Flowers in our new Anishinaabe pathway
Here in Onigamiising, fall semester classes at the University of Minnesota Duluth began on Aug. 29. In the week or so before that, faculty and staff began the move back into Cina Hall, which had been closed for over a year for. Renovations included some much-needed heat and air quality work as well as nice bathrooms, new lighting and new wall coverings and flooring for the first-floor hallway.
Cina Hall emptied out in May of 2015. Everyone who worked there moved into temporary quarters all over campus. Because we in the Department of American Indian Studies had been working in several different areas around UMD for the past year, we were very much looking forward to getting back together in one area and seeing what our remodeled "digs" looked like.
While we were away from Cina we had seen plans and drawings of the new first-floor and main hallway, including our department. On paper and on a computer screen everything looked modern and clean, with a color scheme that integrated a lovely shade of orange on eastern walls, representing the sunrise and the new beginnings of each dawn. I was especially interested in seeing how the floor of the hallway, a much-traveled artery, turned out. In pictures the terrazzo floor had a black background with Ojibwe-style floral designs in red, yellow and orange, with green leaves.
A few days before classes started when the protective cardboard was removed from the new hallway floor, I stood for a moment at the entrance to Cina, just breathing and taking in the moment. I was so moved, especially by the trail of flowers, leaves and vines, that I went into my office and put on my moccasins to walk along the floral path, my steps invisibly overlaying the pattern. The terrazzo pathway is significant in its design, whether those who walk on it are aware of this or not, in Anishinaabe ways.
There is a history here in Cina Hall of the birth of the American Indian Studies program more than 40 years ago and the growth of American Indian programs at UMD. That history, I believe, is represented and almost visible in the renovation of the first-floor Cina hallway: the floral terrazzo floor, the birchwood and bark paneling, the eastern wall of sunrise orange that signifies the new gifts and beginnings of each day. Perhaps it has always been a place of Anishinaabe heart and spirit and we just did not see that before. Perhaps I will put on my moccasins a little more often, now that I have thought about this.
My moccasins are of the classic Ojibwe style: puckered toe with a vamp (top of the foot) that is beaded in a floral design. This style is worn by both men and women. The beaded flowers, vines and leaves are there to honor the living things that grow from the earth. We walk on these sustaining gifts from the Creator every day. In wearing their beaded portraits on our moccasins, we are acknowledging this and giving thanks. Wearing moccasins and walking in them, then, is a prayer. (When we dance, that prayer is set to music. I found myself humming when I walked on the new floor.)
During the first week of school I stepped out of the office many times to walk, slowly and with thought, up and down the hallway along the winding floral designs that are representational of the flowers and plants that have such meaning to our existence. I heard comments about the pattern and colors, words like "beautiful" and "cool" from students who, I hope, will come to understand the history and cultural significance of newly renovated Cina Hall.
Outside the doorway to the Department of American Indian Studies is a yellow flower that is now the first thing I see as I go into the office. As I step onto the pattern my unspoken words are these:
Aniin Nokomisaag, Mishomisaag, gaye waabigoonan.(Hello, grandmothers, grandfathers and flowers.)
Minawaa giizhig noongoom, onishishin. (It is another day today, and that is good/pretty.)
Migwechiwendam, niin. (I am thankful.)
Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grover will give a talk based on her newest book of poetry, “The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives,” noon to 1 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15, in the Ruth Maney Room on the first floor of the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center (the Depot), 506 W. Michigan St. Admission is free; attendees are invited to bring a bag lunch.