We just finished cleaning up our siihsipaahkwikaani ‘maple sugar camp’ at Miami University. Maple sugaring season tends to be during Mahkoonsa Kiilhswa ‘Young Bear Moon’ and Aanteekwa Kiilhswa ‘Crow Moon’ which roughly corresponds with February through early April on the Gregorian calendar. This is the time of the year where temperatures are starting to rise during the day and drop at night. The temperature change causes ahsenaamišipowi ‘sap’ to flow from the roots of the trees up to the branches and back down.

Three Miami University students at the MU siihsipaahkwikaani 'maple sugar camp'

From left to right: Gloria, Gabriel, and Josh at Miami University
Photo: Jonathan Fox, 2019

Since 2010, Myaamia Heritage students and Myaamia Center staff have regularly tapped trees in a small ahsenaamišahki ‘sugar maple grove’ on campus. This year, George and his daughter, Mirin, identified several ahsenaamiša ‘sugar maples’ to tap in rotation each year. Having the trees close together is beneficial so that it is easier to collect and transport the ahsenaamišipowi to be processed.

The next step after identifying which ahsenaamiša will be used is tapping the selected trees. At Miami University, we used a drill to make a hole 2-3 inches into the tree at a slight angle.

Joshua S. drilling a hole in a ahsenaamiši 'maple tree' for tapping at the Eichel Property outside of Oxford

Joshua S. drilling a hole for tapping at the Eichel Property outside of Oxford
Photo: Karen Baldwin, 2007

A tap was then put into the hole. The angle of the hole allows the ahsenaamišipowi to run down the tap and into the ahkihkwi ‘bucket.’Before metal and plastic were available, bark was formed into a bucket to catch the sap. Gerard Hopkins noted in the spring of 1804, “Their troughs for catching the sugar water as it is called, are made of the bark of the red elm, they are made thin, and the ends tied together.”[1]

ahsenaamišipowi 'sap' flowing from a tap

ahsenaamišipowi ‘sap’ flowing from a tap
Photo: Karen Baldwin, 2007

Throughout maple sugaring season, it is important to pay attention to the weather. Large changes in temperature will cause the ahkihkwa to fill faster than if the temperature stays relatively the same. Once the ahkihkwa are full, the ahsenaamišipowi is poured into five gallon buckets to bring back for processing.

Gabriel transferring ahsenaamišipowi between buckets

Gabriel transferring ahsenaamišipowi ‘sap’
Photo: Left – Karen Baldwin, 2007; Right – Jonathan Fox, 2019

The process of transforming ahsenaamišipowi into iihkisaminki ‘syrup’ takes a lot of patience. The ahsenaamišipowi is put into a large cooking pot and brought to a boil. Ahsenaamišipowi is made of paankosaakani ‘sugar’ and nipi ‘water’. If you taste the ahsenaamišipowi as it runs out of the tap, you may not notice it has a sweet taste.

Gloria tasting ahsenaamišipowi from the tap

Gloria tasting ahsenaamišipowi ‘sap’ from the tap
Photo: Left – Karen Baldwin, 2007; Right – Jonathan Fox, 2019

When you start boiling the ahsenaamišipowi, the nipi evaporates causing the sugar to become more concentrated causing the liquid left behind to taste sweeter. With time, practice, and a good hydrometer, you’ll eventually get maple syrup. To get one gallon of iihkisaminki, you will need about forty gallons of ahsenaamišipowi.

ahsenaamišipowi 'sap' on the left and iihkisaminki 'syrup' on the right

ahsenaamišipowi ‘sap’ on the left and iihkisaminki ‘syrup’ on the right
Photo: Karen Baldwin, 2007

If you continue to boil the iihkisaminki, you can create siihsipaahkwi ‘maple sugar’. This process takes more practice in order to identify the perfect time to remove the iihkisaminki from heat and transfer into a nipoopilaakani ‘mixing bowl’. Once the liquid is transferred, it needs to be stirred constantly as it cools in order to break apart the clumps of siihsipaahkwi into finer crystals.

siihsipaahkwi 'maple sugar'

siihsipaahkwi ‘maple sugar’
Photo: Karen Baldwin, 2007

Historically, siihsipaahkwi was stored in wiiphšinaakana ‘basket for storing maple sugar’ and used to season food throughout the year. Two hundred years ago, Siihsipaahkwi was also traded for other goods. For example, in the spring of 1804, Gerard Hopkins noted “The women bring sugar, which is generally neatly packed in a square box made of bark, containing about fifty pounds….We have seen very white and clear looking sugar of their manufacture.”

Today, the Myaamia Heritage students and Myaamia Center staff enjoy a waffle and pancake day with the fresh iihkisaminki collected on campus!

iihkisaminki 'maple syrup' in a window

iihkisaminki ‘maple syrup’
Photo: Karen Baldwin, 2007

Miami University Siihsipaahkwikaani

YearAhsenaamišipowiCollectedIihkisaminki Made
2019200 gallons5 gallons

[1]Gerard T. Hopkins, A Mission to the Indians, from the Indian Committee of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, to Fort Wayne, in 1804.  Compiled by Martha E. Tyson in 1862 (Philadelphia, T.E. Zell, 1862), 62. You can find this document online here – https://archive.org/details/missiontoindians00hopk_0/page/62

Aanteekwa Kiilhswa ‘Crow Moon’ is the second month of the Myaamia lunar calendar. It is named for the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), which usually nests and breeds during this month. During the winter months, aanteekwaki ‘crows’ often gather in large groups but as the nesting period begins this behavior comes to an end. In the midwest, aanteekwaki are some of the earliest birds to build nests and lay eggs. Like the other lunar months named for birds, Aanteekwa Kiilhswa typically occurs during the transition from pipoonwi ‘winter’ into niipinwi ‘summer.’  During Aanteekwa Kiilhswa maple sugaring often reaches its height. But by the end of this lunar month, the Sugar maple trees have usually budded and the sugaring season comes to a close.


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*American crow image from wikimedia commons

Mahkwa Kiilhswa ‘Black Bear Moon’ is one of two lunar months named for the American black bear (Ursus americanus).  It typically occurs between late December and early February in the Gregorian calendar. To the best of our knowledge, this month is associated with mature female bears giving birth to their cubs.  Female American black bears have a litter of cubs every 2 years, and litters range from 1-5 cubs.  Following birth, cubs stay with their mother for 1-2 years. Mahkooki ‘American black bears’ were an important source of food for Myaamia people, with bear tenderloin being a particular delicacy.  Mahkwa also plays a prominent role in Myaamia aalhsoohkaana ‘Winter Stories.’


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Ayaapia Kiilhswa ‘Buck Moon’ is one of two lunar months named for the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus).  To the best of our knowledge, this month is associated with the end of the rut (breeding cycle) and the older males losing their antlers.


ayaapia (White-tailed Deer buck)*

Today, there is a lot of variation within White-tailed Deer populations regarding when bucks drop their antlers.  It appears that historically, the older White-tailed Deer bucks dropped their antlers after younger males.  The loss of antlers marks the end of the rut (the breeding cycle) for these more mature male deer.

*photo from http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/may01/k5437-3.htm

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The arrival of teekwahkahki ‘frost’ signals the end of niipinwiki ‘summer’ and the beginning of peepoonki ‘winter.’ The hard frost occurs during the period of seasonal transition called teekwaakiki ‘autumn’ in Myaamiaataweenki. This frost typically kills off the last of the green growth on plants and animals start to become less active. From a Myaamia cultural perspective, the dormancy of amphibians, especially tree frogs, is a key indicator of peepoonki.

Photo by Vincent van Zeijst via Creative Commons

aašoošiwia neehi teekwahkahki ‘nettle and frost’

The decreased temperatures that arrive with peepoonki ‘winter’ also make thunderstorms far less common. From a Myaamia point of view, there is an important cultural connection between the arrival of teekwahkahki ‘frost,’ the quieting of the frogs, and the absence of regular thunderstorms; together these things indicate that it is time to tell aalhsoohkaana ‘winter stories.’