The Water Within Us

by | Jun 6, 2023

Author’s note: This piece was written following my recent visit to the Sinagua Cliff Dwellings, commonly known as Montezuma’s Castle. This site, of significance to many Indigenous peoples, including the Ak-Chin Indian Community, Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Gila River Indian Community, The Hopi Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, Salt River Prima-Maricopa Indian Community, Tohono O’odham Nation, Yavapai-Apache Nation, and Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe, persists on contemporary Yavapai-Apache territory. This site instilled within me a great sense of awe and appreciation for other Indigenous peoples, and I hope here to convey a ‘look back’ to ancestral knowledges of groundwater and lifeways to inform the future. This piece is my first venturing to write about a climate and land within which I am a visitor and guest. My thoughts in the Hawaiian language are included to acknowledge my positionality and role as a Native Hawaiian author. Central Arizona faces increasing questions as to how to best manage and steward water, particularly within times of drought, increasing food production needs, and expected climate vulnerabilities  (a, b, c ). With this piece, I wanted to consider the ancestral and ecological presence and indicators of water as well as a call to consider water as relations rather than resource. 

The Water Within Us


“E mea ilihia hoʻomau nei.”

Let this grace persist. 

This I prayed before the

Sinagua Cliff Dwellings.


330 miles from the tide,

yet still the sea

surged through my veins—

the sea salt crusting

my bones in place, in awe.


‘Sin-agua’, the Spanish named

these the Native ancestors

whose mastery endures.

‘Without water,’ they labeled.

A well-kept secret, perhaps:

for the water is within us.


Before my eyes caught sight

the gold glittered blue

held to southwest,

water greeted:

Grandmother’s limbs freely offered

shade, the dwelling beams

within the caves above.

Sycamore, she bestowed her blessings.

Cottonwood, too, head bent,

palms up whispered:

“water is hidden, until prayed.”


These the medicine keepers,

the elders: Saltbrush, Creosote,

Hackberry, they watched,

asking: “are you ready

to listen?” Water, held

for us, within us, between us.

Beneath us. Earth’s water,

invisible to the eye, her song

heard only when one first leans

on intuition.


Saltwater anchored me in place,

my constant reminder I am but visitor, islander,

among the secret-keepers, these

leaf and berry-laden Elders,

the red stones of the Ancestors-with-water.


Their people migrated, leaving these the

grandmother trees, medicine, water

in wait, in rest. Some lesson, from

which we might learn.


“Grant her hearing beyond ears.

Allow her to listen with spirit,”

the Dwellings pray back.


cottonwood tree near rock face

Neighboring Beaver Creek. Credit: Gina McGuire.

Arizona Sycamore

Arizona Sycamore. Credit: Gina McGuire.

hackberry plant

Hackberry. Credit: Gina McGuire.

ancient cliff dwellings in light brown rock face

Sinagua Cliff Dwellings. Credit: Gina McGuire.

From Drought.Gov | Explore historical drought conditions

By Gina McGuire

Climate Reporter

Gina McGuire is an ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) woman, born and raised on Hawaiʻi Island. She recently earned her PhD at University of Hawaiʻi in Geography & Environment, and is an eco-cultural researcher on a decision support tool project with the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, and a climate reporter with Native Climate at DRI. Her research has focused on coastal spaces and Hawaiian healing practice, lāʻau lapaʻau. She holds an MS in Tropical Conservation Biology & Environmental Science and an MA in Creative Writing. She is excited to bring these two passions together for Native Climate.