Ojibwe Culture Celebrated at Ponemah Round House


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


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


“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.)