2019 "Gabeshiwin" (The Camp)
Ojibwe Language/Culture Camp Held at Ponemah Round House
August 13, 2019
The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians hosted its' Seventh Annual Gabeshiwin (Ojibwe Language and Culture Camp) for youth on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, August 7 - 9, 2019 from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. on three perfect, sunny summer days featuring a light breeze. The camp is located at the Ponemah Round House in the backwoods of Obaashiing near the lake.
Scores and scores of adults and youth registered over the three days. Admission was free with transportation and meals provided. Campers are not allowed to have cell phones or other electronics at the camp.
This is a time that Red Lake children, families and community look forward to; it provides youth an opportunity to immerse themselves in Ojibwemowin and our rich culture. Campers learn to identify with their history, the hope being that they learn what it means to be from Red Lake and to be Ojibwe. Great effort is made to teach children the importance of kinship, language and culture; this helps to build confidence. Traditional Elders play a large role as teachers for the teachers and parents attending, as well as for the kids.
The three-day Gabeshiwin featured eating traditional foods, lacrosse, moccasin game, Ojibwe Bingo, rock painting, sand art, tobacco pouch making, traditional Anishinaabe teachings and more. Gabeshiwin is a part of Red Lake Nation's Ojibwemowin and Culture Revitalization efforts.
Concerned that language and traditions might disappear as elders move on, citizens of Red Lake Nation - and across Indian Country - are focused on language revitalization and related efforts to retain tribal culture. Much of indigenous culture depends on native language as many concepts and ceremony just cannot be translated to English.
The camp was held appropriately at the Ponemah Round House near the Point. Obaashiing, a village known for practicing many of the traditional ways, is home to more than half of the remaining fluent Ojibwemowin speakers in the United States.
Elizabeth "Pug" Kingbird, elder, first speaker, a teacher at the Camp as well as the tribe's Ojibwe immersion school, said it was the language which got the camp started in the first place.
"We knew we had to do something about the culture and language," she said. "But what can we do? How do you get community involved? The camp held at the Round House, is a good place for this. This is a traditional place for teaching. It appeals to young and old."
Clifford Hardy, elder and first speaker said that many first speaking elders did not pass on the language and ceremony. "They didn't want their kids to go through what many of them went through during the notorious boarding school days."
But there was one small, remote village where the language wasn't lost: Ponemah.
"The cool thing about where you're standing is an unbroken line of Red Lake culture, our traditions and our way of life," explained tribal secretary Sam Strong. "This land was never ceded to the United States, unique in Indian Country, and we never stopped practicing our traditions and our way of life."
Strong explained that this is partly because Ponemah is isolated on a relatively isolated reservation. The village is built on a small point of land between upper and lower Red Lake. There's just one road in. If there's any place where young people can plug back into their culture, Strong said, it's Ponemah.
Reyna Lussier of Red Lake Chemical Health, a major sponsor of Gabeshiwin also spoke to the issue. "Our language was basically stripped from us a generation or two ago. The children were forbidden to talk their native language," she said. "It's our way of life, we have to pass it on. We come through that oppression and we want to revitalize it, to keep it alive...Our language is who we are."
Lussier 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 are still being felt by American Indians today.
"We feel if we can raise kids' self-esteem their chance of using chemicals will be less,'' said Lussier. "Self-esteem is all tied up with knowing who you are and having a sense of pride in your heritage, language and culture."
One important key is intergenerational transfer of knowledge. The Camp promotes having the elders be part of it, so it's really that traditional lifestyle of respecting your elders and transferring that knowledge to each generation.
Among the several activities the kids would participate in was learning Ojibwemowin phrases, including words related to what they were doing such as; Makizintaagewin (Moccasin Game), Dewe'igan Naagamowining (Drum Teachings), and Baaga'adoowe (Lacrosse).
The youth also learned lessons in good living, including the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers presented by elder and first speaker Carol Barrett. They are: Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom), Zaagi'idiwin (Love), Minaadendamowin (Respect), Aakode'ewin (Courage), Gwayakwaadiziwin (Honesty), Dabaadendiziwin (Humility), and Debwewin (Truth).
The Camp combines fun and tradition while filled with the sights and sounds of a typical summer camp. Children chased each other around the grounds and tucked in and out of a fort in the brushwood.
There were stories in Ojibwe, most notably the story of the three little pigs, told by Elizabeth "Pug" Kingbird in Ojibwemowin. The animated Kingbird acted out much of the story, so even those who did not understand the language could follow the story, with much amusement for all.
Each day started off at 10:00 AM with a prayer and a hearty breakfast of traditional foods which was served throughout the campout as part of the curriculum. John and Carol Barrett were the cooks who parked their "chuck-wagon" (RV) close, north of the roundhouse, and kept everyone well fed. After breakfast, the kids might participate in an Ojibwe cultural activity, or work off some energy by playing lacrosse. Lunch followed around noon.
In the afternoon, Many children worked with leather making midewayaan (medicine bags) or asemaa (tobacco) pouches, while others spent time making drumsticks or sand art. Afternoon Activities on Day 2 included live painting with recognized artist Wesley May.
Language & Culture
Kids were reminded of the four sacred medicines, sweet grass, sage, cedar, and tobacco that are used in our ceremonies, as well as the Seven Teachings.
In one corner near the huge tent and in the shade of a mitig (tree), Makizinitaagewin (the Moccasin Game) was played. Competing in the game of their grandfathers, two teams sit cross-legged on either side of a colorful blanket, while another boy taps a drum rhythmically - boom, boom, boom - throughout the play.
Ojibwe words and phrases were often in use. Ojibwe bingo was a fun way to learn words for numbers and critters and the tribes' Seven Clans.
Closing Day 3
Much conversation ensued between new or better friends as Day 3 came to a close. About mid-afternoon about a dozen young people gathered round the drum for several songs. Then came the T-shirt distribution followed by a group photo.
Ojibwemowin was heard and spoken throughout the three-day Gaabeshiwin by elders, teachers, and even some youth. Fluent speaking elders told important things for the youth to remember, the Seven Grandfathers Teachings, the value of ceremony, and the importance of gratitude and respect.
The elders formed relationships with the young people as they taught them Ojibwemowin everyday phrases such as the often heard ambe (let's go), and gego (don't).
The warm summer sun encouraged smiles and energy as Gaabeshiwin (The Camp) came to a close. The Round House was bid farewell. 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.
The Gabeshiwin is part of Red Lake Nation's Ojibwemowin (Ojibwe Language) Revitalization efforts. Hosted by Red Lake Chemical Health and Economic Development & Planning.
Gichi-Ma'iingan (Larry Stillday, Spiritual Leader) Closing Statement at the First Gabeshiwin in 2013
"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. I taught no one, they taught me, they taught me what I don't know."
"Nothing is lost. 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 have 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." ~ROAD TO PONEMAH: The Teachings of Larry Stillday