The Ojibway

I am Ojibway.  The people of the Ojibway tribe are spread out throughout Canada and small areas of the U.S.  A large portion of the tribe is found in Ontario, Canada where I live.  The Ojibway, also known as the Chippewa, carry much of the same dialect in speaking the native tongue.  The language today is not what it was yesterday.  Due to the residential boarding schools, most of the language is untaught to the younger generations.  But thanks to some programs, it is offered in schools where people can re-learn it.  The language has always been the vehicle of a nation, as I was once told by my leader when I was a young girl.  He was right.  If we do not have a language, how do we remain a people?  We are lucky in a sense that many of us can still understand the language but do not speak it.  There isn’t any fluid motion that we are able to wrangle out words to talk to another person.  Most of what we know is broken up into small words, it isn’t anything we can have a conversation with, but its something.  The Ojibway people have always lived around the great lakes and been close to the land.  Land is something that is sacred to the Ojibway people because it is where we build our homes, hunt and get our food, and bury our people in.  The land provides many things to the people, that have long been a way of life.  The food we live on such as the moose, the rabbit, caribou, goose, beaver, and the deer are all animals we eat for nourishment and strength.  The parts of the animals we eat are never wasted, we use all parts of the animal for something.  We have lived like this for thousands of years.  The number of Ojibway who still carry the knowledge of living this way is small due to urban living that a percentage of our people have taken up.  Many of us now live in cities where technology has taken over the importance of learning our culture and our ways of life.  I find it saddening.  It’s true, we do get swallowed up by everything that surrounds us and our ways of life slip further and further away.  Although, living in the reservation is not as different.  We still have vehicles that people drive, computers that we use, boats, skidoos, satelite tv, IPods, Itouch technology that we have access to while living at home.  We don’t escape the technology, maybe just the dangers of urban lifestyles, but we still have a considerable amount of our heads into things that cloud us away from culture and tradition.  The average teenager can tell you more about how to work an ITouch than he knows about the Seven Sacred Teachings. So you see, we have our own problems too.  Things aren’t what they used to be.  But the one thing we have not lost is our humour.  Ojibway people have always been humorous among each other and it’s used to lighten us up.  We understand the need for laughter and we believe in its importance in life.  We have many expressions, laughter being one, but one thing is certain.  We do not have hostility in our speech or language.   The Ojibway language, when you speak it, there is no tone you can use that expresses anger or hostility.  We have no words in the language that expresses anger.  It doesn’t exist in our language.  The way we speak expresses nouns, motion, feelings and actions.  Some of that language in also expressed through different parts of our culture like the drum.  The drum that we use in ceremonies is a sacred part of the Ojibway people.  It is made from animal hide, mostly deer or moose.  The drum has always been an intrical part of who we are.  The song that we learned are passed down through the generations and to our young.  Some songs have words in them that is meant for teaching, some songs have melodies that come from the soul to express it outward through feeling.  The men who sit at the drum carry a great importance to the people for they are the voice of the people.  The voices unified in song goes up to the Creator so that he can hear the song.  The Creator releases it upon Mother Earth so she can feel it.  We sing for healing, we sing for honour, we sing for celebration and we sing for life.  You can hear a drum at a pow wow every summer throughout North America and people from all walks of life who join in the celebration.  The pow wow is a gathering where we join with our neighbours in celebration.   There is an MC who speaks throughout the pow wow and he is the person who guides us in the happenings of what is going on.  He is the person you listen to if you aren’t sure about what is happening.  It is a fun time where you can enjoy the culture, the dancing, the songs, the food, the art and the company that you’re in.  You can take pictures (with permission) if you’d like.  It is a space where we place the highest respect upon one another and where laughter is high.  These are the ways of the Ojibway people today.  While truthfully, there are those of us who still carry on tradition and those who are not sure of what tradition is, we continue on.  We are a gentle people who have learned the ways of the world and those ways have taught us what we know today.

One comment

  1. I wrote this originally on an Ojibwe revival website, but I’d like to share it with you:


    Chris Miller ndoonjiba; Ontariong ndijnikaas.

    Just want to give you some moral support.
    I’m a Canadian (an ethnic group deriving its name and much of its ethos from the Algonquin peoples) Latin teacher, working in Ontario (an Ojibwe name of course – like most every place else in Ontario!)

    Like the idiots we sometimes are, we have worked very hard over the years to forget our ancient Canadian heritage – in spite of always being aware that Canada is fundamentally a metis creation, meaning that the pre-European cultures and languages here played a role in forming us and thus are part of our history and identity, regardless of our DNA. Now we’ve done a big “whoops!” and hopefully we can bring back Anishnabem, which was the language of this part of the world for maybe something like 50,000(!) years, as a kind of “heritage language” that we can all take some kind of pride in; and we know from other parts of the world (like Wales, Ireland…) that this kind of “heritage language” helps bind the people together more strongly, and it inspires the arts and divergent ways of thinking – it also improves grammar, logical, and cultural skills in the students of the language, and can bring in more tourism, as you have some kind of distinct and interesting additional layer of culture and history to promote. My ideal would be to have Aanishnaambem taught somehow as part of the elementary school curriculum in our province’s public schools – mainly to instill a sense of pride in our province’s ancient heritage – perhaps as part of the history curriculum – kind of a cross-curricular concept where the kids get a few months of language mixed with culture (rather than the current way of the culture only.) I think this would create a ripple effect where “the word gets out” that we have cultural and linguistic roots in our part of the world going back over 50,000 years, and not going back only to the 1840s. We know from contemporary writings that the interaction between the Loyalists and the Ojibwe peoples was quite extensive, and this left a lasting effect on who we are; let alone in other parts of Canada, where the founder of Manitoba and Saskatchewan was a Cree fellow, and Quebec, where the entire population is a mixture.

    In Latin class two days ago, I asked how many students have Southern European (i.e. Roman) ancestors. Believe it or not, NONE had any that they were aware of – yet we study Latin as an integral part of English-speaking language and culture (and should, of course!) Latin’s influence on us is huge regardless of close to nil genetic relations with the ancient Romans. The relationship of us with Anishnaabem is different, but it is very significant, as the ancient language of the land we live in, and, culturally speaking, as a formative influence on how we think about life – think egalitarianism, our fixation on consensus and medicine (think Midwewin!,) the fascination with survival, our traditional and popular sports and games, names of our cities, towns, and waters, our distinctive Canadian cultural activities and traits, our manner of waging war (native, not European tactics.) The legacy is huge, it’s our heritage, and we ought to acknowledge and celebrate our great past, which remains a fundamental part of our current identity!

    I think this argument completely stands to reason, and I don’t see why we don’t implement this plan and attitude. Of course, we remain an English-speaking culture, but enriching this with our ancient Ontarian heritage too only makes us more culturally wealthy, vibrant, and proud of who we are.

    I took one year of Ojibwe at university – now I’m trying now to learn the language more fully.

    Keep at your noble efforts!


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