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Living Our Language

Ojibwe Tales and Oral Histories

Anton Treuer

Publication Year: 2001

A language carries a people's memories, whether they are recounted as individual reminiscences, as communal history, or as humorous tales. This collection of stories from Anishinaabe elders offers a history of a people at the same time that it seeks to preserve the language of that people. As fluent speakers of Ojibwe grow older, the community questions whether younger speakers know the language well enough to pass it on to the next generation. Young and old alike are making widespread efforts to preserve the Ojibwe language, and, as part of this campaign, Anton Treuer has collected stories from Anishinaabe elders living at Leech Lake, White Earth, Mille Lacs, Red Lake, and St. Croix reservations. Based on interviews Treuer conducted with ten elders--Archie Mosay, Jim Clark, Melvin Eagle, Joe Auginaush, Collins Oakgrove, Emma Fisher, Scott Headbird, Susan Jackson, Hartley White, and Porky White--this anthology presents the elders' stories transcribed in Ojibwe with English translation on facing pages. These stories contain a wealth of information, including oral histories of the Anishinaabe people and personal reminiscences, educational tales, and humorous anecdotes. Treuer's translations of these stories preserve the speakers' personalities, allowing their voices to emerge from the page. Treuer introduces each speaker, offering a brief biography and noting important details concerning dialect or themes; he then allows the stories to speak for themselves. This dual-language text will prove instructive for those interested in Ojibwe language and culture, while the stories themselves offer the gift of a living language and the history of a people.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Introduction: We’re Not Losing Our Language

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pp. 5-14

“We’re not losing our language, our language is losing us,” says White Earth elder Joe Auginaush. I have been both haunted and driven by that thought for many years now. The current peril faced by the Ojibwe (Chippewa) language is a matter of a declining number of speakers and a people who have lost their way, rather than a language...

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Inaandagokaag--Balsam Lake(St. Croix)

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pp. 15-46

Archie Mosay (1901–1996), whose Indian name was Niibaa-giizhig (Sleeping Sky or Evening Sky), was a man whose influence transcended his many titles.1 Medicine man, Midewakiwenzii, Chief, Boss, Healer, Speaker, Religious Leader, Spiritual Advisor, Grandpa, Dad, Friend: he...

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Misi-zaaga’igan--Mille Lacs

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pp. 47-81

Jim Clark (b. 1918), whose Anishinaabe name is Naawi-giizis (Center of the Sun), answered one of my most perplexing questions about the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation. I often wondered how the communities there could be so successful in maintaining their language and culture. They’ve fared far better than most of their neighbors in this regard, despite...

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Melvin Eagle

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pp. 82-150

Melvin Eagle (b. 1931), whose Anishinaabe name is Miskwaanakwad (Red Sky), is a gifted oratorical artist. He grew up hearing legends told by his grandfathers Chief Migizi and Jim Littlewolf, both of whom were prominent religious and political figures in their community. When he was a boy, his uncles and a number of older men from the community...

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Gaawaababiganikaag--White Earth

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pp. 151-165

Joe Auginaush (1922–2000), whose Anishinaabe name was Giniwaanakwad, was a man of remarkable wisdom. He both watched and participated in incredible changes for Ojibwe people during his years on earth. Those experiences, his intelligence, and time combined to develop his inspiring world view. Joe Maude, as friends...

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Collins Oakgrove

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pp. 166-178

Collins Oakgrove (b. 1944), whose Indian name is Zhaawanoowinini (Man of the South), is one of Red Lake Reservation’s strongest Ojibwe language advocates. He was born in a house at the reservation community of Redby and spent most of his formative years in the Redby- Ponemah area. Similar to the experience of most of his peers, Collins’s...

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Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaag--Leech Lake

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pp. 179-195

Emma Fisher (1911–1996), whose Indian name was Manidoo-binesiikwe (Spirit Bird Woman), exemplified the experience of her generation in many ways. She was born in a wiigiwaam near the Leech Lake Reservation community of Boy River and given the name Emma Bugg. (Fisher was her married name.) Her mother died shortly after childbirth and...

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Scott Headbird

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pp. 196-201

Scott Headbird (1927–1996), whose Indian names were Ba-gwekabiitang (Turns Towards the Sound) and Niigani-bines (Head Bird), was a gifted storyteller. Although the single story included in this book is too short to fully display his talent, it gives an excellent taste of Scott’s oratory. I visited with him on several occasions when he told incredibly animated...

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Susan Jackson

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pp. 202-211

Susan Jackson (b. 1925) is a perfect example of the positive effects of traditional Ojibwe living. “Niwajebaadiz,” she often says, in reference to this indisputable fact. Wajebaadizi means to be spry, peppy, and full of life. Most people don’t believe her when she tells them that she is well over seventy years old. Her body is strong, her wits are sharp, and she...

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Hartley White

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pp. 212-229

Hartley White (b. 1925), whose Indian name is Zhaawanose (Walks from the South), is a conspicuous figure in language revitalization efforts at the Leech Lake Reservation. A highly principled man, he advocates issues he believes in loudly and passionately, without regard for the obstacles that sometimes block his path....

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Porky White

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pp. 230-244

Walter “Por ky” White (b. 1919), whose Indian name is Gegwedakamigishkang (Prancing Horse), is, like his nephew Hartley, a prominent leader in recent efforts to revitalize the Ojibwe language and culture at Leech Lake. Even as an octogenarian and having endured a recent stroke, he travels tirelessly throughout the United States and Canada to...

Glossary

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pp. 245-270

Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 271-273


E-ISBN-13: 9780873516808
E-ISBN-10: 087351680X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873514040
Print-ISBN-10: 0873514041

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2001

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Ojibwa Indians -- History.
  • Ojibwa Indians -- Social life and customs.
  • Ojibwa language -- Texts.
  • Ojibwa Indians -- Folklore.
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