Northern Michigan, August 24, 1858
NIBIQUA GRIPPED THE SAPLING hard and forced her birthing muscles to press downward. Her breath came in short, deep pants when the pain hit her, then in grunts when it let go. Her thoughts, through all of this, were centered on one thing: If the child would only come now—now while the strange light crossed the sky, now while Father Sun and Grandmother Moon spoke to one another face to face.
There had not been such an auspicious time for a birth since far back in the memory of the People. If this child of the Bear Clan should be born now, the entire clan—no, the entire village—would know her as a blessing.
Her, for Nibiqua knew her own body well and the way it carried children. This one—the last from a woman grown old in bearing and raising children—this one would be the strongest of all. If she lived. If Nibiqua had enough life left to raise her.
Pain gripped Nibiqua’s body yet one more time as fear gripped her heart. She knew the spectre of the Shaganosh’s boarding schools loomed in front of this child to come. She also knew if this ominous ghost took form, her baby would be only one of many forced to leave their Odawa homes and their Odawa ways of Knowing. Then what would happen to the seven generations to follow them? Who would be left to keep the old wonders and the old ways?
Vision told her this child would know. The Guides within the Vision showed her the wisdom and the strength of this woman to be, and Nibiqua understood how. She now vowed within the Vision happening around her the child would be born if Spirit would have it so.
The medicine woman agreed with her when she shared the Vision. Gashkitoon was the only Elder who did. Yes, there was the threat of removal hanging over the Odawa’s heads. Other tribes were forced from their lands, were they not? Yet most of the Elders in Wauganauksi were convinced the Shaganosh would not make the effort to push the Odawa People from the land.
The Elders well knew greed stood as the impetus for such actions. A simple logic followed. The land of Wauganauski had nothing worthy of a Shaganosh’s greed. The vast forests, the wide lakes, the many rivers were the life of the Anishanbe. The Shaganosh did not speak this language, and could hear no sound of profit in them.
Still, there was talk; talk of the land itself now under Shaganosh control, talk of how the People could be forced from the land as many of the Clans to the south were.
And how could the People live without the rice, and the blueberries, and the sweet sap of aninatig? The thought of such a horrendous loss wrenched Nibiqua as sharply as the birth pangs. The People fought for these lands against both the Sioux and the Iroquois, driving them back again and again to protect their precious food sources.
If the Shauganosh tried to force the Odawa out, there would be another battle. All knew this battle could not be won. Yet the People would fight to stay among the brothers and sisters they knew and respected.
Nibiqua panted against the hard labour, sweating in the heat of the Minomin Moon. This child’s borning was more difficult than any of her others. It was much more painful, it was taking a great deal longer, and it was sapping her of needed strength.
“You will not die borning!” her heart promised the spirit. “Though it takes the last of my strength to drive you out, you will live!”
Nibiqua pushed through the next contraction with a more powerful surge of strength. She thought to hold this kind of force in reserve. Her wisdom and experience told her she must always hold something aside in a birthing, something that would leave her the physical ability to care for the child after the birth. She knew, now, it was unlikely there would be much `after’ for her. Knowing it, she gave what was supposed to be held for her healing to the birthing effort.
Suddenly, the howl of a wolf caught at Nibiqua’s hearing and broke into her concentration. Fear slashed at her soul one more time. The howl told her the wolves were scenting blood. This meant there would be little time to both birth the child and get it to safety.
Nibiqua usually did not fear the wolves. Her instincts and her wisdom kept her from placing herself in their path. Her home and the strong hunters around her protected her from them when such was not possible. The voices in her Vision moved her beyond her instincts, her wisdom, and the strength of the hunters. They led her here to this sacred place within the vast wilderness where she was alone and unprotected by any, save the Spirits.
Too late she remembered how the Elders cautioned her against going alone to such a place at such a time.
“You seek to sway the will of the Guides,” they told her. “This is not the way of the People.”
Nibiqua gave a respectful ear to the comments but she did not heed the advice. This was not the first time she refused to do so. Nine months earlier there was similar talk concerning the age of child-bearing women and the wisdom of conceiving in the middle years.
The Path these Elders wished to lay out for her was a good one. The small Odawa woman knew this. Yet she also knew the care and wisdom of the Guide within her. The conflict between the two ways left her little choice. She would follow the Path within her soul even though it could mean her own death.
Vision gave her a destination. A sign gave her light, literally, to show her the way toward it. What else could the strange brightness in the sky be called? How else should she look upon the timing of the conception of this child be called? She and Mashkawa joined together that first night after her Vision. It seemed auspicious to do so.