"Gaabeshiwin" (The Camp) - Culture/Language Camp for Youth of Red Lake Nation - P2

Three-day Camp Held at Round House, Ponemah


Tom Barrett helps some young ladies working with birch bark making small canoes.

On August 13–15, 2013 Red Lake Nation hosted their first Ojibwe Language and Culture Camp for youth, with hopes of more to come for all ages and nations.

Concerned that language and tradition will disappear as elders die, natives of Red Lake Nation - and across the country — are focused on language revitalization and related efforts to retain tribal culture. Much of indigenous culture depends on native language as many concepts just cannot be translated to English.

The camp was held appropriately at the Round House in Ponemah, near the Point, home to more than half of the remaining fluent Ojibwemowin speakers in the United States.

Children from south side communities were bussed to Ponemah, a village known for practicing many of the old ways. At camp, kids participated in native Ojibwe sports and crafts, ate traditional foods, and engaged in traditional spiritual ceremonies and plant-gathering practices.

An expected thirty kids, 10 to 14 years-old, quickly grew to nearly twice that over the three days, as organizers did not want to turn anyone away. Things started off with a hearty breakfast of traditional foods which was served throughout the campout as part of the curriculum.

Tom Barrett, Sr., Director of Red Lake Chemical Health Programs, and a major sponsor of gaabeshiwin (the camp) provided some background. "Our language was basically stripped from us a generation or two ago. The children were forbidden to talk their native language," he said.

Barrett was recalling how US government authorities swept onto reservations and carried Ojibwe children off to boarding schools to assimilate to the white culture, the ripple effects of that action still being felt by American Indians today.

“We feel if we can raise people’s self esteem their chance of using chemicals will be less,’’ Barrett went on. "Self esteem is all tied up with knowing who you are and having a sense of pride in your heritage, language and culture."

“The overall philosophy is to re-connect all people to nature and inevitably to themselves,’’ explained Spiritual Advisor Larry Stillday, an elder and first speaker. “We know that history is a living part of the present.’’

Daily Schedule

Each day at 9:00 AM, parents dropped kids at Red Lake Chemical Health then departing for Ponemah, where a hearty breakfast of traditional foods awaited. Everyone fed, an Ojibwe a cultural activity would take place (e.g., language activities, crafts, games, or cultural lessons like the use of tobacco, sage, sweet grass, and cedar). Lunch followed around noon.

Mostly traditional foods were served in addition to a few bologna sandwiches. John and Carol Barrett were the cooks who parked their "chuck-wagon" (RV) close to the roundhouse and kept everyone well fed.

Outside Bread

Off to the left, just as one entered the clearing, a small van and a campfire seemed curious. Jeremiah Kingbird was baking "Outside Bread." Kingbird says the recipe is similar to fry bread, but is a family secret recipe.

First, in a cast iron pan, bread dough is placed. Kingbird takes coals from a fire, lays them off to one side, then places the bread pan on the coals. The coals brown the bread for five or ten minutes, then to finish the bake, Kingbird tilts the pan on its side — leaning it against a rock near the fire — and employs its reflective heat.

"The process takes maybe an hour and a half to get the coals needed for the browning. Some like the bottom burnt, others without teeth like it softer," Kingbird said chuckling.

Kingbird has been baking "outside bread" for eleven years, learning the skill from his grandparents. "They sold bread to go to powwows. I have a route like the old milk men," Kingbird smiled, "and it's the same route of my grandparents."

Kingbird's seven-year old daughter spends much time with her dad, joining him in his bread baking, anticipating that "outside bread" continues as a family tradition.

Back to the Schedule

Afternoon activities included plant identification, tobacco pouch making, working with birch bark, natural foods lessons, lacrosse, and the moccasin game. Day 3 included swimming and canoeing. At each days end, Miigwechiwendam (Circle Time) was held. During this while, youth would hear words from elders and review the days activities.

At 5:00 pm, all would leave Ponemah for home and awaiting parents.

Prizes for the kids presented at the end of the camp, included traditional crafts such as beadwork, medallions, birch bark, tobacco pouch materials, sage, maple syrup, shells, cedar, and picture books for Ojibwe story reading.

In order to be eligible for the prizes, youth filled out an 11 point questionnaire. The first five questions related to alcohol and drug use/abuse, the last six about knowledge of Ojibwe culture and language, such as, "Do you understand the traditional use of tobacco? Do you speak Ojibwemowin or know any words? Are you aware you can ask Elders for advice? And how do you think this camp can make your life better?"

Staff from the Red Lake Chemical Health Programs, Economic Development & Planning, and Boys & Girls Club along with several fluent Ojibwemowin speakers of all ages, staffed the camp. Midewinini Chi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday) of Obaashiing (Ponemah) was the Spiritual consultant.

Day One, Tuesday, August 13

"Ladies will talk with girls, and men with boys," began an orientation at the days start which included an emphasis on safety.

First the kids were taught how — then asked — to introduce themselves with their Spirit or Indian name. It was explained that it is important to know your family, where you come from, your clan or doodem. Kids quickly learned to say Indizhinikaaz Makoons (My Name is Little Bear), for example. Those who did not have, or did not know, their Indian names were encouraged to talk to their parents about it. But they too introduced themselves then, with their English name preceded by the Ojibwe indizhinikaaz (my name is).

"When you use your spirit name, remember that it connects you to everything, to everything that lives, " said Obaashiing elder and first speaker Anna Gibbs. "These are all our relatives, we share life, all life, animals and plants."

"Aandi ayaa asin?"

At first, many of the kids alternated twixt shy and rambunctious. Then several elders and staff corralled the kids into a circle to play the "rock game."

A rock was hidden in the hands and passed from one to the next person in the circle, but all were pretending to pass the rock simultaneously. The "it" person had to decide where the rock was and if guessed correctly — the person with the real rock — was "it," and it all started over again.

The game seemed to energize the kids with all participating. Adding to the fun, youngsters and adults together, sang over and over…in Ojibwemowin…until the rock was found; "Aandi ayaa asin? Omaa ayaa ina? Awedi ina?" (Rock, rock where are you? Are you here? Or are you there?)

After the "rock game" small groups were formed. Each included an elder and staff person who talked of language and/or cultural aspects of their heritage.

Order of Creation

In the group conducted by Spiritual Advisor and First Speaker Larry Stillday, the elder spoke of Giizis (Grandfather Sun), Ishpiming (Father Sky), Nookomis (Grandmother Moon), and Aki (Mother Earth).

Stillday spoke of the Order of Creation and how it relates to the Medicine Wheel. "First came minerals. Next came plants, animals were the third order of creation, and humans were created fourth and last," said Stillday. "Those created next are dependent upon those created before it. Then the reverse is also true, minerals are fine on their own, while humans, created last, depend on all that came before. We are of the earth, we are these elements, the trees clean the air so we can breathe…we need to take care of them."

Baga'adowe and Field Trips

In the afternoon girls went on a field trip of plant identification for eating and medicine. Zhaawanwe'wiidamok (Making Noise From the South/Frances Miller), said before the girls went off with younger teachers, "There are many natural medicines all around you, pay attention to this. Sweet grass, sage, cedar, and tobacco are used in our ceremonies. Before you take from Mother Earth, offer tobacco for thanks. Don't be afraid to ask questions."

The boys meanwhile played Baga'adowe (Lacrosse) with Dan Ninham tutoring. The first order of business was explaining and demonstrating the use of the baaga'adowaan (lacrosse stick). The boys picked up the basics of the game quickly. "Somehow the stick seem quite natural in the hands of these young men as though they might have inherited something from their ancestors," observed an onlooker.

Ma'iingaans (Little Wolf/Ben Bonga) and others led the boys group on a nature walk after the girls returned. Along the path the group identified and discussed the uses of various, trees, shrubs and other plants. Staff showed various kinds of berries, some good to eat, some for medicine, some not good to eat.

When coming across joomanan (grapes), Bonga instructed "if you take, put tobacco down and give thanks." The walk continued; "ininaatig [sugar maple), provides sugar and syrup; all the several types of mitigomizh (oak), have acorns good for eating," said Bonga. "From the ash we make lye for soap or for tanning hides. Rose hips are good for Vitamin C. Many of the berries are gone, look and see where makwa (bear) has been picking in the area."

At the days closing circle, Spiritual Advisor and first speaker Miskwaanakwad (Red Cloud/Eugene Stillday) offered words and a song.

Day Two, Wednesday, August 14

In one corner of what was now the Baga'adowe field, and in the shade of a pick-up truck, the Moccasin Game was played. Competing in the game of their grandfathers, two teams of three boys (only males play) sit cross-legged on either side of a small mat, while another boy taps a drum rhythmically — boom, boom, boom — throughout the play.


Ojibwe Bingo was the name of a game held under the tent with Zhaawanwe'wiidamok (Making Noise From the South/Frances Miller) officiating. Each player held a two sided bingo card with "Odaminodaa!" (Let's Play) printed at the top.

The squares housed numerals and animal silhouettes. The Ojibwe translation for the number or critter was printed below the symbol. Whether it be niizh (two) or mikinaak (snapping turtle), kids couldn't help but learn a bit of the Ojibwemowin. Miller would have the group repeat each word after her, so players might not only recognize the printed word, but also to know how it sounds.

One couldn't help noticing, (observing the bingo cards) that the English language has adopted several Ojibwe words that are in use in everyday life such as Mooz (Moose), and Makizin (Moccasin).

Anokaajigan (Crafts)

Meanwhile inside the Round House, many children worked with leather making midewayaan (medicine bags) or asemaa (tobacco) pouches, still others worked with wiigwaas (birch bark)…most making small jiimaanan (canoes).

A review of Ojibwe words, closing words by elders, and a song closed out the day, just before adjourning to a language revitalization powwow at Little Rock.

Little Rock Language Revitalization Powwow: Cars and trucks poured into a grassland near the Little Rock ball field. Just beyond where children were chasing each other through a playground, two large tents filled with tables and chairs dominated the area. The distinctive aroma of Red Lake walleye permeated the air, stirring appetites for the feast to come.

But before the feast, all would move into the baseball field with chairs arranged — along the fenced enclosure — in a huge circle. Beyond, several youth were playing baga'adowe (lacrosse). Small Ojibwemowin dictionaries and questionnaires regarding Constitutional Reform, were handed out as one entered the field.

Spiritual Leader Frank Dickinson provided the invocation and welcomed all comers to Little Rock. Drum songs preceded words offered by elders and first speakers.

Shortly thereafter, an eagle feather fell upon the ground. Youth and others, some perhaps for the first time, had the opportunity to witness the sacred manner in which such things are handled.

Larry Stillday was among several elders who spoke. "Everything is a circle," said Stillday. "Take a look about you, the first circle is the drum, then we form a larger circle around them, and so on until we encompass the entire earth."

"Earth Mother, Father Sky, all our relatives, we ask our grandfather, to bring all peoples together," said Stillday. "We have enough people who look backward — those who remember — this is good, but we need more to look forward. We need to lead the way, our culture, our arts and crafts, we are alive TODAY!"

A walleye feast was next for scores of Red Lake members and friends many lingering, laughing, visiting till near dusk.

Day Three, Thursday, August 15:

Much conversation with many new or better friends followed the morning circle review, while nearby a few played what seemed to be a never-ending game of baga'adowe.

In the afternoon most of the youth boarded vans traveling to the "cut-off" to canoe and swim. Elders stayed back telling stories to each other in Ojibwe, non-speakers wondering "just what the heck is so doggone funny?"

Upon their return to camp, Bonga with the assistance of Eugene Stillday, gave the youth assembled a review of the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers; Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom), Zaagi'idiwin (Love), Minaadendamowin (Respect), Aakode'ewin (Courage), Gwayakwaadiziwin (Honesty), Dabaadendiziwin (Humility), and Debwewin (Truth).

The warm August sun encouraged smiles and energy as Gaabeshiwin (The Camp) was coming to an end. Time for gifts, small tackle boxes for boys, and beaded earrings for girls. In addition, each student received sage bundles and an abalone shell for smudging. Some adults received sweet grass, dream catchers, and birch bark.

Closing Words from Elders

All ended with a drum song, and words of wisdom from some of the elders, notably Eugene Stillday who told several humorous stories and Larry Stillday who ended on a more serious note.

"I've seen a lot of wisdom here. The kids picked up on what was going on right away and took a chance to express themselves," said Stillday. "I taught no one, they taught me, they taught me what I don't know."

"Nothing is lost," Stillday went on. "Let the little ones live. No one is coming from across the sea to hurt them, they are going to sing the words of the old people."

"This has been a powerful healing, wisdom is here. Each child has a gift, we provided an opportunity. I don't want these kids to believe they have lost something. Yes, they are speaking our language, it is like singing, singing a song that the old ones want to hear. The young ones will never know there was a loss. We provided a place for them, this is where they are from. Quit teaching that they lost something. Our youth will pick it up, we just have to give them the opportunity. This has been nothing but learning, all will go away with something, all will go away as better people."

Post Script

If one spent time at the Ponemah Round House during this time, one could not help but learn. Words are inadequate to describe the happiness and excitement generated at this sacred place.

Ojibwemowin was heard and spoken throughout the three day gaabeshiwin by elders, teachers, and even some youth.

Elders who are fluent speakers among other things, told the Ojibwe creation story along with demonstrating and involving the children in gratitude ceremonies performed at planting and harvest.

The elders formed relationships with the young people as they taught them Ojibwemowin everyday phrases such as ambe (let's go), and taught native names for plants and animals.

Jeremiah Kingbird, proud of a family tradition.

Among other revered practices, youth learned the practice of making tobacco offerings to the Creator for providing waawaashkeshina (deer) and to the deer for giving up its life. "This is practiced with all living things taken from Mother Earth," Frances Miller reminded all.

"The camp turned shy young men and women campers into more self-confident youth, and with that self-assurance comes better behavior in school and at home," Barrett concluded.

The language and culture gaabeshiwin was sponsored by the Red Lake Chemical Health Programs, Economic Development & Planning, and Boys & Girls Club. It was also financed in part with a prevention grant from the Minnesota State Department of Health.


Reader Comments(0)


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2023