Kee’Adyn Pitawanakwat: Reconnecting with Anishinabek Traditions and Culture (Part 1)

Project and Story By: Kee’Adyn Pitawanakwat (Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School)

Introduction: Derek Brez

During this time of isolation and staying home an opportunity presented itself for Kee’Adyn Pitawanakwat; he had the chance to go and spend some time with his Dad in Winnipeg.  During this time he reconnected with his Anishinabek traditions and culture in a learning experience like no other.  While schooling at home works for many, there are students out there that “school style” learning is not overly engaging/effective, often because it lacks context. Here Kee’Adyn had an opportunity to engage in learning that was a part of him. His Dad and family guided him through building and participating in a sweat lodge, they collected materials and built pipes and harvested and used traditional medicines.  Traditions and ceremonies rooted at the base of Anishinabek culture became Kee’Adyn’s science class, biology, chemistry, physics, the environment all examined through a cultural lense.  This is learning at its purest.

Oral history from his father, family and elders served as Kee’Adyn’s experiential learning textbook. From his Dad, he learned to harvest raw materials (stone and wood) and to use tools to craft a pipe and to help set up and participate in a sweat lodge.  Traditional experiences that have now been passed down from father to son.  Even when things don’t quite work out (broken pipe) there are traditional lessons to be learned, like when to walk away. This learning was not your traditional science class but rather science and engineering steeped in the culture and tradition of the Anishinabek Nation.  Oral history, skill and knowledge passed from one generation to the next, a cultural lense used to explain science and the learning that has happened.  This is what learning looks like!

“Memegwaas Puagan”: A little person’s pipe

Story by: Kee’Adyn Pitawanakwat

A little person’s pipe “memegwaas puagan” are created to use and to honor and speak to little people.

Little people are described as often looking like “hairy-faced dwarfs “ in petroglyphs. They also were seen to have horns on their head. It was also shown in petroglyphs that they travel in groups of 5 for each canoe. In most stories/legends they were mostly found by large rocks beside large bodies of water or sometimes in caves most people would not go inside them, out of fear of disturbing the little people. They also lived in the woods that were located nearby sandy hills. Other legends also say that if you were to see a little person he would beg of you to not say anything about their existence. If you kept your word usually they would help you and your family in times of great need. My name is Kee’Adyn Pitawanakwat and these are little people.

My dad made me research this by calling my family using oral tradition. I’ve heard stories from my grandma and grandpa that little people today are not seen as often compared to back then. Now they only reveal themselves to children and sometimes adults on rare occasions. The only time they would reveal themselves would usually be in the secluded areas in the woods away from civilization. If they come across lost children they will usually protect and guide them back until they reach home. For adults, it is very different from children, little people tend to play tricks and have fun since they don’t get to interact with many people compared to back then. They will take things and hide them and if you put out offerings they may be returned. They really enjoy the company of people but they try their best to stay hidden and out of sight. Since once you spotted one they will plead that you don’t say anything about their existence and if you do so they will help you or your family in times of need. I also learned that they were called different names and weren’t always referred to as “ memegwaas “. For example, southern tribes referred to them as “ Pyensaak “ instead of “ memegwaas “ and so ends the story of “ memegwaas “.

To create the pipe we chose a stone and blessed it by smudging it with an eagles wing. Once that was accomplished we began to cut out blanks in order to make a male and female memegwaas pipe. Scientifically the stone is a sedimentary rock which is sought out in order to carve the pipe stem it is harvested selectively looking for a straight ash or sumac which is the appropriate size and has an easily burnt out center. 

There are three types of rocks each of these is part of the rock cycle through change. One rock type can become another rock. Igneous rocks are formed from cooling magma sedimentary rocks are formed by compacting sediments together to create rock. Metamorphic rocks are formed when the minerals from an existing rock is changed by heat and pressure within the earth to create a different type of rock. For example coal can become a diamond under the right amount of pressure over time. All three of these are part of the rock cycle. We use igneous rocks in our lodges so they don’t break apart from heat and some even use lava rocks. Which are pure igneous rocks because they are created by cool lava. They are highly sought after by medicine people because they can be reheated and reused over and over again in the lodges.. And within our pipe making circles we use a softer rock usually a sedimentary which can be shaped and carved easily. 

The next step was to shape it. To do this we used different types of files with different coarseness in order to shape it. This took me a very long time. I always thought I was done but my Dad kept on sending me back until it was the proper shape.

Once you have the pipe-shaped we then use sandpaper. Scratches would normally be found everywhere on the pipes depending on what files you use. The closer you come to the final shape the finer the sandpaper you use. The finer sandpaper would get rid of the tiny scratch marks left by the files and sanding. The final sandpaper will be used to polish the stone and the more we polished it the darker it became.

Once the pipe was complete I had to make the holes. We began to measure the pipe and how far I will have to drill to make the hole and not go through the other side. To make sure of this we placed a piece of tape on the drill bit and only drilled to that depth.  

There were some bumps along the way. While making this female pipe we ran into some issues. This was because while drilling the holes it would get very hot. So you would have to turn it off for a few seconds before continuing to drill to cool it down. If you don’t it would crack the inside of the pipe. This is an issue but it did more than just crack the inside the drill was so hot it managed to break it in half.  

The pipe consists of both male and female parts as does creation. There are different styles of pipes. An elbow pipe is usually used by women and a T-bowl style pipe used by men. Although there are some exceptions to the rule. For medicine people or people with special responsibilities they may be different. Most people have personal pipes and will not allow others to smoke it. Some medicine men have pipes for the people for all to smoke. What is funny though in some traditions if you smoke a woman’s pipe that is not yours that means you’re going to marry her.

We originally started this project making a man and a woman’s pipe. Pipe makers are very superstitious. As the pipe was intended for me and my journey,  the woman’s pipe we were working on kept breaking. We made 2 until my Dad told me it wasn’t meant for me and that’s why it kept on breaking and he refused to help me continue making a woman’s pipe. Either it broke while drilling it due to heat or I dropped it. Here is a picture of the two female pipes. The first one that broke was darker almost black as I had to polish it and then dropped it. The second one unpolished broke before that step while drilling the holes. 

Once I was told to no longer work on a woman’s pipe I continued to the next step. This is to call on the medicine of the bees which will come and protect and seal it. We use beeswax to finish the final touches by placing the pipe on the stove to get it hot and then covering it in beeswax. Once that step was done I was ready to wipe off the remaining beeswax on the pipe. So I could put it into a bowl of cold water to cool it off. The pipe became shiny and black.

 I then later picked one of the many sticks my dad harvested in order to be used as a pipestem to finish creating the pipe. I started by carving off the skin of the stick and also used the file again to shape the end that fits into the stone. I had to sand it down once it was shaped properly to make it nice and smooth. When that was finished I began to coat the outside with linseed oil.

Linseed oil also known as flaxseed oil which comes from the dried flax seed plant that helps with the treatment and preservation of wood. I then had to let that sit so the wood would absorb the oil. 

The final step in the pipe making process was to have it blessed by an Elder. In order to do that, we traveled to my father’s family in Sakgeeng Manitoba. We had a sweat lodge and my Uncle Neil and Lance explained to me what a pipe was how it was filled. My Dad gave it to a medicine man to bless it and make it come alive. There I was told what the pipe represents. The four sacred laws. The stem straightness honesty, the pipestone or rock strength faith, the bowl and tobacco or medicine kindness through prayer, and the last act sharing. These make up the four sacred laws of the Anishinabek. After the sweat lodge the pipe was presented to me but I was told I have to come back to sundance this summer where I would be shown more about it since I was leaving back home to Ottawa soon.

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