Note: all original writing (presented here) is copyrighted by the Library of Congress to Mary Magoulick. It may be used only according to copyright law and by permission of the author.
“That Way We Should Be
Alcoholism to Vision and Oratory in Native American Cultural Renewal
Native American cultures today are vital and dynamic, providing complex
symbols and resources for living. During the current cultural renewal that is
occurring throughout the Native American world (including the Eastern Upper
Peninsula of Michigan where I did fieldwork), many people find themselves
refashioning their perspectives, values, and lifestyles. Results range from
finding the means to sobriety, to inspiration for beauty and art. Voices from
members of one Native American community in Michigan will establish a context by
which to appreciate the current climate of revitalization sweeping throughout
the Native American world. Once we have a basic understanding of this context we
will examine the oratory of one woman that demonstrates aesthetic beauty and
traditionality – connecting to the traditional form of oratory and showing
innovation and the creativity of her own spirit.
The history of European and American relations with the Native people they
found on this continent is complex and multi-faceted. Certainly there were
periods of friendly relations, sharing of land, goods, and lives, sometimes for
periods of up to a hundred years in a given region. But in virtually every case,
we (Americans) ultimately let greed and a sense of superiority dominate.
Libraries and archives are replete with accounts of the brutality, humiliation,
unfairness, racism, and countless crimes small and large suffered by Native
peoples everywhere in this country at the hands of European and American people
and governments. The well-documented programs of genocide and assimilation
perpetrated by our government were both random and systematic.
The amazing thing is that in the face of racism, lack of opportunity for
jobs, and official efforts to enforce assimilation, somehow many Native people
managed to find a way to recoup their
heritage and identity. Today, acceptance in a Native community and identity as a
Native American are complicated by outside influences and pressures. Many
contemporary Native Americans are worried about losing either their identity
(through too much sharing or assimilation), or their control over their identity
(as in the case of outsider appropriation of ceremonies). These are real fears,
mirrored by similar fears that worried earlier generations, for whom
assimilation was very immediate and real and manifested itself in boarding
schools, missionaries, and laws prohibiting traditional ceremonies, religions,
In attempts similar to their ancestors' struggles to maintain culture,
contemporary Native Americans struggle to revive culture, to remember what was
forgotten, to find what may have been “lost.” But in the face of having been
disconnected from ancestral ways for so long, new attitudes about cultural
authenticity and tradition are being worked out by current culture members.
“Standing in the light” is Severt Young Bear’s title image for those who
fully embrace participation in and renewal of culture. It refers to the circles
of participants at a powwow. The dancers and drummers in the center dancing
ring, under the electric lights, are most strongly embracing the practices that
make up culture today. But many others besides those “in the light” attend
powwows. Spectators watch from chairs and stands at the edge of the light.
Others walk around the outside of the dance arena, eating food, visiting, and
watching. And so the circles grow outward to the farthest edge, where people
stand against pickups, perhaps drinking beer or smoking cigarettes. Even those
present only at the outermost margins participate, but with much less
responsibility and commitment than those at the center. Young Bear hopes more
and more people will find their way to “standing in the light” both
literally and figuratively.
Thirty years ago, there was little or no light to stand in. What few
ceremonies were held were usually secret. Mary Crow Dog, Young Bear, and others
have noticed a big change since the civil rights protests of the 1970's.
Specifically, the occupation of the memorial at Wounded Knee, South Dakota
helped change attitudes. Wounded Knee was the site of a brutal massacre of
nearly 300 peacefully encamped people during the period when the “Ghost
Dance” ceremony was sweeping through Indian country in 1890 (Brown, 1970). The
Ghost Dance religion was an effort to revive traditional values and beliefs, and
to offer people a means of being Indian spiritually during a time when their
traditional ways of living had been effectively subdued by the American military
and huge waves of immigrants in the West. As Mary Crow Dog describes it: “the
Ghost Dance was a religion of love, but the whites misunderstood it, looking
upon it as the signal for a great Indian uprising which their bad consciences
told them was sure to come” (1990, 149). The U. S. government refused to allow
such renewal efforts and therefore ordered the massacre.
Traditional Native American religions (including most rituals and
ceremonies) were officially against the law until the civil rights battles 30
years ago. In 1973, A.I.M., (the American Indian Movement – a civil rights
alliance of Indians from various tribes) occupied the Wounded Knee memorial site
in remembrance of the violence there. They demanded their rights to practice
their religion and ceremonies. Mary Crow Dog, who was at the occupation, relates
her husband Leonard’s words of explanation and encouragement for the
elevate ourselves from this world to another from where you can see. It’s here
that we’re going to find out. . .
heard about the Ghost Dance but nobody’s ever seen it. The United States
prohibited it. There was to be no Ghost Dance, no Sun Dance, no Indian religion.
the hoop has not been broken. So decide tonight – for the whole unborn
generations. If you want to dance with me tomorrow, you be ready!” (1990, 154)
FBI and military surrounded them at Wounded Knee, initiating a stand-off that
lasted many months.
such as Wounded Knee II helped make Native Americans cognizant of their history
and identity, and helped give them cause for hope that they could revive their
culture, and thereby a sense of purpose. Young Bear notices just such a positive
Wounded Knee II in 1973, I saw lots of signs of a growing positive identity
among our young people. I saw lots of young boys and young men growing their
hair long again and identifying themselves as Indian. Even women started wearing
their hair long again and were now fasting and Sun Dancing. They had many of
those AIM leaders and those who took a stand with them to look up to as models.
It was a time of real positive identity. (1994, 157)
changes among Native Americans as a result as Civil Rights struggles and
victories have been immense.
Knee II had a national impact. One of the consultants with whom I worked notes
its importance it her life:
I also followed that Wounded Knee thing when it was happening, while I was in
high school. I was in Minorities class then and I kept a running documentary on
it for the class – had like a
journal type thing. I did that.
What’d you think about that?
I don’t know. I guess I, I used to wear a red band around my leg, just above
my knee, just like everybody did, all the other Natives that were in the school
did. And I guess they had rights that they weren’t going to get. I think there
are other ways to go about it now – I think now – as opposed to when I was a
kid. There are other ways of getting what you want than to fight with people.
And I think that’s more of the Ojibwe tradition, because they never really
fought unless they had to, unless it was opposed. I think, to the men, they
didn’t— And I guess I don’t know, I don’t like it, I don’t like
her response is more sober now, this is one of the few instances Linda can
remember from her youth when being Native was a focus for her. Although she
doesn’t like fighting, she was made aware of her heritage through this event,
and it even has led to a sense of pride about her specific tribe. Regardless of
the accuracy of her ideas about Ojibwe history, these events helped her to
consider her heritage and help shape her life today.
participating in the Sun Dance, one of the revived sacred ceremonies that
Wounded Knee II made possible, Mary Crow Dog feels joyful and whole:
could hear the spirits speaking to me through the eagle-bone whistles. I heard
no sound but the shrill cry of the eagle bones. I felt nothing and, at the same
time, everything. It was at that moment that I, a white-educated half-blood,
became wholly Indian. I experienced a great rush of happiness. I heard a cry
coming from my lips:
Voice I will send.
Voice you shall hear:
will live! (260)
feelings of hope and potential signify a change in the Native world. Individuals
within Native communities are subject to the pressures and problems that remain
as part of our world, and they may at times falter on “the good path.” Mary
Crow Dog went through hard times after feeling the joy of the sun dance
ceremony. Likewise, some of the consultants with whom I
worked are now struggling again with alcoholism, unemployment or other problems.
Yet the discourse and practices of renewal and hope remain in place, and have
helped many Native people to come to life as positively as these hopeful images
of change suggest.
of the leaders of A.I.M. were Ojibwe people (mostly from Minnesota). The effects
of civil rights victories resonated throughout the Ojibwe world. In the Eastern
Upper Peninsula, the Sault Tribe won federal recognition in 1976, which allowed
them to open a casino that has since gown into a lucrative business. On the
heels of economic power and greater political freedom for which tribes have
fought, many people, like Mary Crow Dog, Severt Young Bear, and others, are
finding their way back into the light of their culture. They are studying the
language, participating in ceremonies, and identifying themselves as Natives in
various ways. One consultant with whom I worked, John Cappa, explains some of
his feelings about sharing the teaching of “culture” with outsiders:
Those are those are rituals, yeah. Sometimes the elders will talk about
that [sharing rituals and teachings with non-Natives] and frown on that [clears
throat] – [sharing] teachings, ceremonies (sighs). And I think in a way that
there’s a movement in the Indian world, that there’s more and more people
turning around and saying, “Hey, that's okay. Go ahead and teach. Let other
people know of what we are made of.” But it was 1974 when they had finally
have the freedom of religion act, and we fall under that, under that category. .
. . The things that we do as a religion, things that we do, our way of life, so
it's called “bemadziiwin” the
culture. And if we, the people keep on holding on to that [and not sharing it],
how are we going to expect them to get to know us and know what we are, what our
woes and cries are?
The only drawback with that whole thing, and I see that time and time
again, and I feel kind of, I feel sad – in a way that I shouldn’t do it, is
when I see non-Indian people, or even Indian people, mocking, making fun, of our
traditional ways and things that we do, you know.
John’s worries about the possibility of people “mocking” his culture, and
not approaching it in a proper way, he nonetheless has worked out that sharing
is an important means of helping themselves. It lets people know “our woes and
cries.” Now free to practice his “bemadziiwin,” which he translates as
culture, he sees both the practice and discourse (in teaching or sharing it) as
healing.The patterns of the process of cultural renewal seem connected to
certain events, especially the festival powwow celebrations, to a geographical
region, to a particular school (the tribal college), or to a common group of
teachers and elders in the community. Being “Native” is connected, among the
consultants with whom I worked, to a concept of a “good path,” or living
“in that good spiritual way.” This “good spiritual path” is clearly
connected to sobriety among these consultants, most of whom are recovering
alcoholics. They have been through treatments such as twelve step programs, and
while they credit these programs and continue to participate in them, they also
believe their turning point, and much of their strength, comes from being Native
American, and living in a “good,” “traditional,” “spiritual” way.
is not necessarily any clear knowledge of traditional culture or history, in an
academic sense. Native people may attend classes on Native history or culture,
but find them more acceptable when taught by Native people. Many people are
drawn to learning the traditional language, but rarely fluently. They seek out
“elders” (and status as such is eagerly sought and sometimes fluid), but
elders do not necessarily have the knowledge or willingness to share traditional
knowledge or practices.
of the extent to which their backgrounds are Native-centered, most of the
consultants with whom I worked expressed happiness at gaining, enacting, or
realizing a Native American identity in recent years. They see the process and
the results of cultural renewal feels genuine, authentic, and deeply significant
in their lives. I heard people sometimes proclaim they did not want to discuss
their “culture,” “traditions,” “myths,” or “history,” all terms
and notions they consider inventions of the American hegemony.
Instead of framing their discussions of their culture, or indeed pursuing
their search for cultural information, in any of these Western academic ways,
which can disappoint, intimidate, and baffle them, they practice and discuss
what they see as traditional methods of learning.
about and sharing of the culture may occur anywhere, but people whom I knew
identified it as especially common at powwows, at other official (tribally
sanctioned) events, and at the tribally controlled community college. In fact,
most powwows and “spiritual ceremonies” include an overt pedagogical
element. There are announcements over loudspeakers including information,
stories, cultural explanations, and traditional language, which is often
translated. Such announcements are occasionally geared to visiting tourists, but
also are clearly useful for and most often directed at many of the neophyte and
even experienced Native attendees.
Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians in the Eastern Upper Peninsula of
Michigan accepts responsibility to try to teach the culture to younger culture
members. One consultant, a 45 year old woman named Wabagoni, complements the
tribe’s efforts to stimulate cultural renewal. Flourishing from
casino-generated income, the Sault Tribe runs its own tribally controlled
charter school and sponsors language courses for tribal members (in various
locales – the charter school, the tribal college on the neighboring Bay Mills
reservation, and even at the casino). A self-described “junior elder,”
Wabagoni explains the support the tribe offers:
the Sault Tribe – I’m sure
it’s the same way at Bay Mills – we have an opportunity to have cultural
leave, with pay, whether you attend a language program, or maybe you attend a
sweat lodge, or maybe even a fast, and maybe you have to attend to a wedding, a
ceremony type of thing, where you’re asked to say a prayer, you know in the
language type of thing. Those are the things that you’re able to do, you know,
and you’re given time off to be able to do this. And they have a cultural
committee that does that. That cultural committee is called upon. They say,
“well this certain person needs to take some time off in the afternoon or
needs to take a week off” to attend to maybe a fire for a person that’s
passed on and they need to take some time off to attend to [other culturally
fact, I knew many people who regularly received time off to attend language
classes or conferences, to attend events at the culture camp, spiritual
ceremonies, or to seek help from the traditional healer. The casino also
sponsors local artists and artisans. They employ a traditional healer to treat
tribal members. And they run a culture camp on Sugar Island, where community
members can spend weekends or weeks in camps where they learn to snowshoe,
practice the language, make maple sugar, and participate in various other
cultural or spiritual activities which immerse them in their Native American
with this positive sentiment regarding the tribe’s efforts, another consultant
describes her visit to the traditional healer to find her name and clan, but
also wishes from more from the tribe:
We all had our namings. R.J. and myself and Rod went to the medicine man. I was
surprised. That was the first time I’ve ever been, and ah, I was having pain
down here. And after he named me he said you’re having – He said “you’ve
got a hernia down here.” And I never knew, but that was it. . . . It was weird
and it was scary. He told me what clan I was from and told me my name, and my
colors, and I had taken R. J. like a month before, two months before that, and
he gave him his name and colors. . . .
I’m not happy with the present administration . . . I hear, I see,
there are a few people that really practice traditions and culture. And I see
people being pushed to do stuff, but the tribe is not doing enough to teach the
people that have lost all the culture and traditions and crafts. I mean, they
don’t even– The kids are starting to learn it in that school [Bawating
charter school], which is one of the reasons [I’ll send my son there] –
but they have no– I guess they don’t set up classes for the people to
go and learn the stuff. And the people that know it, know it. And that’s it,
you know. It’s, unless you know somebody that can do –
typically you don’t get a chance. So – And that’s alright too, and the way it used to
be, you learned from your parents and your grandparents to do the stuff. Well,
if my parents were removed, from the culture and traditions, then I have no
basis to learn it on? And I think that’s why I’m, I let R.J. go on, do what
he wants, pretty much, at the powwows, so he can find his way, to learn.
So you think it’s important to learn it?
Yeah, it’s important for everybody to know about their culture and their
backgrounds. It’s just, I know more about my German background than I do about
my Native American background.
a time when traditional ways of learning have broken down (the parents and
elders won’t share information, even if they have it, because they are afraid
to), Linda feels frustrated in some of her efforts to learn about her heritage.
Yet she also recognizes the enormous benefits of events like powwows, and
encourages her son to attend them and learn there. She also takes advantage of
the tribal college and language classes, and is proud that her son can speak a
little of the language.
spite of some continuing frustration over the speed and particular resources of
the cultural renewal, overall, this resurgence has been an overwhelmingly
positive event and force in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. What people are
learning and participating in has shaped and in some cases saved their lives.
Larry King, a student at Bay Mills Community College who lived mostly on the
street as an alcoholic for almost fifty years, found his participation in the
tribal college to be truly life-changing. He explains how it feels to be
said, “well damn, man, where’d you learn that?” I said, “Oh well college
you know.” There you go. But there are things impressive you can learn. I
said, “I’m glad I’m here,” you know. I said, “I met a lot of nice
people,” you know. “Yeah, I’m glad I’m sober. I wouldn’t, if I
wasn’t this sober, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be out on the street just.” I
would, probably. I don’t know maybe, maybe in the hospital, maybe back in
prison, I don’t know. But ah, no, I like it. It’s a whole new, different
life, you know. I got things I just dreamed about you know.
still seems to be working out his response and feelings about being in school.
His confirmation of “yeah, I’m glad to be sober,” centers around the
accomplishments of being in school and having a better life. He is proud and
amazed to be in a “whole new, different life” he had previously “just
dreamed about.” Larry lived in the dorms on campus as part of a strong
community. He worked as a janitor at the college while he was taking classes,
attended AA regularly, and found himself popular among the students. He was
nominated and ran for class president. He showed me a necklace another student
made and gave to him, and was proud of it, but didn’t understand why she gave
it to him. His amazement about being in this life, surprise at being liked, and
repetitive statements that he wouldn’t have any of this without being sober
demonstrate that Larry is still trying to understand his life path and to accept
his place at the school and in the culture.
importance of spiritual elements based on a sense of Native identity are of
vital importance in sobriety treatments for Native people. Joan Weibel-Orlando
notes as much in her study of “Indians, Ethnicity, and Alcohol”: “Indian
alcoholism intervention programs with the highest rates of sustained client
sobriety are those that integrate a variety of spiritual elements and activities
into their treatment strategies” (1985, 223). In a specific case study, some
Canadian therapists came to the same conclusion in their success with a young
drug and alcohol abuser: “The need for a valid identity at the level of his
immediate family, his community, his spiritual and cultural heritage, were
identified. This identity was built on the foundation of the model of his
grandparents and his exploration of his cultural and spiritual birthright”
(Hughes and Sasson, 1990, 191). Therapists and community members agree that a
sense of pride and purpose in Native identity are keys to the recovery process
for many Native people.
in fact attributed much of his life’s problems to not having a family,
community, or a strong sense of identity. He says:
went to school in Harbor Springs, when I was five years old, that boarding
school there. But to me, that was just the first part of all these institutions
I’ve been at. I think most of my life I’ve just been in institutions. .
.then I [clears throat] when I was twelve years old I got in trouble, got sent away,
12, 13, 14, 15, up to when I was 16, huh, then I quit school.
When I was ah, 15, they didn’t send me home from the, from where I was
locked up. They just sent me to a different, a different place, it was like uh,
what they call a “home replacement.” So I had to stay there. They said I had
to stay till I was 18 years old. But I took off when I turned 16. I just took
don’t know, I just got in trouble all my life, because I didn’t have no,
[clears throat] supervision, you know [clears
throat]. Like the other kids that I used to hang around with, they had parents.
See, mine were separated and my grandmother and my grandfather, they couldn’t
really handle me. Or I wouldn’t listen to ‘em, you know, because I, I grew
up, I grew up kinda quick, you know, from being in all these places, you know. .
. . Then when I turned 18, . . . I joined the service, and to me that’s enough
institution. . . . It’s just like, all my life you know, I’ve been
institutionalized for some damn thing you know. . . . And
[clears throat] you talk about the college here and ah, and the
traditional ways. I never bothered to learn those, because all my life you know
I just grew up in the white world. And then started drinking at an early age,
where I didn’t really care, about the culture.
I cared, but it, you know, where I was
living in the white world I couldn’t really get to it, you know, unless I go
travel back and forth, always go back up there where I was born, and stay with
them people for a while, live with them, live around there in the community.
But they never, like they do now, around here, you know, get into the
culture, and ah, and doing the sweats and all that other whatever goes with it,
feels inauthentic and guilty about not knowing much about his culture, but he
also realizes the responsibility for this is not his alone. He went from one
institution to another, boarding school, reform school, jail, the army,
treatment programs, jail again. Although he recognizes his own lack of
authenticity in a way, he also alleviates his feelings of guilt by displacing
blame to his communities, both Native and White. The Native community didn’t
take him in when he started drinking at age six and got to be too much for his
grandparents. So he spent most of his life in white institutions.
at another institution (the tribal college), he feels happy with his life, and
proud of the little bit of Native culture he has retained. He knows some of the
language and seems envious of how
people at BMCC can “get into the culture” in various ways. Still, the best
feelings he expresses are full of ambivalence:
they never, like they do now, around here you know, get into the culture, and
ah, and doing the sweats and all that other whatever goes with it you know.
[clears throat] But I know a lot of these things see. I mean to me it just seems
to come natural, where you hear other people say [they don’t get it] I never
heard of a sweat till I come up here you know. I guess it’s just the same
thing as a sauna. A sauna’s the same thing isn’t it? Only think of it, when
it’s out there some place you know, and it’s made out of a willow tree or
some kinda bark and hide you know.
ah, I don’t know, my life has been one big ole’, one big ole’ trouble.
cannot settle on feeling good about his knowledge and participation in culture,
even though he realizes how much it has helped him. His life is changed by going
to college. While he is there he is sober, employed, successful at school, a
mentor to his younger classmates, and at home in a strong community. He realizes
that his learning couldn’t have taken place without the Native-centered
environment the college provides. When real lives are changed and influenced to
such an extent that people can sober up, get an education, hold a job, and
participate in ceremonies and events that give their lives purpose and meaning,
this is important, real culture. Such a process of influencing and changing real
lives is the fluid and dynamic process
of culture in a real and positive sense.
life-changing, practical results of cultural renewal are common throughout the
Ojibwe world. Anton Treuer presents the words of an elder in Minnesota, much
like Larry, who finds living “as an Indian” a superior alternative to living
as a drunk. Hartley White relates his vision in “This way of Life is Good”:
really suffered and I was so pitiful with that alcoholism. But today I am able
to have a good time and laugh with my fellow Indians and relatives while
maintaining a clear mind. And I still get talked about from when I was a drunk.
Some people disliked me. Well, I let myself do those things. Nobody else did.
wish, that is today I hope, that whomever would happen to hear what I’m saying
here like these kids and young ones will listen to what I’m saying about their
current state of suffering. Really, truly my children! It is good. This way of
life is good. If you pick it up in a good way you will find everything you are
searching for – not in the bars, and not if you are looking for it in a haze
of smoke. But it will come to you. (White 1997, 15)
on the reservation where I worked, the sense of the Native way of life as good
is contrasted with being alcoholic. Living “in that good way” is a common
Bordewich also notes the power of embracing Indian identity to overcoming
alcoholism that has plagued Native people for centuries:
most promising, however, is the current proliferation of treatment techniques
that combine modern psychotherapy with traditional or reinvented spiritual
practices. The “Talking Circle,” a device widely used in tribal treatment
facilities in the West, is essentially conventional group therapy that
deemphasizes confrontation and incorporates the use of an eagle feather, which
is passed from hand to hand as participants speak. “The main thing is, it’s
ours,” say Greg Ducheneaux. “You’re all Indian in there, and you all need
help. Just the fact that, by being there, by passing an eagle feather, you’re
saying, ‘I’m an Indian, I’m desperate, I need help, and we’re all going
to deal with it as Indian people.’ You daren’t lie. The feather pulls the
truth out of you. The feather needs you to be well.”
sweat lodges have become almost universal as therapeutic tools throughout Indian
Country. (1996, 64)
presents testimonials of others as well to support the efficacy of Native
spiritual and cultural renewal in changing lives. While such revitalization
efforts are not a cure-all, he affirms, “they at least offer an opening, an
escape route from the trap of fatalism and demeaning metaphor into a wider world
of individual possibility” (265). The
metaphor and reality of enacting Native identity today offers hope. Similarly,
the life stories of those I interviewed testify to the powerful forces of
ethnicity and culture. The humor and health of my consultants testifies to their
strength and vision, and to the efficacy of the identity they have embraced.
programs for alcoholism are a common means of finding one’s way into the
practices and discourse of cultural renewal. Yet many others come to this
“good way of life” via educational means, like tribal colleges. Such
educational avenues are more successful at attracting and retaining Native
students than mainstream colleges and universities. Partly this is due to
mistrust of non-Native scholarship and histories regarding Native American life.
Ojibwe writer and scholar Gerald Vizenor writes eloquently of the feelings of
Native people about non-Native scholarship, ethnography, and writing on Native
topics: “There are tribal people in cities and on reservations who must resist
data colonization, social science categorization, and shovel out the academic
dossier to free their dreams and families” (1984, 28). Vizenor laments the
attitudes and categorizations apparent in the work of many scholars in his
field. He explains his feelings about a standard “linear” history of the
Chippewa from a previous generation: “Danziger invents a romantic tribal
culture and then he compares ersatz families from a data culture to complete a
simple thesis that the impact of other cultures has been adverse. Such
assumptions prevail in historical literature . . . tribal people appear as
victims in a colonial dramalogue” (30). Danziger’s book probably stems from
a sympathetic attitude, and is still commonly used as a history text. When
experts condemn their culture as troubled, it is easy to understand why many
Native people shy away from academics, either in terms of reading about history
or folklore, or taking classes at most universities.
wariness regarding academia does not entirely limit Native people from exploring
academic realms. Vizenor, for instance, writes prolifically about Native people
and is part of academia. Other Native or Native-sanctioned authors and
institutions also play a role in the new discourse and practice of Native
American communities. Most current culture members whom I knew accept
conventional education only on their own terms, which usually required a Native
teacher or books whose authors are Native or sanctioned by Natives – hence the
popularity of the tribal college.
Indeed the mission statement, curricula, and programs of Bay Mills Community
College (a tribally controlled college serving Native and non-Native students)
emphasizes the goal of teaching the culture and language, and maintaining an
atmosphere conducive to realizing and enacting what it means to be Nishnaabe.
J. Stein notes that such is the trend across the country in tribal colleges:
thirty tribally controlled colleges are scattered from the state of Washington
to Michigan and from Saskatchewan to Arizona. These institutions serve a wide
variety of tribes; yet, all adhere to a set of basic principles defined in their
mission statements. Each has stated that the will to preserve, enhance, and
promote the language and culture of its tribe is central to its existence. . . .
Each tribal college has articulated clearly in its mission statement that it
will work to help preserve, promote, and teach its tribe’s culture and
language. This important goal brings to students opportunities to learn more
about their respective tribe’s history and culture, which, in turn, helps them
to build a sense of identity and pride in themselves – elements which are
crucial to American Indian students as they struggle to overcome poverty, lack
of self-esteem, and poor education in their quest for a higher education.
(1997, 81, 85)
is true throughout the tribal college system, Bay Mills Community College plays
a crucial role in the recuperation efforts of the community, in language and
culture classes, and in fostering a sense of pride in Native identity. BMCC
makes an effort to find and employ Native American teachers whenever possible,
but especially for the Ojibwe language and Native American history and culture
classes that are required of all students. In fact, the language teacher during
my tenure there was a native speaker whom the college funded to attend a
training institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and thereby receive a special degree
as an Ojibwe language teacher. He also taught the culture classes and led most
school ceremonies, saying prayers before meetings of the student council,
blessings before potlucks, leading talking circles which marked the beginning
and end of each semester, and leading other spiritual events.
explains that these talking circles and other spiritual events, as well as the
sense she had that the school was geared to respect and foster her identity,
drew her to attend BMCC:
I met John and John kind of talked about Bay Mills, coming out there, taking
some more language classes, what have you, and I thought, “well, I’ll go
check it out.” So I went and checked it out, and talked to a few people and
looked around for a while and listened to a few things and I thought “aw this
don’t look much different than [other schools].” And you know I didn’t see
anything that spectacular about it, to be honest, right off the get go. But then
when I went there, then John told me, “well come out here . . . ” [she still
wasn’t sure] but I signed up for it anyway. And then when I went out there
they had opening ceremonies and stuff. That’s when I thought, “yeah this is
cool.” So I liked the way that they smudged through there, . . . smudging a
lot and taking the time to actually talk to people in a good way, staff
included, which you don’t see a lot of that any more.
. . . I think the focus being to have a college where Native people can go to
feel comfortable, and to have a staff and a place that understand their specific
needs, and they do have specific needs, just like non-Native people have
specific needs, just like Asian people have specific needs. Everybody has
specific needs because that’s just how it is, that’s life.
ceremonies helped draw Ogimakwe to feel comfortable at the college and to be
willing to learn. And the attitude of respect toward Native people helped her to
stay. To some extent she is talking about the Native counselors and staff
members the college employs specifically in order to help counsel students and
make them comfortable. In a college of 220 students, there were three full-time
counselors (all Native American). Additionally, other staff and teachers
routinely counseled students as well.
former student at BMCC relates similar feelings that she felt she belonged and
was learning things more important to her immersion in Native culture by going
to a tribal college. Sharon explains why she came from California to attend BMCC:
Well, why did you want to go to a tribal college, instead of –
I went to regular colleges. They were okay, but it was –
be with our own kind, to be with our own peoples – because if you're not in a
tribal college, you will not get, there's hardly any Native classes at all. You
might get one or two Native classes, but they’re not taught by Native
instructors. They don’t cover the – everything is kind of glossed over. I
don’t know if you, if you’ve been there, but the history, history is not the
history at all of what really happened. So, in order to know the truth, and,
cause it’s different –
clearly feels that she is getting a truer version of “history” by attending
a tribal college and studying with Native teachers.
addition to Bay Mills Community College, Native people in the region may take
courses at Lake Superior State University, which also offers courses on Native
American history and literature. In general, this state university is less
satisfying an experience than the tribal college, but is nonetheless attended by
many Native students. Ogimakwe describes her experience there:
thought “well, might as well take a couple of classes at the college, at Lake
State.” [sniffs] So I went up and I took a class in ah, just for the heck of
it, in Native American history or Great Lakes history, or Native people, from
Phil Belfy. That’s where I ran into Mizhakwikwe . . . . So started my journey.
[laughs] So that’s what brought me here. Actually my father dying brought me
here, but running into [Mizhakwikwe] – she’s a very spiritual woman.
State has its role in helping the revitalization movement, even if only as a
means for people to come together and meet each other. Ogimakwe met her mentor
Mizhakwikwe who spurred her to begin her “journey” of focusing on and
enacting a Native American identity and ethnicity. Other people I knew typically
felt less comfortable at Lake State than they do at BMCC, even though Lake State
also makes an effort to hire teachers of Native American culture classes of whom
the tribe approves. Phil Belfy, who taught Ogimakwe’s class, is an enrolled
member of a Native American tribe. Yet Lake State does not gear its whole ethos
toward fostering Native ethnicity as does BMCC. So once BMCC’s programs began
building in the mid 1980's, many students flocked there for an education which
felt on the whole more Native-centered.
other educational sources are used occasionally, as individuals or groups see
The Sault Sainte Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians runs a culture camp on Sugar
Island, in the St. Mary’s River just off the mainland from Sault Ste. Marie.
Sugar Island was a traditional summer fish camp / village for the Ojibwe. It is
the first known site of settlements in the region. Much of the island is owned
by the University of Michigan (to whom it was entrusted by Henry Rowe
Schoolcraft – who served as
Indian agent in the region for many years during the early 19th
century). Another part of the island is owned by the Sault Tribe. To this day,
most residents of the island (of which there are a fair number) are still Native
American. The island gets its name from the large number of sugar maple trees
that grow there. Every spring, maple syrup and sugar making are still major
activities on the island.
Sault Tribe’s “culture camp” on Sugar Island consists of a cabin with two
dormitories, modern facilities (bathrooms, kitchen), a dining room, and a living
/ gathering room area. The building is surrounded by woods full of maples and
pine. The “camp” may be rented by any tribally affiliated group for the
purpose of cultural learning (generously defined). In the main room of the
building there are some signs which
indicate the urgency of the tribe's mission. “We are the seventh
generation,” intones a noticeable poster, alluding to a prophecy seven
generations ago which foresaw the years of oppression and forgetting, and warned
that the culture must be revived within seven generations, lest it be lost
forever. Ogimakwe offers her understanding of this message:
I understand it, but that is the major theme of it is, is, see, whenever anyone
went off to talk, or to pray, or to whatever, they always considered – They
say that it takes seven generations behind you, for conception to occur. You
know, so seven generations ago those ancestors, and seven ancestors, seven
spirits, whatever you want to call them, have already been contemplating the
birth of this person. Everything comes in sevens, mostly. There’s seven
directions really, instead of four
What are the seven directions?
North, East, South, West, above you, five, below you, six, and inside of you,
seven. So, whenever I pray I always pray to those seven directions, to those,
and then to the Creator, and to the Earth, and to those levels unknown to me,
and to that direction inside myself, you know. We are all those things, all
those directions inside ourselves. Everything has always been there really. And
all this does is bring it to life.
establishes yet another method of learning culture in her belief that all they
need to know, and the central values of the culture are “inside ourselves.”
Still, beliefs like that of the seventh generation fulfilling hopes, help
“bring it to life.” Such attitudes of prophecy fulfilled, urgency to come to
life, and focus on purpose are routine in the Eastern U. P. today. People
believe the traditional culture saves them from alcoholism, from prison, from a
meaningless or purposeless life. Other people told me that learning the language
was the most important and urgent goal in their lives. Still others felt that
raising their children to be strong in Native traditions was their greatest goal
or accomplishment. The culture camp tries to foster all these aims.
from the more structures avenues of leaning (tribal colleges, powwows, and
spiritual ceremonies), there are two other ways of learning the discourse and
practices that comprise culture: from elders and through personal visions.
Ogimakwe discusses and practices both these other means of learning and growing.
Her speech demonstrates an understanding of the transitory and fluid nature of
all cultural knowledge and symbols, as she discusses the outward trappings and
true meaning of being Native. Note the passion and beauty of her words, which
rise to the level of poetry and oratory. Her performance bears witness to the
success and significance of the renewal of culture in which she participates:
“The Way We Should Be Walking”
you know, people are too ritualistic.
said to a friend one day,
said, “what happens if all the pipes were gone?
just took all the pipes away?
more eagle feathers,
aside] What the hell is that anyway, regalia?
don’t even know what that word means.
have to look it up someday.
God!” [in mock worried tone]
we not Indian anymore, Maanii?!” [laughing].
my identity lie?” you know.
then, oh, I was sitting by the water one day,
the water says,
this was a teaching from the water I got,
I’ve heard it from other people since, though,
at that time I was looking for an eagle feather,
I was looking for that medicine
I was looking for that pretty regalia,
I was like,
help me get some buckskin so I can have a nice buckskin outfit,
oh, me me me me me me!”
put my tobacco in the water and stirred it up like that
the water took it and said,
have a problem here” [she laughs more].
so they told me,
what would happen if everything went away?”
I was sad.
was thinking, “God, that would be a real drag!”
the water said,
are the pipe,
are the drum,
are the feather,
are the buckskin,
are the Earth,
are all these things.
these things are is a reminder,
there are many tools.
mean nothing really.”
[intake of breath]
don’t say that in a circle either!
[in a sarcastically mock serious tone]
they really do mean nothing [sincerely]
spirit of that eagle
limited to that feather,
we would never dream about ‘em.
spirit of that pipe
not limited to that pipe
else that pipe wouldn’t be able to talk to you from fifty miles away
the thing behind that.
spirit is not limited to this body,
we are all those things,
don’t need those things
someday we won’t have those things.
You believe that?
believe someday we won’t have those things,
won’t need ‘em.
never needed them before.
is the legend of how the pipe came to the people,
the sweat lodge came to the people,
the eagle feather fell to the people,
the drum came to the people,
we had gotten away
where we were over here,
needed to see something,
we had lost our faith.
the drum had to come to us,
BOOM, heartbeat of Mother Earth.
we can hear it again.
the pipe came to us
stone from that earth,
balance with that wood,
we can see it,
know what it does.
so those eagle feathers came to us,
they could remind us about what that eagle is there for,
those warriors that died,
did they fight for?
we never needed these things.
all came to us.
sweat lodge –
people were sick.
never used to be sick!
we didn’t need any healing,
now we do,
brought that down for us.
they’re all good things
get me wrong,
they serve a good purpose,
we don’t need them.
we were really walking in that way we’re supposed to be walking,
should be walking,
hopefully will get to that point again walking,
won’t need those things,
we’ll be those things.
an eloquent, rhythmic, profound performance, Ogimakwe here underscores most of
the issues surrounding cultural renewal. The people are all “those things” that are really important to culture.
Ogimakwe clearly understands that culture is a matter of worldview, internal
knowledge, and lifestyle, and not outward trappings. She feels very strongly
that the spirits will provide whatever the people will need for culture to
continue. Her culture is real and efficacious, teaching her the meaning of life.
Though it needs to be fostered, it cannot be forced nor artificially maintained.
spite of her expression of faith in the spirits to provide for her people, and
of people to maintain a meaningful ethnicity through visions and a good
relationship with the spirit, Ogimakwe’s speech reveals that she sometimes
longs for the symbols and trappings of her ancestors, like many of her cohort.
Her moment of insight here was spurred by her longing to find a feather or other
elements to complete a beautiful regalia to wear at powwows. She participates in
ceremonies, sweat lodges, powwows, etc. But in realizing that outward trappings
and ceremonies are not the equivalent of culture, she opens the way for feeling
good about whatever level and manifestations of culture her generation can
stimulate, imagine, and maintain. She may want, enjoy, and learn from ceremonies
and other expressions and manifestations of culture, “But, we don’t need
them. . . . We won’t need those things, / Cause we’ll be those things.”
Culture is about people and practice – ways of living. She is not making a
biological argument exactly. Rather, it seems to be a matter of consciousness or
speech is so eloquent that it harkens back to Ojibwe oratory of times past. Long
noted as particularly artful, Native American oratory is sometimes considered
the inspiration for modern poetry. Frederick Turner, for instance, believes that
Native American oratory and songs are an anticipation of the “modern”
(especially modern poetry like that of Eliott, Stein, and Pound). Those poems,
he claims, are really just an imitation of Native styles and techniques in
traditional songs, poetry, etc (1977, 235). Others have noted that although
oratory was appreciated, it was also principally used in support of social
stratification. David Murray notes that discussions of oratory are most often
used to promote a particular view of Native Americans, as noble savages who fit
a historical scenario of the disappearing Indian (1991). Hence the speech as a
fragment, relic, or translation, in other words a “pale imitation,” only
heightens the appeal. The hubris of the dominant culture in its praise of
speeches emerges in that, “What Indians say in private, or to each other, is
seen as less expressive of their true selves than what they say in public to
whites” (Murray, 1991, 42).
from such abusive uses and appreciation of oratory, there is a paucity of work
on Native American oratory. Nora and Richard Dauenhauer have worked to correct
this situation among Tlingit people. They demonstrate that for Tlingits oratory
ties the community together and draws out and actualizes major values of the
culture (1990). They also note more generally, in regard to Native American
oratory and poetry: “Songs are often the revelations, if not the
manifestations, of the spirits themselves, and they evoke the spirits when sung.
Oratory employs the spirits in ceremonial use, especially for healing, removal
of grief, and prevention of harm” (1990, 146).
Thus oratory served a crucial purpose traditionally.
his discussion of Native American Verbal
Art, William Clements notes that Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Indian agent in
Sault Ste. Marie during the first half of the 19th century, and
collector of Ojibwe folklore, was surprised by the richness of Indians’ verbal
art (Clements, 1996, 116). Schoolcraft, like many others, often saw this oratory
as evidence of the primitive nature of the Indian. Clements notes that he
grudgingly admitted that it had poetic qualities. Schoolcraft nonetheless notes
some interesting characteristics in regard to this verbal art. He recognizes the
following qualities as characteristic of Native American oratory and orators, as
presented by Clements:
great simplicity, and occasional strength, of an Indian’s thoughts, have
sometimes led to the use of figures and epithets of beauty. He is surrounded by
all the elements of poetry and eloquence – tempests, woods, waters, skies . .
. . His very position – a race falling before civilization, and obliged to
give up the bow and arrow for the plough – is poetic and artistic.”
(Schoolcraft,1851 in Clements, 1996, 121)
an attitude, that the Indian was a child of nature who thereby had access to
fundamental elements of poetry, along with the perspective that the Indian was
“falling before civilization,” adds a hint of melancholy, and explains the
Indian’s propensity for basing his figurative imagery upon nature, and for
including elements of mystery, and a hint of melancholy (Clements, 1996, 121).
Such an attitude underscores Murray’s message that speeches were praised only
as part of the larger perspective of seeing this as a primitive, vanishing race.
recognizing their skills in creating imagery, Schoolcraft further remarks of the
appear to have an accurate ear for the rythm [sic] of a sentence, and a delight
in rounding off a period: the language affords great facilities for this
purpose, by its long and stately words, and multiform inflections (1857) . . .
no unity of theme, or plot, unless it be that the subject, war for instance, is
kept in the singer’s mind . . . both the narration and description, when
introduced is [sic] very imperfect, broken, or disjointed (1848).”
(Clements, 1996, 122)
though this sounds like praise, Schoolcraft also considered Indian verbal art a
“shapeless mass” until worked on by Schoolcraft’s poetic aesthetic
(Clements, 1996, 122). Hymes and Clements have demonstrated that Schoolcraft’s
translations and refashionings are not improvements at all, from a contemporary
perspective (Hymes 1981, “Some North Pacific Coast Poems”)
finds the rhythm of Ojibwe oratory particularly fascinating, and he
characterizes it as “pacing”:
excels in that rapid, continuous flow of utterance, in which it seems to be the
object of the speaker to go on, without a pause, as long and as vehemently as
possible. In listening to this kind of outpouring of words, it seems as if a
thousand syllables and words were amalgamated into one, and as if to pause in
the middle, or at any intermediate point, would be to break the harmony, or to
mar the sense.” (1828) (Clements,
1837 he wrote]: “Nothing is more characteristic of their harangues and public
speeches, than the vehement, yet broken and continued stream of utterance, which
would be subject to the charge of monotony, were it not varied by an
extraordinary compass in the stress of voice, broken by the repetition of high
and low accent, and often terminated with an explanatory vigor, which is
sometimes startling. It is not the less in accordance with these traits that
nearly every initial syllable of the measure chosen is under accent. This at
least may be affirmed, that it imparts a movement to the narrative, which, at
the same time that it obviates languor, favors that repetitious rhythm, or
pseudo-parallelism, which strongly marks their highly complex lexicography”
the tradition of long, heartfelt, rhythmic “outpourings of words” help us
appreciate Ogimakwe’s speech as continuing a long-standing tradition among her
people, albeit within a very new framework.
speech is distinctive in some respects. It is composed in English (her
language), and she is a woman. Typically orators were men (Murray 1991). Yet
this may be the perception because collectors ignored women’s verbal art.
Furthermore, Ogimakwe’s speech is very forward-thinking, not evidence of a
culture dying, but of one being re-born. Yet overall, the seductive rhythm,
length, parallelism, continuous flow, vehemence, and harmony of her speech (all
qualities Schoolcraft notes among her people 150 or more years ago), suggest
that she has indeed revived a traditional form of expression of her ancestors.
These qualities of the speech are especially noticeable and in fact these
heightened, performance aspects inspired me to present her spoken words in verse
form. It is interesting to note that Ogimakwe also composes poetry. Some of it
she has published. She explained to me that she typically composed her poetry in
dreams or reveries, then wrote it down in one shot after waking up. She
cultivates her dream-life, and her sense of poetry, all of which establish her
connection to her culture’s traditions.
of Ogimakwe’s vision involves a “new hoop” she sees coming:
the new hoop is the young people, it’s gotta be that eighth fire, you know.
And it’s coming strong. It’s also a shifting of powers where mostly it was
men who had a lot of power in some tribes. Um, it’s been a shift to the women
and children. The women and children are going to be the seers and the people
who go out and find the answers during that third shaking of the earth or after
or before or whenever. It’ll be all around that kind of time zone and ah, the
new hoop is kind of like, it’s going to be kind of like this [twining her two
fingers together], like two fingers locked together, you know. And back here on
the left side of your one finger is the old hoop, the old, old, old way, long
time ago. And then over in this way is the evolution from that old way. And
it’s all the things in history and time when the pipe and everything were just
talked about, and then right here, is total chaos and confusion [light laugh]
cause it’s right where the new and
the old meet, and there’s going be a lot of head butting.
people are not going to know what is the true, truth in things. Some will and
some won’t. But it’ll be a lot of confusion for people, and that’s where
we’re at right now. But it’s just starting to spread out like this. And
it’s the young people, it’s not the old people. And it should be the old
people, but maybe not [ha ha laughs]. I don’t know. But it’s the young
people, that are saying, “hey wait a minute!” you know, “this doesn’t
look right to me,” or “let’s look at it this way,” and they’re saying
it to the old people, and it’s like a mirror image
Okay? And so, but when we get over here, we’ll be almost back like where we
were here. But only, lot of people, they understand the new hoop, but they
really haven’t come to that understanding yet either. The new hoop is really
the old hoop, see. It’s just different. And it’ll be different, but it’ll
be the same.
Where did you come across this idea?
In my own mind, and then I started um, picking up on things. I didn’t call it
the new hoop, but I perceived it like that, and ah, from Creation, and I
didn’t understand things, so I, I talked to the Creator, said, I recognized
that something was flowing, something was happening, you know, that young people
were coming up with more wisdom that old people. And old people were acting like
children without any wisdom, without any focus or understanding or compassion or
tolerance, and it was the young people coming up who were having the dreams. It
seemed like the old people never dreamt anymore. But the young people were
dreaming and they were seeing the future which was like the past.
share part of Jake’s dream with you. He’s allowed me to share it. Cause he
came to me one time and he said, “I had a dream,” he says, “I thought it
was about the past,” he said, “but it was really the future, but it was
different.” And so when he started to explain it to me I was like, “hmm,”
and you know something in my mind said, “now listen, listen to this close,
this is important,” and so from that, not from that, but that was a big
influence on me, from other things that I had started to see, and the more I
look around and listen to young people, you know, people younger than me, Jimmy
and Jake, and even some people my age, and then I look to the elders and I ask
them, and they don’t have those answers. They don’t have that understanding,
and I was like, “okay, it’s okay.” At first I was angry with them, “well
why don’t you have that understanding? They [younger people] do!”
see that’s that, that new hoop, that, that mirroring almost, that, it’s
different but it’s the same, it’s just coming from a different source. And
so the more I started to look at that the more I started to understand that
there’s hope, you know, because I was feeling pretty hopeless there for a
while. Like, why am I doing this, why am I struggling like this for utter
destruction, or you know, for the, you know, the outcome of what they say is
just war and this and that but they don’t go off into what goes on after that,
you know? But you listen to these young people’s dreams are telling ‘em
about that time, you know.
there’s, that new hoop to me is that eighth generation, that next, that fire,
fire, fire, yeah, it’s going to be a lot of fire, and most people won’t
survive, but our prophecies tell us to go to the mountains. They said the
children will lead us to those old scrolls in the hills. They’re buried, in a
cave somewhere. I think they’re in a cave up North. That’s my philosophy.
say that some of the elders will be given a choice whether to stay and teach or
whether to go, home. And a lot of them will leave this world. There won’t be
that many old people left to teach. And that, I think for that reason, that’s
why the Creator has shifted things, and put that, that wisdom that old people
should have in the spirits of the young people, because it’ll be the young
people that are here.
won’t have the elders to go seek things out, you know, and ah, to get guidance
or understanding. It’ll be part of who they are, already, they’ll have that
within themselves, even as very young people. You can see that, but it’s got,
it’s kind of not in its pure enough state yet, but you’ll see, you can see
that in young people. They act older, they have, uh, in, a wisdom about
themselves, you know that they never had when they were younger. They were very
naive and innocent of things, and now they’re very much thinking of grander
things, the earth, the environment, their future, you know. And these are very
young people, Native, non-Native, spiritual, non-spiritual, because that’s,
that’s given to them by the Creator now, you know. That was something that was
given to the elders through experience and through teachings, a lifetime of
teachings, then they gained that wisdom. But we can’t afford that luxury any
more. So now it’s just been handed to them, from the Creator to the young
people as a gift.
the elders empower particular words rhetorically and are the ideal source of
cultural learning, the possibility of learning directly from the spirit is also
strong. The younger generation is not afraid to take up the burden of shaping
the new culture. They know that elders are important, and want to learn from
them when possible, but also look to the spirits to guide them more directly.
demonstrates here the specific importance of visions and dreams in her son
Jake’s life and in her own. Ogimakwe’s apocalyptic vision (via her son Jake)
of fire and change seems dramatic. Yet the philosophy expressed here is not so
much centered around a particular revelation, but around the idea of cultural
change and adaptation. The real philosophy is that young people can carry on the
culture. They are “a new hoop,” a new way of living and organizing the
world. They are “almost mirroring” the old ways, but reflective of the new
world. So the hope comes not only from elders, from whom Ogimakwe continues to
seek knowledge and guidance, but also from the younger culture members. With all
ages working together, there is indeed a possibility for real change,
metaphorical if not actual fire, and cultural revolution. Regardless of whether
the prophecy comes true, the mind-set that change can come and traditions can be
maintained at the same time is exciting and bodes well for the cultural
dreams and visions should play such a key role in Ogimakwe’s experience and
understanding of the refashioning, or renewal, of culture, is another marker of
her connection to traditional Ojibwe values. Frances Densmore notes the
importance of dreams traditionally, in Chippewa
aged Chippewa said [note that even here the voice of the elder gives this
statement authority]: “In the old days our people had no education. They could
not learn from books nor from teachers. All their wisdom and knowledge came to
them in dreams. They tested their dreams, and in that way learned their own
strength.” The ability to dream was cultivated from earliest childhood. “Try
to dream and to remember what you dream,” was a frequent admonition to
children when they were put to bed. Thus the imagination was stimulated, and
there arose a keen desire to see something extraordinary in sleep. . . . The
dream thus secured was of greatest importance in the life of the individual . .
. . The Chippewa say that in their dreams they often returned to a previous
state of existence; also that they saw things which no Indian had seen at that
time, but which they themselves saw and recognized in later years, such as
sailing vessels and frame houses. (1929 / 1979, 78-79)
dreams and visions have long been cultivated and attended to in Ojibwe culture.
Thus even though Ogimakwe’s earlier words stress the coming of a new hoop in
which elders might not play such a significant role as young people, she is not
breaking with tradition. She still respects elders, as seen in her frequent
invocation of them to empower her own words (“the elders say”). Yet she
cultivates as well another traditional value within her culture, the power of
dreams to shape lives and culture itself.
culture members mention the importance of dreams and visions to the
revitalization movement, but most often they think of them as part of fasting
and ceremonies, and don’t emphasize them as a primary means of re-building the
culture (except within these traditional ceremonies). In fact, visions may be
used by the elders in order to re-establish some cultural traditions, like names
and clans. Linda explains how the traditional healer employed by the Sault Tribe
gave her and her family their names and clans:
I brought tobacco to him, offered it to him, and then he uh, they burned up
sage, and he said prayers and Max was there, and he drummed, and Adam sang. And
then when he got . . . from my ancestors, what he needed, from the spirits, he
just said what it was.
How long did it take?
I was there about 45 minutes I guess.
the consultants with whom I worked Ogimakwe most strongly emphasizes and uses
spirit teachings as a means to establishing her understanding and identity of
culture, but Linda’s experience demonstrates that she is not the only one to
rely on spirits to help guide the refashioning of her culture.
expressed that she often communicates and relies on visions communicated by
elders to establish her understanding of culture, but didn’t explain many of
her own visions and dreams, except as they relate to personal relationships:
Are dreams and visions important to you personally?
Yes, yes they are. Very, very much so. Dreams and visions. And sometimes,
you know, the dreams that you have are not dreams
that would maybe be attentive to your, your own family. It might be someone else
that’s close to you, that you might have sorrow for.
goes on to reveal that dreams and visions help us to stay on the good path of
respecting nature and acting properly in the world. Her experience and
consideration of dreams and visions as a means for carrying on culture is thus
more personally based. She doesn’t mention receiving cultural knowledge per
se, at least not new knowledge that might even contradict the elders. Instead
her visions confirm what the elders teach.
contrast, Ogimakwe realizes that the visions she receives might offend elders or
other culture members when she says that the outward symbols of being Native
mean nothing really: “God don’t say that in a circle either!”
She knows it would not be well-received because too many people rely on those
outward symbols of culture as measures of identity. So while she fulfills the
accepted norms of valuing elders, she also believes in the potential of a “new
hoop” envisioned by a new generation.
kinds of things Ogimakwe learns about from her dreams include her clan, her
name, how to dress, that she can have a pipe, and so on. Many of these are
typically the domain of elders (and some people like Linda still go to elders
and rely on their visions to provide such information). In fact an elder gives
Ogimakwe her name, which she later changed
(shortened) based on a vision. That same elder only hints at her clan, which she
herself knew from dreams. Furthermore she has her own idea about the importance
of outward symbols of culture like pipes, drums and the language based on her
visions (not based on what the elders tell her), and she expresses herself
according to spirit messages from dreams.
indicates her willingness to accept personal responsibility for shaping her
culture and affirming the possibility for cultural revival, regardless of
authoritatively outside voices (of for instance elders) establishing
confirms that learning from visions is authentic and important:
I write stuff down so, cause my mind is so full. If I didn’t have to think
about everything else, like rent and this and that and the other thing, I think
I’d be able to remember more things. But they say you remember what you’re
supposed to remember anyway. But some of the best teachings, just from the water
talking to me, you know, have come during those times I sat down by the water,
long before I thought you know, I thought I was picking up this path and then
come to understand I’ve already, I’ve always had it, you know. I’ve always
walked it. I just didn’t know that. But it’s kind of funny, you know, we
used to hear about when people were out in strange lands or whatever, Nishnaabes.
They’ll always go and find another Nishnaabe to stand by or something
[laughing], and that’s so true.
affirms that although her understanding is imperfect, it is appropriate and
true. She receives “teachings” from spirits, in moments of reverie, or from
other moments of life. She suggests here that being Native is less a matter of
“picking up this path” than of something intrinsic to her being: “I’ve
always had it, you know. I’ve always walked it.” This belief helps her to
accept visions and other teachings and to integrate her experiences into a
coherent and livable worldview. She also confirms here the intrinsic and natural
importance of community as a common practice within the culture.
another speech, she further confirms the rightness of living as she does, and of
I came to an awareness that I’ve always been a spiritual person. I’ve gone
from religion to religion to religion to religion, in my twenties anyway. I was
trying to find something that I always had anyway. And it seems like whenever I
was really distressed about things, I would always come home and I would always
come by the water. Or I’d go to the woods, camp out in the woods. And for some
reason I was always looking outside of that, cause I thought you found religion
in some kind of church or something, organization, you know. And kind of
forgetting, the teachings of my father were kind of buried. They didn’t, they
weren’t really in the forefront of my mind you know. Or my aunts and my uncles
when I came back and I was talking to Mizhakwikwe, and the more she would talk
to me about her Native beliefs and stuff, the more I would think in my mind that
“I already know this, I already know this, I already know this.” So then it
dawned on me like [clicking noise with her fingers] could have had a V-8
[louder] “I ALREADY KNOW THIS!” [laughing] you know. This is inside of me,
you know. This is, has always been here, it will always be here. You know, I
can’t run here and I can’t run there. I can’t run away from it, cause
it’s always here.
the more I heard the more I understood that this’s always been the way I’ve
thought but I’ve just been looking for other people who’ve thought this way.
So I had to come home and find the root of it all, more or less, you know, I
could see the tree but I didn’t know where the roots were. So the more she
talked to me the more I realized [sniffs] this is what I’ve been looking for,
and it’s been where I’ve gone all the time and it’s been what I’ve done
all the time, but I’ve never really understood it, you know, or where it came
I had to come back by the water [laughing lightly]. I always come back to the
water. And uh, we, even when we lived in Detroit, every other weekend I was up
here fishing or swimming, had to be because of the water you know. It’s very
healing, and course I always knew that, but I, I didn’t know any teachings
with it. I always knew that when I sat by the water I felt better, you know, or
I would talk to the water, and it would feel like something would be lifted from
me, like away. But I never understood that there’s spirit associated with the
water. That the water is the life blood of Mother Earth. It’s very cleansing
and healing, you know. I never understood all that, but yet I was doing it.
I think that stuff is always, always inside of you.
credits her friend Mizhakwikwe, who is older than Ogimakwe (maybe around fifty),
and has been practicing and discussing the Native renewal for years. She is a
spiritual leader among many of the young women I knew who were trying to
understand and practice being Native. Strong community relationships based on
sharing culture are common. Significantly, Ogimakwe also distinguishes water,
woods, and nature generally as places which inspire her to feel centered and to
remember or realize her Native ethnicity. Ogimakwe’s pattern and emphasis on
nature meshes with the typical pattern among Native Americans enacting a
revitalization of culture. They often point to a stronger relationship with
nature as a marker of their ethnicity. As a Native, Ogimakwe now realizes
“that the water is the life blood of Mother Earth.” In reminiscing about her
path to her current consciousness, Ogimakwe focuses on her relationship with
nature. Even though she “never understood that there’s a spirit associated
with the water,” she was drawn to it and learned from it, establishing her as
potentially or nascently Native, because “that stuff is always, always inside
of you.” Her identity and culture became clear to her as something “I
ALREADY KNOW.” Her consciousness simply needed to be ignited and then she
could find her identity as a gift from the spirit within herself.
Ogimakwe’s message is one of hope for her generation. Being Native is positive
and healing, environmentally and emotionally sound. But she is nonetheless
concerned for the burden it places on the young generation, like her son, and
her teenage foster son:
worry about the eighth generation, you know. It’s going to be a time they say
it’s the eighth fire, you know. It’ll be a time of really bad stuff, but
it’ll be a good time too. Some will survive, some will. They say that some of
the elders will be given a choice whether to stay and teach or whether to go,
home. And a lot of them will leave this world. There won’t be that many old
people left to teach. And I think for that reason, that’s why the Creator has
shifted things, and put that, that wisdom that old people should have in the
spirits of the young people, because it’ll be the young people that are here.
Ogimakwe articulates both the potential and the need for the young generation to
carry on whether or not enough elders are left to teach them. The visions,
teaching, and new understandings about how to live and carry on that the young
people are receiving are all part of the plan, “that’s why the Creator has
shifted things and put that wisdom that old people should have in the spirits of
the young people.” Old people “should have” the knowledge, but if they
don’t, and if young people do, that is okay. This is an affirmative view of
this culture and generation.
In spite of her worries about the turmoil and danger of such great
change, Ogimakwe realizes that the youth can carry on even if the elders don’t
take up the challenge to create the “new hoop”:
was something that was given to the elders through experience and through
teachings, a lifetime of teachings. Then they gained that wisdom. But we can’t
afford that luxury any more. So now it’s just been handed to them, from the
Creator to the young people as a gift.
elders have uniquely is time and experience, “a lifetime of teachings.” But
times have changed. Without that “luxury” of time, people and culture must
also change. Ogimakwe and her family take up the challenge.
If we accept that Native Americans persist in today’s world, surviving centuries of oppression, racism, warfare, disease, and other hardships, then we must also recognize that their cultures are real, effective, lively, dynamic, productive, and important. The case of the Ojibwe of the Eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan demonstrate the vitality of their culture and the dynamic and fluid nature of culture in general.
 And indeed I framed our interview sessions without mentioning such words, or asking for anything explicit. I tried to give people a general sense of my goals in this project (to present the reality of what was happening in the Native American world today), and just let them talk. I kept my comments to a minimum. Some consultants began by apologizing for not knowing enough. Clearly they had assumptions about what I expected. But in the end, they realized I just wanted them to talk about their experiences, and they all constructed a story to explain their lives to me and my audience very skillfully and completely. Most interviews lasted a minimum of two to three hours, and in three out of eight cases, the consultants spoke with me for more than 4 hours on tape.
 Yet interestingly most of the consultants with whom I worked did in fact discuss the terms culture and tradition. Even though they find studies of their culture by outsiders offensive, perhaps threatening because they believe academics may judge them to be inauthentic, they still consider those issues themselves, and come up with “answers” as astute and complex (regarding the fluid nature of culture) as those of academics.
 The state university in Sault Ste. Marie also has a Native American Student Center and a Native American studies program, both run by Native Americans, and both of which exert control over any programs or classes taught with Native American theme or content.
 Talking circles are voluntary circles of people (Native and non-Native, men and women – though menstruating women are asked not to join the circle) who speak about themselves – their problems, goals, accomplishments, etc. Typically the leader says a prayer at the beginning of the circle, gives brief directions (to say whatever you want to say respectfully), then passes a feather around clockwise. When you hold the feather you stand up and speak. Some people talk for only a few seconds, others for as much as 10 minutes or even a half hour (though that is rare). At Bay Mills Community College the whole college community (teachers, students, staff, and administrators) were invited to a talking circle as part of orientation at the beginning of each semester, and often at the end of each semester as well.
 Smudging refers to the common spiritually tinged practice of “washing” oneself or things with the smoke of one of the three sacred plants – tobacco, sage, or sweet grass. The smoke cleanses and blesses. Typically the spiritual leader of an event will light the sacred plant (usually in a small bundle or braid, or possibly in a shell), say some prayers to the four directions, then walk around the circle carrying the burning / smoking plant. He may re-light it several times if necessary. The spiritual leader also carries a feather. He offers the smoke to each member of the circle. The recipient will use his / her hands to draw the smoke toward him or her and rub it into his / her body. Often people would “wash” the face with the smoke, or the heart area, or the face, heart and legs.
 For instance guest speakers and visitors from other communities with knowledge of a specific skill, such as herbal healing or traditional fiddling, would sometimes be asked to teach a special class at the casino, tribal college, or culture camp.
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