- Ogimaag: Anishinaabeg Leadership, 1760–1845
In recent years an unparalleled wave of work by Anishinaabeg and non-Anishinaabeg scholars studying and defining Anishinaabeg cultures, communities, and lifeways has emerged to push Native [End Page 123] American studies in exciting and provocative directions. Academic texts such as Michael D. McNally’s Honoring Elders: Aging, Authority, and Ojibwe Religion (Columbia UP, 2009), Scott Lyons’s X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent (U of Minnesota P, 2010), and Leanne Simpson’s Dancing on Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence (Arbeiter Ring, 2011) and edited collections such as A. Irving Hallowell’s Contributions to Ojibwe Studies, 1934–1972 (edited by Jennifer Brown and Susan Gray, U of Nebraska P, 2010), Richard Wagamese’s One Story, One Song (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011), and Basil Johnston’s Think Indian: Languages Are Beyond Price (Kegedonce, 2011) are just a few examples. This is not to forget the important oral and written intellectual work being done in Anishinaabeg lodges, living rooms, and board rooms—much of which illustrates a diverse and expressive culture invested in social, spiritual, and political sovereignty and syncretism. Indeed, these and other critical and creative works by Anishinaabeg authors, speakers, and leaders have joined to create a field now known as Anishinaabeg studies. Anishinaabeg studies adopts as its predominant tenet the notion that Anishinaabeg are a dynamic and enduring set of people, nouns, characterized by an equally complex set of actions, verbs. Anishinaabeg are “spontaneous people,” historian William Whipple Warren writes in his 1885 book History of the Ojibway People, people who have traditionally defined and will continue to define themselves.
This is evidenced brilliantly in Ogimaag: Anishinaabeg Leadership, 1760–1845, a sharp and complex study by University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee historian Cary Miller. In this book spanning some of the most tumultuous years in Anishinaabeg history, Miller paints a remarkably rich and nuanced picture of Anishinaabeg existence from the Seven Years War to 1845. Focusing on the community processes and traditions that created ogimaag, leaders in Anishinaabeg society, Miller challenges anthropological and social science theories that Anishinaabeg communities were “marked by weak and/or fluid leadership,” instead arguing that they were “highly organized and deliberate” (3–4). This is predominantly due to the “the symbiotic nature of religious and political authority in Anishinaabeg life,” [End Page 124] she argues, which created resilient, multidimensional, and interconnected cultural systems of selecting leaders across spectrums of Anishinaabeg life—and particularly in the civil, military, and spiritual spheres (5–6).
Miller’s book is as a virtual encyclopedia of Anishinaabeg cultural traditions, taken from a plethora of published and unpublished historical sources, meticulously cited in order to show how Anishinaabeg inherited, accepted, and self-identified themselves as leaders (her endnotes, in particular, are worth a read on their own). Focusing on the village, the “largest and most meaningful social, political, and economic entity” in Anishinaabeg communities (40), she describes how Anishinaabeg notions of power combined cultural, spiritual, and political elements and embodied facets of everyday life. The first chapter, “Power in the Anishinaabeg World,” examines how self-determination and self-reliance was understood by Anishinaabeg to be a marker of power: “In the Ojibwe world the clearest demonstration of power was lack of dependence for food, safety, health, and material goods” (23). While animals, plants, and other relations of the Anishinaabeg illustrated this ability, it was manidoog—spiritual beings and the incorporeal plane of reality they inhabited—that Anishinaabeg sought to emulate, form relationships with, and receive blessings from. This formed a platform in which ogimaag sought and gained power, as connections with manidoog resulted in strength and autonomy not only for the individual but for one’s community as a whole. The relationships between ogimaag and manidoog therefore formed a model in which Anishinaabeg asserted power, shaping the ways they interrelated, forged ties with the environment, and devised societal systems (such as the clan system). This communal system of leadership making therefore involved not only men and women of all ages but also...