October 13, 2021 update on live performances and events at the NAC.

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A grandmother imagines a shared conversation with a future generation – and recounts the Seven Fires Prophecy, the history of Asinabka, and her place within its history. 

Storyteller Statement: Alanis King

I was happy to be selected to do this project because of my interest in all things audio during these times. A Radio Play. I wrote the monologue I imagined I would share with my grandson. I engage with the Seven Fires Prophecy because it’s what I was taught as a young person; this gave me the opportunity to cover both historical and current appreciations of Victoria Island, as well as my own lived experiences off and on the land base.

As an Artist and Memory Holder on the Indigenous Cities project, I am honoured to be involved in Indigenous engagement with the Algonquin community of Ottawa/Gatineau, whom I respect. This gave me a particular committed desire to contribute my artistic and cultural voice.

Gchi miigwech Niikaaniigonaa.
– Alanis King

 

Story transcript

Name of Speaker: NOKOMIS 

Hey ya hey ya 
Hey ya hey ya 
Hey Ya hey hi yo 
Ya hey ya hey ya hey ya 
Ya hey ya hey ya hey ya hey hi yo 
Hey ya hey ya 
Hey ya hey ya
Hey ya hey hi yo 

Nozhem shkozin… bozho Nozhem. Chi baapaa?! Nishin Nozhem naasop gaaniin apichi nendum. Noongwa dush manda dush aansokaan j. Victoria Island non ben. 

Oh, your smile, so bright when you heard my voice from the top of the stairs yesterday. Your dad was coming up the steps with you in your car seat carrier. Fisher Price, so certified safe. My heart went to here. Oh yeah. You can’t see that on this medium. My heart went to hear your heart beat. Binojeens. You know what I mean? To know Victoria Island, we have to go way back to the beginning.  

It’s our story. As Three Fires People, The Seven Fires Prophecy. I first heard them when I was young from a Gchi-Anishnaabe of Sagamok, he called them Kettles. Which is interesting, since the Chaudiere Falls are right next to Victoria Island. This water you see is Kitchi Zibi, the Great River. Right across over there, is Victoria Island.  

What makes it great, starts with the First fire. A time of blackness then a deafening shattering beat. What came forward was a mixed up Earth, Wind, Fire and Water to make Shkukamikwe – Mother Earth. She always has the moon circling, reaching and the sun her centre. Nozhem, you are the Sun and I am the Moon. We were once lowered from the night sky - Bugonagiizhig.  

The Second Fire was magic. The time of the Supernaturals. Manidook. This is when Nimki Beneshii arrived – the thunderbird. Last night you heard nimkiikah, I put tobacco down, ask them to go easy on us. And many other legendary beings. Nanabush, some say Wiskedjak, Chibiabos – the spirit rabbit and musician, Pukwis – the dancer Mudjeekwis – first born, just like you Nozhem, my warrior kin Ottawa. And Benaabekwe, the mermaids – you could see them resting on the rocks over there. Asinaabka. But some Anishnaabeg made mistakes and went too far with their greed. So the Earth was flooded and then frozen. Only the Great Ones were spared. More on all that later. Like the story how Ojig helped to bring spring back.  

In the Third Fire, Nozhem, Nanabush was floating on a log and needed some Earth and asked the swimmers to go to the bottom of the water and bring some back. First, went beaver, then the otter, then the loon tried too! But it was muskrat, the smallest among the animals who took his turn while being teased. “You’re too small to swim down there!” Minutes passed. Hours passed. Finally the tiny body of the muskrat broke the surface of the water. His limp body was without life, but Nanabush uncurled his paw, and there was a tiny speck of dirt. Nanabush placed this on the back of the turtle and the world was recreated. The plants, the animals, the swimmers, multiplied and finally, last in the order of creation was us. 

The Anishnaabeg 2.0, like a spontaneous combustion. Looking east from here is where our new life begins. Each morning you see Waabanaang. We were now a salt water people until there was a vision to migrate inland and follow the great megis shell in the sky. Every time we found manoomin we stopped to rest and rice. That’s how we arrived here to occupy Victoria Island. That and the nearby falls. It was the attraction, a power, sacred. Some Anishnaabeg remained. Others picked up the vision and continued on the migration path. We were a nomadic people. At one time, there were 20 million of us Anishinaabeg. 84 nations! As Grandfather William Commanda-bah once said. We knew every part of Turtle Island. Some by canoe, some by stories at trading and council fires.  

The Fourth Fire started the world anew. The time peace reigned and we lived in balance with life. We were thankful for the bounty around us, gifts from the Creator. We took care of the harvest to sustain all life for the next harvest, we learn. We shared with each other and got back to mino bimaadziwin. The gift of the drum helped us with this, and the pipe. We planted tobacco right here on Victoria Island. To give to Mishepeshu, the underwater ruler. Then you’ll have safe travels in your canoe. We ate cherries right from the tree.  

Your great great grandfather went fishing with an Elder one time, when he was a boy like you, Nozhem. As usual with fishing, there was nothing happening, but the Elder was watching on both sides. He picked up a pole and poked it down on the side of the canoe. He got an eel on the end of the pole and when he hit it, the eel wrapped itself around the pole. The elder pulled the pole up and put it in the boat. Pa was very alarmed with the eel in the canoe with him. The old man said that in the old days, Indians ate eels and this was the way that they caught them. The word Pimisi is related to bimishkawin – when navigating through the water, just like your canoe moves in the water. Eels have no fins so they vibrate their bodies to move. Yes, like that Nozhem!  

In the summer months, when we lived here, right after sugar camp, there’d be a young women ceremony. All the grandmas and the Aunties and two spirit helpers would trek over for the evening to what they call Squaw Bay on the map today. It’s over there on the other side of the falls, the right of passage into womanhood at the end of her berry fast. We’d make an altar and conduct a full moon ceremony and sing. 

Miigwech Nokomis 
Miigwech Nokomis 
Hey ya hey ya hey ya 
Ya hey yo hey ya hey hey ya 

The women chose that day because the shoreline looked up to the magnificent sight of the full moon. We separate ourselves from the men during this time. Maybe someday, you’ll lobby the government to rename the bay to Claudette Commanda Cove or Verna McGregor Weequaak or something like that. Honour your sisters and grandmas from around here.  

Nozhem, you’ve grown so much. The next two fires are hard to share. So I will be brief. The Fifth Prophecy, the Fifth Fire said there would be an arrival of the white race of people who would come. This arrival turned our people upside down, Nozhem. The bible replaced our ways and they brought liquid spirits that altered ours. Our world turned backwards. Women were disrespected, and ignored for their gifts of creation. It was a very hard time. 

In the time of the Sixth Fire, it only got worse. Now the entire island was without children, because they were taken to boarding schools far away. There they endured many hardships, returning without love, and any sense of family ties. This broke our people. Some children never returned, and are buried in the school cemeteries. Victoria Island was empty for a long time, as we were forced off it by the settlers. Our tears flowed into Kitchi Zibi and the river carried them away.  

Finally, Nozhem, this wave started to end. If you come here, at five in the morning, there could be a thick mist over the entire area. And when the sun starts to rise, it’s the most beautiful picture you’ll ever see. Breathtaking. We started to live in the time of the Seventh Fire, where all of us would want to know our culture, and would seek Elders for their knowledge. Some Elders, consumed with mistrust, would only shake their head. So a great healing had to occur. Little by little, to get trust back. Our language would come out in the open. Laughter too. We return to the council fires and our clans and ways were taught again. You will sing and dance and come to know the songs of our people and make new ones.  

What lies ahead is the lighting of the Eighth and Final Fire. We don’t know when that will happen. Some say when humans have no choice but to save themselves from their unsustainable ways. Mother Earth is not well, she can live without us. But how much longer will she be pillaged and polluted? She’s crying for us to stand up. Naaniibwik! Victoria Island has beared witness to all of this time, the changes, the cycles. And since the 70’s, these rocks have seen the sight of our return. The Tobique March for the Rights of Native Women made me as a young girl feel pride. The constitution pipe ceremonies. Teresa Spence’s fast, Idle No More marches. The Nishiyuu Walkers. There have been many gatherings and healing circles and Canoe festivals and Aboriginal Experiences. Just like the children of the seven fire prophecy told us. We have a name for Victoria Island. It’s Shkode Miniss. The Island of Fire. One day, the eighth fire will be lit right here. I hope you always return here Nozhem, look for me in the night sky. I will be up there. Awaiting your return. 

 


Credits

To Nozhem, Alanis King 
Interpreted from a Memory of the Artist’s own. 
Ben Poweless, Post Audio Engineering 

Additional credits: 
Brit Johnston, Artist Liaison
Howard Adler, Videographer 
Jaime Morse, Consulting (Ottawa)
Heather Cant, Consulting (Indigenous Cities)

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