Aug 04 A Journalist’s Journal
from UNITY 2004
At the UNITY: Journalists of Colour Convention held in Washington, D.C. August 4-8, 2004.
August 4 5:08 p.m.
From the opening moments of the UNITY: Journalists of Colour Convention, I cannot help but be proud of who I am, and my chosen profession.
Over 7,000 people of colour — Asian, Black, Hispanic and Native American — all journalists, blow the roof off the Washington Convention Centre as the culturally-rich Opening Ceremonies begin.
Master of Ceremonies Gary Farmer was at his best as he gets the large crowd going. Farmer walks out, head held high, and smacks a pair of wooden drum-stick together in applause. All 7,000 follow his lead — with a thunderous ‘clack-clack-clack’ echoing through the arena.
The wooden drumsticks that were provided to journalists attending the ceremonies serve as an appropriate symbol of the musical/dance theme of “UNITY in Movement”. Journalists are treated to a Vietnamese Social Dance, African Rhythms, Hispanic Salsa, and championship ‘glow-in-the-dark’ hoop dancing.
The conference theme “A powerful alliance, A force for change” is reiterated by each leader from the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.
August 5, 8:45 a.m.
In the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the who’s-who of Canadian politics including Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, and Dalton McGuinty. However, I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing an American politician, until today. Co-worker Maurice Switzer and I are able to be a part of history as Senator John Kerry, Democratic nominee for the office of President, addressed the largest assembly of journalists in American history.
Initially, I expected a respectful audience of reserved, non-bias journalists. Maurice and I are surprised at the enthusiastic, partisan response to the Democrat, who draws cheers the moment he steps up to the microphone. According to the next morning’s Washington Post, he received over 50 standing ovations.
August 6, 8:10 a.m.
For the second morning in a row, Maurice and I are up early to catch the keynote speaker. In today’s case, the most sought-after speaker in the world, the President of the United States, George W. Bush.
We were told to arrive before 7:30 a.m. to get through tight security, consisting of metal detectors and secret service. I quip to Maurice: “I don’t know if I should feel safer with all this security around us — or less safe because we are only about 20 metres from the biggest target in the world”.
We arrive before eight o’clock, and had excellent seats — seventh row centre. I have a chance to shake hands and offer a “God Bless You” to Rev. Jesse Jackson. Suprisingly, there were more people to see Senator Kerry yesterday than to see President Bush today.
When the President finally arrives around 9:30, the UNITY journalists are not so enthusiastic about his message. I felt rather uncomfortable during President Bush’s speech, as several thousand of my fellow journalists laughed aloud at the Commander-in-Chief struggled through his many “Bush-isms” — those tongue-twisted, Texas-accented ad-libs now being made famous by David Letterman. Clearly this was a hostile crowd for Bush.
A Bush-ism to Remember
When asked if he would respect tribal sovereignty and what the concept means to him: “Tribal sov-ereignty….. means that…… it’s sovereign. You’ve….uh…. been given….. sovereignty and you’re viewed as a…. sovereign…. um, entity. And therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.”
August 6, 4:25 p.m.
The excitement of attending my first Native journalists convention, and first Native Journalism Workshop at UNITY is quickly dampened by the message of workshops entitled “Covering Native America” and “Free Press in Indian Country”. If journalists are here to learn about us, they are likely surprised to learn of the pessimism that exists in Indian Country, including the bleak social outlook of our people, lack of political accountability and the not-so-free press that exists on reservations across the U.S. and Canada.
On the bright side, I have the chance to sit through some excellent workshops facilitated by a number of talented, young Black, Asian, Hispanic and First Nation journalists. One workshop, entitled Getting Published: an Authors Guide features five young authors including Dr. Rovenia Brock or “Dr. Ro” of BET, who has just released her book “Dr. Ro’s Ten Secrets to Healthy Living”.
As an Anishinabe journalist, I can’t help but draw parallels between the convention’s themes “A force for change” and Dr. Ro’s advice to “write passionately about subjects near and dear to your lives and your culture”.
Energized and excited, I come away believing that my own written words can change the world.
July 26, 04 Andy Scott needs to be quick study
First Nation leaders across the country have expressed some concern over the July 20 appointment of Andy Scott, as the new Minister of Indian Affairs. The concern isn’t necessarily over the man himself, but the expanded portfolio he is expected to administer.
In addition to Mr. Scott’s duties as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (INAC), he also assumes the role of Federal Interlocutor for Metis and non-status Indians. Mr. Scott is described as a “quick study”, which should help him understand that, while there are areas that may be approached from a pan-aboriginal perspective, Inuit, Metis, and First Nations communities have their own unique cultures and contemporary issues.
Despite this criticism, Prime Minister Paul Martin’s decision to appoint the hard-working MP from Fredericton may show the government’s further commitment to working towards a meaningful solution. A career civil servant, Scott has previously served as Minister responsible for the Canada Mortage and Housing Corporation, and Minister of State (Infrastructure).
There is significant challenge ahead for Minister Scott. The Minister has the primary responsibility to direct the department in dealing with some of Canada’s most serious and longstanding issues—the living conditions of First Nations people, land claims, self-government and treaty rights. He will also be responsible for implementation of the newly acquired rights of the Metis, which usher in a new era of constitutionally-protected rights for both First Nation and Metis people.
The office of Minister of Indian Affairs, itself, has always been an overwhelming responsibility. Right-wing lobby groups like to remind the public that the annual budget of the department is somewhere in the range of $5 – 6 billion. Whatever number of dollars actually trickle down to aboriginal recipients, the annual INAC budget is a veritable drop in the bucket of the share of Canada’s riches rightfully due aboriginal peoples for sharing their traditional lands and resources to help build this country.
However, the biggest current concern in the department seems to be how to create an appropriate legacy from the government’s aboriginal file.
Just ask Jean Chretien and Bob Nault—who may have aimed a little high with the First Nation Governance Act, and associated suite of legislation — and who attempted to legislate these measures without proper consultation and support from First Nations people.
In order to achieve results, Prime Minister Paul Martin and Mr. Scott need to allocate new resources, and work in partnership with First Nations in order to make any headway on a wide range of poverty-related issues, ranging from housing and health crises to the near-distinction of aboriginal languages. These are undoubtedly going to have to be the priorities for this new government.
First Nations now have an unprecedented opportunity to work with Canada’s first minority government in 25 years to improve their health indicators and living conditions.
The federal government will also need to collaborate with opposition parties, including the New Democratic Party (NDP), whose aboriginal policies, historically, have mirrored First Nations views and aspirations.
The lacklustre Liberal showing in the June 28 election was evidence that the Canadian public is expecting results, and they will be expecting tangible results from that annual $6-billion INAC budget.
I foresee a minority government with a lot of cautious smiles and a few more handshakes between Native and non-Native people. We have been assured that Prime Minister Martin is committed to supporting the new Aboriginal Roundtable, and Minister Andy Scott will be the key player in creating a workplan that will show tangible benefits from this new process. His previous cabinet experience should help him have a greater understanding of the urgent need to support the housing and infrastructure strategies being advanced by the Anishinabek Nation and other Native organizations across Canada.
What is abundantly clear is that the federal government must work with First Nations leaders to seek and initiate solutions for First Nations problems—or Andy Scott will be doomed to inherit the problems of too many of his predecessors.
The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.
July 9, 04 From Cradle to Grave ~ Anishinabek Lifelong Learning
By Bob Goulais
For the Anishinabe, the Ojibway, Odawa, Potawattami, Algonquin and Mississauga people of the Great Lakes area), the perception of learning is a lifelong concept. It is something that begins before conception, when the Mnidoo (Spirit) of the individual moves through the eight levels of Creation, and begins to take physical form within the sacred vessel, surrounded by sacred water, the womb of the mother.
The concept of responsibility for education is the framework for both formal and informal education. This responsibility, and stages of life are subdivided into seven stages: infant, toddler, child, youth, adult, parent, and Elder. This is best illustrated with the Anishinabek Medicine Wheel teaching.
Each stage has a number of indicators that represent physical, emotional, mental, spiritual development.
INFANT – In this first stage of life, the Anishinabe infant is generally is between the ages of birth through 2 years old. At this age, there is no responsibility placed on the infant for education, however, with the entire responsibility of educational development placed on the parents and immediate family.
Contrary to mainstream belief, the infant will learn a tremendous amount and undergo a steep learning curve about the environment around them. It is at this stage that the infant will begin to understand the physical world.
Anishinabek teachings say the infant is still very close to the Spirit World. The time from conception to birth, the infant grows from a spiritual being to a physical being. The two gifts of Love and Respect are nurtured in the womb of the mother. It is said that the very first relationship, between man and women – fostered these two most important of teachings.
It is at this time that mother and father are encouraged to speak to the infant in the womb, and sing sacred songs to the unborn infant.
Historically, it was forbidden for adults to question an infant, especially in matters of the Spirit – for fear that the burden of answering those questions will stifle the infant’s development. In some stories, the Spirit of the infant has been known to answer questions aloud.
When the child is born, it immediately understands the concepts of light and dark. This gift of light and darkness, relates the teaching of Duality – a concept that is part of the Anishinabek Creation Story.
The infant immediately recognizes the mother and father, which is intrinsic to the development of the family bond and infant development. The Spirit of the infant is so H3, that love and respect flow unconditionally between parents, immediate, and extended family.
There are two important tools that are used to aid in the infant’s development:
Tikinagan, or cradle board was traditional used to aid in the practical care of the infant, as well as the physical development and awareness of the environment around them. The infant is wrapped tightly and tied snugly in the tikinagan. This actually helps development of the legs and arms, by providing moderate resistance. The infant is not removed from the tikinagan until he/she is ready to walk. The tikinagan, and the child are always held upright, rather than the prone position. In this way, the infant is able to absorb the world around them.
Moss Bag, was the traditional disposable diaper of the infant. If was a light shell made of hide of cloth, filled with soft tufting of cattail and moss, which provides protection and comfort to the infant. The teaching of the moss bag, discusses the early development of the infant, as well as the transition from the womb to the physical earth. The moss bag itself is symbolically, an extension of the womb.
June 21, 04
Diane Marleau, Prime Minister Paul Martin, and Nipissing-Temiscaming Liberal candidate Anthony Rota during a campaign stop in North Bay. I’m also on-stage, top-left in the photograph.
Celebrating National Aboriginal Day
By Bob Goulais
Special days come and go, but its not every day that you get to meet the Prime Minister. An occasion even more special when it is on the day that Canada recognizes our First Nations, on National Aboriginal Day.
On a whirlwind trip through Northern Ontario, beginning in Bracebridge, moving on to Huntsville, North Bay and finally Thunder Bay – Prime Minister Paul Martin came to secure key Ontario votes in the last week of the federal election campaign. During his stop in Huntsville at a National Aboriginal Day Pow-Wow, Martin sat in and drummed with the Whitefrost Sobriety Drum. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes to see Robert Big Track and Lavall Williams sitting next to the Prime Minister singing an intertribal.
From there, the Prime Minister visited North Bay, which is key to the local riding of Nipissing – Temiscaming. I had the pleasure of receiving a ticket from the Campaign Office of Anthony Rota, our local Liberal Candidate. In morning discussions with Peter Gaven, Anthony’s campaign manager and my grade 10 math teacher, it became possible that I would be given the opportunity to sing a traditional song on my drum during the afternoon festivities.
In a room of over 350 people, I sang a warrior song to invoke the spirit of the day. In addressing the crowd, I was pleased to bring the unanimous support of the 43 First Nation Chiefs of the Anishinabek Nation.
I was asked to be on stage with the Prime Minister on his arrival. As the Liberal campaign buses arrived at Anthony Rota’s headquarters, he was greeted by Mr. Rota, Diane Marleau and about sixty onlookers who could not fit in the building. He was swarmed as soon as he got off the bus. He waved an energetic hand to the growing crowd, who had followed the buses off the main highway.
Although the media reported that he had been tired-looking, I seen no sign of fatigue. In fact, his energy and enthusiasm was a stark contrast to the brief visit by then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien, at the North Bay airpost, four years earlier.
I shook Mr. Martin’s hand when he arrived at the stage, and I smiled and cheered with fellow Liberals at the intense and powerful speech, discussing among other things, the importance of the Canada Health Act and a national health care program, the survival of the local Canadian Forces Base, and his support of Northern Ontario.
The highlight of the afternoon was an introduction by Anthony Rota, to the Prime Minister. In a brief exchange, he wished me “all the best on National Aboriginal Day”. I shook his hand once again, and wished him well on the rest of the campaign.
That exchange, and meeting the Prime Minister of Canada was almost as important as celebrating National Aboriginal Day with my community in Nipissing First Nation. Over a hundred people gathered at the Garden Village Community Centre, to sing, dance and feast. My good friend, Perry McLeod-Shabogesic sang about a dozen songs in honour of our community.
The day ended, just as it began… with fireworks: energy… and a joy to be alive.
My boys: Griffin and Miigwans during National Aboriginal Day celebrations in Chimnissing.
June 17, 04 Native Princess Power
From Right to left: 1975 Princess Shirley Cheechoo; Mary Printup, now Mary Deleary; Bomberry; Montour; Madahbee; Fiddler and Oshkawbewisens who was crowned 1976 Native Princess.
From: “Roberta Oshkabewisens”
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004
Some history here. The 1976 Ontario Native Princess Pagent took place in Hamilton Ontario, during the Native Awareness Week. Shirley Cheechoo was the 1975 Ontario Native Princess, this event was hosted by the Hamilton Regional Friendship Centre.
This was a week long event and all seven of us from all over Ontario were involved in many activities, events put on the city and cultural centres.
People from across Canada attended this city wide celebration of our people. We all have a very good time.
“Hi girls I wish all you Princesses a HAPPY 28 YEARS in July. It was a blast.This picture was taken in Six Nation First Nation.
June 17, 04
We were pleased to see The Hon. Lt. Governor James K. Bartleman’s news release about National Aboriginal Day today. He took the opportunity to mention his visit to Anishinabek Nation headquarters in 2002. At the time, it was his first National Aborginal Day as Lt. Governor. Mr. Bartleman is the first aboriginal Lt. Governor in Ontario, and the first Anishinabek (First Nation) Lt. Governor in the history of Canada.
National Aboriginal Day
in Northern Ontario
TORONTO – On Monday 21, June, the Hon. James K. Bartleman will mark National Aboriginal Day with a visit to Marten Falls First Nation in northern Ontario. This is the 42nd First Nation to be visited by the Lieutenant Governor since he took office in March 2002. The day’s events will include a meeting with the Chief and Council, a community tour, and a ceremony and feast.
Marten Falls is one of 34 fly-in communities that were priority recipients for books collected by the Lieutenant Governor’s Book Program. In January 2004, Mr. Bartleman launched the Book Program, expecting to collect about 60,000 used books to fill the empty shelves of First Nation schools in Ontario’s north. By the end of February, generous Ontarians had donated over 1.2 million books, enabling Mr. Bartleman to expend the Book Program to include any First Nation and Native Friendship Centre in Ontario that wants to recieve books.
Mr. Bartleman is a member of the Mnjikaning First Nation, located in the Lake Simcoe area. One of this key priorities is to encourage literacy and education among Aboriginal children and youth.
In 2002, Mr. Bartleman marked National Aboriginal Day at an open house for the Union of Ontario Indians’ launch of the Niijii Circle Initiative in Public Education, and a ceremony at which he received the Anishinabek Lifetime Achievement Award.
June 17, 04 Canada’s apology worth remembering on National Aboriginal Day
BY MAURICE SWITZER
Imagine trying to gather public support for a campaign to combat poverty, or homelessness, or diabetes, and constantly running up against people who refuse to admit that these problems exist, or worse, that if they do, dealing with them should not be a priority.
That’s what fighting racism is like.
It took the fire-bombing of a Jewish school in Montreal to prompt Paul Martin to promise a national anti-racism strategy for Canada, a pledge apparently forgotten in the hubbub of an election campaign. But it doesn’t take an explosion for ethnic minorities or aboriginal peoples to understand that racism is a daily fact of their lives, as much a reality as being the brunt of off-colour jokes, or seeing one’s ancestors referred to as savages in school textbooks.
For the most part, the responsibility for fighting racism is left to stubborn individuals or slimly-funded non-government organizations fortunate enough to tap into the occasional grant to support a local or regional initiative. One such NGO is Communitas Canada, a dedicated little group of socially-conscious citizens who stage an annual Evening of Applause in North Bay to celebrate diversity.
This year Communitas director Don Curry managed to attract the interest and financial support of the Multicultural Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage to conduct an anti-racism audit of three Northern Ontario communities – North Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Timmins. Looking for a label that would accurately describe the project’s work, organizers agreed on using the eastern Ojibway word Debwewin , which is usually translated into English as “truth”, but which literally means “to speak from the heart.”
Debwewin involves a number of related components, including the distribution of a survey in the project’s three centres to solicit examples of racist conduct, behaviour, or attitudes. Thousands of copies of the questionnaire were distributed, hundreds were completed and returned, and a number of them have been followed up by personal interviews before the results are compiled into a final report.
Over 100 North Bay-area residents took the time to complete the nine-page survey, and while statistics never tell a complete story, it is significant that nearly half of them agreed that “problems related to race make North Bay a less desirable place to live.” Almost 60 per cent of survey participants say they observed discrimination based on race against someone in North Bay in the past year.
They mentioned bullying and teasing in schools, and rudeness by store clerks, and suggested that teachers, the media, police, merchants — everyone has a responsibility to recognize that racism exists in North Bay, even thought it may be subtle.
“North Bay people believe that because they are not burning crosses or beating up people or using violence, they are not racist,” wrote a Native woman, one of many who mentioned being made to feel uncomfortable when claiming tax exemption in local stores. “North Bay’s racism is subtle…but very powerful.”
What should really concern us all is that one in five respondents said racism is a personal, not a community problem.
It will not come as a surprise to the area’s aboriginal residents that Natives account for 40 per cent of survey responses, and that their experience with racism is the most significant, involving incidents in hospitals, schools, stores, and in dealing with police officers and social workers.
Skeptics who deny that racism exists in North Bay should meet the gentleman who wrote on his survey that: “There is not enough racism in North Bay for it to be an issue. If anything, it has gone the other way. Natural-born working Canadians pay for everybody else. Aboriginal people get too many handouts. Racism would disappear if government favouritism would stop.”
There was a clear consensus on the best way to deal with racism, best summarized by the young woman who urged: “Educate us at work. Educate our children at school. The more we talk about it the better it will be.”
Specifically, there was praise for community efforts like the annual Evening of Applause, and suggestions that the annual Heritage Festival is an ideal platform to celebrate diversity in the area.
The Nugget’s weekly Niijii Circle Page on Native issues was frequently singled out for praise. North Bay’s daily was one of a dozen Northern Ontario newspapers involved in a second Debwewin project component – evaluating the coverage of aboriginal issues to present a unique snapshot of media accuracy and fairness. The final report will show that regional media usually demonstrate more balance in coverage of Native issues, while national newspapers tend to focus on negative stories and use them to stereotype aboriginal peoples.
Cross-cultural training was also recommended as an anti-racism tool “…for front-line people – teachers, police, medical staff, the retail sector” – and the Debwewin project staged well-publicized workshops in the three participating communities. Hundreds of invitations were extended around North Bay for a May 14 Aboriginal Awareness Summit at Canadore College. Some 50 city residents took the opportunity to learn more than they already know about Anishinabek culture, historic reasons of mistrust between Natives and non-Natives, treaty issues, and contributions made by indigenous peoples around the world.
Feedback from workshop participants was excellent, but that’s because those who attend such events aren’t usually part of the racism problem. The people who most need this information are the ones who don’t show up. The Debwewin session in North Bay was not attended by the college instructor who taught his class that Adolf Hitler was an “effective” leader, by the franchisee who stopped honouring my treaty rights to tax exemption, nor by the two police officers who manhandled me out of his store.
Perhaps the most instructive part of these workshops is the revelation of how little even the best-educated Canadians know about aboriginal history, culture, and contemporary issues. We met college graduates who had never heard of residential schools, and only encountered one person who was familiar with the federal government’s 1998 Statement of Reconciliation, a cabinet-approved public apology for this country’s history of state-sanctioned racism against aboriginal peoples.
A good way for Canada to observe National Aboriginal Solidarity Day this June 21st would be to re-issue the Statement of Reconciliation, to avoid it from becoming just another nicely-framed broken promise hanging on an Indian Affairs office wall. It should be an annual event, an excellent launching pad for the prime minister’s promised national anti-racism strategy.
The contributions of First Peoples to Canada’s history should be compulsory learning for every teacher and student in this country, every new immigrant, every beat cop and game warden, every journalist, store clerk and corporate vice-president.
The recognition of human rights – and treaty rights are human rights – is not an option in a democratic society. Initiatives like the Debwewin anti-racism project are, at best, patchwork attempts to make up for major shortcomings in Canada’s classrooms and workplaces.
We don’t need more patches – we need new tires.
Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation. He serves as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and editor of the Anishinabek News.
June 17, 04 Anishinabek Nation Chiefs join Ontario Metis in endorsing Liberals in June 28 federal electionTORONTO, June 10 /CNW/ – The Anishinabek and Metis Nations are lending
their support to the Liberals in the upcoming June 28 federal election.
“The Liberal government under Paul Martin has initiated a positive agenda
to reduce poverty on First Nations communities, and we want to give him the
opportunity to move forward on that agenda,” said Earl Commanda, Grand Council
Chief of the 42-member Anishinabek Nation.
“Having carefully examined the platforms and track records of all parties
contesting the June 28 federal election, we have decided that the Liberal
Party has demonstrated the best understanding and greatest commitment to
ensuring that Canada honours its fiduciary obligation to uphold aboriginal and
treaty rights. Whichever party forms the next government will need to
demonstrate a greater sense of urgency to accomplishing results on the
aboriginal file, but we feel that, to date, the Liberals have shown the best
intentions in that direction.”
“We are urging all our citizens to exercise their right to vote in this
important election, a right fought for by our political organizations and
veterans over the years,” Commanda added.
Chiefs attending the June 1-3 Anishinabek Grand Council Assembly endorsed
a resolution of support for the Liberal Party and specifically directed the
Grand Council Chief and Deputy Chief to advance First Nation issues during the
election campaign. The resolution also acknowledged the importance of active
participation by eligible voters among the Anishinabek Nation’s 45,000
The Provisional Council of the Metis Nation of Ontario unanimously voted
to urge its citizens to vote for Liberal candidates June 28.
“First Nations and aboriginal populations are the fastest-growing of any
group in Canada,” said Grand Council Chief Commanda. “Their voice in the
electoral process potentially carries a lot of weight. It is important that
politicians recognize that there is a large block of votes here that they
should not ignore. There are at least 60 federal ridings across Canada – many
of them in Ontario – where a substantial turnout by our citizens could easily
have an impact on the election outcome.”
The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its
secretariat in 1949. The UOI is a political advocate for 42 member First
Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political
organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of
Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.
June 8, 04 Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge
June 8 – 15, 2004
Bad River, Wisconsin
I travelled to Three Fires Midewiwin Ceremonies in Bad River, Wisconsin this week. It was my first trip to Wisconsin in about a year-and-a-half. The rolling landscape, the red cliffs of the south shore, and the ominous Lake Superior make Bad River almost like a second home to me.
It’s always a chance to renew my commitment to our beautiful Midewiwin Lodge. I’m always reenergized to be a part of the initiation ceremonies for new Midewiwin people. This year, our Lodge welcomed about 35 new brothers and sisters.
It is also a chance of spiritual fellowship among Midewiwin people as a whole. Our Midewiwin Lodge is, by far the largest of a number of Midewiwin communities throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and northwestern Ontario. I did a headcount in the Lodge for one session, and counted over 200 souls… one person for every foot of the 200 foot Midewiganing (Midewiwin Lodge).
On Wednesday morning, I was able to help my Uncle, Migisi-inini (Nicholas Deleary) tie his little boy water drum. I have tied the Little Boy many times, however, Nick is very knowledgable, experienced and fast in completeing that task. Most times, it would take four men to tied the water drum, however, Nick and I completed the job ourselves. I learn a lot from Nick and his sons Beendigay (Danny) and Oshkawbewis (Raymond). It must be quote the experience to live in that Midewiwin family, completed immersed in the lifestyle and knowledge of being Mide.
On the Friday, I had the opportunity to work all afternoon with the Little Boy Water Drum. While the men were working on the initiation lodge outside, I worked with the drum spirit, who is a helper to the Midewiwin Grandfather drum spirit. The songs flowed from my insides, and I felt comfortable and encouraged by the Chief Drum, Jim Dumont; and Hector Copegog on both sides. I was offered a lead for the tobacco offereing song by our Grand Chief Bawywaywidun.
I am always amazed and inspired how the songs come to me while I’m sitting with the Little Boy. Even if I have never heard a song before, the words, and spirit of that song do no fail me.
These are photos from the first ever Mide Youth 8 km Walk/Run, that took place at Highway 2, along Madigan Road to the Midewiwin Ceremonies site. Our elders and Lodge family were very proud of these young people.
May 17, 04 The Anishinawbe Blog is back
Ahnee-boozhoo my friends and relatives. It’s been a long time. But after some technical difficulties the “Anishinawbe Blog” resumes. The Blog itself has been offline and I have been in search of another host. However, the Union of Ontario Indians continues to support my work and this webserver will remain home to my body of work.
As you can see, I’ve still been writing and all my updates are now on this Blog.
Some Blogs entries of interest:
Anishinabemowin Teg (Apr. 29, 04) – It was a pleasure to attend this annual Ojibwe language conference, and as a student of our language, it was as informative as ever. I’m also quite pleased with my feature photography from this conference. I have uploaded two low-res images for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.
Earth Day Blog (Apr. 22, 04) – My boys mom, Arnya Assance of Beausoleil First Nation submitted this article to the Anishinabek News in April. It is about my son Griffin (Zoon Gah Bow) who has taught us all a lesson in being involved in cleaning up our Mother Earth. I took my lunch hour that day to follow in the footsteps of my son. Chi-miigwetch Griffin.
Mnidoowug (Apr. 1, 04) – I was asked to write a little on the meaning of the word “Manitou”, by the United Church of Canada for their quarterly newsletter. The local regional conference of the Church is called the “Manitou Conference”. To their credit, Rev. Jim Sinclair and the local Manitou Conference has been in constant communication with myself and our communication unit on First Nation issues, culture and cross-cultural training for new Ministry staff. I was able to produce this informative peice on the complex study of the “manitous” and the Spirit World.
A Day in the Life (Mar. 1, 04) – I was invited to take part in a visit by the new Minister of Indian Affairs Andy Mitchell as he travelled Anishinabek Nation territory and visited Manitoulin Island and Dokis First Nation. In Dokis, I had the pleasure of a one-on-one interview with Minister Mitchell as he toured the community with Chief Bill Restoule.
May 5, 2004 New First Nation forestry unit
hosts first annual conference
SAULT STE. MARIE, ON, May 5 /CNW/ – The newly established Anishinabek Nation Forestry Unit, which has been in place for less than a year, will be holding its first ever, annual Aboriginal Forestry Conference, here May 5-6. About 100 aboriginal forestry managers, technicians, Chiefs and Councils will be in attendance, marking the first significant gathering of aboriginal forestry for the Anishinabek Nation. “This conference is the first opportunity for our forestry personnel from our member First Nations to get together to share ideas, and policy concerns to the Anishinabek Nation leadership and with each other,” said Deputy Grand Chief Nelson Toulouse, who represents the 43 member First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation. The purpose of the conference is to provide a platform for member First Nations and other aboriginal people to share, discuss and feature information about forest management planning. The conference theme “Respecting the Resources, Sharing the Opportunities” reflects the hope for economic and resource sustainability, and benefit-sharing among First Nation stakeholders in the forestry sector, while observing our traditional roles as stewards of the land. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss the principles and rationale for forest management planning, an exercise required by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) in order to participate in the broader forest allocations. First Nations are becoming more aware of the practices, as well as the process and regulations for cutting on crown land. This conference will build on that knowledge base. A number of issues will be discussed at the conference, including aboriginal participation in crown land forest management. “Our territory covers most of Ontario, a significant amount of crown land and a whole lot of forest. Obtaining economic benefit from the forests is a priority for our communities, even as we continue to be shut out of the industry,” said Deputy Grand Chief Toulouse. The Deputy Grand Chief blames government regulations, and the historical lack of inclusion for minimal First Nation participation in the forestry sector. In July 2003, the Government of Ontario introduced Condition No. 34, which will alter the obligations of industry and government to negotiate with aboriginal peoples for equal participation and benefits from their involvement in forest management planning. First Nation feel these changes will adversely affect aboriginal participation in the forestry sector. As a result, the Union of Ontario Indians is calling for a change in policy that guarantees inclusion, equal participation and access to the resource. “We want a parallel process which is consistent with the Nation-to-Nation relationship that was established with the Crown with the signing of the treaties,” said Deputy Grand Chief Toulouse. “We don’t want to be a ‘Condition’ or an ‘Appendix’ to the Ontario Forest Management Planning system.” Despite these concerns, First Nations have been moving in leaps and bounds to establish a niche in the forestry sector. More and more First Nations are moving towards forest management planning, and involvement in crown land forestry allocations as a means of enhancing their First Nation economies. The Conference will become an annual event hosted by the Anishinabek Nation Forestry Unit. This newly created unit that promotes capacity-building in the area of foresty within Anishinabek Nation territory. The forestry unit aims to equip forestry technicians with the necessary tools that will eventually bring about the development of an Anishinabek Nation Forestry Strategy that will be an accumulation of a land use management strategy, a marketing strategy and opportunities in the forestry sector. The Anishinabek Nation incorporated the Union of Ontario Indians as its secretariat in 1949. The Union of Ontario Indians is a political advocate and secretariat for 43 member First Nations across Ontario. The Union of Ontario Indians is the oldest political organization in Ontario and can trace its roots back to the Confederacy of Three Fires, which existed long before European contact.
Apr. 29, 04
Over 900 take part in A-Teg’s
annual language conference
‘Political leaders must do more’ – Toulouse
By Bob Goulais
SAULT STE. MARIE – If one were to go by sheer numbers, this year’s Anishinabemowin Teg Language Conference was the most successful yet.
Over 900 people were registered for the 10th anniversary Ojibwe language event that was co-sponsored by the Union of Ontario Indians. This makes it the largest annual Anishinabe-organized event in Anishinabek Nation territory, next to the Little NHL.
“In reality, there are probably about 1800 people mulling around here,” said Isadore Toulouse, president of Anishinabemowin Teg. Organizers did an unofficial tally of the number of people attending the opening ceremonies, workshops, plenary discussions, breakfasts and banquets, which included the aggregate of registered participants as well as their spouses, children, and extended families.
“Many didn’t bother registering them, they just registered the one person. And then at the doors, we have no control of who goes in. We haven’t bothered to check,” said Toulouse, with laughter. “That’s the fun part – the gathering.”
Although the mood of the conference was of celebration, people are starting to become aware of dire circumstances of the Ojibwe Language.
“I think the awareness how we are losing the language very rapidly, I think people are starting to realize that. We have very few speakers, maybe one of two speakers in these little communities,” said Toulouse, matter-of-factly.
“We can only do so much. We are on the little guys,” said Toulouse about Anishinabemowin Teg. “The political leaders need to advocate for us more. Language should be the number one priority on every agenda. This is what we hope to accomplish with this gathering and what we had hoped to accomplish as a Board of Directors.”
Language resources and craft vendors were in abundance, camped outside the workshop rooms selling everything from language cirrculum, history books, self-help tapes and CDs.
Inside, conference participants learned from presenters such as: Mike Eskawkogan (Settign up our Anishinabek Education System), Shirley Williams, (Ojibwe Homonyms), Deputy Grand Chief Nelson Toulouse (National Language Initiatives), Ron Wakegijig (Diabetes and the Anishinaabek), Doris Boissoneau (Ojibwe Skits), Dr. Anton Truer (Spiritual Approach to Language), Basil Johnson (Classroom Methods), Howard Webkamagad (Verb Structure), Hugh Dickie (Seven Prophesies), and Keller Papp and Brian MacInnes (Total Immersion School).
Many participants were extremely excited about Papp and McInnes’ Immersion initiative in Wisconsin.
“The drive to continue the language comes from both ends,” said McInnes. “Elders are forever urging us to remember the importance of language. But we have to start learning at a very young age, ages four or five, or even earlier.”
McInnes, of Wasauksing First Nation, teaches a language immersion program in Lac Courte Oreille, Wisconsin for kindergarten to grade 4. Everything is done in the Ojibwe language, and the students are encouraged to continue that immersion in the playground.
“Occasionally, when they speak the English language we push them, in a good way, to speak the Ojibwe language,” said McInnes in Ojibwe.
The conference concluded with the annual general assembly of Anishinabemowin Teg.
at language conference
SAULT STE. MARIE – The Union of Ontario Indians partnership with Anishinabemowin Teg has yielded historic results, according to Restoration of Jurisdiction staff. The self-government negotiation unit was a lead sponsor for A-Teg’s 10th Annual Language Conference, bringing with it an opportunity to address over 900 registered delegates, the largest conference attendance to date.
“We are certainly pleased with the opportunity that the Language Conference has given us,” said Merle Pegamagahbow, head negotiator for the Anishinabek Nation’s Education negotiations. “We are also pleased at the response that we have been given.”
Community facilitator Mike Eskawkogan led the ROJ’s participation at the language conference, held March 25-28 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He and Val McGregor facilitated three well-attended workshops during the conference. More importantly, Eshkawkogan facilitated a plenary session attended by over 500 delegates, a record audience for a Restoration of Jurisdiction (ROJ) activity. It was also the first ROJ discussion, conducted primarily in the Ojibwe language.
“I was so proud to hear this in our language,” said David Anderson, who was part of the opening day panel. Anderson is also Chairperson of the Programs and Services Working Group for the Restoration of Jurisdiction Project. “To watch Mike (Eshkawkogan, panel moderator) was wonderful. To here these messages in our language is the most important thing.”
Eshkawkogan, Pegamagahbow, and Governance head negotiator Martin Bayer are fluent in the Ojibwe language. The remaining panellists: Anderson, and Nicholas Deleary are both new speakers and Ojibwe language learners, but had the courage to address the delegates in the language.
The panellists remarks were not highly technical, and didn’t focus on the agreements. Rather, they focused on the key message of ‘Setting up our own Anishinabe education system’ – the ROJ theme for the gathering.
“Our education system must be based on who we are as Anishinabek, and it is up to all of us to work together on how we’re going to do that, and figure out what it is we need to do to return to our roots and our teachings,” said Anderson, who garnered for his enthusiastic motivational remarks on language and cultural survival.
“We are moving forward. We were able to stand in front and be able to watch and listen and being able to see in peoples eyes and in their hearts that, ‘Oh yeah! I haven’t heard that in a long time’ or, ‘I never heard that in our language before’.
“If our children are going to be Anishinabe, if our grandchildren are going to be Anishinabe, if we want to be Anishinabe 100 years from now, we need to do something today.”
Apr. 28, 04 Pow-Wow listings on the Internet
By Bob Goulais
There are more options than ever to find pow-wow listings, nowdays. No longer do you have to wait for the Great Lakes Pow-wow Guide, or Windspeaker’s Pow-Wow Guide. Substantial websites are now available for the most prolific of pow-wow-goers.
PowWows.com (www.powwows.com) – This site was created in 1996 by Paul Gowder, as a discussion forum to promote pow-wow culture and dialogue on various issues and events in Indian Country. Today, the website is the Internet’s most popular site for sharing information and resources about Native American gatherings and events. From these humble beginnings, powwows.com has gained quite a following and gets nearly 400,000 hits each day. Of that, a staggering 65 per cent of the website’s traffic are regular users.
If you type pow-wow in Google’s search feature “I’m feeling lucky”, you are instantly brought to this multi-faceted site.
Powwows.com has the best compilation of dance style descriptions, including articles about Men’s Fancy, Men’s Grass, Men’s Straight, Men’s Traditional, Women’s Buckskin, Women’s Cloth, Women’s Fancy, Women’s Jingle, and Gourd Dancing. This is an excellent site to get a basic understanding of pow-wows.
Interactive features at powwows.com include “snag me @ powwows.com” dating service, chat room, as well as the popular Vitual Gathering discussion forum. There are many answers in the forum to such question as: “What does the arena director do?” or “Northern Singing: Bear Creek vs. Northern Cree??” The website also features an up-to-date Drum Group database and Contest Results page.
Unfortunately, pow-wows.com is a user-defined listing. That means, individual users are responsible for listing pow-wows. Many event listings are comprehensive, however some are short on details, or are repetitive from already “officially-listed” gatherings. All-in-all, there are hundreds of listing for pow-wows all year long, for all across Turtle Island.
Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow (www.gatheringofnations.com) – This is easily the best of all pow-wow websites. This is much more than a self-marketing website, the Gathering of Nations website has the largest selection of pow-wow photos on the web. The site boast 3,583 high-resolution images.
There are a quite a few good education resources including: Learn About Powwow Dancers, Recommended Native American Reading & Book Reviews, Teacher’s Information. Knowledge-base articles include: Real Medicine, Welcoming of Strangers, Women and the Pipe and the Return of the Kiowa Gourd Dance among others – hours of great reading.
The site is home to Gathering of Nations radio, an 24 hour internet radio service that broadcasts native artists and pow-wow music.
The pow-wow listings are user suggestions, however, they are added and maintained by the Gathering of Nations webmaster. The listing are abundant but not well-known.
The Spike (www.thespike.com) – This electic, white-collar pow-wow/event site is billed as an online “newsletter on Native American Powwows and American Indian Powwows along the East Coast, in the area from Eastern Canada south to Florida and all states East of the Mississippi River.” The site is edited by Jimmy Boy Dial, a Lumbee-Cheraw Indian who graces the main web page in a leather jacket, posing on his Harley Davidson.
The Spike is a for-profit newsletter which is available for subscriptions for $36.00 per year. When a user subscribes, they receive monthly updates, up-to-the-minute details of the regional pow-wows trail. For the serious pow-wow goer, this is a good investment.
The pow-wow listings for Canada are quite comprehensive, given the focus on the US eastern seaboard, and that this section is free. Traditional gatherings, as well as competition pow-wows are listed for many Great Lakes events.
Windspeaker (www.windspeaker.com) – Published by the Alberta Multi-media Society, Windspeaker puts out it’s annual “Guide to Indian Country”, which is similar to the Great Lakes Pow-Wow Guide but with a more western flavour. The pow-wow guide itself has many comprehensive listings, however, it also includes hockey tournaments, baseball tournaments, conferences, meetings and other such events.
Apr. 27, 04 Cultural Centre featured on
Great Spirit Circle Tour
M’CHIGEENG – The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF) is ready for another exciting tourism season, with a special focus on tour groups and the popular arts and crafts workshop series. Now more than ever, the OCF has become a hub for Anishinabeg arts, culture and history for the people of the Lake Huron region.
“It’s an exciting time for the OCF and our member communities,” said Bob Goulais, Chairperson of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation. “We are really starting to come into our own. After five-years in our cultural centre, we are learning to focus, develop and present our culture in a way that gives our people pride, and creates a positive awareness among all visitors.”
Great Spirit Circle Tour
Under the leadership of the Waubatek Business Development Corporation, various businesses and First Nation communities have begun a partnership that aims to increase tourism opportunities on Manitoulin Island and Sagamok. The Great Spirit Circle Tour is a marketing initiatives that promotes a regional destination for vacationers interested in First Nation communities and native culture.
“We are pleased to be a stop on the Great Spirit Circle tour,” said Goulais. “This tourism initiative is unique to our area, as it is the only tour that features our communities and Anishinabeg culture specifically.”
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation centre is among the most impressive stops on the Great Circle Spirit Trail, and is the feature stop on the popular “Manitoulin Heritage Tour”. After a night at the very popular Manitowaning Lodge, guests travel to the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation Museum and Art Gallery to enjoy a cultural dance performance, and feast on Aboriginal cuisine while enjoying a local Aboriginal musical artist.
Gift and Craft Shop
The gift and craft shop of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation is second-to-none throughout Manitoulin Island. Many significant artists are feature in the gallery, including James Mishibinijima, Blake Debassige, Carl Beam, Rancy C. Trudeau, Leland Bell, and Nikki Manitowabi You may even find work by renowned Anishinabeg artists Daphne Odjig and Norval Morriseau.
The OCF was originally established to be an artist’s cooperative, and immediately began to be world-renowned for it’s porcupine quill boxes. Manitoulin quill boxes can be found in many collections around the world, including museum such as the Royal Ontario Museum, Museum of Civilization, and the Smithsonian Institution. Today, you can still purchase high quality quill boxes of every size, shape and culture at the OCF gift and craft shop.
The OCF Museum
The OCF continues its feature exhibit, “The Sword of Mookomaanish”. This exhibit is the brain-child of historian Alan Corbiere, who had been studying the history of the Odawa people and the War of 1812, when he came upon the sword of the Odawa Chief at the Canadian War Museum. The sword and a replica of the 1763 “Covenant Chain” wampum belt, which is also on display at the museum, are important symbols of the relationship between the British crown and First Nations.
The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation also a primary source of language and cultural resources for many Anishinabeg. In addition to being a distributor of Anishinabe language resource curriculum from Isadore Toulouse and Martina Osawamick, local resources include materials from Melvina Corbiere, illustrated by artist-in-residence Ken Ense.
“What many people don’t know it, we work hard to produce language and cultural resources locally,” said Goulais. “We promote our people as language professionals and teachers. We have it all right here in our communities.”
For more information about the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation call (705) 733-4902. Contact the Great Spirit Circle Trail at (877) 710-3211 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earth Day message an inspiration to mother
By Arnya Assance
Beausoleil First Nation
It takes but a few seconds, to “stash the trash” … but so many of us don’t take the time to do it. Thursday, April 22nd … was Earth Day. The one day we all take the time to appreciate the world in which we live.
I have a true story to re-tell for our community members to read, hear and feel within their hearts and souls.
It all starts out like any other day, I went to pick up my four year old son, Griffin Assance-Goulais, from Christian Island Elementary School and was taking him to Daycare. On the way there, he was looking out the window to our beautiful home Christian Island, and makes a very profound statement to me.
He said, “Momma, people on Christian Island litter”, looking out the window I replied, “yes son they do”. He continued, “I guess they don’t know that Mother Earth doesn’t like it”. And, just like that … he made me feel very proud of him, for his awareness to his environment, his Mother, the Earth. And sad that what my four year old saw was true.
After that conversation I didn’t think of it again. I mean sure I saw the litter around. But the concept of NIMBY, (not in my backyard) came into play. I took the path of least resistance. UNTIL … the other evening, Griffin made another remark on our way home for the day.
He said as he was looking out the window of our truck, “Momma, Mother Earth is hurting”. With that, I made the decision to help him do something about what is troubling him. I said, “how about tomorrow after school we ask Uncle Chopper to watch Miigwans, and we’ll each take a garbage bag and fill it up.” He said, “yeah that’s a good idea Momma”. I didn’t give it another thought, and began our evening routine, dinner, bath, etc.
Upon waking the next morning, Griffin went and got two garbage bags, and ran to me and said, “today right Momma?”. So our day went along routinely, and after work, we took the baby home, got our bags and headed down to the village. And we did it, we filled two bags of garbage, in a very small little area. People stopped and asked us what we were doing … and they thought that it was great “I was teaching my son about the environment”, until I explained that it was he that was teaching me.
His enthusiasm, his joy for doing something which helped Mother Earth made me weep, with the purity and innocence of his actions. We should all learn from his teaching.
When he was a baby, he was given an Anishinabe name, Zoongabow … H3 Standing. Uncle Merle Pegahmagabow gave him that name, and in doing so he said that he will be a leader. In this instance, he sure is.
Griffin Assance-Goulais is the son of Arnya Assance and our very own Bob Goulais. They will all celebrate Earth Day by putting down tobacco and picking up garbage on Beausoleil First Nation, and Nipissing First Nation respectively.
Apr. 13, 04 Aamjiwnaang marches against
proposed Sarnia ethanol plant
By Bob Goulais
SARNIA – The Chippewas of Aamjiwnaang have stepped up their fight against a proposed fuel refinery in their backyard. On April 10, a hand-full of demonstrators marched on the Suncor refinery in Sarnia, Ontario – speaking out against the corporation proposed development of an Ethanol plant.
SunCor Energy Products Inc., owner of the Sunoco brand-name, has purchased industrial property in Sarnia a stones-throw away from the bustling First Nation community of about 1000 people.
“We are opposing the plant as it encroaches on our right to have a health, sustainable, safe community and our right to exclusive use and enjoyment of our land” said Darren Henry, band councillor for Aamjiwnaang.
Ethanol is an alcohol that is made from corn or grain. The product is then blended with gasoline to create a more environmentally-friendly fuel.
“We’re not opposed to alternative fuels. We just opposed to have another industry being built across the street. And I mean directly across the street.”
The long weekend demonstration prompted a response from Suncor, who met with some of the demonstrators.
“We acknowledge the Aamjiwnaang community’s concerns about our proposed ethanol plant. We have made no decisions on a location for this proposed plant,” said Kirk Bailey, vice president of Suncor’s Sarnia refinery.
Although, Henry understands that Suncor has an alternative site for the project, that hasn’t brought the guard down for his community.
“They do have an alternative site in mind. But the land across from our community – they bought that, and they have indicated to us that they intend to use that for expansion,” said Henry. “Something is going to be there, we don’t know what it’s going to be.”
According to Suncor, the proposed ethanol plant capable of producing more than 200 million litres of ethanol that would be blended into Sunoco gasolines. For Henry and the Aamjiwnaang council, “the variables and unknowns are too risky”.
“We are talking to people about ethanol concerns and the cumulative effect of the industry,” said Henry. “We had a study done in 1996, and it talks about some for the chemical effects we may have. There are some concerns over high readings of PCBs, mercury, and a chemical called cloro-hexabenzine (a carcinogen). We have concern about that concentration in our community.”
However, the biggest concern for Aamjiwnaang is the actual physical location of the plant.
“We just don’t know what the risk assessments are,” said Henry citing a number of health and safety concerns such as fire, explosion, increased traffic activity, and emissions. “There’s a lot of talk about bringing all that corn in, and what that will attract as far as rodents and things like that so close to our community,” added Henry.
Public consultation and environmental assessment process are currently underway, and the First Nation and Suncor have been meeting face-to-face.
“Over the past year, we’ve participated in regular meetings with the Chief, Aamjiwnaang Council and representatives of their community. We’re committed to continuing this dialogue,” said Bailey. “We invite the Aamjiwnaang leadership and community representatives to continue this consultation so we can better understand their concerns and discuss ways to resolve them.”
The Chippewas of Aamiwnaang have presented a petition containing more that 1200 signatures against the project, to the Suncor executive and the various federal and provincial regulators including Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada as well as the Minister of Indian Affairs.
Suncor recently announced it has received funding under Natural Resources Canada’s Ethanol Expansion Program. The federal government will contribute $22 million towards the construction of the facility.
Should Suncor receive final approvals, construction would begin by mid-2004 and be complete by mid-2006.
ED. Note: As a result of our media campaign, Suncor has announced it is developing the alternate site for the Ethanol plant.
Apr. 1, 04 Manitou not just a word;
It is the essence of life
By Bob Goulais
The word “Manitou” is more than just a word or a place name. For the Anishinabek, it means everything.
We see references to it everywhere: Manitoulin Island, Manitou Islands on Lake Nipissing, Gitchi Manitou in native stories, the Manitou Conference of the United Church of Canada. But what exactly does Manitou mean, and where does this word come from?
Manitou is the Anishinabemowin (Ojibwe language) word for “Spirit”. Phonetically, it is spelled “Manitou”.
The original of the word, like all other things, comes from the creation story.
Just as all major religions of the world have a creation story, the Anishinabek also have a creation story. The Anishinabek Creation Story is beautiful, and is full of teachings, knowledge, prayer and song. To understand where the word mnidoo comes from – is to journey to the time of Creation.
In the beginning, long before “God created heaven and earth” – there was nothing. More precisely, there was only one entity who is said to be metaphysical – neither physical or in any form that we can understand. This entity or essence is said to be only spiritual in nature. We identify this spirit as G’zhem-mnidoo or Great Kind Spirit. G’zhem-mnidoo is the Creator of all things spiritual and physical.
Sometimes, the name of the Creator is phonetically-spelled as “Gitchi Manitou”.
It was during the second fire (or chapter) of creation, the Spirit World was created. We understand the Spirit World to be one of eight levels of the universe. It is in this place that all spirits exist, and originate from. It is also a place where all spirits will return. It is considered their home and the spirits are free to travel about here.
It is also the home of all our ancestors and relatives that have passed on from the physical world through the process of death. Following the four-day journey following death, a person’s spirit will travel through all the levels of the universe, over a forever-flowing river, where they are greeted by all their relatives at a great and beautiful gathering in the Spirit World.
During the second and third fires of creation, G’zhem-mnidoo created the spirits that dwell in the cosmos, the Star World level of the universe. These spirits include Mishoom Geezis (the sun), D’bik geezis (the moon), and the nine grandfathers that science has subsequently identified as the planets of our solar system.
In the fourth fire of Creation, each of these cosmic spirits gave a piece of themselves to create Shkaa gamik-kwe, our Mother Earth. The Earth is mother to all living things. Water, which also has a female spirit, was placed on Earth to be the lifeblood of all living things. The water comes directly from the aforementioned forever-flowing river.
In the next fire of Creation, all life was created on Earth. All the plant-life, animal-life, bird-life, fish-life, and insect-life was placed on Earth. Each was given an individual spirit, which originates from the Spirit World.
Human-kind was the last to be placed on the Earth. As in the Christian creation story, our image was created in the image of the G’zhem-mnidoo. During this time, four brothers were created in the Spirit World, in the four colors of mankind: Yellow, Red, Black, and White. Each brother was given a set of original instructions, a language and culture, and a set of values and beliefs. These brothers were placed on the Earth directly from the hands of the Creator.
In the great spirit of kindness, G’zhem-mnidoo send an intercessor spirit to look after each race.
One could argue the intercessor spirit of the white brother is Jesus Christ, and that set of beliefs is Christianity.
For the Anishinabek, that intercessor spirit is Mide Manidoo, or the Midewiwin Spirit. The Midewiwin (way of the heart) is the original spiritual way, and religion of the Anishinabe people. When European settlers began to study our people, they erroneously translated Midewiwin as the “Grand Medicine Society”. Although, it is true that the purpose of the society is to keep the teachings and medicines of the people.
For the Anishinabek, the everyday awareness of our own spirit, the Spirit World, Mide Spirit and G’zhem-mnidoo is the basis for our relationships with each other and the world around us. The Spirit World has given us great teachings, such as the Seven Grandfather teachings of Love, Respect, Humility, Truth, Honesty, Bravery and Wisdom. The teachings, knowledge and gifts from the Spirit World have guided our people for thousands and thousands of years.
The explanation of the mnidoo may indeed be a spiritual one as it is based in Anishinabek theology and dogma. But for the Anishinabe people everything has a purpose. The existence of the Spirit World may explain a mystery that science hasn’t been able to explain.
There is something that drives our physical being to “live”.
There is some “life-force” in all living things that keeps our neurons firing, our brain functioning, and electrical impulses that keep our heart beating. We have a metabolism. We have the ability to grow. We have the ability to love. We pro-create. And we like it.
Science provides us with answers to all these physical processes. But science cannot explain the underlying process that makes us who we are and what keeps those neurons and electrical impulses firing.
For the Anishinabek, our teachings have told us the answer to this long before the ancestors of the scientists were coming out of caves.
Every plant, animal, or insect – whether they are a complex, multi-systemic animal, or a single-celled microscopic organism – each has its own spirit or mnidoo. It is the mnidoo that is the essence of life. That spirit has always existed, and will always exist.
Bob Goulais is a journalist and communications professional from Nipissing First Nation. He is the chairperson of the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, and member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Lodge. Mr. Goulais works as communications officer for the Union of Ontario Indians.