The seasons have begun to change. As Anishinaabemowin speakers know, we are right in the middle of Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon). This moon or month began on September 16, if you are using the Gregorian calendar. At MSU, much begins to happen during Waabaagbagaa-giizis. Classes are fully underway and, after a slow start to the semester, campus life begins to take shape during late-September and early-October.
We also begin to feel the weather change around us during Waabaagbagaa-giizis. Warm summer winds begin to shift, as the days are shorter and the weather is cooler. The leaves turn various hues, making the banks of the Red Cedar a beautiful and multicolored environment. For MSU sports fans, Saturday football games become important gathering spaces in and around Spartan Stadium. Soon enough, the leaves will begin to fall from the trees, marking another important transition and begin another giizis.
With the next full moon, it will be Binaakwe-giizis (Falling Leaves Moon) and then, after that, it will be Baashkaakodin-Giizis (Freezing Moon). Autumn will turn to winter and winter will turn to spring. As has happened since time immemorial, the seasons will transform the natural world. Even if climate change makes the Indigenous practice of marking time more and more complicated and difficult, the seasons will remain paramount to Indigenous knowledge of the world and one’s place within it will remain.
Our current month, Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), becomes an important time to think about the proverbial leaves of change, especially in relationship to Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island. The American Indian and Indigenous Studies community at MSU engages in important work, both on and off campus, as we remain attentive to happenings throughout Indian Country and across the Fourth World.
As they begin to change, aniibiishan (leaves) reveal their brilliant and beautiful potential. The leaves have been waiting all summer to disclose what they haven’t previously shown: their profound, striking, and colorful potentiality. As scholars, artists, and teachers, we see within our students and within ourselves and communities the same profound possibility to show our individual brilliance. However, the beauty and potentiality of a single leaf can only be fully revealed when in concert with a community of other leaves. Similarly, our own human potential is collective in orientation. Indigenous knowledge illuminates the importance of community relationships and ties shared not just with other humans, but with all things around us.
Individuality means little without the whole. Shawnee leader Tecumseh is credited with saying that “a single stick is weak, but a bundle of twigs is strong.” While the provenance of this quote attributed to Tecumseh can likely be contested, the metaphor here is significant. If a single twig is weak, the collectively of sticks increases its strength. Likewise, the shared beauty and power of leaves – or members of a community – are more significant and meaningful than any one single individual. Reaching one’s potential is a collective and shared endeavor.
Just as Idle No More was a convergence point for Indigenous organizing a few years ago, Indigenous responses to the Dakota Access Pipelines (DAPL) have become a flashpoint in which many – both Indigenous and non-Native – are finally seeing the linkages between climate change, ecological destruction, and colonialism and their continued impacts on Indigenous communities. Prof. Kyle Whyte has published on this, while our colleagues in MSU’s African American and African Studies issued a statement of solidary with the Standing Rock Sioux nation. Prof. Wenona Singel gave an invited lecture on #NoDAPL at the University of Michigan Law School. Professors Matthew LM Fletcher and Kathryn Fort have compiled material on Standing Rock for Turtle Talk. Personally, I have used this as a time to create artwork about mineral extraction and its effects on Indigenous communities. Our non-MSU colleagues in Indigenous Studies are compiling a No DAPL syllabus. Just off campus, the East Lansing City Council recently (last night, in fact) approved an Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution, replacing Columbus Day in the city. This is important news for our community and will positively impact the climate for Native students and their allies here at MSU.
This semester, MSU will host the Cultural Rhetorics conference. At the conference, the second of its kind, Indigenous artists and cultural theorists will play an essential role. Prof. Malea Powell, recently appointed Chair of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures, helped found cultural rhetorics – both the conference and the field of study. A few weeks after, MSU will host fifteen Métis artists and cultural workers, primarily from Canada. Mamawapowuk–Maawanki'idiwag–Mâmawihitowin: A Gathering on Métis Art, Aesthetics, and Sovereignty is a collaboration between AIIS and the Ziibiwing Center for Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways.
Moreover, the university will commence an 18-month initiative called WaterMovesMSU. At the opening event, Prof. Elizabeth LaPénsee will showcase her videogame Honour Water, “a singing game for healing water that passes on songs in Anishinaabemowin”. This year, art historian Laura Smith published a monograph on Kiowa photographer Horace Poolaw and has been speaking on Poolaw’s photography. Over the summer, the Native American Institute hosted their annual Native youth film and video camp, originally started by AIIS professors Gordon Henry and Ellen Cushman (now at Northeastern University). As Director of NAI, Prof. John Norder continues to work with Michigan’s tribes, urban Native communities, and with Indigenous veterans. NAI recently hired Christie Poitra to work on Native educational issues and do community outreach.
Finally, AIIS would like to welcome Erin Sutherland, a PhD Candidate at Queen’s University in Ottawa, Canada. Erin is a Métis curator originally from Alberta and is the 2016-2017 American Indian and Indigenous Studies Pre-doctoral Fellow. Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner, a PhD student in Philosophy, is this year’s AIIS graduate assistant. We would like to congratulate AIIS faculty member Sheila Contreras who has been appointed Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Diversity, and Inclusion in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters.
As you can see, AIIS faculty are active scholars in their fields, on campus, and in the community. And I did not even mention the work done by all of our outstanding AIIS faculty. Let me leave you with an Anishinaabemowin word that, as I reflect upon the importance of American Indian and Indigenous Studies within the university, begins to seem more and more relevent. Waatebagaa is a verb that means “there are bright leaves.” As the leaves change color, as we collectively learn with and from one another, and from the leaves themselves, bright leaves line the banks of the Red Cedar and can be seen throughout Michigan. American Indian and Indigenous Studies helps us see these bright leaves – as well as students – and disclose the potentialities we all have to share our individual and shared brilliance.
PLEASE CONTACT US BEFORE STOPPING BY. American Indian and Indigenous Studies is located in Baker Hall, Room 414 and 416. Because we may be out of the office for meetings or programming, please contact GA Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner or Prof. Dylan Miner before stopping by.