Knowing where you come from
When I visit with my Granddaughter Sarah I always call her by her Anishinaabe name: Nimiijien Niibense. It means Little Light Dancing on the Water. She loves pronouncing it. She also loves to hear the story behind her name, so I tell her.
I tell her about the naming ceremony and that our spirit name is not given so much as it is found. According to the teachings of the Midewiwin Lodge to which we belong, our beings consist of three parts – the Body, the Mind and the Spirit. All three parts are necessary in order for life to exist and there is a balance that must be maintained among and between them throughout one’s life.
The Body is our physical side which we can see and which consists of the physical shell and frame, in and through which our Mind and our Spirit function. It’s sort of like a house I tell her, but it can move, so it’s more like an RV. But a house needs more in order to be a home. It needs furnishings, fire, food and family.
The Mind is the intellectual side of us. It gathers information and sorts through what it gathers, keeping and using some, and placing some outside on the curb. We use it to create knowledge, to think, to figure things out, to decide, to exercise our free will, and to give the body directions and commands. It is the part of our being which sets us apart from each other. We may look like someone else but no two people think the same thoughts, at the same time, in the same way, all of the time.
The Spirit is our inner being – our source of inner strength. It is neither intellect nor physical. It is the part of us most closely connected to the Creator. I tell my Sarah that the Creator gave her life by blowing his breath into her and on his breath rode a Spirit – a part of the Creator. All Spirits come from, and eventually return to, the Creator, I tell her.
But the name of the Spirit sent to her, was not known to us in this world, and so, when she was born, her mommy and daddy asked someone special, with the right to do the naming ceremony, to find out what her Spirit’s name was. That person was our friend Dale Missyabit.
Through fasting and prayer Dale asked the Creator to show him what her Spirit name was. Once he had been shown, that name was then revealed by Dale to the rest of the world, through her naming ceremony. Because that name already belonged to the Spirit that was part of her, it was also her name – her Spirit Name.
She has a special relationship with Dale because of what he did for her, and though they don’t see each other often, you can see that they feel a great deal of affection for each other when they do meet. She knows him as her Uncle.
I tell her that the Spirit who is part of her already has a role and a purpose, and that her Spirit’s role and purpose have become part of her. In that way, the teaching goes, by understanding the role and purpose of the child’s Spirit name, the child already is given a sense of his or her purpose and role in life as well.
The same holds true for finding out which clan you belong to. In our teachings, the child is born into the Father’s clan, but is also related to the Mother’s clan, because her Mother’s blood runs in the child’s veins as well. By being born into a Clan you are responsible for assuming the Clan’s responsibilities. The role and purpose of the clan within the tribe, becomes your role and purpose as well. Between understanding your name and understanding your clan, you are given a place in the family, and in the community, from the moment of birth, and all efforts are driven by the understanding that your family has about those things, in raising and educating you. You are raised in accordance with the roles you inherited, with considerable flexibility within those understandings of course as to how that works into your daily life.
I have a sense that one of the great losses experienced by our young people today has been the absence of that teaching from their lives. If our children could be given a sense of their purpose and a sense of belonging from the moment of birth and have that sense renewed constantly it would dramatically change the way they see themselves as they are growing up.
I explain to Sarah that her Uncle Dale had seen her in a dream where he was sitting near a river when he heard a sound. On glancing up, he saw little lights dancing off the water from the sun’s reflection, and he saw a young woman he knew to be Sarah, dancing on the water with them. That is why her name means “Little Light Dancing on the Water”. I explain to Sarah, that her name means that she is a dancer and has a special relationship with, and a responsibility for, the water. I tell her that means she must learn the water teachings from our elders who still have those teachings, that she must learn the water songs, she must know the water ceremonies and she must learn how to speak for the water.
She loves to hear that story.
Then she will ask about her English name. “What does Sarah mean Mooshim?”
I tell her it is also an old, old name that had once belonged to one of her Kookums. It was a name given to women of high rank, often being the name given to the first born daughter, and that it means “Princess”.
When she was very little, she once thought about that for a moment and said “That’s why I always want to be a bootiful, bootiful princess. Right Mooshim?”