Wednesday, April 18, 2012

By the River of Slippery Rocks: Escanaba

What a great time it was for me last night presenting in Linda Cree's (my mother's) Cultural Anthropology class down at Bay de Noc Community College! A wonderful discussion throughout that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Escanaba, or zhooshkwaanaabi, comes from the river (or ziibi) of the same name, meaning "river of smooth, slippery, flat rocks" in Anishinaabemowin - the language of which the Ojibwe language is a part. Today it's a town that sits on the border of the treaties of 1836 and 1842. With the river as the dividing line for those treaty areas emptying into michi-gami (Lake Michigan), at the delta, an interesting situation has arisen. As the river delta is in constant flux, the bureaucratic mindset wanting to pin down the territory to enforce game laws on treaty harvests is in an uproar. At one time, those from the 1836 Ojibwe nations can hunt on a particular piece of land, but as the river delta shifts, that same piece of land ends up on the other side of the river and now is no longer 1836 territory but 1842 territory open only for treaty harvests to those who's nation signed the 1842 territory.

Although this provides a headache for the tribes in game enforcement, I think the DNR is the one with the greatest headache. From my view, though, I see it as a lesson the river is giving - how can you divide the land in such arbitrary ways and expect it to stick? Mother Earth sets the rules, no matter how hard people may try to tame her and keep her controlled.

The zhooshkwaanaabi area is also near a great known piece of history - the Grand Island-Bay de Noc Trail. Much more than a hiking trail, this path has connected gich-gami (Lake Superior) with michi-gami (Lake Michigan) for centuries, perhaps millenia. To my knowledge, no one actually knows how long people have been traveling this path between the two lakes, but it was already well established when the fur traders started using it. When I take my classes there, I remind them to really let themselves soak in the place. After all, if many Indigenous cosmologies are right and if quantum physicists are correct about this being a holographic universe, all of time is connected, like a sphere. Thus, as we walk that path, so too are our ancestors walking it, according to these theories.

So, it was a real treat to present to an anthrology class, particularly this one, as the students had a great background in the material to fully understand the implications and meanings of a lot of the concepts discussed in the presentation. What a great group! Miigwech to my mom and everyone for a wonderful evening!

Marquette, the Iron Ore, and a Place of Long Habitation

I'd never been in the Kaufman auditorium before until presenting there for Marquette Alternative High School last week. Quite the impressive place!

And the students were too! The ongoing discussion we had, the great questions...I very much enjoyed it all.

Marquette is an interesting place for me. As a city that sits on the boundary line between the 1836 and 1842 treaties, I'm never quite able to forget what Marquette boomed out of, especially with the old iron ore dock down in the harbor, a dock that, to me, is a symbol of all that is being done to the Earth. Everytime I drive by it I think of this and of the treaties of 1836 and 1842 - that in order for that iron mining to happen (and the subsequent poisoning of the land), entire nations of Anishinaabe people were pushed off their land. And it was Kawbawgam, as I understand it, who showed the iron ore to those seeking it - yet he was never paid any part of the profits that rolled in from such mining. Just another story of exploitation.

Marquette, though, has history much deeper than the iron mining. Just outside to the east on gich-gami (Lake Superior) is the site of one of the oldest known human village sites - near the Carp River where today we have the prison, the sewage plant, and the bike path - it is some 6000 years old. You wouldn't know it, as there is no sign marking the site, yet archaeologists such as NMU's Dr. John Anderton have been talking about the site to those who're interested.

This area is also home to some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet - nearly as old as the planet herself. Amazing. In Ojibwe culture, stone is thought of as "asin," as grandfathers from a long way back. I think we can all feel the presence inherent in stones, rocks, when we're near them. Ancient. They've "seen" much.

Miigwech/thanks to Nora Taylor and the other teachers at MAHS for setting this up at MAHS! It was a pleasure to be there.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Back on Keweenaw Bay

One of the first things I noticed pulling into the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College's parking lot was what a beautiful view there was to be had, overlooking the Bay. And what a beautiful college! It was my first time to KBOCC and I truly enjoyed it.

I was honored to be a part of Jessica Koski's class - she's definitely someone who's been in the trenches herself as well as having done a great deal of study on Indigenous environmental movements and philosophies. In fact, she'd just come in from a meeting in Denver on mining where one part of the program, on acid mine drainage, included Rio Tinto and other mining corporations discussing how much of a problem acid mine drainage is. As part of this, Rio Tinto also described how the "Eagle" Mine is mining sulfide rock that is particularly reactive. Right from the horse's mouth. Why don't they include that in all their U.P. PR? Haha. As if.

The discussion that took place in Jessica's class, though, throughout the 7th Fire presentation last night was not only interesting, not only inspiring, but also...healing. Healing in the sense that most of the time we're all out here flapping in the breeze, doing the best we can against the gale. But every once in a while you run into those who understand and are doing the same thing.

In fact, the trip over from Marquette County had been hard for us and left a hole in the soul as, traveling along M23, pine after pine after pine was very obviously dying or already dead. These were pines that not so long ago, when I made that same trek fairly regularly, were doing fine. Besides, going through Negaunee and Ispheming is always a downer - each time I wonder how people can voluntarily live in places riddled underground by mines, whose waters have been poisoned, and whose very skyline is shaped by the massive tailings mountain of the area mines.

At any rate, the class was wonderful and the discussion a much needed one for me personally as it was a re-grounding.

Plus, the return trip's sky marvels were so dazzlingly gorgeous it blotted out nearly everything else along the roadway: a (almost completely) full moon was rising in the blue turning pink turning lavendar sky while the blazing red sun set in the west. This lasted throughout almost the entire return trip. We even caught a fantastic view of Grandmother Moon rising huge and white in the blue sky over a small lake with the trees reflecting in its stillness and a pair of ducks swimming by. Absolutely stunning.

So, a big chi-miigwech to Jessica, her students, and the very land over that way!!! It gives me strength to be reminded that there are folks like you out there.