By Lee Egerstrom
Minnesota Native authors have figuratively been on a tear producing new books. That means September would literally be an outstanding time to build or add to your Native books library.
The Minnesota Historical Society Press has six new offerings coming forth in the first week of September delving into Ojibwe and Dakota culture, Anishinaabe humor, and the marvels and beauty of northern Minnesota nature.
Three new titles represent works and teachings from a Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe spiritual advisor, Lee Obizaan Staples, and his co-author Chato Ombishkebines Gonzales, a language teacher for the Mille Lacs Band and an Ojibwe language expert for Rosetta Stone Inc., an American education and language technology software company.
Anishinaabe-Niimi’ding, or Anishinaabe Ceremonial Dance, give the bilingual background on how a Dakota group presented a Big Drum and ceremonies as a good will offering to Ojibwe in the 19th Century. It tells how Ojibwe have used these cultural gifts over the years to protect their own identity against government efforts to destroy their culture.
“These Anishinabbe ceremonial drums were given to all Anishinaabe people,” Staples told the Minnesota Historical Society Press. “I am doing this writing so that the Anishinaabe will be able to get a better understanding of the spiritual depth of what is available when these ceremonial drums are being used.”
Another book, Aanjiking / Changing Worlds, An Anishinaabe Traditional Funeral, explains the Ojibwe funeral ceremony and pre- and post-funeral practices Staples performs at Mille Lacs.
Gaa-izhi-miinigoowizid a’aw Anishinaabe, or What We Were Given as Anishinaabe, assembles the different moment that mark important moments in an Ojibwe child’s life. The historical press summarized this as saying it includes everything from pregnancy and childbirth, a child’s first moccasins, naming ceremonies, and when a baby is bought into a ceremonial dance.
“It is written for those who wish to have a greater access to Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, a growing body of resources designed to document the teaching and experience of Indigenous elders,” the press report said. “Families, scholars and Ojibwe language learners can use these teachings to expand their understanding of Ojibwe ways of thinking and speaking. Such cultural teachings can also come with a laugh. Larry Amik Smallwood, an Ojibwe language teacher for more than 40 years, storyteller and Anishinaabe culturalist now deceased; and Michael Migizi Sullivan Sr., Native American Studies faculty director at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University (Hayward, Wis.), teamed together to produce Plums or Nuts, Ojibwe Stories of Anishinaabe Humor.
The two worked together at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Their book contains 25 stories covering humorous experiences from learning to speak English in the first grade to problems with harvesting wild rice and using an old blanket as an invitation to dance.
Sullivan was Smallwood’s language student and assistant. He shares these stories in both Ojibwe and English. To continue helping people with language, he provides an Ojibwe-to-English glossary.
An already released book, Following My Spirit Home by Sam Zimmerman, or Zhaawanooglilzhik, combines paintings and stories. Through his painting art and stories retold from his Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) elders, it parallels his own return home to Duluth, where he has a studio, and Minnesota’s North Shore after living on the East Coast.
The Minnesota Historical Society Press describes this mix of the author/painter’s own journey and discovery of natural beauty this way:
“His work features Northland creatures such as moose, loons, wolves and fish as well as the night sky and native flora. Zimmerman preserves the Ojibwe storytelling tradition, reimagining the symbolism of the clan animals in natural North Shore landscapes.”
Finally, another salute to natural beauty – the night sky – will be released in November and is available for pre-order from the historical press now.
It is Spirits Dancing. The Night Sky, Indigenous Knowledge, and Living Connections to the Cosmos by Travis Novitsky and Annette S. Lee, combining Novitsky’s photography with Lee’s historical look at sky watching and how Indigenous skywatchers have seen the sky and people’s place with it.
Novitsky is also a member of Grand Portage Band and has a mixture of European ancestry. He lives at Grand Portage and is a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources park manager for Grand Portage State Park. His work was previously featured in Northern Nights, Starry Skies, a film for PBS North and Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education that he narrated and co-produced.
Lee is also complex. She is an artist, science communicator and educator with faculty positions in Australia and California, and she works with Indigenous tribes worldwide – especially here with Ojibwe, Dakota and Lakota people. She is described as a mixed race Native American of Lakota, Chinese and Irish ancestry.
“Both authors write of the wonders of starbathing: sitting quietly under the stars, knowing that humans have always done this, knowing that we literally come from the stars. Working together in this remarkable book, they bring the aurora to readers,” the press said in its announcement.
Copies of these books can be ordered through the Minnesota Historical Society at www.mnhs.org, by local independent bookstores, and anywhere else where books are sold. They can be special ordered for customers when copies are not on shelves.