The vast majority of teachings I have received about the water have connected it to feminine spirit. The anishinaabekweg/nehiyawiskwewak are the keepers and protectors of the water. They honour the responsibilities of this kinship to water in ceremony, song, resistance, and love. I have been told that, because women carry life-giving waters within them, the feminine spirit is connected, through water, to ceremonies wherein spirit passes between the spirit and physical realms. I have been welcomed into women’s spaces where we prayed for the water, where we gave blessings to the water, thanking and praying for its health and prosperity. While parts of me felt held in women’s spaces, grateful to share and express love for our mutual relation – water – as someone who identifies as aabitagiizhig (halfsky) or Two Spirit, I have also felt ill at ease in spaces that grounded the spirit of water solely in the feminine.
While I do identify with the feminine spirit, I also identify with the masculine spirit – both within myself, and throughout all creation. I use the term aabitagiizhig to signify a gender fluidity that exists outside the bounds of the colonial gender binary; a self-determined, resurgent gender, based in my own ways of being and knowing my gender. I feel that I embody both feminine and masculine spirit. How then do I move through these spaces and honour creation in ways that connect to the Two Spirit life that surrounds me? How can I navigate moving between these defined spaces present at water ceremony – between keeping the fire and praying for the water. Would I be respected in both spaces if I tried to move in a fluid nature through and within them, like the fluidity I feel about the space my own embodied gender takes up within community? Could I occupy the women’s space, for example, if I didn’t wear a skirt? Could I keep the fire with the men if I did? Would I still be welcomed and accepted into ceremonial spaces that have previously filled my spirit in ways that I cannot describe, if I were honest about the ways that felt right for me to flow through those spaces like the very water we prayed over?
Recently nîtisân Erin Marie Konsmo gifted me the first teaching I had ever received about the potentiality of genderless water. The fluidity of water taught wiya about the fluidity of wiya gender, of niya gender. While I would never devalue teachings and ceremony shared with me that associate feminine spirit to water, I also want to be honest about the ways that I experience my spiritual connection to water and other kin – human and otherwise. While the story of Sky Woman tells us about feminine spirit and bodies of water, even the anishinaabe concept of aabitagiizhig (being half sky or half Sky Woman) tells us that these teachings are a part of other life too: Two Spirit life.
Recently I was listening to the podcast On Being wherein Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, described how the English language inherently devalues the personhood and animacy of all beings, including our nature kin. nîmis Chelsea Vowel was the first to teach me how nêhiyawêwin is more than a language: it is a worldview that teaches us how we relate to all of our kin. nêhiyawêwin only distinguishes between animate and inanimate objects based on how they spiritually and physically interact with all creation. English, on the other hand, heavily relies on nouns and the naming of objects; it is very clearly based in Europatriachal colonial concepts of capitalist ownership.
Kimmerer denounces the labeling of nonhuman kin as “it,” citing the demoralizing and degrading nature of this pronoun, a pronoun meant to separate us from the animacy and personhood of our kin based in colonial capitalist rhetoric. Instead of using a “he” or “she” pronoun, Kimmerer proposes using a new pronoun to generally refer to our nature kin. From the work askiy (meaning “land” in Anishinaabemowin), Kimmerer suggests using a singular genderless pronoun “kiy” and, drawing from our own histories of referring to land and life, proposes a plural genderless pronoun of “kin.” I’m struck by the power of such a project that degenders our relationship to kin, considering that the genders we embody in this moment are ones we describe through a colonial language and a colonial gender binary. Wouldn’t the degendering of water be a truly resurgent way of connecting to kiy in ways that holistically represent all our peoples, all of our genders, all of our realities as we interact with the kin around us?