been so long driving in early dark settings along long rural roads headlights and silhouettes of naked stark trees fences staid land all i could do was stop grin soak in the colour of anishinaabe land just this side of day, this side of winter, just this side of minokimiing, side of night, just no longer longing
been so long i can’t remember when light and reflection danced just so across snow covered lands in early spring at twilight drenching aki and me
aki and me
in twilight blue
been so long all i could do was stop smile soak it in this fading light on spring snow covered land all in blue relishing this all, this beautiful life, all this beautiful life
1) a ceremonial song, or more, for iskigamizigan* (The Anishinaabeg)
2) Spring to Come (Digging Roots)
3) Tall Trees (Matty Mays & El Torpedo)
4) Tapwe Oma (Fawn Wood)
5) Burst (Tanya Tagaq)
6) sweet wata riddim (Various Artists)
7) sap keel lay (gippy grewal)
8) Sweet Baby (Macy Gray feat. Erykah Badu)
9) Syrup (Caked Up)
10) Syrup and Honey (Duffy)
11) Your Love Gets Sweeter (Finley Quaye)
12) Maple Sugar (Ward Allen)
13) Work It (Missy Elliot)
14) Happy Feet (cris derksen)
15) Sugar, Sugar (The Archies)
16) Girls Just Want to Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)
17) Sweet Dreams (Marilyn Manson)
18) Lovesick Blues (Derek Miller)
19) I Belong To You (Lenny Krevitz)
20) Who Will Save Our Waters? (Kinnie Starr)
21) War Cry Movement I (cris derksen)
22) “NO LINE 9!” (Activist Chant, Personal Sound Recording, Toronto, Oct. 19, 2013)
23) This Is Mine (PJ Harvey)
24) Insert your personal nigamon** (If you don’t know your nigamon, put your asemaa down and wait for it to come; here, “waiting” doesn’t mean stand there and wait [although it could mean that] but rather carry on with your days being mindful and ready when it arrives.***)
25) Trees (Marty Casey & Lovehammers)
26) War Cry Movement II (cris derksen)
27) The Seed, 2.0 (The Roots feat. Cody ChestnuTT)
28) Family Reunion (Mary J. Blige)
29) Feeling Good (Nina Simone)
30) Miigwech Bimaadiziwin (The Anishnaabeg)
31) The Water Song (Anishinaabe ikawe, Doreen Day)
* Colloquially translates, this means “the sugar bush, at the time of boiling sap”.
** As above, this means “a song”.
*** An interesting side note about the importance of knowing our personal nigamon: about three or fours years ago an event (the details for which I can’t recall) was held in the Gathering Space at Trent University. In a keynote/talk about the importance of our language and culture, Odawa Anishinaabe Gichi Piitzijid Shirley Williams told us that as Anishinaabeg we are given gifts that we carry with us as we move through the western door (i.e. pass to the spirit world). I clearly remember some of those gifts she talked about but not all of them; there were about five or six. Those gifts I recall include Anishinaabemowin (the language), a clan, a name, and a personal song; I think I recall her saying a dance and colours as well, however I’m not certain. What I also remember was thinking how brilliant and beautiful Anishinaabe’aadiziwin is; how comforting to know that we may have such gifts to help us in this world and help us pass through this world. I say chi amiigawech to this Anishianabe ikawe for sharing her knowledge that day because so much of Anishinaabe life has been broken and because every bit of mending and putting it back together is vital, life-giving, and necessary for our lives to persist, to flourish.
if you like, go outside at dark and find a wide open space. if you’re not able to find a wide open space, find a small open space; a small open space that’s big enough to see through to anangwan (skyworld). *inhale* *exhale* if you’re not able to find a dark sky, a wide open space, a small open space, or if you’re one of many people who, for various reasons, can’t go outside or who don’t have access to outside, read this and commemorate as much as you can to memory. later, close your beautiful eyes and imagine it all. *inhale* *exhale*
where were we?
oh yes. outside. looking up.
can you see them? anangoonhsag? the stars?
if you’re not able to see but yet are somehow engaged with this story
could it be that maybe you have a friend or lover who cares for you deeply
and shows this caring by reading to you?
could it be that they want to witness relaxation adorn you,
infuse the galaxy that is your sugaring moon face?
yes. i like to think that’s what’s happening for those who are outside but can’t see. *inhale* *exhale* you’re outside, it’s dark, you’ve found a space, and you’re (t)here riding the tail-end of abi’aboon (winter) through the expanse of a dark sky that is before you. the stars are there. all of them. well, what seems like all of them. *inhale* *exhale* see Nokomis? grandmother moon? she’s full and clear, so clear it’s as though she’s filtering the sap that will soon flow in trees, filtering sap through her ethereal self before turning it over to Chi Ogimaa Anang (Chief constellation) who will draw it up through ininaatigag (maple trees), draw it up pulsing. (at least that’s one thing i think Chi Ogimaa Anang might be doing this time of year for us).
ok, so now orient your body to zhaawin giizhik (the southern sky). if you don’t know which way is south, first find out which way is east (waabanong). this is important because this is where everything begins and it’s important to know where everything begins. it’s important to know that everything begins in the east where the sun rises and well, it’s also important to know that before the sun rises, the morning star breaks trail. it’s important to know her, to know she breaks trail for giizis and it’s important to know the direction your people are oriented towards (or the orientation of the peoples whose treatied lands you live in). it’s important to know that this is how everything starts, including the day.
go outside, anytime of day and find waabanong. turn you body toward this direction and let yourself remember this is where all life begins–in the east. Anishinaabeg are waabanong people.
ok so, once you know waabanong and are able to orient yourself this way, go outside, again–as many times as you need to, go outside. but this time, go outside when it’s nighttime.
find a wide open space. or, small open space. face waabanong
now turn your body right, a quarter turn. you are now facing zhaawanong.
ha! awesome. there you are facing the southern direction, about to get to know the southern night winter sky. that was quite the lead up but hey, we’re here and we’re so on point. how about a moment to relish it all–just you, outside, at night, in winter facing life, the south, the sky–just you and Nokomis and anangoonhsag that is. try not to rest too long here in summer. (an easy thing to do when facing zhaawanong, getting lost in memories and longing for the warm air on your skin and face, your arms and legs; the feeling of the height of summer rising and heat swirling all over; falling in the green and lush) ….
ni. ni. come back.
come back to us here in abi’aboon.
now, here we go. when you’re ready, look up.
awesome na? *inhale* *exhale* to the center and left-ish of zhaawanong (around 8 p.m. in Anishinaabeg skies)…do you see that? the nswi anangoonhsag (three stars) in a row, there? ha! of course you see them. that’s a belt. Orion’s Belt. everyone knows Orion and his Belt.
but I want to share something with you: that’s not Orion.
or, his Belt.
that that’s Gabiboonike (Wintermaker).
and do you see the three stars coming out vertical-like to the right that form a curve? this is Orion’s bow and his hand is there holding it upward. but in actuality this is more like Gabiboonke’s elbow. their hand extends further and further right to the next brightest star you see: that star is the upper part of the right side of Taurus the Bull’s head (frontal view); that star is the left hand of Gabiboonke and at this time of year it’s almost reaching into Epingishimok (the west). there’s more to talk about over here but I want to bring you back over to Gabiboonike, the belt (or maybe that’s a Métis sash Gabiboonike’s sportin’ or a floral beaded wrap of some kind!). look to the left from this sash, lowering your scan slightly.
do you see that bright, bright anang?
that’s the marker for the breast of Canis Major.
but not really.
that’s actually the marker for the breast of what some say is Nanaboozhoo’s buddy, Mayiingan (Wolf). That’s Mayiingan Anang. the body of this friend is made up of many of the stars you see around this bright one—can you envision it?
now go back to Gabiboonke and look up to the left, a strong upward left. you’ll see two bright stars side by side. the twins! markers for Gemini constellation. or, as Anishinaabe say, Amik Anang (Beaver Constellation). this is the top part of Amik Anang.
ok, so now, turn your body backward, backward—going left towards the eastern sky again and slightly beyond. turn slow keeping your eyes on the night sky….turning, turning…there! do you see it? right there, almost standing on their tail is Odjig (Fisher Constellation), otherwise known as The Big Dipper. that’s Odjig right there upright between the north and eastern sky. and if you go to the furthest side of the pail (away from the handle/tail) and you follow those two stars outward toward the North, you will come to the next brightest star: this is Kiwedinong Anang (The North Star). it’s awesome how they’re all connected.
it’s not done though!
Kiwedinong Anang is the tip of the tail of Maang Anang (Loon Constellation). we know this tail also as the handle of The Little Dipper. its stars are hard to see these days but it’s there, just faint.
one more. and this one is amazing, too. turn your body back around going east again, then south. find Gabiboonke’s floral beaded sash and then their hand over there heading toward the west. now move your eyes beyond their hand…
do you see that cluster of stars? it’s so unique. can you see it?
or, Bugonay Giizhig (Hole –In-The-Sky).
that there is where so much of Anishinaabeg life began. that there is the hole in the sky Giizhigo Ikawe fell through. Giizhigo Ikawe being Sky Woman.
Sky Woman being the beginning; a beginning.
take a deep breathe. feel the cold on your exposed skin. Gabiboonke has been working hard to make a deep, deep cold for aki. we know the land, our life source will suffer more and more with summer heat and in turn so will the animals, the birds, the fish, the bugs and yes, us too. Gabiboonke’s been working hard and therefore has been hard on so many with all this snow and cold. the animals, i hope they didn’t suffer too much; the people too. but for now, in this moment, take a deep breathe. exhale. this cold will soon give way to the gifts of zhaawin nodin (the summer winds).
there are so, so many stories here. we just have to look up.
do you see that?
love is in the night sky.
and now, in your body.
and all of us here, just this side of minokamiing (early spring).
Note to Reader: This is a narrative that I created based on what I’ve been learning. I’ve been learning about Anishinaabeg constellations for about three years now and have been sharing what I’m learning with others for the past two years. How many times this past winter did I go stand outside or stop on a walk to get a feeling for who we are by just gazing up there and looking around? I don’t know for certain but I can say there were many, many times. Tonight, my girl was happy to learn about these constellations despite being hungry, cold, and tired from a long walk. This made me very happy. It also makes me happy that I’m finally able to get this written as promised a few months ago to some folks who said they would like to learn about winter constellations. I was worried that with spring equinox coming all of these would be hard to see in the sky. As I walked this evening, I was thrilled to see that these anangoonshsag still there, bright and beautiful as can be.
The sources for this narrative begin in 1995 with things learned about Anishinaabe worldview by James Dumont. The anangoonhsag-specific knowledge begins with Michael Wassegijig’s Prices’ article, “Anishinaabe Star Knowledge”. It’s published in Winds of Change 7 (3), 2002: 50-56 however I accessed it from Mazina’igan (which I know at one time used to be able to be downloaded but I’m not sure these days if it can be; I also don’t have the year or month of publication). The piece about Gabiboonke is also derived from a recent conversation with Michael where I came across conflicting sources: one said this constellation was Gabiboonke and the other said this was Nanaboozhoo. Chi-miigawech Michael, for clarifying this. Other key sources that inform this narrative include a map ordered from St. Cloud State University, Minnesota called, “Ojibway Giizhig Anung Masinaaigan” (2012) prepared by Annette S. Lee, William Wilson, and Carl Gawboy; an online article, “The Star World of the Anishinaabe and Cree Peoples” (2003) published by Canadian Heritage Information Network (virtualmuseum.ca); and, one oral source, Doug Williams, Curve Lake First Nation (2012). The method that led me to the place of being able to write a narrative like this is interesting. Maybe I’ll write about it some day, for now, niibaa and paawaanjigeg are calling.