I don’t usually listen to music while I write. Sometimes I’ll put on some powwow music or ambient heavy metal during the creative process, but I typically find anything with discernible English lyrics distracting when I’m trying to put English words together. I do draw a lot of inspiration from music, though, and I’ll play a song or two before I sit down to write, and again when I’m done for the day.
Many songs influenced the writing of Moon of the Crusted Snow and were part of that pre- and post-writing ritual. Songs with speculative lyrics or dystopian themes were obviously in high rotation, given the story’s post-urban setting and plot. I also found myself drawn to songs that felt like cold, bleak winter. And to counter that darkness, I also played tunes that hinted at renewal and a more hopeful future. So here are some of the tracks that carried me through writing this novel, in no particular order:
Nine Inch Nails – “The Day the World Went Away”
PJ Harvey – “The Ministry of Defence”
Propagandhi – “A Speculative Fiction”
Deltron 3030 – “3030”
A Tribe Called Red – “Burn Your Village to the Ground”
Our son’s full name is Jiikwis Dean Manoominii. There are many stories behind it, as with any name in any culture. He’s lived with it for more than two and a half years now, and we all echo it proudly amongst friends, family, and strangers. He can pronounce every syllable now, which are the sweetest sounds to a parent’s ears.
My wife Sarah and I put a lot of thought into his name before he arrived. It was important to us as Anishinaabeg to have his name reflect his culture, language, and family history. And as is custom in many Anishinaabe communities, we asked for help to determine what he would be called for the rest of his life. Naming him was a family affair, and we didn’t want it any other way.
Shortly after we found out a child was coming to us, I offered my father semaa (tobacco) to find a name. Where I’m from, elders are often asked to help name children. It’s a custom steeped in respect and ceremony, and we were proud to carry it forward. My grandmother named me after her father; an act that has firmly connected me to my family and community throughout my life. We wanted the same for our child.
He was born early and very traumatically. He spent his first days without a name because we weren’t ready for him. As he and his mother recovered in hospital, my father and stepmother visited us. It was then we learned from my dad that our son would be called Jiikwis, a word that can mean “first born”, “first son”, or “oldest brother” in Anishinaabemowin. It refers to Majiikwis, a key figure in immemorial Anishinaabe stories.
His second name, Dean, is an homage to his great-grandfather of the same name on his mother’s side. She and I are both of mixed Anishinaabe and Canadian heritage, so we felt a name in English was important to include as well. Determining his last name, though, was a more significant act of reclamation.
Manoominii is a variation of the word for wild rice in the Anishinaabe language, and it’s what his wild rice-farming ancestors on my side used to be called. In the mid-19th Century, they were among a group of Potawatomi people who fled the territory now known as Wisconsin, forced out by the Indian Removal Act signed by U.S. President Andrew Jackson years earlier. They settled around the Great Lakes, joining people who had established long-standing Anishinaabe communities in the region.
When the Indian Act was passed in Canada in 1876, the federal government forced Indigenous people to register as “Indians” under the state. My great-great-grandfather, known as John Menominee, was told he had to change what was considered his last name in order to do so. (Anishinaabeg didn’t traditionally use last names, and how he came to be called John Menominee is unknown.)
The Canadian authorities gave him the surname “Rice” because it was a translation they identified for Menominee (Manoominii), and it’s what that branch of my family has been known as since. Our wild rice heritage was thus erased in name, and would only be passed down in story.
In recent decades, though, some of my relatives have reclaimed that identity. Two of my aunts legally changed Rice back to Menominee, and one of my uncles registered his children with that last name at birth. That inspired us to do the same for Jiikwis, using a more modern spelling according to the now widely-adopted double vowel system. And it was fairly easy to do.
When we registered his birth online through Service Ontario, we had the option to give him a different last name. It was as simple as selecting an option from a drop-down menu and typing Manoominii into a box. There was no additional cost, and his birth certificate arrived shortly after with his name spelled out as such, for as long as he decides to carry it.
He’ll know the stories of his names as he grows up. Hopefully he’ll be proud of them. But he’ll be very aware of the history of his people, and how colonialism has attempted to tear down and erase their identity. Just speaking his name is act of resistance and reclamation. They’re words and stories the settler authorities didn’t want spoken on this land any longer. Yet here they are, echoing for generations to come.
It’s been a busy time since Moon of the Crusted Snow was published in the fall. But once winter arrived, I was able to slow everything down a bit and spend some quiet time with my wife and son. We’ve mostly stayed close to home here in Sudbury, which has been really nice and relaxing. It’s also been somewhat necessary to stay put, given the intense weather we’ve had here in northern Ontario so far this winter. So I’ve taken a bit of an intermission from writing over the past couple of months.
I travelled a lot over the fall to visit festivals and read at events to promote the new book. I also did a lot of writing in my spare time, hence no updates at this blog. But I did have one special opportunity that sort of reignited my interest to do a lot more personal writing here. To coincide with the release of Moon of the Crusted Snow, I was invited to serve as Writer-in-Residence for Open Book. It was a wonderful experience that allowed me to really reflect on writing that story, literary storytelling in general, and some of the issues I’ve grappled with as a Anishinaabe author. Here are the posts I wrote for Open Book over the month of October:
Big thanks to the wonderful team at Open Book for that great opportunity. I will revisit some of those discussions in this space in the coming months. Needless to say the journey with this book has been an exciting one so far, and I’m very thankful for everyone who’s read it, and for those who have invited me to share it across the land.
I also had many kind invitations to discuss the story in a variety of media. I’m honoured that many tremendous people took the time to chat with me about this book. Here are those interviews:
Some generous reviewers and writers also took the time to offer their thoughts and analysis of Moon of the Crusted Snow, and to have it discussed in so many ways is a humbling and encouraging experience. Here are some of those articles:
I share all these links not just to draw attention to the book and the praise it may have received, but to provide a resource for future discussions about its characters, setting, literary elements, and more. The Moon of the Crusted Snow journey continues with more events and readings this spring. I’ll share details as they’re confirmed, and I promise to write more here. Miigwech!