Ashley Sanipass connects more with the charm she made of two cuddling bears, one of 12 pieces representing the months of the Mi’kmaw calendar.
In English, the month would be called September, but in Mi’kmaw it is called by Wikimkewikuwhich translates as “mating of animals”.
“I wanted to teach people the idea of how our months are more descriptive than what we hear in English. I wanted to show people that part of the language,” said Sanipass, 37.
The Mi’kmaw artist from the Indian Island First Nation near Moncton has been learning her language for several years.
Sanipass wanted to create something that would allow him to share his language, which is known as “verb-based,” and show how each month of the calendar is named after something that is actually happening in the territory at that time.
From the croaking of the frogs to the moment the animals begin to fatten up, she placed an image of each month in a circle of 12 pieces.
He said the project, which took him 180 hours to complete, also taught him how his ancestors used the land based on his description of each time of year.
“As you go down the calendar, you know when it’s time to hunt because that’s how we describe that time of year. You knew when it’s time to harvest because that’s how we would describe that time of year,” Sanipass said. .
Gerald Gloade, an elder from the Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia, said it’s important for people to learn about the Mi’kmaw calendar.
He said that each month is based on the moon’s journey around planet Earth, so instead of 12 months, there are 13 in a year. He said that in addition to reflecting what is happening, the calendar is also a guide.
“It talks about our way of life, where to be and when to be there, knowing what’s coming and what you need to do to prepare,” Gloade said.
He said that each district in Mi’kma’ki may have different teachings on the land, so their months and themes may differ.
He said that sharing the teachings and stories depicted in the calendar honors the elderly and the calendar offers important lessons.
“It gives you a stronger connection to the environment itself and once you get that connection, you understand that responsibility for the environment,” he said.
One challenge Sanipass faced was that some communities adopted the 12-month calendar while others still maintain a 13-moon calendar.
Sanipass said he tried to honor both of them by including the 13th moon in the center of his poster.
During her research, she spoke with elders from various communities and drew out common themes about the name of the month and how to represent activity on their bead pieces.
Sanipass began researching the calendar themes in March, and in September he began making beads on the different pieces. He had a hard time explaining concepts like the frosty month of November, but he had a lot of fun explaining the mating season of animals, in which he mentioned care bears.
He worked with the University of New Brunswick Saint John to create the poster, which includes the name of the month in English, the Mi’kmaw word for the time of year, and an English translation.
His work is among three campus-commissioned pieces by Wabanaki artists to be exhibited in January.
Sanipass said he had a lot of fun learning from the elders and language experts.
“The Mi’kmaw people have such good humor and laughter at times when we’re talking about the months and learning,” he said.
One of his language teachers is Vince Barlow from Indian Island. The Mi’kmaw elder said that laughter is an important part of a language journey and he is proud of Sanipass.
“I’m excited for her and she’s not afraid to make a mistake,” the 77-year-old Barlow said.
He hopes one day to revise the poster together with the Indian Island Mi’kmaw language group.