Minokimiing (Late Spring): On The Colour Green and Language

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

The leeks, lilacs, fiddleheads, and morels have been and gone here in the general Nogojiwanong area of Mississauga territory. The time for ogaag (pickeral) and catfish has also moved on. Before minokimiing is completely transformed into niibin (summer) I wanted to acknowledge the colour of this season.

In the past weeks, the growing buds of new green in the forest have mesmerized me too many times to count. It seems that for a short period in minokimiing, an entire forest emulates baby’s breath in light green. I’m always turned down a few notches by the prettiness of it and grateful to be turned down a few notches, too. I’m amazed, how those buds, particularly the ones on maple trees, came from the sap moving within and up and produce leaves that provide life. I have no other way to understand this other than to recognize it as one of many gifts given us by gizhewe manidoo (the great, kind mystery).

This colour, in abundance, in minokimiing, is fulfilling. I am full and I am filled. And still, green makes me eager, makes me anticipate something. In the past week I’ve driven through green, day-dreamed out windows gazing at her, squinted my eyes from the shine of sun on rain-drenched leaves, walked through him absorbing the colour. The green of the season, of aki (the land), of mashkikimakwe (mother earth) has been overwhelming. This is not new. I’ve been overwhelmed by the land since I was a child. This year though, for some reason, instead of just being overwhelmed I sat in it for a bit, let my thoughts wander in the green and followed the satisfying distraction of this overwhelm-ed-ness here and there.

Where It Took Me

What is the meaning of this colour? The Anishinaabe meaning?

As always, I immediately go to the very small file of Anishinaabemowin being rightfully restored to n’wiiyaw (body), righteously retrieved from deep within. I learned a long time ago that our language holds the key to so much for me. It closes up the little gaps I feel throughout n’wiiyaw and the big gaps I feel exist between the world and me. It makes things make sense. I know the Anishinaabe word will know the meaning of green. The word will know what this colour is all about. The language is always right.

 

Searching                              searching, searching.

 

Nothing.

 

Nothing but a something that suggests three or four syllables and a ‘z’, a ‘zh’… a ‘zhaa’?

 

                                                                                    But really, nothing.

 

Waiting                               waiting                                                       waiting,

 

for something more

to surface

because the word is there,

somewhere.

The word is there. I know it is because I’ve learned it so many times. It’s there and I wait but it doesn’t reveal itself. And, I can’t retrieve it either.

I immediately think about all the language documented on paper here and there throughout my overflowing shelves. I think about the people I know who speak the language. I am both happy and perturbed. Happy because I know it’s written down somewhere from a language session or it’ll be in one of my dictionaries or language course texts. And, after 20 plus years of having no people in my life who were grounded in Anishinaabewiziwin, I actually have language-speaking people in my life today. Yep, pretty happy.

I’m perturbed because I’m an adult language learner and I don’t want to go searching through papers and books for my language. I want my language back in my body.

 

I want my language back in my body.

 

I want my language to erupt from its incubation in my cells, my d.n.a.. I want it to explode from the electric impulses of my memory. I want it to be there to explain things to me, to help me understand things, to give me insights like a parent, a trusted friend, an old one, a dream; to whisper knowingly to me like a loving lover. I want the language back in my body to help me understand

                                                                          the colour green in minokimiing.

 If I knew that word, that would be a start. If I could speak her out loud and say “Miigwech gizhewe manidoo gaa miizhyaang ________” that would be a start towards knowing it’s meaning, it’s purpose, it’s power. Being able to ceremony the word for green that left my body

 

through my mother’s body

                                                     in the sanitarium,

                                                                                                would be a good start.

 

Being able to ceremony that word with my breath, facing the world, with my asemaa (tobacco) would be a very, very good start.

I was thinking that if I knew that word, I could bring it to that woman who teaches the language by teaching the meanings of the sounds.[1] Or, I could bring it to that man who teaches the spiritual and cultural meanings of our words.[2] I could begin to know the mashkiki (medicine) that this colour brings to Anishinaabeg.

I think about Anishinaabeg meanings of colour.

Norval Morrisseau travelled to the house of invention (astral plane) and it was there that he learned about all the colours and images that exist. It was there that he was gifted the images to bring back and the colours. He painted medicine; his medicine medium was colour. He says,

 Colour will make things brighter. We can learn how to heal people with colour. The House of Invention [i.e. astral plane] gave me the colour. There was a big candlestick on top of the golden table. The flame was above the candle. It was not touching the candle. All the colour spectrum was there. So this is soul imprinted or imbued with all these colours. That’s how you come to be a master of colour. My art reminds a lot of people of what they are. They heal themselves.

In the old days, the Native people were able to enter what they call a psychic state. …So this is what I’m offering the world with my art. I’m offering them the chance to be able to find their own psychic state, to heal their own selves with this colour.

Many times people tell me that I’ve cured them of something, whatever’s ailing them. But I didn’t do anything. It was the colour of the painting that did it. But now its’ even much stronger. The healing is more colourful than it ever was. What I finally find is this: we could live with turmoil and the anguish in everything and still we could feel contented and happy and compassionate. What we got rid of is the stress with colour.

 The colour heals you. I don’t heal you. The spirit doesn’t heal you. It’s the colour that does something.[3]

 I think about how I learned that as Anishinaabeg we are spirit inhabiting a human vessel and our spirits-in-body inhabit this physical world to experience happiness and all that the physical world has to offer because we will never experience the physical anywhere else but in this world.[4] And so, I want to know, if I as spirit will only ever experience the colour green here, what is its’ significance?

I recall that the Zapatista’s have a story about how colour came to be in the world. I go back to that story to refresh my understanding of what the meaning of colour is for them:

The gods were fighting. They were always fighting. They were very quarrelsome, these gods, not like the first ones, the seven gods who gave birth to the world, the very first ones. And the gods were fighting because the world was very boring with only two colors to paint it.

And the anger of the gods was a true anger because only the two colors took their turns with the world: the black which ruled the night and the white which strolled about during the day. And there was a third which wasn’t a real colour. It was the gray which painted the dusks and the dawns so that the black and the white didn’t bump into each other so hard.

And the gods were quarrelsome but wise. They had a meeting and they finally agreed to make more colours. They wanted to make it more joyous for men and women – who were blind as bats—to take a walk or to make love.[5]

Ah yes. Colour as anti-violence medicine. And, colour as joy-bringer to adults. This makes sense. What a gift. What an act of kindness.

Meandering Back

Of course I’m going to go to my papers and my books to find that word. I’m going to ask around for the Anishinaabe meanings of the colour green. I’m going to wait patiently for a story about colour, to come. I’m going to wait patiently for the learning. Maybe this knowledge will want to come live in my body or maybe she won’t.

In the meantime, I’m reminded of the powerful and simple things I’ve failed to acknowledge, failed to incorporate into my parenting. In this world I’ve been born into and have birthed new life into, I’ve been inundated with the physical machinations of the colonial, modern world. I’m concerned, by necessity, with having enough funds to live in a money economy and instilling values that will ensure my child’s well-being in a violent, competitive world. While it’s true that generating money and instilling values for this kind of world has been a part of my parenting, it’s also true that reclaiming our relationship with Anishinaabewiziwin and ensuring my child always privileges her connection to her heart, spirit, and body—her Anishinaabeikawewizenhs-ness—has been a significant part of it. I have however forgotten to emphasize the significance of colour in Anishinaabeg creation—that it is a kind of medicine, it is meant to bring us joy. We need to pay attention to the colours of creation, to know our meanings and stories about them.

I will also teach my child, today, how to sit in something that pleases her, let her thoughts wander in that pleasure, meander about here and there in it and see where it takes her, see what comes of it.


[1] Helen Roy Faust

[2] Stan Peltier

[3] Morriseau, Norval. Travels to the House of Invention. Toronto: Key Porter Books, Limited (1997): 16-19.

[4] Personal communication, Laurentian University, 1995-1996.

[5] Subcommandante Marcos, illustrated by Domitila Dominquez, translated by Anne Bar Din. The Story of Colors/La Historia de los Colores. Mexico: Cinco Puntos Press, 1996. 

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