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Star Stories, part 7: John Trudell, A Gentle Rumble Across the Universe

Updated: Feb 29

~~ An artist's tribute to John Trudell ~~


"We are children of Earth and Sky DNA descendant now ancestor Human being physical spirit Bone flesh blood as spirit Metal mineral water as spirit

We are in time and space

But we’re from beyond time and space

The past is part of the present

The future is part of the present

Life and being are interwoven

We are the DNA of Earth, Moon, Planets, Stars

We are related to the universal

Creator created creation

Spirit and intelligence with clarity Being and human as power


We are a part of the memories of evolution These memories carry knowledge These memories carry our identity Beneath race, gender, class, age Beneath citizen, business, state, religion

We are human beings And these memories Are trying to remind us Human beings, human beings It’s time to rise up Remember who we are"



- Excerpt from "Iktomi (I Flew with the Eagles)" by Isáŋ-athi Dakota poet/musician/activist John Trudell (1946-2015)

~~ In the beginning there were songs and stories ~~


Boozhoo, welcome again in my storytelling lodge! It is said that in the beginning the spirits spoke in song. That is why we Anishinaabeg (Human Beings) sing songs today. To honor the voices of the past, we sing to remember that creation began in song. We also tell stories about the stars, the moon, and the sun to remember who we are and where we came from. From of old our songs and our stories blend together as one and resonate across the universe, which we call the spirit world. Today, we tell a story in honor of the late John Trudell whose poetic voice testified of his deeply rooted love for the culture and language of his People. His voice reminded me of that of my clan animal Waabizheshi, the Marten, fierce and vigorous; his poetry/spoken word style was like Animikii the Thunder - powerful, bold, but often with a gentle undertone. As his legacy travels like a mighty, gentle rumble across the Universe, enriching us all with his words and music, he now lives in the spirit world with his loved ones and his ancestors.




The above piece, an Origin Story necklace which I dedicate to John and his powerful legacy of activism and spoken word, features a design that refers to Iktomi - a story character we will mention later on - and to Spider Woman, who in our stories helped bring Grandfather Sun back to the people, and to Sky-Spirit Woman, our grandmother, the first mother of the Turtle Island Peoples who came to earth and returned to her home behind the moon after her purpose on earth was fulfilled. The design is a reference to our DNA as original inhabitants and heirs of Turtle Island and a reminder that we as Native Peoples are part of an interdependent web of all existence. It's about our responsibility to protect this web. It's about creating and maintaining the unifying sense of spirituality that John expressed in all of his poetry.

~~ Sky Woman, Spider, and the birth of Turtle Island ~~


The first mother of the Anishinaabeg was once an aadizookaan, a supernatural being residing alone in the sky. Her name was Sky Woman. GICHI-MANIDOO, the Creator of Earth and Skies, sent a male aadizookaan to Sky Woman to keep her company. Animikii (Thunder), for that was his name, traveled to the lodge of Sky Woman and from the union that took place (rumor has it that Sky Woman showed her lover every hole and corner of the universe!) were born the ANISH-I-NAAB-EG (a twin brother and sister), whom she placed on the back of a giant Mikinaak (snapping turtle).


The above image shows the backside of the pendant, which I created at my workbench some time ago. The piece, which I titled "Endawi-giizhig" (Both Sides of the Sky) is inspired by John Trudell's poem "I Am Iktomi / I Flew with the Eagles." It's an overlay design consisting of a sterling silver plate with a design cut out and soldered on top of another plate of the same material. This "negative" design, which was darkened (oxidized) with the aid of a sulphur solution, I furnished with inlay of red gold, turquoise stones, and red gold.


The title of the necklace, "Both Sides of the Sky," reflects the paradoxes that my ancestors acknowledged to exist in the world and all forms of life. To them, everything in life consisted of two - seemingly - contradictory aspects. Sky and Earth, Day and night, birth and death, growth and decay, light and dark, ebb and flood, man and woman, youth and old age, water and fire, sadness and joy, and the natural (the seen) and the supernatural (the unseen) are just a few. According to Midewiwin, an age-old lodge of healers and seers, this inherent paradox of our existence as human beings and of all life must be regularly honored and commemorated through rituals, invocations, and prayers directed to the spirits and the animals that surround us because they embody the paradoxes of life more than anyone or anything else.


This ambivalent concept of "two-sideness" of life is expressed in this piece by a front side that, in its colorful extroversion, is reminiscent of the contemporary Southwestern style of the late Hopi master jeweler Charles Loloma and a reverse side that is characterized by a “northerly” fashion, more in keeping with the ancient “spirit writing” tradition of Anishinaabe mazinaajimowin, the pictographic imagery of my own ancestors. Within this context of abstract symbolism and narrative Anishinaabe representation, I depicted on the back side of the pendant, with the aid of the overlay technique, the traditional notion of Spider Woman weaving the sacred web of life (and interweaving its DNA with ours along with it) and how Sky-Spirit Woman recreated the Earth and gave birth to our ancestors after a great flood that once destroyed the world.


The lower part of the design that we see on the back of the pendant depicts the sacred story of how Sky-Spirit Woman, after the world was flooded, gave birth to the first two human beings (anish-i-naab-eg) in the sky and lowered them on top of the shell of a giant sea turtle. We see how she, after having fulfilled her sacred task, ascends back into the sky, which is the domain of the sun, the moon and the star spirits. An island was formed on the back shield of the turtle; this island would soon become known as Mishi Makinaakong, the place of the Great Turtle’s back (now known as Michilimackinac, Michigan) and, taken in a wider sense, as the continent of North America, which is still being called Turtle Island by its indigenous inhabitants.


"We are a part of the memories of evolution

These memories carry knowledge

These memories carry our identity

Beneath race, gender, class, age

Beneath citizen, business, state, religion"


The red coral inlaid in the turtle at the bottom of the design symbolizes the earth, as well as the blood of our Peoples, our unity, and pride in our traditions, and our spiritual DNA, which we are obliged to keep, nurture, and pass on to the next generations.


As the story goes, Sky-Spirit Woman, after she had had nurtured the twins to manhood and womanhood, ascended back into the sky, where she changed her name in Wezaawigiizhigookwe, Yellow Sky Woman, and became known as Nookomis Dibik-giizis, Grandmother Moon. From here on, Nookomis Moon watched over her children by night; by day Gimishoomisinaan Giizis (the Sunfather) and Ogashinan (the Earth-grandmother) took care of them. And Nookomis’s existence, her gift of life, and the primacy of women are still remembered by the Anishinaabeg each time Dibik-giizis, the Night Sun shines on their precious island-home.


The Sky Spirits have been inlaid with red gold (the crescent moon and Sky-Spirit Woman), and with cabochons of turquoise and red coral (the stars). After ascending into the sky, Sky-Spirit Woman chose her abode behind the moon; her gift to mankind is remembered by her children each time the moon shines.


"We are in time and space

But we’re from beyond time and space

The past is part of the present

The future is part of the present

Life and being are interwoven

We are the DNA of Earth, Moon, Planets, Stars

We are related to the universal

Creator created creation"


Sun, Moon, Planets, Stars, Earth, plants, animals, and humans constitute the interconnectedness, or interwoveness, of all life. The spider design in the top, inlaid with turquoise and red coral, represents Asibikaashi, or Spider Woman, symbol of this interwoveness of life. Our People know Asibikaashi as a helper of the People as she protects our dreams and our sleeping children. Each morning Spider Woman weaves her special wiigiwaam for Grandfather Giizis before he pours his magic rays over the land and she inspires mothers to weave protective spider web charms.


Thus, in the context of the pendant design, spider particularly symbolizes the sacred web of life and all cycles that exist in nature, of which we, as Anishinaabeg, or HUMAN BEINGS, are an inseparable part of.


"We are human beings

And these memories

Are trying to remind us

Human beings, human beings

It’s time to rise up

Remember who we are"




In addition, the spider design depicted at the top of the pendant's back side is also a reference to Iktomi, or Spider Man. Iktomi is a hero for John's People, the Isáŋ-athi Dakota People, albeit a somewhat ambivalent one. Dakota, Lakota, and Nakoda tales speak of him as a spider-trickster spirit, a creator, and a shapeshifter. Iktomi, like his counterpart Wiinabozho in the stories of the Ojibweg Peoples, is a master of controversy and two-sideness as he combines in his nature and actions folly and wisdom. Iktomi can be seen as both benevolent and mischievous, and has been portrayed in both ways. When he behaves well and comes to the aid of Oyate' (the People), there are instances where he gives them ways to protect themselves from evil and live a better life. According to a prominent prophecy Iktomi would one day spread his web over the land...





"From the earth

Wind cave memories

One with the sky

Time of different motion

Dog days dreamer

Chasing the neon

Woven into minds


From my place in line

I fell out of order

I’ve been here

I’ve been there

I’ve been anywhere

And

I haven’t been anywhere

and I’ll be back again

I am Iktomi"


~~~~


Pidamaya do, miigwech, thank you John. Taŋyaŋ uŋ wo, giga-waabamin miinawaa. Be well, until we meet again.

Click the thumbnails to view details. Visit the website for additional information about the "Both Sides of the Sky" necklace.


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© 2019 Zhaawano Giizhik. Powered by ZhaawanArt FisherStar Creations

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