who yell “foul” at the mere suggestion of a moratorium on deep water drilling, and the US courts agree. Wouldn’t want to stop bleeding her dry, even for a moment, would we? America wouldn’t want to take steps towards signing into a clean energy methadone clinic and off the black tar fossil fuels, would it? Of course not.

In this “green frog skin world,” as Lame Deer called it, economics always trump ecosystems, blue chips trump blue waters, sleep walking trumps clear thinking, and only those who still know Earth as mother, foresee the fate that this kind of greed-based denial tempts. For those of us whose hearts still beat with the pulse of the universe, whose memories have not forgotten our Original Instruction, and who watch the prophecies unfolding, there exists a great need to link the power of our spirits and send our strongest medicine prayers to Wakan Tanka, the Great Holy Mystery. The white buffalo calves emerge from the womb. Unktehila, the water monster, rises from her long slumber. Our ancient fathers, the star relatives watch closely. Little time remains for those who have forgotten how to live within the circle, to relearn the lost wisdom.

On the eighty-fifth day, the scientists and engineers finally stumble upon the bandage that halts the bleeding, and the media analyze the situation using all the ugly lingo indicative of the oil drilling business: top kill, bottom kill, junk shot, blow out, and crude. Even as hope and thankfulness illuminate my mind, another thought shadows the cautious optimism, a thought that history predicts as painfully plausible. Big oil will snatch this shaky-at-best, leak stoppage method, and run with it, proclaiming it justifiable evidence to prolong the rape of our mother. The oxygen- robbed dead zone, produced by BP’s chemical dispersants, will merge with the long existent one formed from agricultural fertilizer run-off that flows from the Mississippi River each year, and the macabre dance will continue.

For now, the bone white sand of Passagrille remains white, the water turquoise, and the sea oats, golden. I go there often for the indigenous kind of Holy Communion. Yesterday, as I walked into the surf and felt all the life forces surging around, through, and within me, a shark appeared. Unlike his before-mentioned, larger cousin, the smaller creature (the length of a man’s arm) didn’t bump me, but swam quite near, and for a moment, stared knowingly. Again, the idea of love and respect, its crucial complement, came to mind, along with a recent news image. The journalist’s voice announcing that Louisiana had reopened coastal waters for sport fishing hadn’t drowned out the laughter, as the camera captured the men smiling, pulling fish from the water and tossing the struggling creatures onto the deck. Do those men love the Gulf of Mexico? Do they respect it? Would their “love” wane, if they were no longer allowed to take whatever they want from it? What CAN participants of an all-you-can-eat, bigger is better, super-sized society say about their behavior? What NEEDS to be said? Earth screams the answer, humanity MUST echo, “Enough.”

Amy Krout-Horn, Lakota, worked as the first blind teaching assistant at the University of Minnesota’s American Indian Studies program. Krout-Horn is a regular contributor to Slate and Style magazine and, in 2008, was awarded their top fiction prize for War Pony. She, with the contributions of her life partner, Gabriel Horn, co-authored the novella, Transcendence (All Things That Matter Press, 2009). She resides in Florida. For more information, visit her web site at
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