A massive table made of old rafters bisects the span of an abandoned railroad bridge in North Milwaukee. It is the terminus to what was known as the old Beerline Trail, a railroad spur that fed a once thriving industrial community. The Overpass Light Brigade was one of twenty community arts groups that received small grants to create awareness about the potentialities of this forlorn area, now resurrected as the ARTery, and hoped to be a linkage in bicycle and hiking trails that transect Milwaukee.
Last Sunday, August 24, that massive table was the site of a potluck dinner for the community, where neighbors, artists and organizers met and ate and talked on the old railroad bridge while cars passed by underneath on busy Capitol Drive. We’re used to a view from the bridge, but tonight it was different. Grillmasters made burgers, brats, chicken and fish on the barbecues, folks piled their plates high, and got to know one another in conversation, then gathered around a performance tent where young men performed energetic spoken word and hip hop.
As darkness approached, we took the mic for our Language In Lights program. The Swamp Singers, a group of Ojibwe women from the Detroit area, gave us a welcoming song and led us in a round dance, balancing, as one of them stated to the crowd, “the beautiful male energy we’ve heard here with our female energy singing, drumming and round dancing.”
We needed to move everyone down the trail from the picnic bridge to the stage where we were set up with the light panels. Along that trail, overgrown with the typical weeds that sprout up in abandoned urban spaces, we had located four plants significant to Ojibwe culture and set up large placards in English and Anishinaabe to identify them. Snippets of the four different plants were in wooden bowls next to the placards, and people were given cotton cloth and string to make medicine bundles from the plants.
ni - pause
niin - a self
niimi - to dance
giniim - you dance
giniimimin - we all dance
giin - you
giniginige - mix (kinnickinnick)
gaming - a place
michi - vastness
michigaming - the great sea, where we are, who we are
mino - good
akii - earth
minowakii - good earth (Milwaukee)
misko - red (as the oxygen filled liquid that flows through us)
asin - stone (not water)
miskoasing - a place of red stone, where blood and land meet
wiskosin - miskoasing squeezed and manipulated a State surrounding 12 nations
Chi Miigwetch, or Miigs, that is, thank you!