Did Anishinaabeg Celebrate New Years?
by waaseyaa'sin christine sy
It’s become almost automatic now, in this process of biskaabiiyin*, that at any given point, the following bundle of questions might arise in conversation or in my thinking: Did Anishinaabeg ever do this? How would Anishinaabeg have said this in the language? How would the old ones have understood this? How would they have seen it or interpreted it? Realizing that every Anishinaabe person is an individual with their own ways of being and seeing, in asking these questions, I’m tapping into our common shared way of being that’s based on our histories, practices, language, and the vast territories we’ve been living in for thousands of years. These are key questions that I’m always asking because, living in a dominant society where there is very little evidence or practice of Anishinaabe’aadiziwin (the culture), it has become necessary for me to constantly engage in this process of discerning truth: is this Canada (or nation-state) truth or is this Anishinaabeg truth?
This past holiday season was no different. It brought the usual sifting through of tensions and questions.
For the past few years I’ve been trying to understand the sky behaviour in terms of abi’aboon (winter) solstice…the moving of giizis (the sun), the stopping of giizis, the starting back up of giizis. Admittedly, I struggle with knowing the sky world and how our relatives there work and how they work together. I’m starting to get my head around it; I’ve always had my heart around it; I keep plugging along. It’s complicated!!
Anyways, this past New Year’s season (the popular one) I had questions about this holiday and so today I passed my mentor and friend, Michi Saagiig Anishinaabe Gichi Piitzijid Gidigaa Migizi, Nozhe Dodem, Waawshkigemonki (Mississauga Elder Doug Williams, Pike Clan of Curve Lake First Nation) asemaa (tobacco) to share that knowledge again (as he has shared it on various occasion before in other contexts).
I was interested in revisiting this knowledge because it’s important generally, important for my well being specifically, and because the night sky inspired me to engage it again.
I look up to the night and notice that Nokomis will soon be full. I recalled that this moon is the one heading into the Anishinaabeg New Year. Alongside Nokomis is Jupiter and Nanabush Anung (constellation) is there rising up beneath her. I’m reminded of how close Nanabush and his Nokomis were and seeing them together, seeing him move closer to her reminds me of their relationship.*
I want to share what I’ve learned here because, while there are some who believe that Anishinaabeg should not be publically sharing Anishinaabeg knowledge, I know, based on practice that the knowledge in texts, while important and inspiring, is only powerful and meaningful when practiced on the land or in the city within a context of kinship ties and relationships. Reading our knowledge in text is only an entry point; it’s only one part of the vibrant vibrations that make up Anishinaabe life. The rest of it is on the land, in the body, with the People, with our relations, and the manidooyag (spirits). I want to share it because I have a lot of privilege being a PhD student: access to books, access to and relationships with people who are also highly educated in the Anishinaabeg institutions, the land, and western institutions; and, the fact is, if I can’t find an answer, I am likely able to find someone kind and generous enough who can, someone who is just as committed to Anishinaabeg life as I and so many others are.
It’s very important to note that while most of us pay for western education and through that we have access to particular kinds of knowledges, accessing Anishinaabe knowledges requires a whole other process that has nothing to do with money: it has to do with spirit, intent, history, relationship, protocol, sharing, reciprocity, etc., etc. and of course it compels the question: what are you going to use this knowledge for? So far, I’ve been really blessed with people sharing time and knowledge with me to promote Anishinaabeg life. I put my asemaa down for all this with wonderment and gratitude. I put a little extra down because I was not born into Anishinaabe life and all its diverse meanings and manifestations but rather came to it as a matter of many painful realizations and joyful ones later in my life.
Many of the privileges I have today, I did not have 10 years ago. That being said, 10 years ago, I was financially set in a good, stable profession with great benefits, salary, vacation, and retirement plan. Today, as a matter of choosing a blend of Anishinaabeg and Western education, there is none of that economic stability but there is an abundance of Anishinaabe life. It’s all working out. I share this as an accounting to and accounting of my history, perogative, intentions; to continue to keep myself tied to the earth for fear of ever placing myself as chi-nendiz, better than others.
Many of our people do not have any of these privileges—Anishinaabeg or Western economic privileges or educational privileges. And while many don’t care to have either, some do care to have access to life-giving Anishinaabe knowledge. They want to use it to generate more life for them selves, their families, their communites, the Anishinaabeg Nation. This is why I blog. This is why I share my experience of and interpretation of all things Anishinaabe.
For now, here is the brief but interesting conversation (January 14, 2014). But first, I say once again, Chi Miigawech to Michi Saagiig Aki for supporting my family with amazing and beautiful lands to live and prosper in and for giving us cold, sweet forever flowing mokijiwaniibiish (spring water) to drink everyday. I say Chi Miigawech to Michi Saagiig Anishinaabeg—the Mississauga People—for your continued kindness and generosity while we reside in your homelands. I hope we do no harm and contribute to good life while here. I hope I teach my daughter how to be when she is living in your home. And, I say, Chi Miigawech to my friend and mentor, Gichi Piitzijid Gidigaa Migizi for this time, knowledge, and sharing. Chi Miigawech. It is truly everything.
niin: Did Anishinaabe celebrate new years?
wiin: Yes. They called it ceremony. This is winter ceremony where you got together and you feasted. It’s the beginning. See Anishinaabe counted years from winter to winter…abi’aboon to abi’aboon. When you talk about last year you talk about nishkwaaj abi’aboon (the one that just came by) and then next would be minaawaa bitiboon for next winter. And this year, the present winter, is abi’aboon. The beginning of winter for us really is—or the New Year—is the full moon after solstice. When the sun starts to come back; the coming back of the sun after it stood still. After the sun starts coming back, then we know the next moon is really the New Year because we went by the moons rather than anything else. So the full moon was the New Year; that’s when you held a ceremony, feasted and sang, talked about it, talk about why we’re having it.
niin: After the sun stood still?
wiin: Yes. The sun stands still. That usually happens around…what did the old people call December, the name that isn’t manidoo giizis. I think manidoo giizis is something we adapted and adopted. No, I know what the old people used to call December…they used to call December something like piksinaa giizis…November is aazhigedin giizis, gsinaa or piksinaa giizis for December. And what do they call January? Do you remember?
niin: Is it like little spirit moon?
wiin: It’s like the new winter, like ishki abi’aboon giizis. What did I call December? Gsinaa giizis?
wiin: And these names, this is getting away from the Christian way. This is all I can remember right now. You have to remember I’m very colonized too. Is that everything?
niin: eya. miigawech. It’s everything.
So, it’s not long before Nokomis is full (approximately midnight tonight) and we are into the first full tibi giizis (night sun; moon) after abi’aboon solstice. The days are getting longer.
HAPPY ANISHINAABEG NEW YEAR!!
from my family to yours!
(now to find out how to say that in the language)
* I first became acquainted with this word and concept in Wendy Makoons Geniusz, Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive: Decolonizing Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2009): 9-12. Biskaabiiyaang (returning to ourselves) is a concept and practice named in the Masters of Indigenous knowledge/Philosophy Program of the Seven Generations Education Institute (located between Couchiching First Nation and Fort Francis, Ontario). In this text and context, it’s identified as part of a research process that requires “Anishinaabe researchers evaluate how they have been personally affected by colonization, rid themselves of the emotional and psychological baggage they carry from this process, and then return to their ancestral traditions” Laura Horton, sec. quote in Genuisz, Our Knowledge (9). It gives a means to come to terms with the psychological ways colonization has impacted us, or as Linda Smith says, “The reach of imperialism into ‘our head’” (9). The foundations of Biskaabiiyang approaches to research are derived from the principles of anishinaabe-inaadiziwin (anishinaabe psychology and way of being). These principles are gaa-izhi-zhawendaagoziyang: that which is given to us in a loving way (by the spirits). They have developed over generations and have resulted in a wealth of aadizookaan (traditional legends, ceremonies); dibaadjimowin (teachings, ordinary stories, personal stories, histories); Anishinaabemowin (language as a way of life); and anishinaabe-izhitwaawin (anishinaabe culture, teachings, customs, history). (10).
* In the coming days, I will be posting Nanabush’s Genogram (a kind of family tree) and this relationship is of course, marked on there.