Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Anishinabe Scattergories

The first time I realized that the answer to a question didn't have to be obvious was in grade two. My teacher, Freeda, asked: "What is your favourite season?"

Each student had the chance to answer and a chorus of "Summer!" rang through the classroom. One of the kids responded, "Winter" and was met with looks of horror or disgust.

"My favourite part of the year is the change in seasons," said Freeda. "I love it when the first snow falls and then thaws to reveal fresh plants and flowers. It's a beautiful cycle and we get to witness it again and again."

Intrigued by how the answer stood outside of the standard responses us seven-year-olds could think up, I tried to employ this new technique later in Algonquin language class. We were playing a handmade board game, basically an Anishinabe version of Scattergories.

The teacher read from a list of categories and we had to silently write down our responses on a piece of paper, hoping that no other student would have the same answer and leave us both pointless.

Of course, we all knew there were four colours in the medicine wheel: white, yellow, red and black. But I remembered my grandmother explaining to me why she always hung a purple ribbon on her medicine wheels: "Purple is a very sacred, spiritual colour," she explained.

When the time came to read our responses and count up the points for each unique answer, I proudly responded, "Purple!" to the medicine wheel question, convinced that I had bested them all.

"There's no purple in the medicine wheel," said my teacher. "Wrong." I began to protest, but she was already moving on to the next kid.

Much to my dismay, my constant companion and competitor in class was the only student to answer white and received one point.

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