Iskigamizigan (Maple Sugaring Camp)
Written by Mishiikenh Altiman, EQI Elder in Residence
Iskigamizigan in the Anishinaabeg Language tells the story of an ancient Indigenous practice, loosely translated in English as “Sugar Bush Camp”; however, it is far more than just a simple camp. Ancestrally, it not only announced the beginning of Ziigwan (Spring), it more importantly, catalyzed an entire community into a sacred celebration of renewal.
On the new moon of March 02, 2022, staff of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education, Community Members and UWM Students travelled to the UWM Field Station at the Cedarburg Bog to participate in a traditional Anishinaabeg Opening Ceremony to initiate the oshkiskigamizigan (new sugar bush camp). The serene field station forest of sugar maple and beech trees became home to the first ever UWM Indigenous maple sugaring camp.
To harvest the ziinzibaakwadaaboo (sweet water), twenty-one ininaatigoog (maple trees) were honored through song, ondomataagoziwag (petitioning) and offerings prior to being tapped. Iskigamizigan has been a festivity of reciprocity in the practice of transforming ziinzibaakwadaaboo (sweet water) into zhiwaagamizigan (maple syrup) and ziinzibaakwad (maple sugar) since memory can recall. To add to the twenty-one taps at the field station, another 2 trees were tapped on UWM Campus grounds as part of Indigenous PhD candidate Nathon Brue’s research.
A sacred fire was officiated at the EQI Fire Circle in front of Merrill Hall on March 10, 2022, and the inaugural boil, or evaporation process, of the iskigamizigan embarked on its journey to the next new moon. Although the liquid sunshine is naturally transformed via photosynthesis, with a little help from the EQI Staff, community, and UWM students, it was respectfully converted into a sovereign Indigenous food once again.
Sustainably, the iskigamizigan lasted one lunar cycle; hence, gii Iskigamizigan-Giizis izhise (the time of the Sugaring Moon) and its bounty was never ignored, overharvested, nor wasted. As well, during this all-important time of year, Indigenous nations across the continent unknowingly rallied together wherever sugar maples grew to nurture and honor the “spring sunshine”. Mewinzha (Long ago), Indigenous People would evaporate the sap into the natural, healthy, and energetic sweetness we know today as sugar; however, noongom (today), most of the sap processing stops short of sugar and ends up maple syrup.
It is hoped that the UWM Iskigamizigan will become a permanent fixture for UWM Indigenous students who will utilize the traditional process of sugaring as a land-based model for research, education, language revitalization, and reconnecting to preserve a small part of their Indigenous heritage.