"Spirits of the Mountains"- Updated September 19, 2018
No artist is more indelibly tied and synonymous to, and adept of making us see, the spirit of asiniiwajiw mishoomishag, the majestic Rocky Mountains of Alberta, than Anishinaabe painter and poet Simone McLeod - or, as her traditional name is, Aki-egwaniizid (Earth Blanket). Born in the Name doodem (sturgeon clan) in Manitoba where her mother's People the Nakawē Ojibweg come from, and having lived for the bigger part of her life in Saskatchewan where her father's People the Saulteaux live, Simone frequently visits the Rockies in Alberta. Surrounded by the Mountain Grandfathers who sit there patiently, their remote and towering cliffs and ragged ridges and snow-capped peaks reaching into the vast skies, illuminated at night by Grandmother Moon and her favorite star constellation, the Fisher Star (Big dipper), Simone finds inspiration and peace of mind.
"No one sees the Mountains like I do.
I see Mother Earth stretched all over here. She is free to be herself. Her essence is everywhere.
The sky is her lover. He lingers about her every crevice. Dipping in and out wantonly. He is not shy here where a love so strong can blossom like the budding trees, to be spread throughout this planet.
It is a wondrous union inspiring artists from near and far. It causes longing and need in me that I do not see in people around me. I will forever hold the sight of this love-making in my heart."
When a friend on Facebook asked Simone about the symbolism of the painting, suggesting that the female spirit in the center of the canvas dressed in brown is a beautiful young spirit, being admired by older spirits yet timidly concealing her beauty, Simone responded as follows:
Although initially I did not ask her why she painted women instead of men, I suspected she did it intuitively because, after all, women, like the earth itself, possess the gift of life. Is it not true that our women form the backbone of society, possessing the key to wisdom and survival of our communities? Is it not true that, like Omizakamigokwe (Mother Earth) herself, her elemental substance being asin (rock), women are able to conceive and give birth to oshki-bimaadiziwin (new life)? Have women not always been regarded and cherished and honored by the People as they sustain their society with beauty and nourishment, in the same way the earth does with nature?
I had no doubt that Simone, who comes from a long line of Mide (Medicine) People, being an artist working in the tradition of the ancient Anishinaabe rock painters - and uses a paint brush to honor life in the same way her ancestors did through prayer, chant, dance, and ceremony -, understands and acknowledges this principle, this ancient understanding. She knows that even the mountains are nourished from the earth; I suspect that by depicting the spirits of the grandfather mountains as women, she honors and celebrates all motherhood - and therefore life itself - in a special, sacred way.
But when asked about the gender of the spirits in the foreground, she answered this:
A dangerous place
A spiritual presence
What Simone's painting clearly shows is that besides beauty, the mountains also have manidoowiwin, a spiritual presence (see the female figures in the foreground). This aura of mystery, often called manidoowad or a sacrosanct atmosphere, bestows a sacred quality on certain remote places...As a rule these places were left undisturbed by the ancestors out of respect for the privacy of the manidoog and perhaps out of fear of offending them. The only reason to enter the homes of the manidoog would be to look for visions and dreams, to talk to the supernatural beings directly. Look at the remote places in the barren mountains, solid, severe, and strong, and it is not hard to imagine that for the ancestors, no place was more fitting to address the manidoog, to gain entry in their world and have them enter into their dreams. Look at a deep crevice of a hidden rock site and you can imagine that no place was more suitable for visions. Look at the unique formations and remote places near or in caves and waterfalls and towering cliffs and round boulders and craters with gently sloping walls, and it is not hard to believe that many generations of youngsters used to come there, looking for spiritual guidelines, and gaining special instructions in bimaadiziwin, the ways of life. Nor is it hard to believe that even still today these rocks are a place of pilgrimage for local members of the Anishinaabeg and Nēhilawē and Denésoliné Nations.
Teachers of Mankind
Giiwenh: this is how far the story goes.
Miigwech for reading and listening and giga-waabamin: see you later!
> Read part 6 in the series.
Simone (her traditional name is Aki-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is an Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) and feels a special kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba. Simone descends from a long line of Midewiwin seers and healers and artists. Her artwork has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by art lovers from all over the world.
My name is Zhaawano Giizhik. I am an American currently living in the Netherlands. I was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. I have Anishinaabe blood running through my veins, the doodem of my ancestors from Baawiting (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer I draw on the oral and pictorial traditions that my ancestors left me. In doing so I sometimes work together with kindred artists. Simone and I have done several art projects together in the past and will hopefully create many in the future.
Painting "Spirits Of The Mountains" 28 x 58 ' (71 x 147 cm) acrylic on canvas, 2013 posted with permission of Simone McLeod/Aki-egwaniizid. Copyright Simone Mcleod, Fisher Star Creations. Click here to go to our website.