all the elements that make up anishinaabe life through ojibway makwa ikawe embodiment + anishinaabe feminist lens

Month: August, 2012

Travelling, An Element of Anishinaabewiziwin: Part I

I’m looking for an Anishinaabemowin word for “travelling” as in “we travel”, “we are preparing to travel”, “we are travelling”, “we will be travelling a long distance”. I’m looking for this word, as it’s understood in its physical sense, and I’m looking for the meaning of this word—the Anishinaabe meaning. For me, our words have always simultaneously brought the world together and illuminated it, making it bigger. This word and meaning would bundle my stories, reflections, and experiences about travelling, particularly traveling as an important element of Anishinaabeweziwin—all the elements that make up Anishinaabe life. Travelling also, as an important element of being Anishinaabe woman, particularly in a world that is invested in keeping Indigenous women settled, domesticated, dependent, and silent. This bundle would allow me to anchor myself deeper into the spirit of who I am as Anishinaabe, who we are as Anishinaabeg; anchor myself deeper into the spirit of who I am within who we are. It would house an element of all those elements that make up Anishinaabe woman in Anishinaabegogamig.[1]

In the absence of a word and a meaning, what I have are stories and reflections. What I have is the spirit of Anishinaabeg (physical) travel without a name. Part one of this story comes from my most recent travelling experience. Over time I’ll add layers to it.

Returning to Nogojowanong from Naminitigoong through Bawating

A week ago yesterday I found myself driving my longest distance in one period of time—from Naminitigoong to Nogojowanong. About 1200 kms in about 15 hours. I departed with my family at 11 a.m. and arrived home at 3:30 a.m.  Niminitigoong is what the Ottawa (Odawa) Anishinaabeg call one of their homes—Land Beneath the Trees.[2] English Americans call the city they built there, Manistee, Michigan. Nogojowanong is what the Mississauga Anishinaabeg call one of their homes—Mouth of the River.[3] English Canadians call the city they built there, Peterborough, Ontario.

I imagine such a trip would have been epic, taken as it would have been by waterways and trails, with jiiman (canoe) and bmose (walking), the way we got around for thousands of years. I re-think this and re-consider: our people would not have described aspects of their life with such grandeur. I imagine that the trip, once it was decided it would be made, would have been carried out pragmatically and without excessive pomp. In my case, however, it was epic as I did not have my relatives with me to provide companionship, support, and safety into the late night and early morning; I was alone for a good portion of the trip with my girl and Facebook friends who so graciously shared their best ‘travellin’ tune’. Hiy hiy. For me it was epic because it came with a lot of fears and worries.

Getting my girl home in time for the first day of two-week summer day-camp program and saving cash that would otherwise be spent on a motel room were important. Being safe—as in ensuring I was alert enough to i) drive and ii) watch out for waawaashkeshiwag miinawaa moozo (deer and moose)—was top priority. I laid semaa, whispered a pray to the wiingaashk that sits on my dash and to the wesiinyaag manidooyaag (animal spirits); I let migizi miigwan (golden eagle feather) do his work—flying around here and there from my rearview mirror, the a/c and open-window air giving him movement. I imagine my ancestors would have done something similar but maybe, travelling a lot by water, they would have asked for kindness from pinesiwaag (thunder beings), miizhu biizhu (water lynx), or nebaunaubaewuk (merpeople). They may have asked for kindness, like I did, not because these beings would be out to harm them—just like deer and moose are not out to harm us—but because we know we are interfering in their surroundings by virtue of moving through their landscapes and we know they have their life that will not stop simply because we have a trip to take.

There was a brief stop in my first home—Bawating—to drop off “Niece-y” and grandbaby niece and to pick up our kitty and some beads to continue the remaining nine-hour trip home. Bawating is the Ojibway name for our traditional gathering place where Gichi Gaming (Lake Superior) and Odawa Zaagi’gan (Lake Huron) meet. It is also the fifth stopping place on the Anishinaabeg great migration from Gichi Ziibing, the mouth of the St. Lawrence.[4] Settler colonialism has seen our place become re-named, re-landscaped, and re-intentioned and today it is popularly known as Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. It is divided by a Canadian-U.S. international border that is arbitrary tothe Anishinaabeg.[5]

We were returning from a three-day Anishinaabe language and culture camp hosted by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. The camp is located mid-way along the eastern shore of Mishikenh Gaming (Lake Michigan). The camp was an interesting experience that will likely come up in another entry at some point.

This trip came with a lot of fears, doubts, and hesitations. Most of my trips do. I know my family is at the mercy of those chi-wesiinyaag (big animals) and our daaban (vehicle) when we are travelling. At some point, after all the things that can be controlled for are considered—maintenance, cash in pocket, roadside assistance service, insurance for abroad, respectable VISA balance, etc. etc.—I inevitably take a deep breath, lay my asemaa and ask gizhe manidoo (the great, kind mystery) and my pawaaman (spirit protectors) to look out for us. To bring us safely to where we are going and to bring us safely home.

This usually does the trick.

But the mind—the colonized mind—has a funny way of letting doubt interfere with humility, faith and pragmatics. I immediately go back to words James Dumont shared with students in an undergraduate class on Native Identity, Culture, and Behaviour in 1995-1996: doubt is a tool of colonization. I remind myself of this. But I do something else too: when she is sleeping in the back, the music suggestions have been played out, and it’s just me, the high-beams, the bush, the occasional transport, and Nokomis (grandmother used here in reference to tibi giizis—the moon) this is what I get to thinking about to fill up the space where doubt once dwelled:

My mom. Ngaashi. She was a traveler. She travelled by foot three times with her sisters up that trap-line to where her step-dad was. Three times my mom and my aunts left Pelican Residential School and made it to him successfully. Two times, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came and got those kwezensag (that’s “little girls” in my language) and brought them back to school. The third time my mom and aunts, as little Anishinaabeg girls, were left alone by the RCMP and the school system.

I think of this, this story my aunt told me.

And I think of her even more, my mom, the traveler. She was a hitchhiker. Something her second daughter, my unknown younger sister, has in her bones too. Ngaashi hitched to New Orleans once. Wanted to go; went. Likely didn’t think of it as ‘epic’—and she was alone. She travelled to Winnipeg; didn’t like it; left. Went to Sault Ste. Marie; liked it; stayed; had her babies; lived her life; died. I know this, in part through my aunt; in part, because I know something of my mom’s story of my own accord. So, I think of my mom and my aunts, and my sister, and it makes me proud in a humble way. It makes me want to ‘hunker down’ and just do the thing that’s got to be done. It makes me know I have this in my body; my bones; my cells; my d.n.a..

And I let my mind wonder a bit more broadly to imagining about all the women in my mother’s line—my grandmother and great-grandmother and so on—whose travelling stories I do not know and will likely never know. I think of those women, travelling with people, on their own, or alone with their children.

And I know I can do this.

On the road alone at night, with Nokomis rising up, I also think of the other women I know today who are traveler’s. Whose trusty jiiman is a daaban. Who travel, travel, travel. Going here and there doing maadjiimaadiziwin—moving life connected through the generations.

Shirley Williams. Odawa Anishinaabekwe. Gichi Piitzijid (Elder). Anishinaabemowin Chi Ekinomaaget (Language Professor). Water walker and ceremonialist. Academic. Traveler.

Mary Jane Metatawabin. Mushkego esqauo. Grandmother. Poet. Musician. Philosopher. Language speaker. Warrior. My last visit with her was a few weeks ago. It started abruptly at 5 a.m. with her banging on my door. She was returning from an all day and all night round-trip. The purpose: to bring some zhoon (short form for zhooniyaa which means money) to family who needed it.


The first time I met MJ I was returning from Fort Albany to Bawating. She caught a lift. It was a five-hour drive that was just the right amount of time for the story she had to tell. I was tired and although I weaved in and out of consciousness I learned a few things that stick with me on the road. One, the Mushkego word that means “not to be arrogant; do not think that you know what is going to happen up there ahead of you, in the future”. I’ve since forgot what that word is and have asked again what it is; we both forget. Two, I learned that the curves along the Chapleau River are beautiful, scary, and cutting. I learned that MJ’s method for negotiating them in her daabaan is to “just dance the curves” and go. That’s it—just go. Don’t be arrogant to think that you know what will happen up ahead the road there, just dance the curves.

Edna Manitowabi. Odawa Anishinaabeg. Gichi Piitzijid. Artist. Singer. Storyteller. Plant teacher. Ceremonialist. Language Speaker. Traveler.

Josephine Mandamin. Anishinaabeg. Gichi Piitzijid. Water walker. Her daabaan has a name. She is a traveler.

I think of my mom and these women and I think, “To travel is in me. How I can I not have this?”

I think of our ancestors who travelled ALL THE TIME. Summer camp to minomingogamig (rice bed) to hunting grounds to winter camp to iskamizigan (sugar bush) and on and on and on..season after season for thousands upon thousands of years.

Pppssshh. How can I not have this?

But still that fear, worry. There is possible danger out here on the road other than animals. Weird travelers. Power-hungry, racist, sexist police officers—some not all but it’s like how russiona roulette—you never know when THAT one is the one. (If my skepticism about police officers is disturbing to anyone, please note that as an Anishinaabe woman in colonial Canada, not all polices officer—man or woman, serve and protect; some intimidate, threaten, patronize, make a person feel unsafe. True story.)

Then, I think of the Pow-Wow-ers.

Ho-lay! Can those folks travel! Warp speed. Long distance. No worries. Just go. One day I will write a science fiction story with these peeps as my muse.

Not that I’m in tight with the scene but the pow-wow-ers I know travel in groups; in vans. Men seem to take the lead in this area. Mostly my insight comes from being my amazing neighbours. But my first pow-wow-er experience was the summer of 2006. I attended a pow-wow hosted by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan with my friend whose son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren live there. All I remember is that on our return to Bawating, it was late at night. I was following behind my friends’ dad and mom, and another vehicle; we were bordered by the silhouettes of evergreens; guided by yellow headlights and rear red lights glowing off asphalt. Me? I was trying to keep up. I was thinking, “I can’t keep up with this guy. He’s driving 130.” And thinking, “Holy sheesh. Isn’t he worried about getting a speeding ticket?” Always thinking, “Oh my gosh. Pow-wow-ers eh?”

I’m left with a lot of unanswered questions about this experience. There’s some things that I think are best left in the realm of  the unknown and awe. That’s the magic, the surreal, the sci-fi of the pow-wow family-head guy. That’s the power of the pow-wow-er family.

I think of all the little kids. All of our young people here and elsewhere that have had to walk a long way to get away from harm adults have imposed on them historically and still do today. I think of their travels in this realm and beyond.

I can do this.

I think of Jiibay Kona or the Spirit Path, the Milky Way. I think of all the traveler’s who have, and will, follow that path to the spirit world as we move through the western door.[6]  With this, my physical sense of travel moves into the realm of the spiritual. I think of Jim Dumont’s experience travelling as told in class—driving on the highway to get to ceremony or wherever and entering into another consciousness as you are driving and then you ‘come to’ and you wonder where you were, how you arrived to that point safely because you were somewhere in your head. I think of all various forms of spiritual travel. I would like the words for those too. I think of Norval Morriseau’s Travels to the House of Invention and am grateful for that book.[7]

I think about my daughter; my nieces and my nephews; and, my grand-baby niece. I think about how I want them to know travel and movement across our homelands the way our ancestors did. I want their worlds to be bigger than settler/Canadian visions of what a good life looks like. I want them to have the means and confidence to move their bodies, their lives, and their spirits across our landscapes—both physical and spiritual—visiting, learning, teaching, living, loving their relatives and new friends.

Moving under a sky that was turning dark and then turning bright,  “I can do this” until it became “I did this”. Niminitigoong to Nogojowanong in one day. Me, my girl, our kitty, trusty daaban, and a lot of different kinds of relatives. Like Sky Woman. Moving through the world with her children and all her supports. *saasaakwe*[8]

[1] Anishinaabegogamig refers to Anishinaabeg homelands and is known today as the Great Lakes region; the place where Anishinaabeg live and work; the place that was gifted to Anishinaabeg. Doug Williams, personal communication, Waawshkigemonki (Curve Lake First Nation), n.d.

[2] Cecilia LaPointe, personal communication, Facebook, July 31, 2012.

[3] Doug Williams, personal communication, Waawshkigemonki (Curve Lake First Nation), n.d.; Leanne Simpson, Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence, Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011, 26.

[4] Edward Benton-Benai, Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, Hayward: Indian Country Communications, Inc., 1988, 99-101.

[5] Phil Belfy, Three Fires Unity: The Anishinaabeg of the Lake Huron Borderlands, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2011.

[6] Michael Wassegijig Price, “Anishinaabe Star Knowledge,” Winds of Change 17 (3), 2000: 50-56.

[7] Norval Morriseau,  Travels to the House of Invention, Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 1997.

[8] Saasaakwe is a shout-out to the spirits.

What’s Had My Heart Pumping For the Past Few Days: Olympic Love-Ins and Poverty Bashing on my FB

A couple of things have been on my mind over the past week or so. Today is my first day off the land and away from community in weeks and instead of editing my dissertation proposal, I’ve decided to write a response to some issues that have been percolating on my FB newsfeed. I want to be clear from the outset that the source of my angst are the issues I am going to be writing through, not the people or persons on my newsfeed.

On the 2012 Olympics:

I was deep into the first day of an Anishinaabe language and culture camp hosted by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Niminitigoong (Land Beneath the Trees/Manistee, Michigan) when the Olympics started. I had no idea they were upon us until I scanned my Facebook newsfeed that night and tuned into what my family was watching on T.V. in the hotel room. Aside from the discussion prompted by my 10-year olds’ admonishment of my critique of the Olympics, particularly what she thought was my judgment of the Indigenous athletes being happy to perform for this institution, and our brief exchange about the need for critical awareness vs. ignorant bliss, I have stayed away from engaging in too much detail about the Olympics. As for the debate with my daughter, I assured her that I was not judging what makes her happy or what makes those individuals happy but rather criticizing the Olympics and the nation-states like Canada that they celebrate. Of course she didn’t care about this—she’s not supposed to at ten—she was interested only in seeing the swimmers who would be competing; she needed to be assured that what makes her happy is not wrong; that her mother, the one with whom her sun rises and sets, did not judge what makes her happy. Our conversation ended like it usually does: me apologizing for coming off judgmental; her teaching me to have humility and kindness in my assessment of things and the words I use; and both of us agreeing, I think, that we always have to balance the need to make a better world through awareness and practice with experiencing joy, happiness, laughter everyday. What the Olympics looked like in our family for the next few evenings was she and my niece watching them unfettered by my commentary and me scrolling through my FB newsfeed and ignoring the love-fest happening there.

Until today; now, I share my thoughts.

The Olympics, and the love-fest for all things Olympics and nation-states, makes my stomach get all knotted up; makes me worry about speaking too loudly about why my stomach gets all knotted up. History tells me that my truth as Anishinaabe woman in my occupied homelands (and occupied cyberspaces), when it counters dominant mainstream Canadian sentiment, is often not engaged with meaningfully; in fact, it has many times yielded racist, bigoted, sexist, patronizing, or bullying responses. Even from those who claim, when it benefits them, “Native” ancestry. Or my voice waits, in silence, for responses that have yet to come or may never come. I am not the first Anishinaabe woman to experience this range of responses nor will I be the last.

Anyhow, my point: I want to see the  status quo pro-Olympic propaganda come to an end. I want to see a massive shift in consciousness and caring and self-empowerment and belief that there can be something better. I want advocacy for an Olympics that is inclusive, not just to include the already privileged while others suffer.

I think a better Olympics can be done.

If it can’t, I think the Olympics needs to be done.

I am not saying that relationships with the Olympics or the nation-states it props up must come to an end. I’m saying the ideas of nation-state goodness, the love-in with international nation-state events, and the warm gush of “mmmm, everyone is so young and healthy and pretty and beautiful” coursing through our veins—the seductiveness of the Olympics—needs to be transformed. The frenzied, adrenaline rush or comfort of patriotism needs to be replaced with a frenzies, adrenaline rush or comfort in active, critical engagement, and belief that we can have different kinds of nation-states and different kinds of sporting events. I think the things the make people feel patriotic and engaged in nationalist events needs to be redefined. I think the methods that create patriotism and nationalist-inter-nationalist love-fests needs to be re-created.

And replaced with what?

Well, I’m not 100% sure with what and I’m not going to go do research on it because I’m not the one perpetuating the problem. But, off the top of my head, I think a new patriotism and nationalism can be found in an Olympics that:

i) does not further displace Indigenous peoples from our homelands or the lands we’ve been previously displaced to OR further dispossess us of our resources. but does honour existing treaty agreements where they exist and/or refuses to perpetuate occupation where treaties don’t exist;

ii) does not further burden or displace those living in social-economic poverty and does commit to relieving some of the existing burden and/or contribute to these segments of communities in ways defined by them;

iii) does not exploit athletes but does ensure equitable and empowered participation in the Olympics;

iv) does not deny Indigenous athletes rights to be proud of the Nations they belong to and does engage in decolonization by allowing Indigenous Nations flags etc. to be carried on par with nation-states or perhaps with more recognition and dignity as an act of reconciliation for historical harms done;

v) does not harm the environment but does work with the existing eco-system and strives to revitalize existing environmental damage;

vi) does not prop up unethical corporations as good Samaritan sponsors and does only solicit endorsements from socially and environmentally ethical corporations.

Pretty idealistic but that’s okay. It’s written down now and all these things are possible.

I’m pretty sure people can advocate for this in their own ways, amongst their peers and family and communities. At a minimum, people can stop circulating propaganda that perpetuates an idea of a glorious Olympics. People can become engaged in this spectacle a bit more critically starting with some of the excellent material circulating on FB. People can say, “I really love _______ about the Olympics but I really don’t love _________ about the Olympics and instead of just ignoring what I don’t like I’m going to do ____________ to try to change it.”

I know education is discomforting and I know breaking up is hard to do even when it’s breaking up with the idea of a good nation-state (e.g. Canada) and the idea of what is a worthy athletic spectacle (e.g. Olympics). Breaking up comes with a lot of grief and sleepless nights; constantly doubting and weighing the pros and cons. It’s particularly hard to do when you have nothing to gain from it except a trajectory that puts you on a path where you will meet more resistance from a lot of people, including your family members, friends, lovers, partner, enemies, frenemies etc. etc. And then to do this for what or for whom? A better world? Some Indigenous peoples? Those who have been displaced and dispossessed as a result of the Olympics? For me, the person you have somewhat of a relationship in real time or FB time?


That’s “yes” in Anishinaabemowin.


The second issue in my heart and brain is what I call, “Rant #564: Poverty Bashing (by the Righteous Working Class)”

It’s happening on my FB, all the time.

I’m tired of it.

I want it to stop.

I could unfriend unfriend unfriend but I’d rather go the route of discussion and reflection first. So, in that spirit, following here are a few questions to the righteous working class or privileged middle class who blame those living in poverty for their own financial or material unhappiness. I ask these questions with the hopes that the poverty bashing will stop. Once you’ve read these questions, you may be interested in reading, Poor-Bashing, The Politics of Exclusion  (2001) by Jean Swanson.

Here goes:

One: How can you be so sure that life is always going to be so supportive of you and the trajectory you’re on? How do you know there will not be a time when you will find yourself in the same position you hate on today? Aside from universal forces you have no control over and that have got you where you are, your hard earned tax dollars pay for your government to do what governments do—regulate, control, and exploit. Your taxes may go toward the 550 or so dollars single moms, people on disability, and seniors get to live on a month but ALL OF THIS 550 or so dollars they get a month goes back into the economic system that supports your working backs so you can have savings accounts, life insurance policies, and mortgages. You see, (y)our good life, at whatever class you may be in, comes from someone else’s economic hardship somewhere else; (y)our misery comes from (y)our own greed and false sense of not having enough.

Two: Don’t you have enough already?

Three: If the answer to two is “no”, why turn to those living on the least to try to get more for yourself? Why not turn to those that have more than enough to share and could easily address your needs?

Four: How will you know when you have enough?

Five: It seems to me that the sense of righteousness you have comes from the struggle you have being working-class. It’s a shitty deal to be working class in a capitalist society for sure. But doesn’t this knowledge compel you to know better than to further burden the already burdened? Why does it nurture hate instead of  compassion and understanding?

Six: Do you really think that people enjoy living on low fixed incomes, particularly in a shiny, happy country where everyone on T.V. is young, healthy, fit, pretty, and athletic and where our value as human beings is defined by how much we can shop and how well we can mark ourselves with our status (i.e. clothes, cars, houses, material items, where we buy our groceries, etc.)? Do you really think people living on fixed incomes enjoy being the target of your misery? FYI, targeting others less fortunate than yourself is a privilege that comes to you because you are able to be employed and because this employment generates a few thousand more a year for you than them. The employment you have today is not solely dependent on the merit you have; it’s because you knew somebody who got you a job; it’s because the broader economic system supports that particular field or trade you are in. The broader economic isn’t going to care about your hard-earned taxed dollars when the field no longer serves corporations, politicians, or the TSE or the MEF. Don’t know what these are? Neither do I but I know enough to know that they control you and me. Look it up and educate yourself.

Final thoughts: Righteous working class, and company, some, not all, of you hate on those living in poverty and fixed incomes. This makes me think you may also believe that you pay for Indigenous peoples education with your “hard-earned” tax dollars. For clarification, you do not pay for Indigenous peoples education. In fact, Indigenous peoples, by way of our Nations, contribute in large part for yours and your children’s education—whatever amount or quality you have—with the resources your government and the corporations your government does deals with, extract from my/our Indigenous homelands, often in violation of treaties or in the absence of a treaty. If you don’t know how this works (and you likely don’t because your public educatino system doesn’t want you to know this), read a book, do a Google Scholar search, or talk to your local politician, historian, librarian, Elder. And if you don’t get clear answers, keeping asking and reading until you do. Don’t stop at the first myth that affirms your righteousness and perpetuates your hate. Don’t stop until you get the right answer.

How will you know when you have the right answer?


That’s Anisinaabe for “achieving a state of well-being by caring for each other”.

You’ll know when you achieve a state of well-being.

A state of well-being…

…by caring for each other.

When you get a feeling about caring about others instead of hating on them, you’ll know you’ve come across a good answer. Hopefully this will encourage you to continue on in that way.

Nahaaw mii sa iw (Okay, that’s all). Miigwech (thank you) for reading and considering my words.