Where the Prairie Meets the Sky: nēhiyaw-iskwēw о̄ma niya

tawāw nitotēmak, Honey Constant nitisīyikasо̄n, nēhiyaw-iskwēw о̄ma niya. Welcome friends, my name is Honey Constant. I am a Plains Cree woman from Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada.

A selfie of Honey Constant. "Where prairie meets the sky."

I am a woman of the Great Plains and I think one of the biggest misconceptions of the prairies is that there is nothing but flat land. I am a little biased…I believe this to be completely untrue. My Masters thesis focuses on a beautiful archaeological site situated on the Northern Plains: Wanuskewin.

Home to 19 pre-contact sites–including two known bison jumps, a bison pound, campsites, processing sites, and the most Northern documented Medicine Wheel of the Plains–Wanuskewin has 6400 years of human occupation in the archaeological record. This includes evidence of every Northern Plains Indigenous group present in the valley.

The Great Plains is the largest biome in North America. It ranges from Central Saskatchewan down to the Panhandle of Texas, from the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. This is the general range taught to me by my Masters supervisor, Dr. E. Walker, but depending on the person talking, this range may vary.

Where Prairie Meets the sky: image of a boat parked at a small dock on a lake. The sky has wispy clouds, and beyond the lake are rolling, green hills.

It is a curious thing to have to identify where you learned something and justify why it is valid, to discuss and divulge your ways of knowing.

As I was growing up and practicing my culture, I learned from my family members and those around me. However, it is extremely important to acknowledge that there are infinite forms of knowledge and many ways to learn something.

As an Indigenous woman and a Plains Archaeologist, I find myself justifying my knowledge very often. I taught Traditional Pow Wow dancing to elementary students when I was in High School and then, as I got older, I transitioned into cultural programming in different organizations.

I think my youth invited criticism and doubt in my knowledge or ability to “know the world”. This lead me to explore my own identity and find my voice early on.

I did not respond with anger or frustration, but instead, whenever anyone would challenge my understanding of my culture or belief systems, I would use it as a way to remind them that we are all on different roads. These roads are winding and there is no “finish line” in learning. We should acknowledge that we all have different backgrounds and, sometimes, there are different ways to open a door. (You like that analogy? I love analogies.)

You could be Plains Cree from my same community and understand and see the world differently than me, and that is ok. I think we are often stuck in a world of lateral violence where we might feel the need to call out each other because “that is not how I do it”, but we need to acknowledge we have different views, understanding, and ways of being.

Image of the back of a kayak on Sturgeon Lake.

I grew up between the City of Saskatoon, the City of Prince Albert, and my home reservation of Sturgeon Lake. Prince Albert is known as “The gateway to the north”, since it is main route to travel to Northern Saskatchewan. My reserve of Sturgeon Lake is 45 minutes North of Prince Albert and I would describe the land as a place where the prairies meets the boreal forest.

I currently live in Saskatoon for school and work so, when I go home to visit my mom and my siblings, I travel north an hour and some to Prince Albert.

My partner and I made that trip this weekend and I absolutely love that drive North. The transition from the grasslands to the thickening trembling aspen trees makes me happy. We planned to go to Sturgeon for a family BBQ and lake day. It was a nice break from sheltering-in-place at my city apartment.

I am grateful to have done many things that day, including: telling cheesy jokes, stumbling out of a boat, kayaking, finding wild raspberries, seeing blooming Prairie Lilies, and–of course–hearing my grandparents tell stories.

An image of the prairie vegetation, including grasses, jewel weed (I think), and a lily.

It is just what I needed and my heart feels so full. As Jordan and I were tying down the kayaks to the roof of my mom’s mini van, the storm winds came roaring across the lake and whistled loudly through the tall pine trees. It was time to go home.

This is just a small example of the richness that the prairies offers! There are so many hidden stories, from the deep roots of our native grasslands to the aurora borealis of our living skies.

This land has so much to teach us in terms of being thankful, humble, and connected. There is not a moment that passes that I am not thankful for those days where I am out on the lake fishing (and never actually catch a fish–I think I am too impatient).

I am humbled by the ancestral continuation of berries blooming, trees growing, and the migration and movement of animals in our ecosystems. By connecting to those cultural teachings passed down generations, I can’t help but feel I am connected to my parents, my grandparents, and great-grandparents and further into my family tree by acknowledging the stories held in place.

kinanāskomitin

-Honey

About Honey Constant

Honey Constant is nēhiyaw-iskēwēw, Plains Cree Woman, from Sturgeon Lake First Nation. She is currently working on her Masters in Plains Archaeology with Dr Ernie Walker, developing an archaeology program for Wanuskewin from an Indigenous perspective. Honey is passionate about Indigenous representation in the sciences and weaves traditional knowledge and Plains Cree ways of knowing into her work. Honey contributes to her city of Saskatoon and online community by instructing beading workshops; facilitating talking circles on reconciliation, and trying to make the world a safer place to hear Indigenous voices. You can follow her on Instagram @HoneyWillowCreations. You can also learn more about here in this interview.

Leave a Reply