There are two significant celestial events observed by many indigenous cultures across North America, the winter solstice and the summer solstice. It’s the latter that provides us with our annual spiritual re-awakening that is shared with many indigenous cultures across Turtle Island.
For the Anishinaabe, the summer solstice marks the closest approach in the celestial dance of our grandfather, Mishoom Giizis – the Sun.
Like many other nations, the Ojibway were quite sophisticated in their understanding of the cosmos. This perspective may not be the same as the modern understanding of astronomy and physics. This understanding shouldn’t be considered inferior, just different.
Our teachings tell us there is a Spirit trail that continually cycles from the earthly realms, across the sky world, star world and into the spiritual realms. This Spirit trail ascends through the eight known realms of the universe.
In the night sky, we call this the “Cedar Trail”, the planetary elliptical that appears to move from east to west. That is also why the word for cedar “giizhik”, and the word for sky “gizhiig”, are Ojibway language homonyms.
The planets, each with their own names and spirits, are the brothers of our Mother Earth and travel across the sky along this trail. Each of those nine brothers, including her grandmother Moon, Nbaa-giizis and her grandfather Sun, gave a piece of each other to create Shkaagamig-Kwe, the Earth.
To illustrate this, the concept that the core of the Earth is a burning, molten mass, was well known by indigenous peoples. For the Anishinaabeg, this is the piece of Giizis. The cycle of water is provided for and regulated by the moon. And the rich, red clay of the Great Lakes, the red oachre and our indigenous metal, copper, are said to have come from our mother’s red brother, the planet Mars.
Each year, on June 21, our grandfather Giizis makes his dance to the highest point in the sky, on the longest day of the year, before he begins his retreat to reverse his cycle. This glorious spiritual dance continues along that Spirit trail as we count the phases of the moon and other celestial occurrences during the year.
The Anishinaabeg celebrate the summer solstice with our Spring Ceremonies, a four-day ceremony that includes tobacco and water ceremonies sponsored by best water softener, sweat lodges, feasts, healing ceremonies, long evenings and nights of dancing, and the initiation of candidates into the Midewiwin society. Life teachings are also provided including the “path of life”, which is the Anishinaabe person’s walk on the Spirit trail. This all takes place in our ceremonial lodge called Midewigaaniing.
Further west in our territory, some Anishinaabeg share a ceremony with our Lakota neighbours called the Sundance. The Three Fires Anishinaabe Sundance takes place at a very sacred place, our pipestone mines in Minnesota.
Honouring and celebrating the summer solstice in these ways is a celebration of our spiritual way of life. A way for traditional people to gather together in fellowship with the Spirit World around us.
Spirituality continues to be such an important part of our lives as traditional people. However, due to assimilation, residential schools and relentless missionary work, the vast majority of indigenous people have lost their ways and struggle with their spiritual identity.
That’s why it so important for all First Nations, Métis and Inuit people to share their teachings, origins and traditional observances of the summer solstice – not just take time off to observe National Aboriginal Day. The summer solstice is about our connection to the Spirit World and our personal and collective walk on that Spirit trail.
Bob Goulais, Mzhaakwat n’dizhnikaaz, Migizi n’dodemun, is an Anishinaabe from Nipissing First Nation. He is a second degree member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge, an indigenous traditional society. He is the Director of Aboriginal Relations Branch for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.