mihšiinkweemiši neehi Aotearoa (Burr Oak & New Zealand)

mihšiinkweemiši neehi Aotearoa (Burr Oak & New Zealand)
Jena Long

What follows are recordings of student observations from kišiinkwia kiilhswa (July/August 2009) to cecaahkwa kiilhswa (April/May 2010).  Each student was asked to observe one feature (plant, tree, animal, celestial body, or weather phenomena) and its connections to other features.  In addition each student was asked to visually represent these connections by constructing a visual web.

niipinwi neehi teekwaaki (Summer and Fall)

The ecological element I have been observing is the mihšiinkweemiši (Burr Oak). This is a deciduous tree and it has many connections with other elements of the ecology we are observing.  On the ecological circle I connected mihšiinkweemiši to waawiipinkwaahkatwi (White Oak) because they are related. To be specific mihšiinkweemiši is in the white oak family. General characteristics of white oaks are that they don’t have as much tannic acid and have rounded lobes on their leaves. Mihšiinkweemiši has a relationship to moohswa (White Tailed Deer) in the food web. I haven’t seen this for myself, but in my research I have been told that deer eat Burr Oak acorns. This makes sense with my ecological observations because Burr Oak acorns have lower tannic acid because they are a white oak variety. Also they are large, as a wild animal these seem to be a great option.

I also see the correlation between mihšiinkweemiši and teekwahkahki (frost). The colder weather and the appearance of frost is what actually begins the process of leaves changing color, falling, and the tree going dormant for the winter. Frost and the change of weather that is part of that influences almost all of the changes I saw in the mihšiinkweemiši this semester. The mihšiinkweemiši is changing a lot during the time when the days become shorter and shorter. This is an example of the many changes that happen at the same time during the fall. Mihšiinkweemiši is connected to all the other deciduous trees during this time of year, because they are all undergoing the same processes. Aayoonseekaahkwi (Black Walnut) and kiinošiši (White Walnut) both lose their leaves earlier than mihšiinkweemiši, and aayoonseekaahkwi leaves fall before kiinošiši. It is the subtle differences between deciduous trees that are the most interesting, these are the types of changes that the Miami were so in tune with. These same subtle differences are the ones the broader American culture does not notice. It feels good to be more aware of the ecology/biology that surrounds me. On this same note the ahsenaamiši (Sugar Maple) leaves change color more drastically and it loses its leaves much sooner than the mihšiinkweemiši.

Ayaapeensa kiilhswa (Young Buck Moon, middle of October to early November) and ayaapia kiilhswa (Buck Moon, middle of November to early December) are the two main “months” when most of this change has taken place. It was interesting to see the lack of change during the beginning of the semester and the shift to fast drastic change up till recently. Just recently as I have seen winter set in, I can see that there will be less changes as the ecological world is (in a way) going to sleep. Not to say that there are no changes during the winter, that would be ignorant, yet the changes slow and speed up as the yearly cycle moves. This connects moohswa, mihšiinkweemiši, and tipehki kiilhswa (Moon) during this time of the year. This also shows how names were made from the ecological knowledge of the community such as “ayaapeensa kiilhswa.” Lunar months were named for important ecological changes that occurred during a particular lunar cycle.

I felt the need to add anikwa (Grey Squirrel) to this ecological circle. Mihšiinkweemiši and anikwa have a very close relationship. To be more exact mihšiinkweemini and anikwa are inseparable. Other than eating the acorns, the anikwa also collect the leaves of the Mihšiinkweemiši. I believe the leaves are used to insulate the homes of the anikwa. I have not seen anikwa living inside any of the Mihšiinkweemiši I was observing, however I know this relationship exists and it very personal/close. During my observation/gathering experiences I saw so many anikwa and I saw the major effect they have on the mast before and after it fell off the tree. This is part of the food web as well as an interesting way for the mihšiinkweemiši to spread its offspring, so it is a good situation for both sides. By observing mihšiinkweemiši this semester I have started to see the incredible amount of connectedness that is so easily overlooked in nature by my generation. I have become more aware of the connections of the different components of our ecosystem here on the Miami University campus and how those relate to my history and my future. This practice of being more aware, more able to see these slight changes, can help me understand the past, interpret new environments, and help me be a more environmentally conscientious person.

Circle representing the connections Jena observed in 2009

Click here to see the complete web created by all the students as well as the translations for all of the words on the circle.

pipoonwi neehi miloohkami (Winter and Spring)

Jena studied abroad in Aotearoa (New Zealand) during the period running from mahkwa kiilhswa (December/January 2009-10) to ceecaahkwa kiilhswa (April/May 2010).  She was asked to reflect and write about her experiences being in another people’s homelands.

New Zealand Observations – Essay 1

As a visitor in New Zealand I have had the unique opportunity to be exposed to a minority native culture and a dominant western culture at the same time. This experience has helped me see the effects of each on the other more clearly. This is a very complex relationship and, naturally, I have barely hit the surface in the six and a half weeks I have been in this country.

The most extensive subject that I have seen permeate through the Maori culture is their connection to these islands. Aotearoa is the Maori name for the islands that were later named New Zealand. Aoteraroa means “land of the long white cloud”. Their names, like the Miami, reflect their natural environment. I had the incredible opportunity to be invited into a marae, a Maori community house. I was able to experience the entire welcoming experience/dance/challenge. A few of the more environment oriented aspects of this visit were the greetings, the art and the history.

The traditional Maori introduction is to say “My mountain is the ________. My waterway (sea or river) is the __________. And my people are the ________(usually this would be a subtribe or family name ). They don’t even say their given name. This shows how important it is to the Maori to know physically where someone comes from. This shows both a connection and an affinity for your land that I think is becoming more rare.  It also shows a sense of community and belonging to a group of people. As I have heard before the “individual” is a western concept that has begun to permeate native cultures. Mountain, waterway and people group/family may in fact be three of the most important things about me.

The art of the Maori that I was able to experience was carvings, song and dance. Most of the carvings in the Marae were of tribal deities, but as their stories were told I saw the connection in the carving itself to where the deity held power. Some of the very symbolic carvings of the Maori are representations of nature. The meanings of the carvings are interpretations of nature’s movement or power. One example of this is the fern fiddlehead. A curled carving of jade depicting the unfurled new leaf of the silver fern is called The Beginning of Life. It means new beginnings, growth and harmony. There are so many ferns in New Zealand that this seems extremely fitting. This is just one example of the carved art that incorporates the environment the Maori live in. When our group was at the marae a dance group danced for us and explained some of the movements and meanings. The quick, constant hand motion that they did throughout the entire dance was representative of the movement of water. There were other motions for certain natural things such as trees, lakes and clouds. The words to the songs were fitting to all the motions,  but I wasn’t told exactly what they were saying.

The history of the Maori is turbulent yet it has resolved more fully in recent times than the tribes of the US. Like most conquests/discoveries, the “discovery” of New Zealand by westerners was about land. Most of my knowledge of the Maori history is from a Maori elder, who told us an extensive bedtime story about the Maori. The story covered the Maori from their creation story up to the “cultural genocide” and how they have fought back. She was soothing, interesting and enlightening as well as saddening and threatening. She had very severe opinions of America and Caucasian kiwis. She also was very excited to share her culture with us, because we were talking the time to experience and listen to the Maori. Their story starts with the stars and ends with a current fight for beach lands that were taken from Maori individuals. As the Caucasian kiwis began to colonize more and more of the islands, the Maori people lost a lot of their land and are now confined to smaller areas. This is an extreme change from their history but is not to the same extent as the relocation of tribes in the US, as far as I know.  This history, as well as many other native peoples, is the story of a change from communal land to individual land. The land of the long white cloud was not meant to be cut to pieces and fought over, it was meant to produce, provide and be gorgeous.

The land that the Maori have called home for so long comprises one of the most beautiful and diverse areas I have visited. The beauty of the land and the influence of the Maori traditions have lead to much of the islands become national parks. The Maori have lost much of their environment to another culture, yet the Maori way of thinking and interacting with the environment is still percolating into the larger New Zealand culture.

Reflections in Aotearoa – Essay 2

The southern hemisphere has comfortable similarities to my home and fascinating differences. There is a striking similarity between the plants here in Aotearoa and the plants in Washington. Growing up in the foothills of the Cascade mountains has made me very aware of the plant life in that climate, as a result of that I have been conscious of the plant life here. The similarities and differences. A few of the specific similarities are the many ferns as well as lupine and foxglove flowers. These plants have made me feel more like I belong in this environment because I have a basic understanding of the plants and what climate they require. This has been helpful during days in the outdoors. The seasons are another interesting factor. Autumn in April is incredibly counter intuitive for my northern hemisphere brain. However, autumn in Dunedin is very similar to autumn where I live in Washington. This brings forward some interesting feelings. I feel quite at home in this climate, with the rain and cool weather. I also feel very peculiar as I sense that I am missing the spring season. I can tell the natural order of seasons has not been cyclical for me this year. A major difference between my natural habitat and my new short-term habitat is the stars. I didn’t notice the difference until I spotted the few constellations I can pick out of the crowded sky, like Orion. I have recently seen Orion way down by the horizon to the south and he may have been upside-down. Something new I have learned in regards to the stars is how to find south from the Southern Cross and surrounding stars. This is such useful knowledge, however, it will be useless when I return home.

The plants, seasons and stars exemplify some of the similarities and differences that I have experienced between Aotearoa/New Zealand and home. Spending time considering these variations has also brought to mind the similarities and differences in the native peoples from these localities. Differences mostly arise from the land, water, plants and animals that are there to be worked with. Similarities are striking in that the Maori and the native people of the US all had to have a pristine and extensive knowledge of their surroundings. Stars, locating themselves, knowing the growing seasons and gathering seasons, practical plant identification and survival are just a few of the many aspects of life that had to be known in order to live. Today we see these areas as interesting specialties, boutiques of outdoor thought perhaps, and we under appreciate the amount of cultural knowledge necessary to thrive in any of these environments. It is incredible.

This experience in a new environment is beginning to open my eyes to the extent to which the Myaamia ecological perspectives, as I view them, are a subset to the composite global ecological perspective. Not the governmental, idealized perspective, but the collaborated native thought that prevailed previously and still perseveres. It is a view that can be combined with science, technology or western culture to make a hybrid that is only unnatural from a historical perspective. The observation oriented native people of all areas were using what they had to answer problems pertaining to their health, happiness and survival. Continuing in that mind-set using the assets our generation is blessed with cannot be outside of the bounds of native ecological perspective. So I am beginning to coagulate an idea that personal and tribal ecological perspectives can be learned from history then carefully applied and modified for the present and the future.

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