Ojibwe Culture Celebrated at Ponemah Round House
Tuesday, August 04 2015
Written by Michael Meuers, Red Lake News,
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ojibwe culture celebrated at ponemah round house 1.jpgFor the third year in a row, the Red Lake Band hosted an Ojibwe Language and Cul­ture Camp for youth from July 21-23 in Ponemah, Minn.

The three-day Gabeshiwin (camp), hosted by Red Lake Chemical Health and Red Lake Eco­nomic Development and Planning, featured eat­ing traditional foods, lacrosse, moccasin game, plant gathering practices and identification, birch bark crafts, traditional Anishinaabe teachings and more. Gabeshiwin is a part of Red Lake Na­tion’s Ojibwemowin Revitalization efforts.

As elders pass away, the people of the Red Lake Nation are concerned that language and tradi­tion will disappear. To combat those fears, Red Lake officials are focused on language revitaliza­tion and related efforts to retain tribal culture. Much of indigenous culture depends on Native language, as many concepts cannot be translated to English.

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

At camp, children participated in Ojibwe sports and crafts, ate traditional foods and learned about traditional spiritual ceremonies and plant-gather­ing practices at Obaashiing, a village known for practicing traditional ways.

By far this was the most well-attended camp yet with 74 youth and 56 elders, staff and parents at­tending the first day. In 2013 only 30 children, 10 to 14 years-old, attended but that attendance nearly doubled in 2014. Each day started off with a hearty breakfast of traditional foods, which was served throughout the camp as part of the cur­riculum.

Tom Barrett, Sr., Director of Red Lake Chemi­cal Health Programs, and a major sponsor of Gabeshiwin (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.”

Barrett recalled how U.S. government authorities swept onto reservations and took Ojibwe children 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 elder and first speaker Murphy Thomas. “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 Eu­gene Stillday, an elder and first speaker. “We know that history is a living part of the present.’’

“And it’s not just for Ponemah,” Eco­nomic Development Director Sam Strong said in an interview. “We’ve had inquiries from Bemidji, and you know that’s just great because the Seven Values of the Ojibwe would be good for all peoples to learn.”

Upon arrival, each child received a folder, containing an agenda for the three days and several Ojibwemowin word lists. The first included Red Lake’s seven major clans, all of which the kids learned to say in Ojibwe.

Another Ojibwemowin word list related to the several activities the kids would par­ticipate in; Noopiming (Nature Walk), Wi­igwaasikewin (Birch Bark Making), Makiz­intaagewin (Moccasin Game), Dewe’igan Naagamowining (Drum Teachings), Bagi­zong (Swimming), Baaga’adoowe (La­crosse), Gigaanzomaawin (Commands) and Mino-Mashkiki (Good Medicine).

Another page in the folder gave the youth assembled a lesson in good living, the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers; Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom), Zaagi’idiwin (Love), Minaadendamowin (Respect), Aakode’ewin (Courage), Gwayakwaadiz­iwin (Honesty), Dabaadendiziwin (Humil­ity), and Debwewin (Truth).

Special Teaching Events ojibwe culture celebrated at ponemah round house 2.jpg

Pete Nedeau set up his homemade tool rigs and, using only hand tools, made La­crosse sticks. Nedeau demonstrated his craft start to finish each of the three days.

Darwin Sumner hosted a session on natural foods. “You can can just about any­thing,” he said. “The food is not only good tasting and good for you, but it is good to gather or harvest these foods yourself as it gives exercise and gets you out in nature. This helps us to understand our place in the web of life.”

Daily Schedule

Each day started at 10 a.m. with a break­fast of traditional foods, served throughout the day by John and Carol Barrett. In ad­dition to traditional foods, activities in­cluding birch bark making, beadwork and leatherwork were interspersed with plant identification, lacrosse, cultural lessons and language.

Culture and values lessons took place in the Round House, where the kids sitting in a semi circle listened to elders Murphy Thomas, Eugene Stillday, Rose Cloud, and Donald Iceman offering lessons.

In the afternoons groups of children went on plant identification trips, deter­mining which were for eating and which were for medicine. Kids were reminded be­fore they went off into the woods that there are many natural medicines all around us, and pay attention to this. Sweet grass, sage, cedar, and tobacco are used in Ojibwe cer­emonies. When coming across joomanan (grapes), children were instructed, “If you take, put tobacco down and give thanks.”

Cultural lessons were complemented by games. In one corner of what was now the Baaga’adoowe field, Makizinitaagewin (the Moccasin Game) was played. Competing in the game of their grandfathers, two teams of boys sat cross-legged on either side of a colorful blanket, while another boy taps a drum rhythmically throughout the play.

Elizabeth “Pug” Kingbird lead games of Ojibwe Bingo. The squares on the card featured numerals and animal silhouettes. The Ojibwe translation for the number or critter was printed below the symbol.

Closing Words from Gichi-Ma’iingan at the First Gabeshiwin, 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,” Larry Stillday said. “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.”

He continued, “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.”


PHOTOS: Top: Young men take part in a traditional Ojibwe game, Ma,inzinitaagewin (the Moccasin Game). The English word "moccasin" comes from the Ojibwe word Makizin. (Photo by Michael Meuers.)

Above: A young woman tears baswood strips to act as a suture for the wiigwass (birch bark) basket making (Photo by Michael Meuers.) 

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