Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Culture/Language Revitalization Event Held at Red Lake Middle School

Darkness falls early in late November on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. It is near biboon (winter), a time for teaching and learning. A steady stream of headlights slowly came to a stop in neat little rows at the middle school parking lot around 5:30 p.m. Always seeming like a long walk from the lot to entryway, guests passed through two sets of doors before being greeted by a friendly security guard who politely requested all to sign in.

The language and cultural event was originally scheduled for the middle school mini-theater. But upon entering, visitors were greeted by a cheerful middle school principle, Susan Ninham. She directed all to the right, explaining the venue had changed to the school's more appropriate "Culture Room."

While some entered the culture room, most walked to the high school cafeteria where a traditional wild rice hot dish graced the menu. Slowly the room began to fill. Eyes wandered about the circular, colorful, and rustic room. A variety of seating was available, half-log furniture, tables, benches and chairs. High on the walls were sculptures depicting Red Lake's seven major clans. Below each symbol was the name of the clan written in Ojibwemowin; Makwa (Bear) Mikinaak (Turtle), Awazisii (Bullhead), Waabizheshi (Marten), Migizi (Eagle), Ojiig (Fisher), and Ogiishkimanisii (Kingfisher).

An estimated 75 people from Red Laker, Leech Lake, and even a non-Indian or two, rose as Mike Smith, Sr. (Leech Lake) offered the invocation.

Below Mikinaak, a cartoon-like image of an elder wrapped in a blanket and smoking a pipe, was cast on a screen with the words; "Boozhoo, miigwech wii gaa kaan dazo yaag." (Hello, thank you for wanting to learn.) The screen image, a power point presentation, was operated by the wife of the evening's tutor, Violet Stillday.

To the right of the screen stood her husband, spiritual advisor and teacher, Chi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday), who commented on how appropriate it was to have this teaching surrounded by the clan symbols.

"Never use the word loss," Stillday began, "we have lost nothing, we stopped using it! Language is essential to preserving our culture. Hopefully we take it up again. It's still here because our land is still here. This is where the Creator put it, on the land. Our ancestors are waiting for us."

The Lessons of the Medicine Wheel

Chi-Ma'iingan would combine the cultural lessons of the Medicine Wheel with Ojibwemowin. The PowerPoint slides would illustrate his subject.

"The teachings of our ancestors are still relevant for us today," said Stillday. "Migizi, (bald eagle) is our teacher for balance and harmony. As Anishinaabeg, we were given a way to think, see and speak. We are not oriented to think in a "linear way" as we do today. We were originally oriented to think and operate in a "circular way" of relating and looking at life. This is the deeper meaning of "Indian time."

"Our language and culture go hand in hand. Gichi-Manidoo (the Creator) put in place a set of 'principles, laws, and values' for all life forms to abide by. Anything that has life must abide by these principles," said Stillday.

"We are all at different places in the Circle of Life," he went on. "Imagine the wheel with 12 spokes, each spoke represents the month/date of our birth. That's where we are on the Medicine Wheel. We go around the wheel, the Creator has invited us to walk the wheel, to walk this path of life."

He then went on to explain the quadrants of the Medicine Wheel and how, though simple, contains many teachings. He illustrated his words with a series of slides, always beginning in the East, then moving clockwise to the South, West, and finally North.

First he explained the four Sacred Elements of Life. In the East we find ishkode, (fire), then nibi (water) to the South, aki (earth), to the West, and noodin (air/wind) at the North. "All life forms consists of these four elements," said Stillday.

Next came the four Sacred Directions, wabanong (east), zhaawanong (south), nigabiwanong (west), and giiwedin (north), which was followed by the four Sacred Seasons, ziigwan (spring), niibin (summer), dawaagin (fall), and biboon (winter). "We all grow and change like the seasons," said Stillday.

The Four Sacred Colors or the colors of the human race followed; ozaawaa (yellow), miskwaa (red), makadewaa (black), and waabishkaa (white). "I often hear the word 'they' when people speak of the colors," observed Stillday. "We have lots of friends who are half-white. We need to quit saying, 'they,' it's not about Indians, it's about people."

Stillday went on. "The basis of all our teachings is Bimadiziwin, the Circle of Life," he said. "This too is on the wheel. "We start the Circle of Life as a abinooji, (baby) then we grow to oshkiniigi (youth), followed by gichi-aya'aa (adult), and finally gete-ayaa (elder).

"Finally we have the Four Aspects of Self; manidoo waadiziwin (spiritual), inamanji'owin (emotional), niiyaw (physical), and inaandamowin (mental). Our language is still here on the land, it just needs to be picked up," he said.

The How To:

Niizhwaaso Mishoomis Gikinoo'amaagewwinnaan, The Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers

The Circle on the screen now appeared as a sphere or in 3D as it gets more complex, now showing the seven directions rather than four.

"Our language and our teachings are anchored in the Seven Directions," Stillday began. "We start with four mentioned before, waabanong (east), zhaawanong (south), nigabiwanong (west), and giwedin (north). At the top then is Ishpiming (Father Sky), below is Gidakiminoon (Mother Earth) and then naawayi'ii (center or self)."

"The Seven Teachings have long been part of our language. Gichi-manidoo gave us a way to think and live," Stillday explained, "and they too are on the Medicine Wheel. To the East is ndwaakawin (wisdom), to the South is minwaadendamowin (respect), to the West is aakodewewin (bravery/courage), to the North gwekowaadiziwin (honesty), at the top is debwewin (truth), below is dibaadendiziwin (humility), and at the center is zaagi'idiwin (love). These are the principles that we need to live by."

"Everything in life is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent on another. This system cannot be changed," declared Stillday. "When we have a detachment from the system, what we say and what we do affects that system. The hurt of one is the hurt of all. If we see drunks, we don't walk away, because these are all good people."

"As we learn of these things, people will wake up. We will hear something and we say, 'it seems like I knew that,'...that, 'aha!' is something deep inside all of us. When a person realizes that, 'I don't know...that I don't know,' then we can begin. We realize then that, 'now I know...that I don't know'. We are saying in effect, 'I'm open to the message'. Our grandpa and grandma lived like that."

"Why? What happened? We don't know," said Stillday. "But quit teaching that we have lost something, we haven't lost anything! These are our teachings! These are our ceremonies! We still have these ceremonies."

"Where do we start? We need to start like a child. Our ancestors knew every part of the development of a child and had rites of passage ceremonies."

"In a child's first ceremony, he or she is given a name. The naming ceremony comes from actions at the beginning of time. It goes back to our creation story where Ma'iingan (Wolf), then a companion of Anishinaabe (Original Man), named all things on earth, gave everything an Ojibwe name," said Stillday. "Therefore our language is in nature. Why? So we can live! So honor that child. Help he or she realize that... 'I've accomplished something, I am someone.'"

"This first teaching is an introduction. It is to help you think about...what you are thinking about," said a smiling Stillday. "We change, culture changes, but the teachings remain the same."

Red Lake Nation Language Revitalization Plan, Vision and Mission

It is our vision that within 10 years Red Lake will have a younger generation of fluent speakers that promote the language and culture in our communities and act as leaders for the next seven generations. It is our mission to promote this vision through an immersion school as well as through a variety of other initiatives.

Red Lake Economic Development and Planning office invites anyone to contact their office if you have project ideas for Ojibwemowin Language Revitalization within our Red Lake Nation community!


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