21 May 2008


lll ) lllllllllllllll Awatsimaanistsi…

Tangibly vibrant, mo aapistsisskitsaato’si. So much energy, so much power, bursting like aapsspinniikoaiksi from the hard shell of winter’s owaistsi. My intuition tells me simply to dance along as a partner or player in this surge of renewed life. Kitawahsinnoon taisitsipssakk, Let go… let go. Miinotoomsoohkomit. Kitaaksiisookoo. Ki nitssksinihpa anni niitsii. It’s been demonstrated. While piipiiaakii labours happily with a group of aakiiksi at mi’kai’stoo, brain-tanning deer hides, I throw a line in the backwater streams of Farm Four ki come away with six apaksskioomiiksi. It’s enough meat for at least two meals in our small household, acquired with very little effort. Then, a couple sleeps later, piipiiaakii ki niisto plant seeds for our annual vegetable garden behind nookoowannaan, ki during our preparation of the ground we gather young foliage from a number of spinach-like, spear-leaf goosefoot plants that have grown of their own accord since saommitsiki’somm. It takes no time at all to fill four ziplock freezer-bags with these nutritious leaves, which piipiiaakii plans to sauté in butter ki garlic, ki serve at various dinners. I imagine that if we occupied ourselves for an entire morning gathering these plants, we’d quickly have enough to last all year, ki a surplus to give away as well. It’s that easy. The goosefoot are that plentiful. Ki yet, they’re only one of at least a dozen local vegetable species I’m aware of that are ready to be harvested right now.

There’s no question, kitawahsinnoon ayiisootssp. But most don’t even seem to recognize this. Among the minority who do, like kiistonnoon, we typically accept only the smallest portion of the gifts offered. It’s as if we’re being treated to an elegant dinner, but have arrived to the event with full stomachs, or find ourselves intimidated by an exotic menu, or just hold back in preparation for some other indulgence planned for afterward. We sit here amongst our hosts, refusing to even sample the food on our plates, choosing instead to snack lightly on a garnish here or there, just enough to feel justified in claiming to have indeed eaten. Oddly, we have a keen interest in making such assertions, in occasionally accepting the invitation to dine, in learning at least the names of the dishes set before us. This is the curious part. Why would we even bother, if we’re not going to surrender ourselves fully to the dining experience?

Matonni, in the evening, I asked myself this same question while sitting in a deep, almost scalding bath, walking myself through an exercise that I’ve been exploring recently, to help bring clarity to these kinds of dilemmas. Immersed up to my shoulders, I close my eyes ki bring my attention first to noistomi, then to the connection I have with aohkii… not only that which surrounds me in the tub, interfaced against my flesh, but also (ki by extension) to the whole of that which circulates throughout kitawahsinnoon… flowing from the miistakiistsi ki maksisskommiksi down across the prairies, coalescing in pools that feed the sky ki eventually circulate back again. In this manner, I realize a sensation of inseparability between noistomi ki aohkii, as if they are one ki the same. It is just as matsi’sai’piyi ainihkiwa, aohkii noistominnaan. Ki it is similar to the sensation I experience in sstsiiysskaan, where I am no longer so much physical, but spirit.

From this state of heightened or adjusted awareness, there is no longer any notion of time, nor concept of separation over distance. I can travel via noistomi, aohkii, wherever I please, instantaneously, searching for answers to whatever questions happen to be most relevant in the moment. On this particular occasion, I want to return to the events of earlier in the day, when ki’naksaapo’p ki niisto drove to miistsi kawahkoistsi ki ni’tommoistsi west of Nanton to visit aitapisskoistsi. I sought to re-experience our encounters with these places from the perspective of this different form of consciousness, to feel around for anything I may have missed when relying on a more limited set of sensory capacities.

Our first stop that day had been at aakiipisskaan, where ki’naksaapo’p hoped to get some film footage of omiksi kakanottsstookiikoaiksi I’d photographed on my recent pass through the area. We were lucky, or perhaps aakiipisskaan had been awaiting our arrival. On the walk over to the jump, I found my first mi’ksikatsi oyiiyis, hidden under some gooseberry brush high on the ridge. Then, when we entered omi pisskaan, we found not only the nested chicks, but also a full-grown kakanottsstooki, perched picturesquely on a rock shelf just below the ancient carving of iipisowahsi. It was, in fact, the same shelf where I’d left ninnisskimm overnight during sa’aiki’somm, in an attempt to gain naatoyiipaapao’kaanistsi. That prior evening, as I drove in the dark toward Edmonton, I’d experienced a doubling of noistomi – one self in the vehicle, another walking the path to aakiipisskaan. Ki as the latter self rounded the cliff-side ki approached the hollow of the rock shelf, I encountered a man there, waiting, silent. The features of ma ninna were not distinct enough to describe in any detail. He was more phantom than physical. He was old, but young. At first my skin crawled when I recognized his presence, but I pushed this initial fear aside ki followed as he led me further along the cliff-face, into a low-ceiling cave. I knew this place well. The cave had a long, narrow window facing across omi kawahkoyi. Ki as I stood there with ma ninna, he made a sign as if shooting an arrow out through the gap, toward some rock formations on the opposite side. The next day, I’d returned to collect ninnisskimm, ki imagined that ma ninna would be there when I came to the shelf. He wasn’t. Nor, to my surprise, was ninnisskimm. Then I looked down into some crevices in the rock, ki found it, the leather strap that transformed it into a necklace eaten cleanly away by rodents. Annohk, what remains of that innisskimm, my first sacred transfer, binds the top of a small skinitsimaan that holds some of nisaaamistsi.

Seeing kakanottsstookii there, on the same rock shelf, as ki’naksaapo’p ki niisto approached aakiipisskaan, brought me immediately back to the encounter with mi ninna. What if the kakanottsstookii was simply another embodiment of that same spirit? Ninnaimsskaiksi, they say, return to us as sipisttoiksi bearing messages. Perhaps he had something to tell me. In the moment though, rather than listen, I allowed the cameras to function as a divide between us ki this other being. Ki’naksaapo’p, with the movie camera, made his way slowly to a position near mi kakanottsstookii, ki then called for my assistance to try ki coax it to take flight. I had wanted to get some close-ups with my still-camera anyway, ki so took the opportunity to approach with very little abandon. Ki ma kakanottsstookii didn’t budge. I walked so close as to start growing intimidated, wondering how I should react if the sipisttoo decided to attack me. But as I considered this possibility, it finally took wing, passing swiftly around the cliff-side ki out of sight.

After aakiipisskaan, nitsitapoohpinnaan a little ways south to an erratic boulder, fissured so as to create a kind of cave. Archaeologists had reported that there were ancient pictographs on the roof of this cave, ki they hadn’t lied. When ki’naksaapo’p ki niisto wedged ourselves inside, we were immediately impressed with the power of what we were witnessing. There were a number of images – a human figure, the crescent of ko’komiki’somm. But what stood out most, obviously central in significance, was a stylized depiction of ksiistsikomiipi’kssi, connected to a human being by a bolt of zig-zag lightning. Before we dared take any images, ki’naksaapo’p ki niisto made an offering of pisstaahkaan ki spoke to the purposes behind of our visit. Then, after another round of camera-work, we made a careful survey of the immediate area ki decided that we should climb up the steep slope of ni’tommo behind this boulder, to discern whether or not the painting’s significance extended to that height. It was raining all the way up, ki I hadn’t even brought a jacket. But neither of us minded the weather. We were all too satisfied to have become acquainted with this new aitapissko.

Along the slope leading up toward the peak of omi ni’tommo, I continually photographed the plants I was seeing – the wild strawberries, shooting stars, yellow bells, ki violets of many hues. I didn’t gather any of these plants, although I knew them all to be useful. I felt like we were on a mission of sorts, a pilgrimage, ki that it was no time to be bothered with digging in the dirt. At the top of mi ni’tommo, ki’naksaapo’p ki niisto were rewarded with a tremendous view in all directions. Certainly this site must have functioned as saamissapii in the past. There were sandstone rock formations up there as well, one with an odd square painted in niitsi’saan. But nothing more. Ki soon we began to feel chilled, tired, hungry. At this point, we turned back, winding our way slowly down the hillside, past the boulders, ki back out onto the flat below. There, near our vehicle, we found a sizeable cairn that had somehow entirely escaped our notice on the way up. For me, the cairn confirmed the likelihood that this place was, as I’d suspected, the origin site of at least one ninnaimsskaahkoyinnimaan. It would be the story of this event that was painted on the roof of the cave, ki the cairn would have been where people left their offerings over subsequent centuries.

That was what I’d experienced on-site. But back in the tub at nookoowa that evening, revisiting the site remotely by means of connection through aohkii, I felt that there had indeed been much overlooked. Re-sensing the visit we’d had, expanding noistomi to include the land, the rocks, the plants, the birds, I suddenly understood that we matapiiksi of today are stuck in a continual state of fasting. We have become completely invested in the pursuit of knowledge, but not at all in its application, in its life. Ki as we are each inseparable from all else in kitawahsinnoon, as we habitually fast, so too does our environment. By our actions, the collective ecological body is slowly, steadily being drained of its nutritive resources. The aohkii that connects us dissipates in the wind, leaving behind only minerals of cold earth, stone, the bones of the dead. It’s a paradox. Having experienced forced disjunction from our relationship with kitawahsinnoon, we seek a re-acquaintance, a revitalization. But it is this very desire, ki the inquisitive action it incites, that keeps us from living that relationship. The longer we continue to explore mere possibilities, the more our life escapes us.