The seasons have begun to change. As Anishinaabemowin speakers know, we are right in the middle of Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon). This moon or month began on September 16, if you are using the Gregorian calendar. At MSU, much begins to happen during Waabaagbagaa-giizis. Classes are fully underway and, after a slow start to the semester, campus life begins to take shape during late-September and early-October.
We also begin to feel the weather change around us during Waabaagbagaa-giizis. Warm summer winds begin to shift, as the days are shorter and the weather is cooler. The leaves turn various hues, making the banks of the Red Cedar a beautiful and multicolored environment. For MSU sports fans, Saturday football games become important gathering spaces in and around Spartan Stadium. Soon enough, the leaves will begin to fall from the trees, marking another important transition and begin another giizis.
With the next full moon, it will be Binaakwe-giizis (Falling Leaves Moon) and then, after that, it will be Baashkaakodin-Giizis (Freezing Moon). Autumn will turn to winter and winter will turn to spring. As has happened since time immemorial, the seasons will transform the natural world. Even if climate change makes the Indigenous practice of marking time more and more complicated and difficult, the seasons will remain paramount to Indigenous knowledge of the world and one’s place within it will remain.
Our current month, Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), becomes an important time to think about the proverbial leaves of change, especially in relationship to Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island. The American Indian and Indigenous Studies community at MSU engages in important work, both on and off campus, as we remain attentive to happenings throughout Indian Country and across the Fourth World.
As they begin to change, aniibiishan (leaves) reveal their brilliant and beautiful potential. The leaves have been waiting all summer to disclose what they haven’t previously shown: their profound, striking, and colorful potentiality. As scholars, artists, and teachers, we see within our students and within ourselves and communities the same profound possibility to show our individual brilliance. However, the beauty and potentiality of a single leaf can only be fully revealed when in concert with a community of other leaves. Similarly, our own human potential is collective in orientation. Indigenous knowledge illuminates the importance of community relationships and ties shared not just with other humans, but with all things around us.
Individuality means little without the whole. Shawnee leader Tecumseh is credited with saying that “a single stick is weak, but a bundle of twigs is strong.” While the provenance of this quote attributed to Tecumseh can likely be contested, the metaphor here is significant. If a single twig is weak, the collectively of sticks increases its strength. Likewise, the shared beauty and power of leaves – or members of a community – are more significant and meaningful than any one single individual. Reaching one’s potential is a collective and shared endeavor.
Let me leave you with an Anishinaabemowin word that, as I reflect upon the importance of American Indian and Indigenous Studies within the university, begins to seem more and more relevent. Waatebagaa is a verb that means “there are bright leaves.” As the leaves change color, as we collectively learn with and from one another, and from the leaves themselves, bright leaves line the banks of the Red Cedar and can be seen throughout Michigan. American Indian and Indigenous Studies helps us see these bright leaves – as well as students – and disclose the potentialities we all have to share our individual and shared brilliance.