A Column By Jack D. Forbes
Native American Studies
University of California, Davis

A First Nations Calendar

Most people take the calendar for granted. They do not think much about the fact that "Wednesday" honors the German-Scandinavian deity "Woden," or that September, October, November, and December still bear the Roman names for the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year, respectively. (Later a Roman emperor inserted January and February in place of the former eleventh and twelfth months and moved the New Year back to the end of December, or the tenth month.)

When living in England I noticed, with approval, that the printed calendars there begin each week with Monday, making Saturday and Sunday the last two days of a seven-day week, and Monday the first day of a new week. That made sense to me, as I have always felt that Monday started a new week.

Let's look at the names of the week, to see what we now honor. Monday honors Moon, a very sensible thing to do. But I believe that we should call it Moon-Day so that people actually know what they are honoring! Tuesday honors Twi or Ty, the spirit of war. Twi stirs men up to strife and fighting, perhaps something we should avoid these days (with nuclear and chemical weapons!). Perhaps we should consider renaming Tuesday "Earth-Day" in honor of Mother Earth.

Wednesday (Wodensdag in Dutch) honors Woden or Odin, the Germanic spirit-power who helped to create all things except other spirit-powers. He is known as "the high one," "the Raven God," and the "All-Father." Perhaps we could change Wednesday to "Creators-Day" in honor of the Creator of Us All, no matter by what specific name he, she, it is known.

Thursday honors Thor (Tor or Donar), the spirit-power of thunder, lightning, storms, and of slaves and unfree peoples. We could change this day to "Thunder's Day" in honor of the powers of the Four Directions and Movement (the Thunder Beings).

Friday honors Frey and Freyia, children of Niord, the Teutonic spirit-power of the oceans. Frey and Freyia, a brother and sister who married each other, are spirit-powers of rain. love, fertility, and fructification. We could change Friday to "Water-Day" or "Rain-Day" in honor of water, rain, and all living things growing with water's nurturing.

Saturday honors Saturn, a spectacular planet and one thought to influence human affairs. I suppose that we could leave that day as "Saturn's Day" but think of it as honoring all of the universe. Sunday, of course, honors the Sun, on whom we are absolutely dependent for light and for all of the growth and energy in our world. Thus Sun's Day is a very good name.

Many Native Nations are already publishing tribal calendars which use names from specific American languages instead of the Roman month names we see on white calendars. But, of course, each nation has its own special way of writing these month-names. Perhaps on calendars being sold for inter-tribal use we can use a name from each of twelve different language families (such as Siouan, Algonkian, Dine, Muskohegan etc.) along with the current Roman name, or we can translate into English names that often have the same meaning. For example, July could be Green Corn Moon, October might be Salmon Moon, and April could be Bears Awaken Moon, and so on. Of course, we would have to compromise between different parts of the continent.

Back in 1971 I advocated that we should start counting our years from the first date of the oldest calendar known from America, that of the people of Middle America such as the Olmec, Maya, Zapotec and Mixe-Zoque peoples. The oldest date is thought to be 3114 BC or 5,112 years ago. Thus our Native calendars could use the date 5112AC (American Calendar) along with 1998 CE (Common Era). 5113 will correspond with 1999 and 5114 with 2000, although the ancient Middle American New Year was probably in March or later.

Using the 5,000 year old American calendar gives us a time-depth similar to that of the Chinese and the Jews, both of whose calendars go back into that ancient period.

Various groups and businesses are selling Native calendars featuring indigenous males and females, pow-wow dancers, and so on. Perhaps these calendar producers will also give some thought to really Americanizing (Native-izing) their calendars! Of course, one can argue that calendars of handsome young indigenous males and females directly copy white sexual exploitation values. But we can change that by honoring men and women of all ages and emphasizing their contributions rather than their muscles or bustlines!

The Romans used to begin their new year around March 1. Native Americans seem to celebrate new years at various times, from the arrival of the salmon in the fall, to Winter Solstice, to the Spring Equinox, and on to July with the Green Corn, depending on the region or tribe. We have to remember that each day begins a new year of 365 days until that day returns again. Thus Native Nations do not have the same new years beginning. We can celebrate on many occasions, depending upon where we are! Let us think about our calendars and try to make them more reflective of our values and ways.


[Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is the author of COLUMBUS AND OTHER CANNIBALS, RED BLOOD, AFRICANS AND NATIVE AMERICANS, ONLY APPROVED INDIANS and other books.]

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