Nongom Ngii Kinomaagewaabkonging (Today I Was At The Teaching Rocks/Petroglyphs)
by waaseyaa'sin christine sy
While it’s been a few months since I’ve written anything for Anishinaabewiziwin, it’s not for lack of having anything to write. It’s more about trying to balance all the things that make n’ode (my heart) go pitter-pat and ironically trying to prioritize what’s been balanced. Amidst it all, the blogging has fallen to the wayside. There’s been a lot to write about. I actually have half a dozen pieces started and put in the ‘to-finish’ file. I’m running about 50-50 in the resurgence vs. resistance writing. Gah! Like I said, so much to write about. Because this entry is an Anishinaabe love piece, and because I strive to find balance in my writing between the dark and the joy, I just wanted to quickly give a survey of the resistance writing (you know, writing against all those things that would diminish Indigenous life in Indigenous homeland or territory) I could have posted but never got around to doing because something better came up: better as in making life go vs. stopping life from being purposefully diminished kind-of-better.
For instance, I could have been documenting the (verbal/narrative) violence white savs throw at Anishinaabeg women when we’re going ice-fishing or giving them a taste of their own medicine during ogaa (pickeral) season. Or, I could have been doing a bit of discourse analysis on recent “news”paper headlines which are more like propaganda headlines because really, are people seriously supposed to believe that Canada, with all its’ police, jails, military whatever, laws, protective legislations, and millions upon millions of people, is threatened by potential little n “native” up-risings? Not to undermine Indigenous strength, will, perseverance, sophisticated ways in times of offense or defense, but colonization has decimated the populations of Indigenous people who are typically living throughout a vast array of land, in Canada almost have of us live on (isolated) reserves, and most of the rest of us are in the middle of cities surrounded by Canadians who believe the propaganda headlines. So, really? This is a threat to Canada? Dear Newspaper Headline-Maker, the only threat to Indigenous peoples pose is our ability to continue to laugh, live fully, educate, create relationships with citizens of your nation, and ignite the spirit in people to live full autonomous lives and generate full lives for all of our children. In this, I believe, may be the threat: our ability to inspire people who have voting power and activist-mobilization power as well.
My post today is a different kind of resistance. Love resistance. Celebration. And acknowledgement.
The place where I live is called Nogojiwanong (The Mouth of the River), popularly known as Peterborough, Ontario (Canada). I’ve been living here for several years. Since 2009 I’ve had the privilege of visiting Kinomaagewaabkong (The Teaching Rocks/Petroglyhps) numerous times in various capacities including student, educator, helper, participant in ceremony, and as Anishinaabe woman praying for nibi miinawaa odeminan (water and strawberries) in ceremonies that occur there. I’ve had the privilege of learning about this place – the history and interpretations—through the oral histories of Mississauga peoples, Elders, and knowledge holders. I’m aware that there are many interpretations given of this asin (rock) document. I privilege those of the Mississauga, particularly Mississauga Elders and knowledge holders, because this is their home and their oral histories tell of how Mississauga families, travelling by water, made camp at this place well before it became regulated and mediated by the colonial provincial government.
I’m writing about my visit to the teaching rocks today because it was particularly significant. Of all the times I’ve been there, today was the first time I was overwhelmed by the knowledge our ancestors documented for us. And, this makes me think about the kind of things I want to document or tell through story.
For a long time now I’ve conceptualized the petroglyphs as an entry point into understanding and imagining what was in the hearts and minds of our ancestors when they were creating these images, documenting this knowledge. I think about how the same can be said of other pictographs (i.e. Agawa and Mazinaaw/Bon Echo) and petroforms (i.e. Bannock Point) I’ve been able to visit. I think, what they documented in asin, this is what was important to them; this is what they wanted to document; this is what was foremost in their hearts and minds; and, I think too that this is what they wanted us to know. While I don’t know if decisions about what to document were left to individual historians/artists/”writers” of the day or if this was done as a part of some communal or governing process, I do know that what was documented was significant enough to be carved in asin—rock. I do know that it lasted and is still there for us to interpret.
A lot of beauty and meaning happened over there for me today. What brought me to tears for the first time ever occurred during the interpretations given about the women’s knowledge. There were two things specifically: first, for the first time ever I noticed a petroglyph that had not been darkened like many of the petroglyphs are, and there in the afternoon light, I noticed what seemed to be a woman in a birthing position (i.e. squatting); and, second, I heard again the story about birthing knowledge—that is, how to deal with a breech birth. The visuals are right there for us to see and learn from. Amazing. So, with the mindset that our ancestors were documenting what was most important to them, what was most powerful in their heart (and what I like to imagine what they wanted us here in their future to know) I was overcome with feeling and thinking that they wanted us to know how to preserve life, to keep life going, to make life move—to birth our babies and to know how to do in times of trouble; to know how to correct the problem. Our ancestors wanted to document how to keep life going. Birthing was so important to them, ensuring our babies enter this world was so important to them, that they carved it in stone.
In this moment, I was overcome with how brilliant our ancestors were and how intent they were on affirming a life they imagined would exist in the future. What a gift they documented for us.
Nahaaw, mii sa iw miinawaa chi miigwech.
 “Savs” is short for savages. Not a nice word I know but given I have no intention on taking down the master’s house with the master’s tools, I figure I might as well re-arrange some of the furniture, when I can, to my liking. Also, I use the word “savs” to accurately describe the mentality of people who live in Anishinaabe territory and treat Anishinaaabe women, and our home, our mother, in less than respectful ways. Finally, I really don’t like to use the word ‘white’ to describe someone. To me it’s akin to me being called native or aboriginal. The only way I can get past the label ‘white’ though is to get to know the person a bit more so that I can better know how they identify themselves. Getting to know the white-looking person better is hard if the first or second word or phrase out of their mouth is, “Listen here sweetheart …” or “Fuck off!” (See fishing experiences briefly noted later in blog.) Also, in this paragraph, I’m angry about the violence shown us in our home.
As an example, http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/2012/07/07/ontario-amateur-archeologist-combing-newfoundland-for-clues-to-his-celtic-monks-theory-for-the-peterborough-petroglyphs; and, a counter argument, lending a non-Mississauga voice to the interpretations: http://www.lynngehl.com/2/post/2012/05/black-face-blogging-peterborough-petroglyphs-linked-to-celtics-author-really.html.
 For a non-Anishinaaabe statement about Agawa pictographs see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__KjkkPmAUs for Mazinaaw pictographs see http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=10534.