Gray jay

Wise old trick­ster

Canadian Geographic - - CITY CENTRAL - By Ni­igaan Sin­clair

I’M WRIT­ING ABOUT an old rel­a­tive, one that goes by many names. To the Cree, she is wisike­jack. To the French, she is mésangeai du Canada. To the English, she is gray jay. To my peo­ple, the Anishi­naabe, she is Gwi­ing­wi­ishi. Gwi­ing­wi­ishi has lived with us since the be­gin­ning. She is a life giver, a trick player and one of the smartest be­ings in Cre­ation. Ev­ery­thing she does chal­lenges thought and per­cep­tion, gift­ing teach­ings of re­spon­si­bil­ity, re­la­tion­ships and life. Many say she is a food-stealer, but she is brave in her fear­less­ness, bright in her mis­takes. She is kind to those who are kind back, harder on those who need a dose of hu­mil­ity. She is the best parts of all parts. Un­like many birds, she stays among our lodges all year, watch­ing, play­ing and call­ing for our at­ten­tion con­stantly. She is fierce in her pro­tec­tion of her fam­ily and com­mu­nity, trav­el­ling only with her rel­a­tives and tak­ing care of her young. She hides her food in tree caches, as she is con­stantly on the move, con­stantly go­ing and re­turn­ing, con­stantly vis­it­ing all. Gwi­ing­wi­ishi is a great, wise teacher, and there is an old story that tells of her abil­i­ties to give gifts. One day long ago, our great trick­ster­trans­former Nan­abozho changed him­self into Gwi­ing­wi­ishi and sat in a tree above two blind broth­ers as they be­gan to share a meal. As the first man reached for a piece of meat, Gwi­ing­wi­ishi flew down and stole it. Star­tled, the man asked his brother if he had taken his meat. The brother replied no, reach­ing for a piece him­self. As he was about to place the food in his mouth, Gwi­ing­wi­ishi flew down and stole it, too, then re­turned to the tree to watch. The broth­ers ac­cused one another of steal­ing, ar­gu­ing with fear that one was try­ing to hurt the other. Just be­fore they came to blows, Gwi­ing­wi­ishi let out a huge laugh. Sud­denly, the two men re­al­ized that Nan­abozho was play­ing a trick, teach­ing them to not let petty things come be­tween them. Nan­abozho trans­formed back into a hu­man but left a spirit of play and gift giv­ing within Gwi­ing­wi­ishi, some­thing she still shares to­day. Her les­son? That it is only in our brav­ery, re­silience and com­mit­ments to one another that we can find growth.

Ni­igaan Sin­clair is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of na­tive stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba, a writer and the coed­i­tor of Man­i­towapow: Abo­rig­i­nal Writ­ings from the Land of Wa­ter.

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