The Manoomin Harvest as a Matriarchal Operation

Manoominike Giizis - The Good Berry/Wild Rice Making Moon

The proof is in the ancestors.  The proof is on the land.  The proof is on the water.  The proof is in the stories.  In Anishinaabe Aki we have a lot of work to do in terms of decolonization.  We have work to do in terms of decolonizing Christian and majority culture imposed gender roles.  Men, women, and Two-Spirits can internalize what is not traditional.  You can be patriarchal if you are man, woman, or even Two-Spirit.  In the Native American community we say that men can only do certain things and woman can do only certain thingssuch wear skirts at ceremonies.  Men also traditionally wore some kind of skirt so it is important to challenge these Christian and majority culture imposed notions of what is deemed traditional.  In our everyday lives we are always faced with a man/woman dichotomy and we never include Two-Spirited people who may be identifying as Two-Spirit based on their sexual orientation alone, gender identity alone, or sexual orientation and gender identity in combination.  There is a whole spectrum of identities that our communities had.  I can only speak for the Ojibway as this is my culture and heritage.  Two-Spirit identity varies from tribe to tribe across Turtle Island.

We need to check who is doing what and who is oppressing another in the process.  A patriarchal woman can oppress a matriarchal woman.  A patriarchal Two-Spirited person can oppress a matriarchal Two-Spirit.  A patriarchal man can think he is doing decolonization work and "doing good work," for "his" community when he leads the wild rice harvest.  There is nothing good about claiming and sharing knowledge to a process that has been matriarchal for a very long time.

I haven't come across many people who are willing do to the very difficult work of decolonizing gender roles.  I am probably one of the very very few that has made a commitment to this work.  Instead men benefit from male privilege when they follow and implement the majority culture imposed man/woman dichotomy.  Patriarchal women will benefit from this by "standing by their man."  These types of gender roles can play out in Two-Spirit relationships as well.  Then as we move from our personal lives to community (or non-community) lives and this plays out in everyday interactions from ceremonies, community meetings, talking circles, and our already patriarchal tribal government structures.

This time of year across Anishinaabe Aki many Anishinaabe will be gearing up for harvesting the good berry or what is known as wild rice.  The harvest will have a lot of patriarchy leading knowledge, teachings, and sharing stories that erase women and matriarchal traditions.  I know that my matriarchal ancestors whether male identified, female identified, or Two-Spirited of various identities held down the traditions of matriarchal leadership in an old time and traditional sense as they participated in the harvest. 

Photo: An amazing book by Brenda J. Child.  A must read!

"The wild rice harvest was the most visible expression of women's autonomy in Ojibwe society.  Binding rice was an important economic activity for female workers, who within their communities expressed prior claims to rice and a legal right to use wild rice beds in rivers and lakes through this practice.  Ojibwe ideas about property were not invested in patriarchy, as in European legal traditions.  Therefore, when early travelers and settlers observed Indigenous women working, it would have involved a paradigm shift for them to appreciate that for the Ojibwe, water was a gendered space where women's ceremonial responsibility for water derives from these related legal traditions and economic practices." - p. 25

 "Collectives of women controlled the entire social organization of the harvest, deciding on the rules and locations of campsites.  Harvesting wild rice was labor-intensive and involved many stages of cooperation." - p. 25-26

"One September in the ate nineteenth century, Joseph Gilfillan, an Episcopal missionary in Minnesota, observed an estimated six hundred Ojibwe women gathered for harvest at White Earth but no men." - p. 101

"Nearly all photographs and documents about Ojibwe wild-ricing before the publication of the WPA guide and the federal work camps of the same era represent a female harvest.  Some years before. the Minnesota ethnologist Frances Densmore had noted straightforwardly that "rice was harvested by women." - p. 102

Photo: Manoomin in August 2015.

Poem: Decolonized Do

Decolonized do,
Decolonized hair,
Decolonized stylin’,


She asked me what I am?
He asked me what I am?

What am I?

Gender non-conforming,
Mixed blood Anishinaabekwe,
How I define me,
How I see me,

But it’s not all pride,
Not all being proud of who you are,
In a… hierarchical discriminating structural world,
In a… racist-sexist-confining-we-don’t like-you-world,
In a… we-are-weirded-out-by-your-existence-world,
In a… we-are-uncomfortable-with-you-breathing-world,
In a… sistah-we-don’t-support-you-and-your-deviations-world,
In a… we-are-violent-towards-you-cuz-youse-is-a-threat-world,
In a… wellbriety-sobriety-recovery-makes-me-uncomfortable-so-I’m-gonna-shew-you-away-world,
In a… we-can’t-box-ya-in-so-we-bully-ya-world,
In a… she-ain’t-following-the-rules-so-she-must-be hidden-world,
In a… egocentric-proselytizing-addict-culture-health-ain’t-the-thang-even-though-you-got-it-sistah,
In a… mixed-blood-so-so-so-sorry-we-don’t-see-that-you-are-Native-world,

Ya get it?

So these confines make me boxed in,
Make me feel ostracized all the time,
Make me depressed,
And there are no community resources,

The forest,
The water,
The forest,
The water,
Traditional lands,
Ancestral memories,
Ancestral sounds,

We are here,

Did you not see me fully for who I am?
You did not!

Often it is a struggle,
In these identities,
In this identity,

Water flowing,
Rapidly by me,

Cedar – giizhick,
I hold in my hand.                 

Poem: Ode to All of the Insults and Cultural Insensitivity

An ode to all of the insults and cultural insensitivity,
The debilitation of words that force our vanishing,
Across territories,
You've insulted my family,

Madeline Island,
Moningwunakauning - place of the golden-breasted woodpecker,
Also known as LaPointe,
Our homeland,
The place of our ancestors,
Missed identities,
Unmarked censuses,

It always starts with,
I love your culture,

It must be that Indian in ya,
Said the hippie-dip who insultingly threw beer bottles on our powwow grounds,
Gross insensitivity displayed,
The truth of the individual revealed,
Not this "we're all one" bullshit,
Not for respecting Anishinaabekwe, 
And the powwow grounds are alcohol and drug free,
To honor sacredness of our land,

You know a real Indian,
Said the enlightened Buddhist in Boulder, Colorado,
Because I am not a real Indian, 

Do your people live in tipi's?
Laughs obnoxiously at me in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan,
Median income for a family is well over $200,000,

Remarked bitterness in a farm field in Manistee County,
As I am labeled "the other," by "progressives,"

If you were to present in the Native community you would be seen as white,
Said a Native activist who fights for Native people to define their lives and identities for themselves,
When she defined my life and my identity at that moment it was a form of colonization,
Later she would exclude me from her "movement" that claims to be for everyone,

But blood quantum does matter,
How much are you?
How do you know you are Native American?
Everybody thinks its cool these days to be a minority these days,

Fake Indian,
Fake poet,
You're a wannabe,
I thought you were white,

And finally, 
It must be really cool to be Indian.

She is the Water

Every Wind Ojibway.jpg

Decolonization in a mixed blood identity.  Matriarchy is small particles to collect and hold in her hand.  Walking the shores of the Great Lakes, listening, quietly.  She is your neighbor.  She is working poor, working class and often living below the economic poverty line.  Be careful with your words because poverty is not in her spirit.  She has great wisdom but is invisible in the dominant culture.  She is Anishinaabekwe.

Centuries have past and traditions and ancestries have been mixed.  Yet the memory of her ancestors remains in her heart and soul.  She is elegant even in the face of great adversity.  She is beautiful even in the face of racism.  She is strong when the culture places her into a glass box, which is more oppressive that the glass ceiling, because of her identity as an Anishinaabekwe.

The water must be listened to.  The water must be heard. Anishinaabekwe listens.  Anishinaabekwe seeks and quietly creates the deep, meaningful and real.  The water is soothing.  The water is healing.  The water is wisdom.

What does decolonization mean?  Who is defining it?  Is Anishinaabekwe allowed to have an equal voice?  Decolonization could mean reclaiming culture, heritages, traditions, language and life ways.  Decolonization is much more.  Decolonization is about the land, water, and spirit.

Decolonization is about her, Anishinaabekwe.  Decolonization is taking her hand and assisting her.  Decolonization is giving her a platform, giving her the pen to write and speak.  Ultimately decolonization is about matriarchy.  As title holders of the land and water, not defined under Euro-centric definitions we made decisions about the land and water for our communities and nations.  We were not silence by the colonized state governments occupying our lands.  As the hearts of our nations we were lifted up and given and equal platform.  We had a choice in defining this platform as well.

We have been under the guise of hetero-patriarchal colonial rule on our traditional lands and in our communities.  We’ve had to follow these oppressive rules often by force for survival.  As Native American women we experience the highest rates of sexual assault, sexual violence and rape out of any group of women in the country.  Violence is not traditional in our communities.  Violence on our bodies, the land and water is not traditional.

Collecting these particles is healing and reclaiming who we are.  As women we are the hearts of our nations.  We tend and care for the water.  We tend and care for the land.  We tend and care for our communities.

The water is healing.  The water is purification.  The water is Anishinaabekwe.  The waters of the Great Lakes are deep and ancient.  Stories are waiting to be told by the women, elders, youth and various Anishinaabe communities surrounding the Great Lakes.  Decolonization and matriarchy pave a path for visibility and voice in our communities.  All of our communities need to support Anishinaabekwe, as Keepers of the Water.

Poem: Ancestors Hold You

Simple diffusion,

Spirit two,
Walk in worlds,
Tear it down,

Crying over the land,
Hair touching the soil,

Crying over the water,
Hair flowing with the waves,
Of Her,
Of the beauty of Her,
Of the beauty of Michigami,
Of the beauty of nibi,
She is healing,

Matriarchy isn't about the broken circle,
Mending is truth,
Patriarchy wounded our men,
Wounded our sons,
Wounded our women,
Shunned our Two-spirit's,

Matriarchy is the tender blanket of love,
Matriarchy is the circle,
Uninterrupted by the violent thoughts of sexism,
Uninterrupted by the violent thoughts of racism,

Trees reach,
Trees ground,
Trees protect,

The weaving of the fine strands,
The weaving over the waters,

Sing for you,
Dance for you,
Surround you,
Hold you,
Love you,
When all was broken,
When your identity was tossed across the land,
Broken into pieces because of the destiny manifested by hungry hearts,

Heal you,
Listen to you,
Idle No More,

Grandmother holds you,
Grandfather holds you.