Alikwsimozi: Sweet-Fern

sweetfern-female-flower-vernon-2017

Sweet-fern – Comptonia peregrina – is a small, highly-aromatic, mounding shrub, 2-4 feet tall,  that may occur in dense colonies in poor soils. It has multiple stems with loose, spreading branches bearing long, narrow, olive-green leaves, the edges of which have rolled back edges and rounded, fern-like division. Flowers are brown catkins that appear before the leaves unfold. They develop into small nuts  in a bur-like husk. While sweet-fern’s common name derives from its appearance, it is not a fern at all; it is a member of the wax-myrtle or bayberry family (family Myricaceae). As with many other members of the family, the leaves are very aromatic: on a hot, sunny day you will know when you are walking past a stand of sweet fern.

Colonies are usually found in dry, sandy, infertile soils in full sun where other plants might have a hard time becoming established. Pine woods, cut-over forest, powerline right-of-ways, gravelly banks, abandoned and over-grazed pastures, and rocky outcrops are favorite places for sweet-fern. Preferring poor, acidic soils, sweet-fern fixes its own nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with Frankia bacteria living in nodules on its roots. It grows throughout N’dakinna – Abenaki country – from Quebec and the Maritimes south as far as Georgia, following the mountains.

Sweet-fern, along with many other aromatic plants, happens to be a good repellent for ants. This is a good thing to know when one is living close to the soil, in a bark wigw8m or lodge, perhaps with food items in loosely covered containers. Scattering fronds around the walls of the shelter would help to keep these tiny visitors from wearing out their welcome. Knowledge of this ant-repellent aspect is what creates sweet-fern’s Native name, which translates to “ant bush.”

Working from the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy names for this plant relative (see next paragraph), which both translate literally to “ant tree” or “ant bush,” we can easily construct an equivalent in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan – the Western Abenaki language. Sozap Lolo – Joseph Laurent – in his “New Familiar Abenakis and English Dialogues” gives the word for ant as alikws; to this we can add the Abenaki suffix for “tree” or “bush” which can take the form -mizi or -mozi. With the letter “i” as a connector, the combination is: alikws + i + mozi = alikwsimozi. The pronunciation can be given as ah-leek-oo-SEE-moh-zee. The third syllable “oo” is nearly voiceless.

sweet fern brattleboro 2018

This photo and the one preceding are from the sweet-fern nation in Sokwakik, Sokoki Abenaki country – n’dal8gom8mek. #allmyrelations

The Penobscot cognate is enikwsimosi (listen to audio here). It is used for eye medicine, with the leaves steeped in hailstorm water. It translates literally as “ant bush”.

The Passamaquoddy cognate is eniqsimus (listen to audio here). It, too, translates literally as “ant tree (bush).”

Among the Wabanaki people, and close relations, the uses of alikwsimozi include:

  • Ant repellent, also used for mosquitoes, as a skin rub or smudge
  • Lining berry baskets and buckets to aid in keeping the fruit fresh
  • Edible nutlets
  • As a relief for poison ivy and other skin itches, infusion in water or rubbed on
  • As a relaxing, dried ingredient in smoking mixtures
  • As a tea for upset stomach and colic
  • As a poultice for sprains or swelling
  • Burned for smoke in ceremony

In closing, I end with a poem by Mi’kmaq writer Alice Azure, from the collection entitled “Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England,” edited by Siobhan Senier, et al (Vol. 1, 2014):

Mi'kmaq Haiku

Kejimkoojik

cliffs, old sweet fern petroglyph

still keeping us calm.
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Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Scientists and Tribes Partner for the Black Ash Nation

emerald ash borer TEK

When Butch Jacobs steps into the woods in search of basket making materials, he does not have a specific type of forest or black ash tree in mind, but he knows it when he sees it. “It’s a unique skill set that cannot necessarily be taught. Some people just have it,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, is one of few remaining basket-tree harvesters in Maine—a longstanding tradition that stretches back to before Europeans arrived on North American shores. Now, the custom faces a threat that may devastate the trees that harvesters like Jacobs seek.

Emerald ash borer, an insect native to Asia, has barreled through ash stands in at least 31 states and three Canadian provinces since it was first documented in Michigan and Ontario in 2002. Black ash, the species basket-tree harvesters target, is especially susceptible to the invasive insect that has already decimated millions of North American , and will soon arrive in Maine.

That spells trouble for Jacobs and many others, for whom ash trees are of critical cultural and economic significance. The black ash is a central element in several Native American and First Nation traditions, including some tribes’ creation stories.

Read the full story by Erin Miller at phys.org.

Third Annual Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Symposium April 6-8, 2017

the women elizabeth lapensee

Living Waters, Animate Lands

Traditional Ecological Knowledge:  Braiding Story, Skills and Sustenance with Hope for a Sustainable Future

SYMPOSIUM SCHEDULE

Thursday, April 6 (UMass Amherst Campus Center: Cape Cod Lounge)

6:30 pm Welcome Reception

7:00 pm Film: “The Spirit of Standing Rock”

Friday, April 7 (Amherst College, Converse Hall: Cole Assembly)

9:00 am Gathering, Welcome, Opening Ceremonies

9:30-11:00 Opening address and Animate Lands Panel

11:15-11:30 Break

11:30-1:00 Living Waters Panel

1:00-2:00 Buffet lunch for all participants

2:00-3:00 Roundtable Discussions – Speakers, FCNAIS faculty, participants

3:15-4:15 Roundtable Discussions – Speakers, FCNAIS faculty, participants

4:30-5:00 Summary Discussion and Closing (All)

6:30pm Evening Reception (Amherst College, Converse Hall: Cole Assembly lobby)

7:00pm Reading by LeAnne Howe and Susan Power

Saturday, April 8 (gather at Amherst College)

10:00-noon TEK plant walk

Featured Speakers

Fikret Berkes is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, and author of Sacred Ecology (Third Edition, Routledge, 2012)

John Banks is the Director of the Department of Natural Resources for the Penobscot Indian Nation and, as a representative of his nation, helped develop the  Penobscot River Restoration Project

Amberdawn LaFrance works for the Akwesasne Cultural Restoration Program, part of the Environmental Division of the Akwesasne/St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, which recently produced a Climate Change Adaptation Plan for the nation.

Natalie Michelle is a citizen of Penobscot nation and a Ph.D. Candidate in  Ethnobotany and Adaptive Management at the University of Maine, Orono.

With a dual background in art and marine science, Elizabeth James Perry works for the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation office.

Nicholas James Reo is a citizen of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Assistant Professor of Native American and Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College, where where he studies Indigenous knowledge and ecological stewardship on Indigenous lands.

LeAnne Howe is an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. She writes fiction, poetry, screenplays, creative non-fiction, plays and scholarship that primarily deal with American Indian and Native American experiences.

Susan Power is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and a native Chicagoan. She is the author of three books, The Grass Dancer (a novel), Roofwalker (a story collection), and the new novel, Sacred Wilderness.

Judy Dow is an Abenaki educator who specializes in sharing indigenous environmental knowledge with youth. A basketmaker and artist, she incorporates traditional ecological knowledge into her art and her teaching.

Go here for a full schedule and list of speakers.

Sponsored in part by Gedakina.org.

W8bimizi: The Metaphor of the Chestnut

w8bimizi-american-chestnut-sprout

American chestnut perseveres on the slopes of Wantastegok Wajo.

W8bimizi: w8bi- “white” plus -mizi “woody plant” = “white woody plant”

The metaphor of the chestnut: The tree may appear lifeless or decaying, but the roots are alive and ready to sprout. Indigenous presence here in Sokwakik may be thought of in this light. Although there may not be much that meets the (untrained) eye, it is all “still here”, awaiting only a return to reciprocity: recognition, acknowledgement, relationship.