illustration of a man and women canoing to harvest wild rice

By Chyler Sewell

The sharp whistle of the tea kettle drowns out the heavy pattering of rain, if only for a short while. 

Mom stands up from her spot at the table, where her laptop sits open, and papers stretch out messily. She opens a new can of peppermint tea and holds it close to her nose, the smell delighting her senses.

Quick light footsteps sound from the hallway, and then, a little girl. Her black hair in two braids and her dark brown eyes glittering with excitement. 

“Can I tell you a story, Mama?”

Mom smiles, and carries her cup over to the old saggy blue couch in the living room. “Of course, kwezens.” Mom replies, patting the spot beside her.

Eagerly, the little girl skips over from the kitchen and climbs up to sit beside her mother. She sinks down, comfortable in the crook of Mom’s arm. 

“Mama, my story is about food.” the little girl says.

“Okay, love.”

“Alright, Mama” kwezens says, wiggling in her spot. “My story starts with a kid like me. This kid.” Kwezens looks out the window “I’m gonna call them Gimiwan. Mama, do you know what gimiwan means?”

“Gimiwan is rain in our language, kwezens.” Mom says and brushes a stray lock of hair away from her child’s face. As she does, she remembers the excitement, recalls the sense of infinite possibilities that is so innate in children. A fond smile, small but there, dawns on Mom’s face.

“Yeah! It’s raining, and it’s a word I like and it’s a word Grandma teached me. That’s why my story has a kid named Gimiwan in it.” 

Mom’s fond smile  transforms into a small chuckle. 

“That’s lovely, Kwezens.”

“Okay Mama. So, Gimiwan likes to garden, but Gimiwan can’t get seeds. They want to plant mano . . . manomin? Mama, how do you say it?”

“Manoomin? Like, wild rice in our language?” 

“Yeah! That’s it! Manoomin! Gimiwan wants to plant manoomin but they can’t get seeds.”

The room goes silent for a moment. The little girl stares at the wall, her head tilted, and her brows furrowed.

“What happens next Kwezens?” Mom prompts.

“I don’t know Mama . . .” the little girl trails off. “Where do you get manoomin seeds? I don’t want Gimiwan to be sad, but I don’t know where they’d get the manoomin seeds.”

“Aw Kwezens, it’s alright” Mom says, and pats the little girl’s head. “I’ll tell you how Gimiwan gets their seeds, ‘kay?” She hugs her daughter close.

“Okie dokie!” 

“So, Gimiwan needs manoomin seeds but doesn’t know how to get them. Wanna guess who Gimiwan asks?”

“Oh! Oh! I know!” Kwezens exclaims, raising her hand. After a nod from mom, she says, “Gimiwan would ask Grandma!”

“Yes Kwezens, Gimiwan would ask Grandma. So, that’s what Gimiwan does. They go and see their grandma, they sit, and visit, and have tea with their grandma. Gimiwan listens as Grandma tells them about her day, and they listen as Grandma tells Gimiwan stories. Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt– ” 

“Yeah! Gimiwan doesn’t interrupt because the old people don’t get visitors a lot, right? And Gimiwan’s grandma is an old person.”

Mom chuckles. “Right, Kwezens.”

“Oh! Is my Grammy an old person, then? Grammy has friends who visit her and go to the casino with her.”

“Haha! Yes, Grammy is still an old person Kwezens. Sure, there are many elders who aren’t visited as often as they should be, but there are also elders who have many friends. Grammy is one of those elders, kwezens.” Mom says, then pauses. “Gimiwan’s grandma has friends, but they’re farther away, so she doesn’t get to see them too often. That’s why Gimiwan stays and visits with their grandma.” 

The little girl looks down at her hands and twiddles her thumbs. “Mama, can we visit Grammy soon?”

“Of course Kwezens.” Mom says, reaching to grab her daughter’s hands. “Wanna finish this story first?”

The little girl holds mom’s hands tight. “Yeah! I want to hear how Gimiwan gets the manoomin seeds.”

Mom nods, a gentle grin on her face. “When grandma finishes talking, she says to Gimiwan, ‘So, grandchild, what did you come for?’ Gimiwan smiles, and finally broaches the question to their grandma.”

“. . . Mama, what does broaches mean?” the little girl asks hesitantly.

“Oh, I’m sorry Kwezens.” Mom awkwardly laughs. “I forgot that you’re still learning words. Broaches, hm, how do I explain broaches . . . It means to finally ask the question.”

“So Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get the seeds!”

“Yes, they do! Gimiwan asks Grandma where they can get seeds. Grandma tells Gimiwan that they have to go to where food grows on the water. Where Gimiwan lives, food doesn’t grow on water.”

“Oh! Food grows on the water here!” Kwezens begins, excited. “But Mama, why isn’t Gimiwan here?” The little girl furrows her brows again. This time, her furrowed gaze directed at Mom.

“Gimiwan, before they were born, their mom moved far away, Kwezens. Gimiwan didn’t grow up where food grows on water.” Mom replied quickly, feeling unnerved by her child’s gaze.  

“But Mama, that’s sad. What did Gimiwan eat then?”

“Aw, sweetheart, Gimiwan still ate food. It’s not like we only eat manoomin, right?”

“Yeah, Mama, you’re right. But– but Mama, manoomin is my favourite food.” the little girl pouts.

“Gimiwan ate manoomin before Kwezens, don’t worry. But doesn’t Gimiwan want to grow manoomin?”

“Yeah Mama, Gimiwan wants to grow manoomin. Just like me!” Kwezens stands up on the couch and reaches as high as she can. “I wanna grow manoomin when I’m this big!”

“Yeah? You wanna go out in the canoes with those long sticks and harvest manoomin? Just like your cousins?”

“Yeah! Yeah!”

“Aw, Kwezens, you’ll be big enough soon, don’t worry.” Mom says, and coaxes her daughter back down onto the couch. 

“Okay Mama. What happens next?”

“Next? Next, Gimiwan decides to go to where food grows on water.” Mom says.

“But what about Gimiwan’s mama? Wouldn’t Gimiwan’s mama miss them?” Concern was written on the little girl’s face.

“Of course Gimiwan’s mom would miss them, sweetie. You know what though?” Mom pulled the little girl on her lap. “Gimiwan’s mom would also want Gimiwan to go off and learn about things that she didn’t get to learn about. If Gimiwan can heal themself, they’ll also be healing all their ancestors.”

The little girl let her head rest on her mom’s chest. “I don’t ever want to leave you, Mama.”

“Not yet, at least, Kwezens.” Mom says playing with one of her daughter’s braids. “You might when you’re older.”

“Like Gimiwan?”

“Yeah, sweetie. Like Gimiwan.”

“What does Gimiwan do when they get to where food grows on the water?” Kwezens yawns.

“Well, when Gimiwan gets to where food grows on the water, they learn how to cultivate manoomin. They learn to go out on the canoes with the sticks. They learn how to use the sticks to tap the rice off the plant, and they learn about dancing on the rice and tossing it up on a blanket during a windy day to get the husks off. Gimiwan stays where food grows on the water for a long time and learns all of these things.They even learn how to cook manoomin.” Mom says.

Soft snores leave her daughter’s open mouth.

“Aw, did you fall asleep Kwezens?” Mom whispers, brushing a strand of hair away from the little girl’s face. “I’ll tell you tomorrow about how Gimiwan brings manoomin seeds back to their home, okay? I’ll tell you about how Gimiwan reteaches his mom and his grandma about manoomin and how they share the teachings with the people. Okay?”

“Mmhmm, Mama.” Kwezens mumbles.

“I love you Kwezens. Have a good sleep.” Mom says, and places a gentle kiss on her daughter’s head. 

Chyler Sewell is an Anishinaabe-kwe youth from Garden River Ontario. Currently living in Hamilton Ontario, she organizes and facilitates events for Indigenous youth. As an aspiring novelist, Chyler also spends her free time creating fantastical worlds from Indigenous youth perspectives.

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