I am the direct beneficiary of many Mothers by many names, many times, places, and generations. These are the ones in our communities who give us life. Sometimes the life they give is literal, and other times it is what we need in any given moment to save us from ourselves and this world filled with demands and distractions. In all of her forms, Mother has been an important influence in how I mother my own four children from the time they first entered my womb waters. Today, I write to honor the nurturing care and remember the teachings by turning them inward.
The practice of Mothering is deeply embedded in Indigenous communities and can be delivered by anyone who brings life, nurtures life, and cultivates the development of embodied love. The reverence and respect for Mother is one of the many things we have in common across Turtle Island (North America). This is reflected in how we refer to the Earth herself, in our languages, as Mother- the one who gave us life.
In my people’s language, Anishinaabemowin, the word for Mother is ni-maa-maa. The sounds “ma-ma” are the same sounds in many world languages. It is said that these are the first sounds we as humans can make. And these sounds should remind us that all life is interrelated. We are all held in a nest of mutuality, connected to a single destiny here on Mother Earth. The Mothering act of caring and nurturing one of us is to bring this Mothering to us all.
Turning the sacred lessons of Mother inward is in service to our ancestors who, too often, did not have the resources or ability to rest and lay with their joy, prayers, and sorrow in times of great cultural upheaval. Today, as we work toward racial equity and justice for Mother Earth and Native people, we must remember to break the cycles of harmful burnout and martyrdom so that our children and families can envision a future where we can accept the support we need and deserve. We must open ourselves up to receiving these gifts.
One such gift is the knowledge of our own preciousness. In the early days when I gave birth to my first child, I remember the feeling of giving birth to my own heart. The feeling of being infinitely vulnerable and precious grew a new commitment to care for our communities and myself. As humans, we are not here on Earth to succeed—we are here to enter into the beauty of the way we do ordinary things, in how we create a home, and how we build relationships. These are the precious things. The words we sing to our children with all of our hearts are the words we sing to ourselves.
You are beautiful – Gimiikawaadiz
You are skilled – Ginitaawichige
You are doing good – Giminochige
For those who are mourning the loss of their Mother due to COVID, or for any other reason, my heart is with you. For those who have suffered the loss of a child or community, I know grief can be a constant companion in everyday life. I am deeply linked with this awareness and take great care of those in my life who are also traveling this path.
As the Mother of four, my family’s days begin well before the sun will rise and sometimes extend late into the evening. But when the day’s work is done—bellies are full, the dishes are washed and put away, floors are swept, laundry is sorted, and the last-minute emails are wrapped up-it is time to just be Mother. The outside world seems to disappear, and it is just US for a while. I never forget to sink into the deep gratitude I have for moving through this season of my Motherhood life and embrace the relationship I have with my young ones—the future of our people.
It is my honor to give and receive these ordinary, yet sacred, gifts.
Meet The Author: Dawn Knickerbocker
Dawn Knickerbocker belongs to the Anishinaabe people from White Earth Nation. She is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from the Ottertail Pillager Band of Indians. Dawn brings her experience in philanthropy and in supporting Native communities. She holds a B.A. in organizational management and completed graduate work in social impact and human rights practice. You can read more about her on her page.