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kikawînaw askiy wîscakasa – Mother Earth’s Hair

As a child my grandmother let my hair grow till it could be braided.

My spirit and heart welcomed the long hair even though brushing would often be quite painstaking as a boy. Seeing kohkom’s long, beautiful black braided hair just like mine made me feel better about my hair.

Before I could know the significance of braiding one’s hair, I was kidnapped at age five and sent to All Saints Indian Residential School. Hair from a European point of view must have meant something different because one day snip, snip there went my beautiful long hair. It would be some time until I’d begin growing my hair once again. It was just a feeling I had that told me that ‘braiding one’s hair is ancestral’; besides, my grandmother would prefer it to the brushcut I’d come home with over the years.

Grass is called kikawînaw askiy wîscakasa in nêhiyawêwin (Cree language).

The land is called kikawînaw askiy or Mother Earth. The word ‘Canada’ is derived from the Huron language and traditionally spelled, kanata. Somewhere along the way it became what is now known as Canada.

When the treaties were signed there was one specific clause that had to do with kikawînaw askiy wîscakasa (Mother Earth’s hair), which read ‘iskohk maskosiya isakikiki (for as long as the grass grows). And maskosew simowin, meaning grass dancing, was a prayer and a dance the Dakota had gifted to many nations all over the world. It is an acknowledgement and homage to kikawînaw askiy wîscakasa as throughout the summer indigenous and non-indigenous people would be involved in this celebration called the pow wow.

To illustrate even further my connection to the land, I was gifted with my name by a spirit or grandfather (benevolent spirit beings within our sweat lodges).

I was named kamiyo kesikan kesikaw pimohtew, meaning ‘the spirit of the day guided being’. My understanding is that I have a very expansive view and connectedness to this land. My other name has to do with a tree but I’ve chosen not to share it at this time that I write in support of saving and preserving the Northeast Swale.

Being named from this land is a gift and a responsibility.

I feel somehow responsible to my namesakes, like a custodian to our Mother Earth. We’ll always be related. I will always be connected to kikawinaw askiy wîscakasa that lives in her many forms and who collectively live and breathe as I do.

I’ve walked and travelled through grasslands and forests of Saskatchewan, and beyond, for over sixty years. First as a kohkom’s grandchild, then as a medicine gatherer, ceremonialist and storyteller.

To this day, as a medicine keeper and gatherer, I understand and am governed by the natural laws of this land.

kikawînaw askiy wîscakasa is only one way nêhiyawak define the grasses, trees and plants. As for my hair I choose to keep it long and it is braided at times or, at my discretion, I allow it to blow freely in the wind.

© Joseph Naytowhow
Saskatoon and Val Marie, Saskatchewan

Did you know ..

when Europeans first visited the interior of North America, they didn’t know what to make of the vast expanse of shining, wind-swept lands. Lacking a term of their own, English-speakers adapted the French word for a meadow, la prairie. In Michif, that became prerii. The land also knows other, older names: saoki, thínta, obláye, paskwaw, and more.

Author: Joseph Naytowhow

Joseph Naytowhow is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist and traditional knowledge keeper who specializes in storytelling, music, voice/movement and public speaking. He serves local and international communities through the lens of his traditional Plains/Woodland nehiyaw/Cree culture. His busy schedule includes advice and consultation to several universities as well as translation services to many organizations and individuals.

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