By Kelly Anne Smith
NIMKII AAZHIBIKONG – Connecting with the earth and following natural laws will restore balance, says renowned artist Isaac Murdoch. Murdoch is a guest speaker at the Toronto International Storytelling Festival May 6-15.
From the Fish Clan and Serpent River First Nation, Murdoch is honored to speak at the festival.
“It was someone I know who is really special and very amazing who gave me the invitation. And I thought, ‘You know what, I’ve always been invited but I’m never there. go.’ I thought it was important to go there, I’m really lucky to be able to have this opportunity to go there and be a part of it.
These are exciting times for Murdoch who also tells stories through music.
“I released a new album. It’s called here to stay. Right now, there’s a single I released called, Keep it in the ground. It’s about natural laws that we shouldn’t dig deeper than a shovel’s depth because we don’t want to disturb the spirits that live in the ground. Or else there must be great destruction.
“In the spring, people make offers to the water. They wanted to make sure kids would be safe around the water and anglers would be safe. And that while we’re traveling with our canoes and things like that, we’d all be safe because a payment was made to the spirit of the water.
They say that when you do that, you restore the balance because you always get something out of the water. We always make sure to have a water ceremony. We give to water.
This is something that was shown to me in my lifetime.
I remember once, I was fishing on the lake and I forgot to make my offering to the water. And something was tugging at the side of my neck. And I looked down and thought I saw a human being. And so, I got very scared and left. They told me it was a mermaid. In my language they call it nbinaabe kwe. And so I made my offering and then I went to check my neck. There was fish on the line and that being on the other end was gone.
We wholeheartedly believe that water is full of spirit and life. It’s something that happened to me. »
Asked about the meaning of his name Bomgiizhik, Isaac says he got it from his elders.
“It was my great-grandfather’s name. It means revolving sky and how the sky is always revolving around. It is a very deep celestial name that I love to learn. It’s really a matter of cycles. In the celestial world there are constantly cycles occurring. This partly means that just as the sky goes through cycles, the earth, people, animals and plants also go through cycles. We are part of a bigger part of something that we probably can’t even comprehend. It is a forever learning name. That’s why I love him so much. »
Isaac credits Christie Belcourt with sparking interest in making art that inspires change. Asked about being an activist, he replied, “I guess that’s what people would call me, but really my responsibility is just to be Ojibwe.”
His art accompanies the global opposition to dirty energy projects, cutting down trees, wasting water, and more.
“I don’t like the term activist because it’s just my responsibility as a father, grandfather, Anishinaabe. It’s just my responsibility to help protect the lands and waters,” he says. “I find activism and protesters and things like that really underplay what’s really going on. In other words, the nations say no. The natives say no. And it’s often downplayed to them being activists or protesters when it’s so much more important than that. [Indigenous] people try to protect their land. It’s not activism. It’s something different.
Isaac is also part of the Anishinabek Nation online educational resources.
“As someone who is actively engaged in learning the language, I think it’s really important that we use it. Because language is what sustains our nation. That’s what holds it all together. It is the thread that weaves everything together as Anishinaabe. So, I believe it is very important that we do everything we can to revitalize our language as much as we can,” he explains. “We are at critical stages and we should all be ready to learn this. I think it’s a very sacred thing that we can’t let go.
Isaac says we are in very sacred times right now.
“We are in a brutal climate change. The world is suffering from a massive ecological collapse. If we come together and unite as a people and if we build bridges and relationships among all, then we have a very, very good chance of protecting and saving what is left and restoring the things in nature that need be restored.
Isaac talks about spending the majority of his life in the forest on the land.
“I love this way of life. I like what nature allows us to have. I like the trading system we have with the earth. The offerings and the relationship we have with the whole. It is really important that we maintain our relationship with the land, the language and the ceremonies and with each other. They are all interconnected.
The language comes from the earth, he says.
“That’s where our animals come from. This is where our government comes from. That’s where many spirits go – the land to make offerings. It’s really important to be grounded,” he says. “I think that’s part of the reason things happen on earth, it’s because no one is really connected the way they should be en masse. If more people were connected, we would be in a much better position.
Isaac Murdoch loves telling stories to get them away from their desks and computers.
“I really want people to come out of lockdown. And know that they are free. As Anishinaabe we are free people on our land. And it’s not something that everyone takes advantage of. Stories, songs and illustrations encourage people to do so. I believe when we work together we can make a big difference.