Red Lake Local Foods Initiative/Gitigaanike: 2018 Iskigamiziganing (Sugar Bush Camp)
April 4, 2018
The Sugarbush is a seasonal activity the Anishinaabeg have done since long before anyone of us can remember. Legends tell us that it is embedded in our collective cultural psyche, that Nanaboozhoo received the teachings of how to identify the maple, tap, collect and boil the sap and make sugar from Missabe, or the giant. He in turn showed us how to do the same.
If you are Anishinaabe, you have an ancestral sugarbush that your elders of long ago went to as Spring arrived. Every year they migrated from their winter camp to the sugarbush in anticipation of the maple sap flowing, gathering wood for boiling, making new Birchbark pails and repairing old ones that collected the sap.
My ancestral camp is in the Ponemah District. My mother, Ramona Manuel (Sayers), told me many stories of growing up in Ohbaashiing, and her favorite ones to tell were of the Sugarbush in Miquam Bay. Born in 1934, the memories she shared motivated me to continue the family tradition of Iskigamizigan, which means to boil sap.
Although today we use modern metal taps, plastic collection bags and a boiler made out of an old fuel oil tank to make syrup, candy and sugar, the process is basically the same. We drill a hole, insert the tap, hang the sap collection bag and collect the sap for boiling. Loads of firewood are brought to the site in the bed of a pickup truck and piled high, as much is needed. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, so we burn up lots of wood in the process.
This year, as in years previous, we let the community know when we will begin tapping and students and community members are reintroduced to the forest, so to speak and learn about Iskigamizigan. While I tell the students about the legend of how we were gifted the Sugarbush by Missabe and Nanaboozhoo, I also share the science of how maples make sap and why it is critical to their own survival. Astronomy, earth sciences, math, meteorology and phenology are languages that are helpful to understanding and appreciating the Sugarbush, and I do my best to make sense out of it for our youth.
At the time this article was written we've made 31 pounds of maple sugar and are transitioning to syrup production. We have 200 taps in this year, the most ever to date. It makes for good exercise and a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment at the end of the day.
In closing, I encourage everyone to find out where their ancestral Sugarbush is and continue to not practice, but live your traditions. It will bring on the feeling of Mino Bimaadiziwin, that good way of living we hear so much about. It's all around us, waiting for you to rediscover its way of life.