Creation and Women's Knowledges

One could say that our history begins with the term Anishinaabe. According to Odawa Elder Edna Manitowabi, If we break down the term, it tells us a lot about who we are and where we come from as people. For instance, "Ani" refers to Aanii, a greeting, and also "Aaniin which denotes where something occurred. The term also contains "Anish-na" indicating that someone is being lowered, and "Aabe" which refers to male energy or being. Edna shares that "Anishinaabe is more than just a name for a group of people, it is so much more. It is a reflection of not only the act of lowering Original Man to the earth, but also speaks about the relationship that was established with human beings upon the arrival in the physical world. In that sense "Anishinaabe reminds us that the physical world already existed at the point when Original Man was lowered to the Earth and as such Anishinaabe people have responsibilities to carry forward the nature of that relationship established long ago.

In that Creation, parts of the Earth were taken and moulded and shaped to make human beings. Breathrhythm and pulse along with will were intertwined within human beings. Edna shared that Kitchi Manito took four parts of the Earth and blew into them using a sacred shell. From the union of the four sacred elements and Kitchi Manito's breath, human's were created. The five senses that we have are gifts and they allow us to see, feel, smell, taste, and hear the world so that we can fully participate in it. Edna shared that "when Original Man was lowered to the Earth she was already full with Creation. She was whole and complete. As he was lowered he was aware of this fact and recognized that he was not part of that creation because it had already occurred. He saw the incredible beauty of the land and the earth, of the roaming fields, and hills and grass. Everything was already there, the swimmers the four-legged, and crawlers..and coming down for the first time, there was this incredible sense there of coming together and of respect and humility. He had a great sense of humbleness, of knowing that he was becoming part of something much larger than himself." (Edna Manitowabi as quoted in Paula Sherman's 2007 PhD Dissertation).

When we think about this idea of breath, and its relationship to the Creation Story, we also think of the fact that the air we breath now is the same air our ancestors breathed in the past. Its the same air that all human beings share on this planet. In that sense all human beings are Indigenous to this planet and have histories and relationships that stretch back to their own ancestors and Creation. 

Its also not possible to talk about Creation without speaking about the importance of women's knowledges and how those are also connected to Creation. In her discussion of Creation and the term Anishinàbe, Edna also shared that "the Earth is female because she brings forth life, and so women are like the Earth. Women are in fact the Earth because they have been moulded and shaped like her in terms of the gifts that we have as life givers. Women bare the fruit of the Earth and bring forth new spirits. Women bro=ing forth nourishment, whether for our children, or how we give life. So that is what she does (the Earth), it is because of this fact that she brings forth life and sustains us that we depend upon her so that we might have life. Everything, food and shelter, we depend upon her." (ibid.)

 

...and so I wonder about this connection between Creation and women and I think about women's knowledges and how they are largely missing from history and because they are missing, how much more would we understand about the world around us, if we were able to recover women's knowledges. Here's an example of what I mean, when Champlain first came he was greeted in every Omàmìwininì community by men and women who danced and sang sacred songs. In his writings he described these women as "naked" and wanton and he proceeds to overtly sexualize them in his writings. One of the things that I have come to understand about those original women was that these dances had particular significance in welcoming him and creating a physical, cultural, and spiritual space within Omàmìwininì social structure for him to come and be French in our homeland. 

Let me explain what I mean by this...if we think back about what Edna said about the place of women in those original communities, they were seems as symbols of the creative processes of the Earth and as such when they danced particular sacred dances, they were embodying that Creation and that energy flowed out from them onto the Earth and thus, their dancing made it possible for Champlain to come and to live in our homeland and to create a French settlement. It was the embodiment of their knowledge through dance and song that facilitated this process, and yet the perceptions of these women in his writings are quite negative. He, along with the Jesuits actually begin a process of actually impeding women from maintaining these kinds of positions in Indigenous communities, because he said it interfered with their ability to get men to participate in the fur trade.

So when we dance today are we dancing in the footsteps of these grannies who came before us? How will we embody women's knowledges and carry those forward to new generations of Omàmìwininì people? Given that a lot of research over the past four hundred years has focused only on men's knowledges, how much more information would we have about sustainability could we gain by exploring women's knowledges?