Happy Valentine’s Day: Imagining a World with No Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Through Anishinaabe Consciousness

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy


In the spirit of February 14th and Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, I want to decolonize the meanings that are associated with this holiday of love and romance, meanings that have been imposed and created through the colonial world we live in, here on Turtle Island. I do this in the spirit of all girls and women, in my life and not, distant and far, who have and continue to experience violence(s).

I want to decolonize by sharing what February 14th and its popular expressions may mean from within Anishinaabe consciousness because to me, Anishinaabe consciousness affirms Indigenous life, Anishinaabe life, all life. This knowledge is built on the shoulders of Anishinaabeg giants, our Elders, who have been growing it in our homelands for thousands of years.[1] This is not an anti-violence program. This is not a lobby for new legislation. This is a different kind of Valentine Day’s card that wants to contribute to possibilities for love that are meaningful inside one’s body, bones, spirit, and are coherent with the land. If we can feel deeply satisfied and content within ourselves and our lives with others, we can stop making Indigenous women go missing, we can stop murdering Indigenous women.

February 14th. An indicator of time. Anishinaabe consciousness is grounded in moon cycles not calendars. These cycles are named in accordance to what Mashkikimakwe (that which creates; mother earth) is doing throughout the vast region known as Anishinaabeg homelands (i.e. the Great Lakes region). I am living in Mississauga Anishinaabeg homelands now and here, this time of year is known as aanshin giizis, turn-around moon. This refers to the behaviour of makwa (bear), or nozhem (female bear) who is turning around in her den getting ready to have her babies. At this time of year we engage in ceremonies that honour makwa, who gives us so much life. She is the one that sits in kiwedinong, the north, sharing her gifts of protection and healing. For me personally, this is a very special time of year, as it is the time that I turned around in my den, several years ago, getting ready to birth my child. She was born at home surrounded by her Aunties and Nana, her father, and midwives; her Anishinaabe name reflects the spirit of a particular bear.

I like to imagine what the colonial heteropatriacrhal capitalist able-bodied society we live in would look like if we took the time as individuals and communities every February 14 to honour our animal relatives, with a feast, ceremony, and other spiritual practices (e.g. fasting); to honour the female spirit that prepares to birth new life. I like to imagine what practices my neighbouring Indigenous relatives engaged in historically and continue to engage in during this time. I like to imagine what life would be like if our engagement with life this way ousted consuming, constructing, manufacturing expressions of love that make corporations richer and exploit mashkikimakwe. How would this shift impact our regard for the life and lives of Indigenous women and girls? All women? How would this shift, however we identify, impact how we experience our humaneness and how we experience connection with multiple aspects of creation?

Love. The Anishinaabe word for love is zaagidewin: opening ones heart, the process of opening ones heart or having an open heart. These are variations of the word zaagidewin and they begin to reveal Anishinaabeg understandings of love. It has nothing to do with material exchanges, money, insititutionalized or commericialized commitment, or a particular structuring of relationship. It suggests love is a state of being with another person. G’zaagin: my heart is open to you. This is how Anishinaabeg say, “I love you.” There is no special month or day set aside for hyper-expressions of of love, of zaagidewin, of having an open heart for someone. While aanshin giizis is not a particularly significant month for direct human expressions of love for each other it is very significant for human expressions of having an open heart for makwa, particularly nozhem. We know somehow that by showing love and honour to makwa and nozhem, Anishinaabeg show love for one another, our ancestors, and our future.

I like to imagine what the world would look like if we engaged each other with open hearts. Or, what love might look like in relationships, all kinds of relationships, if the foundational value was to engage with an open heart. What would relationships with friends, colleagues, sales clerks, children, family members, partner(s), lover(s), strangers, enemies, look like if we engaged from zaagidewin? What would the world look like if we engaged Indigenous women and girls with open hearts? What would the state of Missing and Murdered Women look like if police, municipal officials, politicians, economists, and CEO’s engaged the world in zaagidewin? What would our relationships with mashkikimakwe look like if we engaged her with an open heart?

And, gender. Hallmark and jewellery commercials portray the heteronormative values that dominant the colonial society in which we live. However, man-woman relationships and expressions of man-woman love are accentuated on the days leading up to and on February 14th. We are inundated with popular images of what love, particularly on this day, is supposed to look like: white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied, free, healthy. Because gender—the rigid gender dichotomy of man-woman—is salient, Anishinaabemowin (language) is also particularly significant to this aspect of the discussion as well. For instance, one meaning I have come across that is associated with nini, the Anishinaabe word for man, is straight, true, upright. One tree in our world is named ininaatig, meaning man-tree. These meanings are coherent with Anishinaabe cultural meanings of the tree which are said to represent truth. This meaning is derived from the fact the tree, most of them; grow up right and straight up which reflects a nuance of our meanings of truth.  The word for woman is ikwe which, based on what I understand, refers to the changing nature of a being, she is changing, transforming. And importantly, in a colonial society that imposes its own ideas of masculinity and femininity to men and women, respectively, and does so particularly on this holiday, the word aangokwe takes on particular significance. Some Anishinaabemowin speakers interpret this word as referring to a man with a woman’s way or spirit. Or, to be more grounded in Anishinaabe consciousness, a nini with ikwe spirit. To date, I have not heard of an Anishinaabe word that describes a woman with a man’s spirit or ikwe with nini spirit. I’m keeping my ears out.

I like to imagine what the world would look like if men and women saw themselves these ways, if we saw men and women these ways. Or, if we lived in societies where comfort for heterosexuality was replaced with comfort for gender fluidity and diversity, in expression, responsibilities, and relationship. A gender fluid and diverse world includes heterosexual identities and relationships as well. Certainly, we know that organizing life around the wants, dreams, desires, voice, thoughts, needs, limitations, and strengths of (western meanings of) man—white, brown, beige, or black—does not work and is not working. Women—brown, beige, black, and white—of all abilities and classes, tell us this and work tirelessly at changing it. Men who experience patriarchy as oppressive for men and/or women, also tell us this and work with women to create change. Given this situation, it’s invigorating to imagine how the remembering and recognition of gender fluid and diverse societies might be organized. I like to imagine how the world would engage Indigenous women and girls if gender fluidity and diversity supplanted the dominating logic and structure of a colonial world. I like to imagine how this might alter the state of Missing and Murdered Women.

February 14th is a day of love in that it offers many possibilities. It may continue to perpetuate colonial meanings and manifestations of love. Or, it may offer an opportunity to consider our own Indigenous-to-wherever-we-come-from meanings. It may offer an opportunity to learn about the Indigenous meanings of time, gender, and love that have been displaced, eroded, erased, or buried in the places we inhabit. Or, it may offer an opportunity to speak with fierce love to those forces that displace, erode, erase, or bury. Importantly, it offers a time, a day to imagine new meanings that feel coherent with our bodies. New meanings that can, if we want them to, compel our distancing from the colonizing system that dehumanizes us and the land; and, compels our engagement in acts and thoughts and feelings and senses that honour non-human life-giving life, open heart life, upright & truthful life, ever-changing life, fluid & diverse life. Surely, such transformation would eventually create a world where Indigenous women no longer go missing or are murdered.

[1] To know more about my teachers, or academic sources, please contact me here in the comment section.