yaa yaan – where i am

The following poem is dedicated to and inspired by Basil Johnson. I’ve been listening to Baasiin every weekend on 95.7 Aboriginal Voices Radio from 6am-9am. In once of the lessons he was telling stories about names of places. I was also getting ready for a collaborative performance with Melody McKiver, multi-talented anishnaabe kwe, at the Canadian Spoken Word Festival in Montreal. When talking with Melody, we both wanted the performance to have a bigger meaning and to offer something for all those poets from across Canada to think about where they come from and to inspire them to learn more about the land they live on. So this poem was birthed along with a beautifully played viola. Writing it was one thing, reading it out loud was a completely new experience. But we did it!

If there are any mistakes in the language – grammatical or spelling (lol) then they are all my own. I’m learning the language little by little. If you are a fluent speaker please leave a comment at the end on what to improve. Miigwech!


gaa n’gashk-too-siin go ji-nishnaabem-yaam-baan eta go

i can’t speak using only ndn words


yaa yaan – where i am


aw akiing yaang     gii zhinkaazaad

this land has a name

aanish ezhi zhinkaazo, na?

what is it called?

naaniibwe gidaa aw naadwe akiing gii zhinkaazad, moon-yaang.

i stand on this mohawk land called montreal.

ge-gii    naaniibwe gidaa   aw naadwe akiing

you too stand on this mohawk land


Kanienke’ha:ka is people of the flint (Mohawk)
Kanienke’ha is the language.
Haudenosaunee refers to the Six Nations Confederacy.


i raise my hands to our Kanienke’ha:ka relations who are hosting us in their territory. gchi miigwech. niawen koa.


niibna oodewinwag gii zhinkaadeg – noozwaagan – shkwaa ziibiig minwaa gaamiig.

many towns/places are called a certain name – namesakes – after rivers and lakes.


who named these lands,

rivers and lakes?


nanabush named it all

this was but one of the requests that gzhemindoo,

a spiritual entity which creates

and who is one with each of us,

asked of nanabush


nanabush woke in the early morning

as giizis, the sun, peaked

over the horizon in the east,

then with purpose giizis began to rise


her breath

was crisp white clouds

floating against the constant changing hues in the sky

it reminded nanabush of spring salmon,

apple blossoms,

and tiger lilies


mino giizhgad,

it’s a good day,

nanabush gii bgosendang

and continued to pray,

miigwech gzhemindoo

gii miizhyaan bkaa n’zid giizhgad…

thank you gzhemindoo

for giving me another day… on this earth


nanabush sat in awe of the sun’s splendor

zaagiidiwin, the love flowed through every cell in her being

for the first time she understood the excitement

of the bird’s song filling the world each morning,

and how the flowers’ petals opened to welcome the first rays of giizis

she wanted to know more


so, she did what she was instructed to do by gzhemindoo

she had to continue her journey

across the earth and finish her responsibility

of naming places.


nanabush gii bmose

dkamiid akiing

nanabush walked

across the land


weweni gii bmose

she walked with care

gii waase gamii


she saw a lake

a deep lake

mii dash

nanabush zhinkaazod


and so

nanabush called it



nanabush gii waase niibna wesiinhyag

nanabush saw lots animals

gii waase san’goog, waawaashkeshyag, mkwag,

miinwaa gii waase waaboozig.

she saw squirrels, deer, bears,

and she saw rabbits

giinwaa, wesiinhyag, gii minwendamoog

they, the animals, were content

the squirrels chased each other

up and down the trees

waawaashkeshyag miinwa mkwag

gii wiisniig niibna miininan.

the deer and the bears

ate the plentiful berries.

minwaa waaboozig

and the rabbits dug up roots from the ground and ate too.

nanabush watched and learned


each night under a star blanket covering the earth

she watched a cosmic dance

the northern lights shimmered and swayed

the stars winked their far away eyes at her

nanabush blushed

she was so lucky to be alive

she shivered


in the early morning

nanabush watched giizis rise in the east

she stretched from the earth like a budding plant


nanabush weweni gii bmose

minwaa dkamiid akiing

nanabush walked with care

again across the land


gii waase gchi gamii

she saw an immense, massive lake

mii dash

nanabush zhinkaazod gchi gamii

and so

nanabush called it a great lake

now known as lake superior


nanabush gii waase niibna benishiinyag

nanabush saw lots of birds

gii waase gaagaashiinhyag, diindiisiinhyag, pichiinhyag minwaa mgiziwag

she saw crows, blue jays, robins, and eagles

they, the birds, were content

giinwaa, benishiinyag, gii minwendamoog


nanabush paused and watched their feathers catch the currents of the wind

the birds glided with no effort at all


i wish!
nanabush day dreamed

she had wings with a rainbow of feathers

as wind trickled across her feathered body

she understood the sense of freedom

that birds had with the gift of flight


nanabush weweni gii bmose

minwaa dkamiid akiing

gii waase gchi ziibii

mii dash

nanabush zhinkaazod

gchi ziibii


nanabush walked with care

again across the land

she saw a great river

and so

she called it the great river,

which is now known as

gchi ziibii, kitchissippi or the ottawa river


nanabush we’we’ni b’mak’zhi’wed g’chi zii’biing

gii waase bob caagewan

mii dash

nanabush zhinkaazod bob caagewan.


nanabush paddled with care along the great river

she saw water flowing over the edge

and so

nanabush called it bob caagewan,




nanabush weweni bmakzhiwed gchi ziibiing minwaa

gii waase mchi ziibii

mii dash

nanabush zhinkaazod mchi ziibii


nanabush paddled along the great river again

she saw a huge, giant river

and so

nanabush called it mchi ziibii, mchiziibii,

and it’s now called – mississippi river.


nanabush walked past a large body of water and kept on

walking to the land where lots of spirits dwelled

aw zhinkaazid manitoo-ba

this she called manitoba.


nanabush weweni gii bmose minwaa

gii bmose minwaa

gii bmose minwaa

gii waase gjsh’kaage’wan

mii dash

nanabush zhinkaazod gjsh’kaage’wan


nanabush carefully walked

and walked

and walked

she saw a swift current, a swift river

and so

nanabush called it gjsh’kaage’wan,


or some call it saskatchewan


nanabush gii bbimsed



nanabush gii zhinkaazaad kina akiing,


minwaa ziibiig


nanabush walked on and on

one by one

little by little

nanabush named all the land,

the lakes, and the rivers


mii dash, and so, if you listen with care

to the names of the towns, cities, rivers, and lakes,

you will hear nanabush naming those same places

you will hear those anishnaabe ancestors

calling the land by its original names


miigwech miigwech miigwech


2 thoughts on “yaa yaan – where i am

    • miigwech marjorie 🙂 it’s the place where i took the photo. it’s near a marsh so it’s very lush and very green. i don’t use an expensive camera. it’s a canon elph 14 mp digital camera. this photo is without the flash. i forget the setting i used though. i’m glad that you like it! if you want a digital copy email me at verawabegijig@gmail.com i’d be happy to send you one 🙂


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