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 into English as “Sugar Bush Camp”; however, it is far more than just a simple camp. As ancestrally, it not only revealed 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 maple sugaring camp, iskigamizigan.
In harvesting 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. In addition to the twenty-one tapped trees at the field station, another two maples were tapped on UWM Campus grounds as part of Indigenous PhD candidate Nathon Breu’s research.
Breu explains, “The ininaatigoog, sugar maples, have been here waiting for us to honor them and enjoy their gift of the ziinzibaakwadaaboo (sweet water). The iskigamizigan is a time of renewal and celebration of life for everyone to enjoy.”
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. “There is healing power in these ceremonies, and they should not be taken for granted. These ceremonies bring not only humans closer together but all beings, plants, and animals”, Breu added. 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 the sovereign Indigenous food it once was.
Mewinzha (long ago), the iskigamizigan lasted one lunar cycle; hence, Iskigamizigan-Giizis izhise (the time of the Sugaring Moon) and its bounty was never ignored, over-harvested, 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”. Indigenous people continue to evaporate the life giving sap into the natural, healthy, and energetic sweetness we know today as sugar; yet 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.