Promise of spring, promise of change

Ziigwan is the time of motion, growth and renewal. In other words: change.

McVicar's Creek
McVicar's Creek

WINNIPEG – It’s springtime. For many, it’s spring break — time to take a breather, rest and relax. Some will travel, some will just stay home with the kids, some will ignore it completely.

For Indigenous Peoples, spring is the time of change. In the Anishinaabe language, we call it ziigwan.

Ziigwan usually happens on the calendar during onaabani-giizis — “the moon of hard-crusted snow.”

This is the time when the white blanket that covers the earth melts and freezes in cycles, crunching underneath our feet. It’s also the time when winter stories are put away and spring tales are told.

Ziigwan is the time of motion, growth and renewal. In other words: change.

Many in our communities make commitments to fast, initiate into lodges or perform upcoming ceremonies (such as the sun dance).

Ziigwan is essentially the time when communities would emerge from winter lodges and prepare for the upcoming season. We rebuild our sweat lodges and homes. We plant our foods and medicines, harvest fish and deer, and tap the trees for maple syrup.

Ziigwan is the time of motion, growth and renewal. In other words: change.

Change requires a lot of work. Old habits, as they say, die hard.

To remind us of this, my people have a story of how ziigwan came to be. Here it is.

Ziigwan is said to be one of the beautiful, kindest and most generous beings in Creation. She is the best parts of life — especially the good, new and exciting parts.

When she arrives, everyone in the universe takes notice, especially Biboon (winter).

Biboon is beautiful, too, but in a much different way. He is determined, proud and independent. He spends days and months flaunting his strength and expressing his power.

However, as he does every season, the moment Biboon sees Ziigwan, he falls in love.

He does everything he can to impress her, moving with speed and ferocity. Having witnessed his posturing before, Ziigwan waits for him to finish and then continues her work, preparing the world for the change.

This drives Biboon into a frenzy. He dances and sings, trying to get her attention. For a long time, he tries to convince her to fall in love with him. When she doesn’t, he eventually has a tantrum.

All the while, Ziigwan comforts Biboon and cares for him, soothing him as he kicks and screams and flails. She is patient, supportive and gentle as she whispers to him, rocking him in her arms.

The two struggle, crusting the snow until it finally gives way to earth. The ice cracks and the water flows. The winds turn from storms to breezes.

Finally, Biboon gives way to Ziigwan.

She inspires the plants to grow, the birds to return, the animals to mate and the skies to clear. This is why March has a second name: aandego-giizis — “the crow moon.”

It’s the time the crows caw, announcing the end of biboon.

So, whatever you do this spring, enjoy the change. You deserve it. This past winter was one of the more brutal in memory, and we’ve got turbulent times ahead.

In the media, the past few months have been a steady diet of Donald Trump, climate change and the SNC-Lavalin mess that threatens to turn this fall’s Canadian federal election upside down.

There are upcoming challenges we must face together: a fall election, conflicts over pipelines and energy projects, a world obsessed with Brexit and Islamophobia. (And the NHL playoffs begin next month. Go, Jets, go.)

Now is the time to stick together. This is why we are Treaty 1 people.

After all, ziigwan is the time for bravery.

So, whether it be spring cleaning, going to the gym or quitting a toxic relationship — this is the time to do it.

Be patient, kind and gentle with yourself, but also firm and persistent. You’ll get there.

We’ll get there.

This is the promise of ziigwan.

Niigaan SinclairNiigaan Sinclair

Originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on March 23, 2019. Republished with the permission of the author