waaseyaa'sin christine sy
The written form of this poem is featured in Unsettling Activisms: Critical Interventions on Aging, Gender, and Social Change
I was inspired to write "Grandmother" one evening while walking in my neighborhood which is in a city located in the most eastern part of Anishinaabe territory. I looked up and there she was hanging crisply in the clear, darkening periwinkle sky—a newly waxing moon, over the Otonabee River. “Grandmother” arises from my exposure to and purposeful practice of Anishinaabe thought, kinship ties, and relationships with humans and the natural world. This poem arises from my general sense of awe with the primordial beauty, rhythm, and constancy that tibi giizis (the night sun) emits. I am loyal to nokomis (grandmother moon) and deeply appreciative of the comfort and assurance I feel when I see her. In particular, it arises from the unique conflux of meanings of that moment when I looked up and so her. This poem is a commitment to heal from wounds inflicted by elderly women—Elders—who were once children in residential schools. It is also a commitment to understand their trauma. And, it is an honouring of all the varied skills, abilities, and gifts that grandmothers who (strive to) practice Anishinaabe ways have—their particular ways of injecting life, love, and beauty into the word through their hard labour, talents which are hinged on their value systems, and ways of seeing the world. “Grandmother” is a subversive disruption of the modern phenomenon of constructing infallible "Elders" in Indigenous and Indigenous-non-Indigenous networks of relationships. A reminder that she has a dark side too which she may be held accountable for through her relations but through which we must never diminish the honour and dignity that are hers by virtue of being mindimoyen-- one who carries the world. "Grandmother" is a pining for the safety and quietude in the space of Anishinaabe women's labour and an offering back to her—an offering that recognizes her full humanity and still cherishes her. It is a calling for the love of a grandmother and a response to that love shown, if only through the metaphor of a crescent moon.
The audio version and production of “Grandmother” emerged as the result of an exchange between myself and May Chazan, Chair in Gender and Feminist Studies at Trent University, Peterborough, ON. May first saw “Grandmother” in its textual form on my blog “Anishinaabewiziwin” and asked if it could be included in a project on aging and activism. She later invited me to present it on a panel at AgingGraz2017: Cultural Narratives, Processes and Strategies in Representation of Age and Aging in Graz, Austria (www.aginggraz2017.com/) and share reflections on the subject of unsettling aging and activism. Being unable to commit to this conference, we decided that an audio recording could be prepared and presented in lieu of an in-person reading and discussion. With Janet Rogers’ production talents and relational resources at CFUV 101.5 FM, we were able to create the present recorded version of “Grandmother” which varies slightly from its’ original publication to “Anishinaabewiziwin”.
We hope you enjoy it and that it inspires imaginative engagement with the varied practiced, poetic, and digital ways that Indigenous women work to change the world.
w. c. sy"