Blow up a balloon, it’s full. Shiny even. More than anything, the balloon reveals your reflection in her taught, shiny facade. You look past the balloon; the balloon reveals your likeness.

The balloon deflated is stretched, wrinkled. Useless. It’s fulfilled it’s purpose.

Sometimes, most of the time, that’s the shame that engulfs me—the shame of my body, scarred. The skin, the fat; I’m not particularly insecure about it. I’m disappointed. I am ashamed. Shame is probably the most vulnerable emotion I am willing to share. I wonder if he knows what it means for me to share my body with him? To me, the shape my skin has taken reveals a legacy of an emptiness I have never been able to fill.

Sometimes, I suppose, sometimes, I feel like a complete failure in regard to my facade, like why don’t I look like the beautiful Anishinaabe women I see in pictures? I have pasty, stretched out skin; I barely have any regalia. My glasses hide my Fonjulacker eyes. Other times though, I find myself grateful.

I thought I could never rely on my looks for anything; I learned later to rely on my looks to weed the assholes out.

My body is a balloon.

My deflated body is what propels me through the course. And racing, riding my bike, in really long bike races has been the closest I’ve ever been to feeling full. It’s days on end where I get to do what I do best. Ceremony. It’s my ceremony. And ceremony is sacred.

For years, I practiced my pre-race ceremony before events alone. I don’t show ceremony at the starting line. I don’t trust anyone not to catch it on camera. Everyone is always snap, snap, snapping. When did everyone become a handle? So, I often did my pre-race ceremony rushed, and without adequate space. And maybe, just maybe there was some shame in there too. Like, I didn’t practice ceremony, despite everything my ancestors went through.

It’s not that I am directly prohibited from doing ceremony, it’s an indirect fear of something so sacred to me becoming appropriated. Like so much else that has been stolen from us, will our ceremony too, be stolen? I refuse to be complicit in that theft. It’s a doubt in myself; how do I respond if someone sees me, and I answer incorrectly? It’s insecurity and the feeling of the responsibility to my community that I do no harm to my relations. I carry my relations with me everywhere I go.

Mewinzha, in a Covid-era-event-desolate parking lot, the kweg were in Ishpeming.

They gathered, and together, spoke words that already existed in her heart. For as far back as she could remember, she carried these words with her through races. For the first time, those words were spoken and she didn’t have to carry them through the course. She could just be. She was able to share ceremony with her human relations, without fear, without doubt. She didn’t have to teach them sacred. She didn’t have to ceremony in secret. This was a gift she’d never been given before.


This was the most radical act I’d ever been a part of. This is my direct action.

This is how I hold space.

Contemporary Shinnob ceremony

Chi-miigwech to our support network

Sarah Agaton-Howes @ Heart Berry
Industry Nine
Light and Motion
Todd @ 906 Adventure
George Kapitz @ Broken Spoke Bike Studio in Green Bay, Wisconsin
Duluth Coffee Company Duluth, Minnesota
Continental Ski and Bike