all the elements that make up anishinaabe life

Anishinaabe Women Prevail, Again

Not everything is achieved en masse. Here, another example of Anishinaabe determination, persistence, and intelligence:

Algonquin Anishinaabe Woman Wins!

Reminds me of so many Anishinaabe who step forth independently and stick to it in order to achieve something important for many:

Josephine Mandamin and Water Walking

Doug Williams and his bullfrog hunting case

Judy DaSilva and land and water protection in NW Ontario

Winona LaDuke and food sovereignty, land and water protection, and land-based economic development work

Some folks from other Nations:

Dr. Cindy Blackstock and challenging Canadian discrimination against First Nation Children

Chief Theresa Spence and her fast

Christi Belcourt and Walking with Our Sisters

Tanya Tagaq and her seal sovereignty work

Please post in the comments about any individuals you know who have step forth all fired up to achieve something good for all of us! This is not to celebrate individuality as it is understood in the Western sense but rather to celebrate individuality in the Anishinaabeg sense. And, of course, we know that all of the fires these people started were/are tended to by many in order to keep it going. It’s their spark and their continuance in keeping it going that I want to honour in this moment.



Buds Open Up and It Blossoms: An Ojibway & Settler of Colour Love (Lost) Story for Early Spring


Back home, come late spring, I was always filled with complicated gratitude for the lilacs the early settler farmers brought to Anishinaabewaki. Where I lived along the Otonabee River, reliable western winds predictably swept their powerful fragrance upwards through bird-filled and newly budding green spaces towards the russet-brown brick buildings that were at once home and community. My favourite springtime evenings were those when the sun was setting and the Thunderers were beginning to roll in with foreboding, moody clouds. I would stand casually against the brick wall of my apartment or awkwardly in the open space between my building and my neighbours’, opening myself up to be graced with epingashmok (western wind, western spirit) and the lilac fragrance it carried.

Imagine the pale yellow, white light of setting sun-rays through dark grey clouds and the brand-new light green of freshly birthed buds, the sound of the river in the background, epingashmok, and the fragrance of dark purple, light purple and light pink lilacs moving across what used to be settler farmland—lands that are now severed into smaller lots with houses, buildings, and public green space but still, remain enduring Anishinaabeg lands; the strong, heady smell of lilacs; the shapes of their petals, like ‘waa’—the sound of round—curled and curly as though trying to keep their fragrance to themselves. Just imagine that.

Here in Lekwungen territory, in early spring, myriad types of Japanese cherry trees are in full bloom. All shades of pink and various kinds of petals everywhere waving on bouncing limbs; floating on balmy wind currents. Very pretty. And, delicate.


I’ve researched why there are so many of these trees here but haven’t been able to find any answer to my question. Vancouver has a relatively accessible popular history about their cherry blossom trees online but nothing similar exists for Victoria that I could find.

A few weeks ago, while discussing the meaning of zaagidewin with fellow Anishinaabemowin learners, the word zaagigabaa came up. A new word for me, it refers to buds opening up.[1] It conjured the image of new green buds; an image impressed upon me by Jim Dumont more than twenty years ago in his elaborations of how Ojibway understand being here in this world: that just as our spirits enter this world through the womb as physical beings and are only able to experience the physical realm of this place in this way, and will never experience this way of being in any other plane of existence, never before has that new spring bud been here in this physical form, and never again will it be here in this form again. In other words, make the most of every moment while here. I thought of how these buds mark spring fasting time; how they softly speckle a particular sugar bush in Mississauga territory where the leeks grow but because the soil is loaded with small round rocks it’s too difficult to dig them up (so best go get some from the private property that isn’t fenced in); how they emanate newness and make everything so pretty and fresh.

Walking through to my car after class, with zaagibagaa on my mind, I stopped to take a look at the new buds of one of the several cherry blossom trees in the area. I wanted to see them close-up and appreciate them. I wanted to begin to embody the word and meaning of zaagibagaa:


zaagiigabaa. blooming Japanese cherry tree in Lekwungen territory.

I couldn’t wait for them to open up so I could determine if they smelled as fragrant as lilacs. (The winds here carry the heavy perfume of many kinds of flowers. Every once in a while, a scent of beautiful catches me off-guard while bustling through the day. What a gift.) A week or so later they were in full bloom and I was able to smell them.


waabigwan. flower.

They don’t smell perfumey like lilacs. Not a whiff of anything fragrant, actually. But still, they sure are pretty.

While learning about budding green leaves and blooming flowers, I learned that the word for bloom is different than buds opening up. Leave it to Anishinaabeg to be so discerning and precise.

The “Ojibway Online Dictionary” says the word for “it blooms; is blooming” is baashkaabi-gwanii. I recognized “baashkaa” as something that erupts or explodes as this is a main part of the word for gun and blueberry pie (I think). The dictionary tells us that igwanii—or wabigwan—is the word for flower.

So, here in Lekwungen and WSÁNEĆ territory it is early spring, and all the life is opening up and blossoming anew—brand spanking, never-to-be-new-like-this-again-kind-of-new. I wonder what a new bud or the inside of a blossom experiences opening up like that.


 * * *

Sometime in the midst of learning about opening up and blooming from within Anishinaabe thought, and being overwhelmed by the Japanese cherry blossoms, the very interesting owner of the corner store in my neighbourhood and I continued to get to know each other during our quick exchanges at the till. In my opinion, this corner store, which I believe he and his brother own, could win “Best Corner Store Ever” if there were ever such a competition.


This corner store exists in WSÁNEĆ territory—territory which is very actively WSÁNEĆ territory in terms of the number of reserves in the area, accessible knowledges about the lands and waters, places names, and visibly brown bodies moving about. WSÁNEĆ territory is actively WSÁNEĆ and its actively being colonized by settlers. The fact that this corner store is a part of the active, albeit polite-ish, occupation of the area would of course be a reason for the “Best Corner Store Ever” to have its winning-win revoked immediately. (Because Anishinaabe’ikawe giveth and Anishinaabe’ikawe taketh away, just like that.)

Anyhow, over the past several months, my girl and I have come to this store and over the course of that time, I’ve learned bits about the main person who is there. He and his brother are very interesting on their own and are quite funny when together. I swear the main guy flirts with me. Or rather, it’s actually more like he’s flirting with himself in front of me. It’s nerdy and it’s entertaining.

I’ve learned that he’s Chinese; that he celebrates Chinese New Years (and what he ate this past holiday); that he’s Christian; that he’s writing out his interpretation of the bible; that he drinks a certain kind of lemon tea to make his voice deeper (he actually demonstrated how deep he wanted his voice to be); and, more recently, that he didn’t know I was First Nations, that he thinks First Nations people get a lot of money (like $700,000 per year), and that First Nations people get this money by doing nothing.

Let me explain:

Sometime in the midst of learning about opening up and blooming from within Anishinaabe thought and Japanese cherry blossom trees in Lekwungen territory where I work and learning about the Chinese-Canadian corner-store owner in WSÁNEĆ territory where I live, I signalled my family’s indigeneity to him during a recent exchange.

This was a non-descript, un-strategic signalling of information shared in passing while talking about a unmemorable subject. And, it was shared while I was on my way out of the store.

No biggy.

What’s interesting is that the next time I went to the used-to-be Best Store Ever he was working again and he sparked up a conversation with me right away about our previous exchange:

“So, you’re First Nations, eh?”

“Yes.” And I thought to myself with a sigh, Here we go….

“Not from around here though, right?”

“That’s right. I’m from the Great Lakes area—northern Ontario. Anishinaabe.”

He nods, “So, do you have a casino?”

Oh wow, are you kidding me? I think. Harnessing the moment, I say, “Yes, of course.”


“Yes. Well, kind of. I own shares with Treasure Island in Las Vegas.”

He pauses; looks confused. “Is that a First Nation casino?”



Silence unfolds as I’m walking around the store whose shelf levels are torso high making it super easy to carry a conversation over all the fantastically unique-to-me Asian products he has in stock. An older white woman walks in.

“But do you have a casino on your rez? Your people, do they have a casino?”

Your people…do they have a casino? reverberates in my brain and I remind myself to be kind.  “Yes. No. Well, not where I’m from but there are Anishinaabeg who have casinos on their rezzes in Ontario and in the US.”

He smiles a big smile and nods a big nod. Chuckles. I laugh-think, Zhooniyaami n’dodem. Casino-ikawe n’dizhnikaaz. Chi casino-wigwaming megwe dodaa amiinawaa chi casino-wigwaming n’donjibaa.

He prods, “So, they make a lot of money, right?”

“Um, I don’t know. I think it depends. I know some Anishinaabeg who get pretty good cheques every month and some a few times a year. Like a per diem or something like that. Not all of us do though.”

“But some do, right? They get lots of money? Like I heard some get $700, 000 a year.”

“Wow. $700, 000 a year, eh? Hm. Maybe. I’m pretty sure it’s not that much in Anishinaabe country. Maybe along the West Coast in the US. Like California or something. I met an Indigenous man in Oregon a long time ago. He drove a Lamborghini and said the casino on his rez made lots of money. I think it all depends on the casino and how much it makes. I don’t really know how it works though because there’s no casino on my rez and I don’t get into those deets with my friends who get money from casinos on their rezzes.”

I’m curious why he’s so jacked up on this conversation—he’s nodding and smiling. I’m cashing out and the woman is beside me keeping to herself. He shakes his head, and in a low voice, like he’s talking to himself, he says, “That’s a lot of money.” He gives me my change.

“Yep. It is. Or, would be, if it’s even a real thing.” I walk towards the door still looking at him. He is seriously way too interested in this subject. It feels like he’s married to the idea that somewhere out there is the mythical Casino-Indian who is making bank and that he was this close to meeting one.

Seemingly continuing to talk to himself as he begins ringing in the woman’s order, he says, “And they don’t even have to do anything for it.”

I stop just before the door, “Pardon?”

He keeps smiling and cashing the woman out, “They don’t even have to do anything for it.”

I step back to put myself into the energy of the conversation, smile, and notice the woman fiddling with her wallet. Speaking in the same light, friendly tone, I say, “Yep, you’re right. They don’t have to do anything for it except be forced onto small reserves made on crappy land so the settlers could steal the good land.”

The smile comes off his face, he shrugs his shoulders sheepishly, raises his eyebrows really quick as though reckoning with—and just as quickly dismissing—the obvious fucking truth that nobody ever talks about.

“Huh. Yea.” he says, without looking at me.

I walk out the door thanking gizhe manidoo for letting me think quick enough to deliver a truth in a calm way to him with the woman-as-witness.

I think about the green buds and Japanese cherry blossoms, opening up, blooming, and blossoming. I think about the trajectory that the Chinese-Canadian guy took our conversation in based on ideas he had blooming in his head. I wonder how many settlers of colour think we are money-bags. I wonder about the narrow, myopic thoughts that allow them to only see us in terms of dollar signs and I wonder how pervasive these thoughts are.

one focused bloom, one focused thought. wither, die.

one bloom, one idea: wilt, die, on little stones.

How do they see us–the humans that grow from the lands that host them and their beloveds with kindness, grace, dignity, and do so under imposition and violence. How many feel entitled to be here to make money on our lands? Or, think less of us because of imposed economic poverty—a poverty that doesn’t even come close to diminishing the riches of our places, our ancestral burial grounds, our ceremonies, narratives, songs, language, philosophies, political structures, economies, ways of being, visions for the future; riches that they can’t even comprehend or maybe don’t want to. How many get their nose out of joint because they think we’re getting something they’re not. How many see our brown bodies or hear our names and think “Casino money”, “Free money”, “Tax free”, “Government subsidies”, “Welfare case”, that they pay for us to live, or that we live off of them.


I think about the Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Korean students who I teach and who so brilliantly teach me about the realities they navigate, being marginalized in innumerable ways in Canada. Student-teachers who willingly come-to-consciousness about living in the stolen lands Coast Salish women call home. And, who continually grapple theoretically and in praxis with what this means for them, being settlers of colour, on stolen Indigenous lands.

I was blown away by the possibility that as soon as this Chinese-Canadian man learned I was First Nations, all he could think of was casino and money. Ideas of my Indigeneity blossoming in his mind and burning to be checked out as soon as I walked in the store. Ideas he refused to let go of even in the face of my answers. He didn’t care that like him, I too was a writer; that like him, I too practice a spirituality, and celebrate with special foods on special occasions; that I was new to the area; or, that I was continually interested in all the fascinating products in his store. I was reminded of the Black Bell technician back in Nogojiwanong a few years ago who fixed my internet, noticed some things on my walls and asked if I was native; who called me the next day to see if my internet was working and asked if I wanted to go on a date; who made me laugh with this gesture and feel flattered that he would violate an obvious policy to ask me out; who I politely refused by lying to him and telling him I had a partner (because I was not attracted to him); and who, after reflecting on this extraordinary display of interest, I surmised likely only violated that policy because he must have been operating under some idea about “Native” women—some fetishized idea, distorted idea of me as a “Native” woman that made him think violating the policy would be worth it, could be worth it. I thought of the Columbian man—popular vendor at local pow-wows back home—who “made time to see me” on his drive by the city and expected me to drop all my responsibilities, including those of being a single mom, to go have coffee with him; who I never heard from again when I told him I would love to but I needed advance notice so I could take care of things on my end in order to do so.

Money bags; easy lay; in servitude…all possible lenses through which settler men of colour see Indigenous women.

The owner of the used-to-be Best Corner Store Ever cared that I was a First Nations person but for him that equated to lots of money made from a casino. It must have validated some myth he had about us. Is it possible that some folks like having these myths? Like holding on to them? Does it make them feel good? Less inadequate? Righteous thieves of Indigenous lands and lives or righteous benefactors of deeds done by those before them? If we’re making big money from casinos then that balances out several hundred years of on-going genocide, theft, violence, domination, assimilation, occupation? Is this the logic?

So unbelievable. Such an unbelievably disappointing exchange with a fellow human.

And yet, so believable. So believably disappointing.

You get used to it.

I have not been back. And, while I’d like to boycott I’m pretty sure most store-owners operate under some distorted idea about us. Where I spend my money is six of one, half dozen of another. And, admittedly, I’m curious to see how he engages me the next time I go there. Will he apologize? Will he resort to superficial small talk? Regardless, I’m ready to do trickster with him. The way I see it, if you’re going to treat Indigenous people—women—as objects when our humanity is bursting and blooming like a brand-new bud and flower in spring and when you’re living in our lands, we get to bat the bunny for our own shits, giggles, and resistance. I’m pretty sure if I was an Indigenous man, he would not have been querying me about all this or doing so to the degree he was. And, honestly why not ruminate about corporate windigos who literally do nothing and make millions on his back and mine? So, his particular kind of obstinate settler of colour racialized bigotry, sexism, and classism is all the more reason for me to go back to the used-to-be Best Corner Store Ever and have a bit of fun.

I can’t wait to tell him that Canada Revenue just cut me a cheque for $7000 because under Prime Minister Trudeau’s feminist, decolonizing politics, we Indigenous women are getting back some of the taxes we are illegitimately forced to pay.


one left to bloom



Note: Dear reader, my smart-ass response about having a casino is fictional—it’s a good fictional though because it adds humour to an otherwise boring, been here-done that exchange with yet another ignorant settler who holds us in disdain. In all honesty, I only wish I had of been on my toes and sassy enough to say such a thing. Rarely am I ever ready for the outrageous questions when they come my way even when they occur frequently. That said, the next time the casino question comes, I’ll be ready (and so will you).








[1] John Borrows shared this word and translation.

An Ojibway Love Story for Early Spring: Learning How to Make Naase’igan

In this moment of spring, sap, bears, clan responsibilities, and my survival of forty-five winters, I am filled with the need to tell a good love story. In the moment of being makwa ikawe come away from anishinaabwaki (because a mama has to pay the bills), I am convinced that a good love story will be good love mashkiki.

A good Ojibway love story.

And so begins the story of how I learned to make naase’igan.


Where to begin with the heart?





The beginning is a sound and a response.

So it goes with my question-sound:

How to make naase’igan?

The sad part about this love story is it skips over all the parts that led to the moment of posing the question. The question that opened up new worlds. The good parts. Important parts. Up and down, in and out, gut-wrenching, heart-exploding, hard-working elation parts. The parts that are needed to get to The Question. Parts that are the giants upon whose shoulders the question is posed upon. These parts involve many people and cover much geography, varied terrains. These part beat. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. I nod to all those significant parts so that I can get to this shorter part of the longer Ojibway love story. The part that goes like this:

Telling my fellow sugar bush comrades that I was trying to figure out how to make naase’igan because that’s what we Anishinaabe women did with our children and the many people who helped us …. we made naase’igan, not maple syrup.

Well, we made maple syrup but we made naase’igan. That’s what we did. Historically, Anishinaabeg are naase’igan people, not syrup people. Historically, Anishinaabeg are naase’igan people through the women. Canadians and Americans are syrup people. Syrup men.

And with the destruction and fragmentation of so much everything, many Anishinaabe are now syrup people, too. And that’s ok. But let’s not forget who we were and see how this might work again.

So me, with a relentless desire to learn how to make naase’igan in order to put back into place what was destroyed, what we came away from or were forced away from, what we forgot, what we couldn’t remember, what we couldn’t do or can’t do because, because, because—so many reasons because. And me, with a relentless desire to learn how to make naase’igan because I wanted my daughter to have this back in her body; I wanted my body to have it back in my body; I wanted Anishinaabeg in the circles I moved in to have it back in their consciousness and practice if so desired; and, I wanted the sugar bush community I was a part of to have this back, too.

While I had people to be on the land with, in terms of teaching—mostly Gidigaa Migisi Doug Williams from Curve Lake First Nation—and doing the work, there was nobody who knew how to make naase’igan. In this absence, I put it to creation that I was looking for this and that I would keep my eye open for any signs of being able to learn. In the meantime, I and others, made syrup. In the distance between being able to make syrup and being able to make naase’igan, I was supported in trying to figure out how to make it. I would say that this time of my life was grounded in some of the best Anishinaabe love moments I have ever or will ever experience: to have a group of Anishinaabe, and their non-Anishinaabe kin, who are all distanced from Anishinaabe practices in varied ways, to find ourselves on the same page, collectively working in critical, heart-fuelled ways to reclaim and revitalize Anishinaabe ways?

What an amazing historical moment.

And, the night we tried to figure out how to make naase’igan—an amazing and humorous memory. It is testament to collective spontaneous creation or what my friend Jodi Nippi-Blanchette calls, indigenuity[1]:

In the spring of 2011, at the end of a long day of boiling at Doug’s, myself, my daughter, Doug, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and her family decided to extend the long, hard days work and try to make sugar. If memory serves correct, Doug had the idea to try to boil the syrup down as much as possible and then with his hand-held electric beaters, we would beat the liquid to see if it would turn to sugar.

For the sugar makers reading this, funny right?!

Anyhow, there we were in the dark night, in Doug’s little sugar shack, under the glow of two hanging outdoor work lights/car inspection lights, beating the syrup, trying desperately to turn it into sugar.

We didn’t make sugar but we did make some very lovely creamy smooth maple something something. And while we weren’t successful in that effort, I’m sure our clans and ancestors, as well as the spirit of our future descendants, would have been proud. Belly-laughing and proud.


As it happens, in 2011 my friend Makadebinesiikwe Tessa Reed “friend suggested” me and Ojibway artist and land-based practitioner Biskakone Greg Johnson on Facebook. She did so because she said that his work on the land, particularly with his daughter, reminded her of me with my work on the land with my daughter. Biskakone and I became Facebook friends and while we rarely if ever had any exchange at that point, I appreciated the depth and breadth of his skills which were evidently grounded in Anishinaabe knowledges and values.

One day in the spring of 2012, Greg posted a photo of naase’igan he made.


Let me repeat that:

One day, in the spring of 2012, Greg posted a photo of naase’igan he made.


Holy shit.

Holy shit.

Ho-lee shit.

Not having ever really talked to him, I couldn’t contain my disbelief and excitement. I made a comment on his photo which was obviously very enthusiastic. Honestly, I couldn’t even believe this was happening: somebody in my universe who not only knew how to make naase’igan but who actually made it!

And then, the next most Anishinaabe-thing ever happened almost immediately: Biskakone messaged me and said he’d be willing to teach me how to make it. No fanfare, no checking me out to see if I was worthy, just a quick offer that he could teach me.

(Anishinaabe share what we have. We don’t squirrel things away and use it to advance ourselves individually. That’s Capitalism-aabe.)

As I write this I relive the moment of that exchange and my heart beats just as fast as it did that day. Not only was this sweet Anishinaabe reality before me but this person who I didn’t even know was offering to teach me how to make it.

This moment shapes me.

There was one problem though—geographical distance. Greg lived in the western part of anishinaabewaki and I lived in the eastern part of anishinaabewaki. A settler imposed international border cut through this distance, to boot.

Within minutes we resolved the problem: Skype.

Ha! Technology right? There is so much trickster-ness about it.

Anyhow, Greg told me what I would need and we set up a time.

I immediately let Doug and Leanne know what had transpired. I was ecstatic that this had happened and wanted to let them in on it. During the summer of 2010, Leanne–who had learned of the work that I and my peers were doing with Doug on the land–asked me to include her in that work. Of course I said I would and from that point on we all riced (and learned how to process it), harvested bark, worked at the sugar bush,  and did ceremony etc.  On this occasion regarding the sugar, I wanted to open up the space for them to learn too, given we had been on this path of doing land-based work together, at that time, for over a year. I told Doug I needed a cast iron frying pan and it just so happened that he had some hanging around in his shed. I figured out how to clean them up using some instructions from the internet. A few hours of elbow grease and a solid little wooden spatula from the dollar store and I was ready. That following Sunday, both Doug and Leanne came to the den my daughter and I called home in Nogojiwanong.

There, in my tiny Native housing kitchen which was beloved to me (mostly because it had nice cupboards and matching fridge and stove), I set up my laptop on the counter beside the stove and Doug and Leanne sat at my bright, yellow table. It was such small space and it was such a good space. This was the first time I was “virtually meeting” Greg; I introduced him to Doug and Leanne—and then he got into teaching me how to make naase’igan. As he was making it on his end, I was making it on my end.

It worked!

To this day, I still can’t believe it did. I remember asking gizhe manidoo the whole time to please let it work for me; let me be able to make this. I mean really: teaching someone how to do this over Skype? Greg gave a lot of good instructions and being able to watch helped so much. Every time I make it, I think of all the steps he shared with me and am mindful of all the things that can go wrong. Every time I make naase’igan, I ask creation for it to work; to let me make it again.

After this first time, I practiced at home again the very next day. I wanted it in my body and I wanted it to stay there. While Doug’s operation focuses on making syrup, I was known as the naase’igan mama and always made it at home out of personal passion and commitment. There didn’t seem to be much interest by others in making it. That said, I have been so supported by Doug and other community folks in my work at the sugar bush; the sharing of historical, gendered, and cultural knowledges about this work; and, in teaching others about it. In that community of people, naase’igan and its political, economic, gendered, and practiced significance hasn’t quite take off the way I hoped it might. In fact, there have only been a few people interested in making it. As a matter of my heart and clan though, I still make it; use it in ceremony; learn about it; write about it for my PhD; and, use it for important gift-giving. I am determined to persist this practice and its significance and ensure that when the future greets us, some of us are still making it the anishinaabe way for anishinaabe purposes.

Prompted by both the amazing generosity shown me by the Coast Salish people I have met and my own clan responsibilities (makwag LOVE naase’igan) and inspired by the season (even though I am in balmy WSANEC territory), I decided to make up a batch of naase’igan this evening. I was able to use some of the syrup made at Doug’s sugar bush which travelled across the country with me and my kid. Every time I make this, I am filled up with love. I think of Doug, Tessa, and Greg. Because of them and the long trails that led us each to this moment, I am able to do what I do and have been able to open up space for other Anishinaabe, particularly women and their relations, to learn about Anishinaabe-specific ways.  Because of the people who have helped me, I am able to make up some naase’igan and ziinzaabaakwadoonsag for spiritual responsiblities. I am able to smell the smells, see and hear the bubbling of the syrup, smudge myself up with the sweet steam, and give some to some Coast Salish kidlets I know. I can’t wait to see their facial expressions when they taste it!

Now, that’s a real good Ojibway love story, na?


[1] Jodi Nippi-Blanchette used this witty phrase one morning over coffee. It made me laugh and I am happy to use it here.


Note: Although I am opposed to sourcing every Anishinaabe word I’ve learned since I started learning my mother tongue, I want to acknowledge that the word naase’igan came to me through Kevin Finney, a helper to Anishinaabeg and beloved man with deep relationships with a Pottowatomi community along western Michigan. I was introduced to him by fellow (Pottowatomi/Fire-keeper) ikawe, Barbara Wall. I have learned much about sugaring from him as well however that is another story. The point here is that while there are important reasons to engage in a social analysis of power through race, gender, and indigeneity-settler locations, it is important to note that there are non-Anishinaabe, white men who are not only engaged critically in being helpers to Anishinaabeg but who are kin.


anishinaabe zhibii’iget-ba

Richard Wagamese passes away

The only thing I’ve ever read by this prolific writer is the posts he made on social media. I was always made better by his sensitive insights about Indigenous men, mental health, and healing.

Journey well, anishinaabe zhibii’iget.


For an example of one of his social media posts, see here. It will make you better. ❤


Zhibiiget is one who writes/draws; “acts on ‘it’ by writing or drawing”. See Ojibway Online Dictionary for more insight on this word, and others.

taking something and representing it as your own–it happens in Anishinaabewaki

The matter of Joseph Boyden, “the white kid from Willowdale with native roots“, now being publically questioned for plagiarizing a passage from a story created by an Anishinaabe man, Ron Geyshick, is an Anishinaabe story. There has been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, more gut-wrenching debate and discussion about Boyden and his ways of being well into the future.

There has been, and undoubtedly will be, more experiences of such things occurring within Anishinaabe circles and to Anishinaabe people. In the big scheme of things, so many Anishinaabe have suffered so much more. In this light, I’m not sure if it’s a big deal or if it is, how big a deal it is. When I think about the old people in my life–Anishinaabe, Cree, white Canadian people–from whom I seek perspective, plagiarism is not what concerns their minds. And in fact, when I think about asking them what they would think about this Boyden matter, I might even be embarrassed by bringing it up.  My point is not to diminish this matter or its importance to those it is important to; my point is to say that such matters, and how we consider them, can be greatly influenced by what the old people think about such things.

Still, it is a matter of public interest. Boyden has international repute and influence. What he does, how he writes, and what he writes matters, culturally. Who he is publicly matters, socially. He is political and this impacts Indigenous lives in colonial Canada. He creates worlds through his writing, his public presentations, and his thought; and, if any of this is coming off the backs of Anishinaabe or other Indigenous peoples who are not being credited, that needs to be known about and stopped. My personal preference is that this does not turn into a pissing contest between men-Boyden’s laywer and APTN–and that Geyshick is compensated accordingly; that Boyden gives it up. Let the voices come and let them be voices that tell him to get a new subject–one that doesn’t come from the backs of those who work harder because they have to and have less social and economic power to vet their ideas and creations to those with influence and disseminate them to the public.

The plagiarism-in-Anishinaabe-country fire is a fire that burns very closely to one that I’ve been learning about intimately for the past several years. It matters to me.

I’ve been learning about it; learning to live with it; learning to live through it; and, learning to live, despite its torment and confusion. My fire still burns through the grace of my relations, continual trust, and the work that is before me. I’m sure Geyshick’s fire has been burning just fine, as well.

I say this is a fire that burns “very closely” because while I can say my work has been plagiarized, Western constructs, meanings, and legal orders don’t comprise my hearth. While the imposed violence of Western ways, including legal systems, shape the world we live in and can be laid across any of our lives at any given time, I can still choose, and do choose, to live as best I can according to Anishinaabe ways of being. I strive to think, be, and do according to how I understand Anishinaabe ways. I find Anishinaabe ways–the deeper thinking they invoke–better suited to my spirit and they offer a more medicinal way of being in the world. If asked to describe my experience using a Western legal framework though, I would use “plagiarism” to best describe it. From my Anishinaabe ways of trying to understand the world, I see the experience of having someone use my work, my ideas, my labour, and my methods within the public sphere without crediting me as being a number of things – theft, sickness, and imbalance within the individual. I’ve learned that it’s also a community thing.

I say I have to live with this because despite my questioning of these actions directly to the person, my going to those responsible for doing something about it and with the power to do something about it, and publicly indicating their work has been influenced by my work but for which I am not cited, nothing has been done to correct this matter. In fact, I would say the opposite: that person persists in their misconstructions and is uplifted despite it. I’ve learned that within these dynamics, erasing somebody from the picture, does not seem to matter. I’ve learned that within Indigenous circles there is allowance for people to do this–erase, take. And, they will be celebrated despite it.

This pattern is familiar within both Western and Indigenous spheres where someone in a position of power does wrong and people know about it but they continue to be uplifted or entrenched in their positions of power–free to perpetuate harm in all the ways that occurs.

So, in my case, I’ve learned that it’s not just the individual who is inflicted with some kind of something that allows them to behave this way, it’s the community of people who allow the behaviour to persist. The community of individuals who allows this are also inflicted by some kind of something, as well. What is it?

gawiin nigikendaasii. I don’t know.

Anyhow, I suspect like myself, many of us have to live with such things. Will it always be the case that nothing will be done about such matters? I can’t say. I don’t know what the future holds. It’s not where my energy goes for the most part. Except of course when invoked by the news.

And serendipity. (The day before APTN published their article about Boyden, someone said to me, “Hey, I just read __________. It reminded me so much of your work.”)

Do I feel like a victim? Yes. No. Have I been jaded and traumatized by the individuals’ behaviour and the lack of community-held accountability around it? Yes. I thought We were doing something different–something called anti-colonialism; something called decolonization; something called indigenous thought, knowledge, and practice; something called resurgence. Taking things from fellow Anishinaabe and using them as your own to advance yourself does not fall within the realm of any of these righteous endeavours. Witnessing this and doing nothing, or continuing to support it, falls outside the realm of any of these righteous endeavours, as well.

In my case, I was led to believe there was friendship between myself and the person who used my thinking, work, and labour to advance themselves; in that spirit of friendship, I was open and generous. Because of friendship and trust, I denied and was self-blaming when I first suspected my ideas were being used. I was told by others having the same amount of power as that person that they were likely jealous of the work I was doing. I laughed at such an idea–this person was my friend and this person was accomplished and established. How could they be jealous of me? I constructed myself as being arrogant, ambitious, and misguided in my perception. I essentially denied the truth as seen through my own eyes, and suggested to me by others, and diminished myself in the process. I did this to compensate…cognitive dissonance and all.  Eventually, truth slaps you in the face so often you have to take steps to test its veracity. When I did test the boundaries of collaboration and friendship to determine if what I was seeing was my own twisted view of things, I was immediately cut-off. And, I had my answer. And, punitive steps were taken against me for asserting boundaries. The person was, and continues to be, in a position of power over me. This power-over always mediates this matter. Those in positions to stop the behaviour, mutually known; some of them friends. To have people know your story and deny it, uplift the person who steals from you, is like pouring vinegar on an open wound. All of that is on all of them. Their baggage. Spiritual and otherwise.

Hurtful. Damaging. Traumatizing. Perspective-changing.  I am jaded and in that jadedness I am discontent. In my discontent, I am inspired to work harder to see those doing good work in our communities; shared work; collaborative work; work that looks out for each other and lifts each other up. We are better than a microcosm of windigo-ism within our communities.

Do I have people who support me in living with and through this matter? Yes. People who have my best interests at heart? Yes. People who inspire me to focus on keeping my heart-worked and hard-worked fire burning? Yes.

Do I have a need to name publically and expose in a manner that APTN has done regarding Boyden? No. I see this as a community matter that will unfold as it needs to. My hurt and confusion over being deceived, used, and let down by many is on-going but it’s not debilitating. It’s like a spirit that asks something of me. It’s like a gift in disguise. My work is to figure out what that gift is.

My point in posting about this matter is that despite the need to do the hard and necessary work of liberating Indigenous peoples and nations from the colonial weight and distortions of negative myths, stereotypes, and misconstructions, Indigenous peoples are humans who are neither noble nor savage—we are messy in all the gloriously bright, dark, complicated, and shifting ways that humans as individuals and relations of people can be. There needs to be space that allows for all of our humanity to exist. My point is to say that, where APTN aims to do the work of holding Boyden accountable and maybe even Geyshick aims to now as well, the accounting for the thing may not ever occur. I’ve learned that holding people with certain kinds of power to account does not always work–if ever. It can even be used against you in painful, material ways. And that also, anyways, “holding to account” may not always look the same. I want to say that the methods employed in holding people accountable may not always be limited to the simple realm of human dynamics and for that matter, Western orders of being, including the legal system or the media.

This is a selfish post. A heart post. A medicine post. A post where I can say that as an Anishinaabe woman, I have had my work taken without credit by a fellow Anishinaabe woman. When I see the latest news about Boyden and Geyshick, I feel the need to say, “Hey, I get that.” I get the power and the social dynamics that may inform that kind of situation. I see the tired and knee-jerk reproduction of power dynamics that Boyden is engaged in through his use of Western legal systems. I wonder what Geyshick thinks or how as an Anishinaabe man he’ll deal with this. I wonder if he even cares or if these other men are bringing him into something he doesn’t really want to be a part of. I also get that manidooyag, aanikobijigan, and time have a hand in all such matters. There are some things that are meant to be dealt with and worked through within those orders.

My point is to say that if  you have experienced this–this taking of your work without being given credit for it and this rejection of your truth by those in positions of power to correct it–you are not alone. And, there are options. Honour those who support you. Honour the fires that you have built. Honour the people who have helped you build them and continue to help you. Keep open space. Keep open. Honour your work and relations. Dig deep and look broadly at the possibilities of such painful experiences. Don’t become burdened by simplistic Western thought and ways of being. Consider spirit work; ancestral and descendent work; and, clan work. Consider songs, language, stories. Consider it as a gift that will nurture you in ways unimaginable. Make and leave a trail–if only a tendril of one–of “how to deal with hard things” for those around you.

This is a post to say that windigos, vampires, and yet to be born ghouls live in Anishinaabwaki. And, they have those who willingly feed them — people who either offer themselves  up to be fed upon, offer others up for the feeding, or do nothing about it when they see it happening.

“How do we deal with this?” is not a new or great question yet it is one that we must spend time thinking about and developing praxis around.

This post is to say that also, as humans, we all have the capacity to be, or not be, any kind of way, in any situation, given the right circumstances. I put my tobacco down and ask that whatever happens to people that allows them to take things from others without giving credit in order to advance themselves doesn’t happen to me. I ask for understanding and consideration of my own humanity as well.

A just world would see that such matters are attended to righteously. A spirit world allows for possibilities beyond human control, or interest, for that matter.

My point is to gently lay down a clothe where hard things can be open. It feels right, and resonate with a higher order of things, to do that.

Note: The metaphor of fire that I use comes from spending a long time thinking about James Dumont’s use of it in describing Anishinaabe ways. I first heard this used by him in 1995. Several years ago, and more poignantly, my friend and teacher Mary Jane Metatawabin, used it publicly in reference to keeping her home fires burning in particular ways. I’ve heard another ikawe, Odaemin Whetung, use it in similar ways. I use it in similar ways to all these teachers and as a metaphor in helping my daughter understand her joys and responsibilities, and in describing my parental responsibilities to others.

wintermaker + the pacific coast in february

img_0816yesterday, in the early evening i decided to take a walk further up LAU WELNEW, the WSANEC people’s sacred mountain where me and nidaanis live in complicated ways — as uninvited guests who were later blessed in ceremony to be here for work.

yesterday, i was totally thrilled with the big snow that graced us over four days and i wanted to go be amidst the mountain under gabiboonike’s (wintermaker’s) magic. my anishinaabe bear genes miss big, fluffy snow!

climbing a small portion of LAU WELNEW via the road which is blocked for the winter was exhilarating. some of the little birds were out and about but other than them, it was just me and one other person heading up and two people who passed us heading down.

if you look close, you can see the person who was going for a run. i didn’t realize they were in the photo until after i returned home. if you can see them in an orange jacket you can appreciate the size of these mitigoog (trees)… what the WSANEC refer to as the tall ones/people (if memory serves correct).

so much greatness exists here.

eventually, the runner passed me on their way down making me the only one up there. i kept walking. i wanted more of the heart-beating, the beauty, the snow, and the silence of snow + forest. it’s so rare here.

i kept walking a bit more until i felt that i better not push it. what if the weight of the foreign snow broke a limb that came crashing down on me?



i found a water drinker and gave some tobacco, wondered how it was faring in this weather. (water drinker is the arbutus and the arbutus is The Tree in one of WSANEC people’s origin stories … check out Jack Horne or Phillip Kevin Paul for more on that.) i thought i heard someone coming from up the hill but there was nobody. i wondered about spirit and figured that was a good time to head down– i had taken enough time there. important not to be greedy. and, it was getting dark.

anyhow, as i was waking down, i thought i heard someone behind me. i looked back and again, nobody… nobody visible anyway. i was like ‘ok, don’t get freaked out. it’s spirit and it wants something. give it a song.’

so i did.

i offered two songs. the woman’s warrior song and a tobacco offering song. that seemed to work so good because soon i heard the little birds again. and then, rounding one of the last bends, nearer the bottom, there were people!

four young guys with toboggans just arriving to their starting spot. we exchanged a few words and i told them i was jealous they had toboggans. boy, going down that hill would be fun. dangerous but nothing a quick roll of the old toboggan wouldn’t fix. as i was walking down i said a few words of protection for them: please just let these young guys have a good time on this moutain in this snow.  don’t let it be a tragic thing. we all know stories of young guys being young guys having fun when tragedy strikes.  i hoped to witness them go zipping by me on the way down and hear them yipping away but didn’t. i got to my daaban and still they weren’t coming. they must have been savouring it all up as walking back up that hill would be another 15 min trek and not an easy one! going down though? must have been so worth it!

anyhow, two weeks ago folks were saying that yes, January is “cold” (lol, ok) and in February, the island explodes in flowers. well, as much as i love flowers, i love a good snowfall in February.

miigwech gabiboonike for bringing this little treat. it was so unexpected!



all you wanted

was more.

what is more wrenching? that all you could get was a photo and a word, a place-name; and, all i could give was this and a carefully located semi-colon?

anishinaabe love has always been riddled tragic like this (except so in birchbark and petroglyph).

what if one day, i leave you a love note in red oxide on a rock face along a gaming around lake superior? or, carve it in soft rock, inland. how would you know it was for you? how would you know it was from me?

now you know.

wish you were here.

(relit from my anishinaabe love homefire)

good vibrations in Lkwungenaki


dagwaagan made by Bradley Dick (Lkwungen); drumstick made with the help of Liz Ozawamick (Odawa) and a cedar grove in Michi Saagig territory.


Undermining the Home Fires of Indigenous Feminist Work: A How-To (and therefore a How-Not-To, Too)


Feel threatened by an IF critique of white men’s political thinking about Indigenous life.

In this threatened position, posture. Then, erase the IF critique and uplift the white man’s thinking. Tell everyone that you think his thinking is excellent.

Do this publicly.

In private, tell the Indigenous feminist labourer that the white guy is your friend. After suggesting they should have empathy for the white man because of his upbringing, tell them if they don’t like his work they should write an article. Identify this make-work-project even though the point has already been articulated clearly.

To make it that extra mind-warp, do this while in a position of power over the one doing the IF work.

When you are invited to collaborate on IF projects, and accept, agree to a process for identifying shared vision and goals for the project. Then, in order to advance your own agenda, ignore this agreement. Begin identifying what you want. When your requests are not responded to immediately, keep pushing to get what you want.

When the boundaries of the IF project are asserted, and you realize that the practice of collaboration will be a true practice of collaboration have a temper tantrum end all intellectual, creative, and community working relationships with the person who invited you to the IF project.

When you see Indigenous feminist work that engages in decolonial indigenous relationship-ing, use this to your advantage. Exploit the new spaces opened up by the refusal to reproduce capitalist or class-based hierarchies and the practice of generosity, inclusivity, and sharing. Exploit this and advance yourself. It’s super easy.

When you witness Indigenous feminist work generating life anew, if you are not close enough to exploit it for your individual benefit, try to squash it. Do this by any means necessary. If you are a cis-woman, use social aggression. If you are cis-man, interfere whenever you can in their ability to experience economic self-sufficiency. If you are in an intimate relationship with them, use physical aggression. If you are a trans-gender man or queer person, _____________.

Make more work on top of the existing IF work. Always. Be it making inaccurate public statements about territory; giving un-necessary hoops to jump through if in a position of power over them; or, giving them things to read that you never follow up on. Whatever, whatever. Just make more work because IF work isn’t enough.

When you have been invited to participate in IF work, be collegial only until the point you hear something you don’t like. Then throw shade, waste time, make work. For that little extra something, be super-duper respectful to the men on the project.

When you witness shade being thrown at your IF colleague, positively reinforce this behavior. Be pleasant, empathetic, inviting for further exchanges. Ensure the networking continues. What’s most important in a decolonizing world that thinks Indigenous women are important, is to keep networking with everybody because networking with everybody — even those who make more work or throw shade to IF work– may benefit you someday. That’s what counts. Loyalty is for suckers, even in a decolonizing world. Amiright?

When IF work requires calling out sexually inappropriate behaviour towards young ones in kinship or friend relations, harass and threaten the person doing the work. Do this to the point that relationships are irreparable. IF work cannot happen if relationships don’t exist. Bulls-eye!

In professional circles, tell those who do IF work how much they are disliked. Be open about it. Then everybody can do it. In this milieu, open season on IF work becomes normal, natural, popular. Yay.

Invite those who do IF work to tea and bannock. Tell them if they keep being assertive they’ll be inviting themselves to get hurt.

Legitimate those who wish to maintain patriarchal power in Indigenous worlds. Give them safe space so they can rail against those who don’t. Make sure the latter are not in the room.

Sit quietly, roll eyes, pick at your hang nails when IF work names and interrogates the reproduction of settler colonial power structures in Indigenous worlds, the symptomatic behaviours and hierarchies that emerge from them, and gendered-fuckery, in general. Say your silence is evidence of listening closely.

When the work of IF is to name Indigenous male violence against Indigenous women, and an abuser is identified say, “Well, he’s always been good to me”, “I’ve never had a problem with him,” or, “He’s my friend.”

Publically identify Indigenous men with power as Indigenous feminists even when you know they harm women. Do it to serve your own agenda, because obviously.

No longer is it the just the S, drudge, or s-drudge who is the enemy, scapegoat, or emotional punching bag. Enter, the Indigenist Feminist and IF work. In this new world we are working to create, be sure to persist in reproducing the tired and exhausted myth of the monstrous, angry, hostile, Indigenous woman. When you witness people engaging in this hostility, stay silent. For gawd sakes, stay silent. We made our bed, we should lie in it.


Also, peace, love, harmony. Rightright?

When nice white guys (nwg) interfere in the Indigenous feminist work of reclamation and the Indigenous feminist work is to question, challenge and refuse this, suggest they take the high road and let it go. Alternatively, suggest they remove themselves from work that is inherently theirs. Simultaneously, publically reinforce the white man’s goodness, innocence, and right to interfere in IF reclamation because well, nwg. Add to this the dynamic of nwg with Indigenous friends and you not only get undermining, you get the secured existence of patriarchal worlds. Double-woot.

Also, when (nice) Indigenous guys target the work of IF, stay silent in your witnessing. Later, make sure things are good with him.

IF work requires a person to provide for themselves and their dependents. What better way to undermine IF work than to undermine the ability for the IF to obtain work and make money.

When you witness the IF call in or call out misogyny, do nothing. I mean really, do nothing. Keep on keeping on even if it means maintaining the status quo with the person/people with the misogynist ideas. Go one step further and uplift the misogynist. Do it publically. Advance the misogynists work so they can provide for themselves and their dependents (if it is the case they do provides for their dependents).

Refuse to actually get Indigenous feminist work. Do not pick up a book. Do not try to see the world through this lens. Do not listen to those who do this work.

Refuse to ask yourself how you benefit by undermining or interfering with IF work. Once you get clear on how you benefit by undermining IF work, refuse to get right on that.

Note to reader: This is a living list. I’m pretty sure there a many ways that IF work is undermined right at the home fires of our lives. Please add to this/make your own from your own lived experiences or witnessing-s. Naming and documenting is an important intervention.

Also, in constructing this, I considered whether to write from a place of love or anger. Given it’s biboon, I decided that a little nanaboozhoo approach was just the medicine needed. TOTALLY feeling the need to recognize the embers burning and want to recognize and honour the little bit of that guy that dwells in me today . I also note that its maajii giizis which means Nokomis is happening in full force. Howah. The sexy round glowing lady always, always pushes and pulls, draws the thing out as though divining my heart.