Photo from Snow Snake Tournament on Madeline Island. Used with permission by Marsha Traxler Reeves and Marvin Defoe.
This song reflects the activities of the northern Anishinaabe communities near Gichigami (Lake Superior).
Unlike many other fish, namebinag (sucker fish) have a tendency to rise to the top of the lake during winter months which makes them easier to catch. It is said that they gift themselves to the Anishinaabe people after the coldest and hungriest time. The song imagines them lured by the wewebinaabaanan (fishing hooks at the end of a line).
Zhooshimaanan (snow snake sticks) are made any time of the year and used in winter when a low trench is made and players compete to see whose zhooshimaan can slide the farther and faster. Playing in the snow also reminds of us: zoogipomigad is the verb for snow falling from the sky while “goon” is an animate noun for the snow that has fallen to the ground.
Skating and playing hockey is also a part of the culture today. Children and adults can relate zhooshkwaade’e (skating) which sounds very much like the zhooshimaan used in the snow snake game. This little word part zhoo- is the way to talk about anything that slips and slides so it turns up in the word zhooshkoshindiyang (we all skate on a team with each other) and even the word zhoomiingweni (to smile) which is not in the song but might be used when everyone posted for the group picture the take after gabenaagewaad (they win)!
The last verse is a nod to the common American tradition of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day which has been a celebration of love since the 14th century. Many children still exchange cards and candy in school so adding Ojibwe language to the practice is a fun way to support revitalization. By speaking of zaagidiwin (love) in Ojibwe, we are reminded of the way this is a verb that represents relationships. It can even be a reminder to love, accept and celebrate yourself so that you can love and support others around you. For more phrases related to love, happiness and kindness visit the Valentines page.
There are lots of suckerfish in the lake
my fishing hooks sinking.
Goonikaa miziwe agidaakiing
There is lots of snow on the hills
I make snow snakes
as the snowflakes are falling.
We all go skating on the ice
we skate on a team
we always win.
I think about love
the way we love each other
and the way I love myself.