Centering Anishinaabeg Studies

Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World through Stories

Jill Doerfler
Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair
Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 446
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  • Book Info
    Centering Anishinaabeg Studies
    Book Description:

    For the Anishinaabeg people, who span a vast geographic region from the Great Lakes to the Plains and beyond, stories are vessels of knowledge. They arebagijiganan, offerings of the possibilities within Anishinaabeg life. Existing along a broad narrative spectrum, fromaadizookaanag(traditional or sacred narratives) todibaajimowinan(histories and news)-as well as everything in between-storytelling is one of the central practices and methods of individual and community existence. Stories create and understand, survive and endure, revitalize and persist. They honor the past, recognize the present, and provide visions of the future. In remembering, (re)making, and (re)writing stories, Anishinaabeg storytellers have forged a well-traveled path of agency, resistance, and resurgence. Respecting this tradition, this groundbreaking anthology features twenty-four contributors who utilize creative and critical approaches to propose that this people's stories carry dynamic answers to questions posed within Anishinaabeg communities, nations, and the world at large. Examining a range of stories and storytellers across time and space, each contributor explores how narratives form a cultural, political, and historical foundation for Anishinaabeg Studies. Written by Anishinaabeg and non-Anishinaabeg scholars, storytellers, and activists, these essays draw upon the power of cultural expression to illustrate active and ongoing senses of Anishinaabeg life. They are new and dynamic bagijiganan, revealing a viable and sustainable center for Anishinaabeg Studies, what it has been, what it is, what it can be.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-353-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Maajitaadaa: Nanaboozhoo and the Flood, Part 2
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Mewinzha Nanaboozhoo bimose noopiming.¹ This is how he got there. As usual he was very hungry. He also had a deadline, another writing assignment, but it was hard for him to concentrate. Hunger usually won out over work, and hunger was winning again. He wasn’t making much progress on his preface. Despite all his good intentions, his computer screen was empty. Nanaboozhoo scolded his laptop for being so lame. He wanted it to write beautiful sentences and overwhelm people with his profound thoughts. In short, he wanted to show off. Unfortunately, not only was his computer being uncooperative, but his...

  4. Bagijige: Making an Offering
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    In Anishinaabe tradition, an offering is a gift. It’s a gesture of relationship between people, animals, spirits, and other entities in the universe, given in the interests of creating ties, honoring them, or asking for assistance and direction. Offerings are acts of responsibility. Making one includes acknowledging value, promising respect, and affirming the presence of another being. They carry duties matched only by the acceptance of the offer, forming what is hoped to be a mutually beneficial partnership, not only for participants, but for the universe around them.

    For most Anishinaabeg, offerings are the currency of life; they constitute ties...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 1-2)

      Anishinaabeg stories are roots; they are both the origins and the imaginings of what it means to be a participant in an ever-changing and vibrant culture in humanity. In the same vein, stories can serve as a foundation and framework for the field of Anishinaabeg Studies, providing both a methodological and theoretical approach to our scholarship. They embody ideas and systems that form the basis for law, values, and community. Stories are rich and complex creations that allow for the growth and vitality of diverse and disparate ways of understanding the world.

      Basil Johnston outlines this in his essay “Is...

    • Is That All There Is? Tribal Literature
      (pp. 3-12)

      In the early sixties, Kahn-Tineta Horn, a young Mohawk model, got the attention of the Canadian press (media), not only because of her beauty, but because of her articulation of Indian grievances and her demands for justice. Soon after, Red Power was organized, threatening to use force. Academics and scholars, anxious and curious to know what provoked the Indians, organized a series of conferences and teach-ins to explore the issues. Even children wanted to know. So for their enlightenment, experts wrote dozens of books. Universities and colleges began Native studies courses. Ministries of education, advised by a battery of consultants,...

    • Name’: Literary Ancestry as Presence
      (pp. 13-34)

      In joining this conversation centering Anishinaabeg Studies, I want to position my comments to be understood as awriterlyresponse—the response of an Anishinaabe poet-critic. I assert that when we read, we read from where we are and fromwhowe are. If we are from Anishinaabe people and places, we read from there. Our experiences as Anishinaabe people are vastly varied, but still we read others like us with a distinct understanding of our shared place, particularly our place in land and language. As a poet and playwright, I believe we are not alone in our reading, and...

    • Beshaabiiag G’gikenmaaigowag: Comets of Knowledge
      (pp. 35-58)

      At the Sanilac Petroglyphs Site, in what is now Michigan, a figure with a bow and arrow is carved into a stone. It is an image at least three centuries old. According to Anishinaabe teachers, the arrow is not aimed at prey, but is instead a metaphor representing the transfer of information. In its tip are stories, epiphanies, and glimpses of eternity, passed from one generation to the next. These intergenerational ways of understanding are complex, interconnected, and reflected in both Anishinaabe texts of long ago and text being written today. Knowledge recorded in the original language preserves subtle, hard-to-translate...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 59-60)

      Anishinaabeg stories are embedded in relationships and relationship-making practices—they institute them, explain them, and/or define them. Many see stories as the living strands (indeed, even living beings themselves) that constitute the relationships Anishinaabeg hold between themselves and with all of Creation. Much like the connections they embody, these are complicated, specific, and intricate acts that describe an ever-changing and fluid exchange that requires constant care and consideration. Stories can also challenge and destabilize relationships, with sometimes positive or negative consequences. With a focus on values like respect and responsibility, however, many Anishinaabeg stories embody interest in forging healthy communities...

    • The Story Is a Living Being: Companionship with Stories in Anishinaabeg Studies
      (pp. 61-80)

      The current volume invites readers to consider whether the emerging field of Anishinaabeg Studies can center itself on stories, and what kinds of questions a field so positioned might undertake. An invigorating invitation, it raises complex issues. Scholars have contributed a considerable body of research on Native American stories. Yet such research has often yielded results that those stories’ caretakers find unsatisfying. The excellent collection edited by Phyllis Morrow and William Schneider,When Our Words Return: Writing, Hearing, and Remembering Oral Traditions of Alaska and the Yukon(1995), offers a compendium of common critiques. Some contributors offer concern about scholarly...

    • K’zaugin: Storying Ourselves into Life
      (pp. 81-102)

      In June 2010, the first of seven national events for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)¹ was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.² Held to honor the experiences of Indian Residential School (IRS)³ survivors and disseminate information to the public about the legacies of these schools, the four-day event was attended by over 40,000 people. The event was as diverse as it was dynamic, with IRS attendees, their families, and Canadians sharing their stories and reflecting during public and private presentations, facilitated discussions, an academic conference, and a host of other critical and creative forums. Hundreds of political and spiritual leaders,...

    • Teaching as Story
      (pp. 103-116)

      Oral stories are among humankind’s oldest way of teaching, helping traditional societies make sense of things, giving meaning to their experience, and explaining both the known and unknown. Today, stories are often used as both primary and supplemental instructional materials. Stories can give the experiential knowledge necessary for solving complex problems, and provide context for students who lack direct experience.¹

      In teacher education programs, stories can help prospective teachers problem-solve and vicariously experience issues of learning and teaching, and understand the complex societal, institutional, community, family, and personal issues their future pupils must deal with. Stories may be particularly useful...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 117-118)

      Anishinaabeg stories reveal, illuminate, and make known the complexities of Anishinaabeg being—a crucial contribution to humanity. By placing stories at the center of the field, a dynamic and thought-provoking set of questions emerge and, along with these, potential new insights. Stories suggest new pathways to Anishinaabeg Studies, forming the basis for the complex, rich, and nuanced answers to some of the most critical questions posed within Anishinaabeg communities. They open doorways, clear paths, and gesture to ways in which Anishinaabeg Studies can be centered as a whole.

      Cary Miller demonstrates how centering the field with stories reveals a complex...

    • Every Dream Is a Prophecy: Rethinking Revitalization—Dreams, Prophets, and Routinized Cultural Evolution
      (pp. 119-132)

      The Anishinaabe worldview, through stories, ceremony, and tradition, emphasizes the importance of reciprocal social relationships that extend the notion of kin far beyond biological relatives, the need for gifts or blessings frommanidoog(spirit-like beings outside of oneself), the permeable line between animals andmanidoog, and the close relationship between the Anishinaabe people and the natural world around them. Understanding the full extent of these relationships requires a reevaluation of the nature of revitalization prophets, visions, and religious movements among Ojibwe communities in the early nineteenth century. Visions requiring new personal practices as a part of building personal relationships with...

    • Constitutional Narratives: A Conversation with Gerald Vizenor
      (pp. 133-148)

      Gerald Vizenor once stated that “there isn’t any center to the world but a story.”¹ His work denies origins and endings, celebrating unconventional flights of survivance and transmotion over the butterfly-case fixing of terminal identities. Strongly rooted in observation of White Earth and urban Indian experiences, Vizenor’s acute critique has always been directed at dissolving those structures that prevent American Indians from creating stories of hope and futurity. His style, lambent and precise, was forged in the unusual meeting of seventeenth-century Japanese poetry, journalism’s need to open the text to competing narratives, and the deep study of Anishinaabeg tradition and...

    • And the Easter Bunny Dies: Old Traditions from New Stories
      (pp. 149-170)

      In Basil Johnston’sOjibwa Heritage, Weegwauss (Birch) has a dream so troubling that he seeks guidance from Chejauk (Crane) on its meaning.¹ Chejauk listens and assures Weegwauss that he has had a good dream—a dream that tells the story of human life from beginning to end, through the four stages or hills: “For men and women to live out life in all its stages is to receive and possess nature’s greatest gift.”² Chejauk describes the characteristics of each stage as he understands them, concluding with the fourth stage:

      Old age is a gift of the Kitche Manitou. As such...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 171-172)

      Anishinaabeg stories are expressions of resiliency. In remembering, retelling, and remaking stories, Anishinaabeg storytellers enact paths to cultural and political agency and resistance. Centering Anishinaabeg Studies with stories uncovers a longstanding and active history of narrative continuance embodying Anishinaabeg practices and ways of being—sometimes even in the most challenging of circumstances. In traditional frameworks, this is often described as practices embodyingmino-bimaadiziwin, or “the good life.” Resiliency is a hallmark of Anishinaabeg life, embodied in the stories told by Anishinaabeg for generations and continuing into today.

      Jill Doerfler, in her essay “‘A Philosophy for Living’: Ignatia Broker and Constitutional...

    • A Philosophy for Living: Ignatia Broker and Constitutional Reform among the White Earth Anishinaabeg
      (pp. 173-190)

      Recently, many Native nations have begun the historic and challenging process of constitutional reform. As Anishinaabe scholar Duane Champaign writes: “If tribal communities want to assert greater control over their economic, political, and cultural lives, they will need more effective forms of government. For many communities there is a growing sense of crisis and a movement to remake tribal constitutions.”¹ On March 1, 2007, Dr. Erma Vizenor, chairwoman of the White Earth Tribal Council, gave the annual State of the Nation address at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen, Minnesota. She formally announced her goal to begin the process of...

    • A Perfect Copy: Indian Culture and Tribal Law
      (pp. 191-212)

      Leech Lake Ojibwe novelist and literature critic David Treuer declared in his new book of literary criticism that “Native American fiction does not exist.”¹ TheNew York Timesdescribed the book as “a kind of manifesto, which argues that Native American writing should be judged as literature, not as a cultural artifact, or as a means of revealing the mystical or sociological core of Indian life to non-Natives.”² Treuer uses the trickster story “Wenebozho and the Smartberries”—in which the Anishinaabe trickster Wenebozho³ tricks a not-so-smart Indian guy into eating small dried turds by calling them “smartberries”⁴—as the punch...

    • The Hydromythology of the Anishinaabeg: Will Mishipizhu Survive Climate Change, or Is He Creating It?
      (pp. 213-234)

      For Anishinaabeg people,¹ our stories go back to the beginning of time with deep, endless roots. Yet our stories are also new and fresh each time they are told. To be Anishinaabe is to know that stories can be medicine and that they reveal fresh meanings for new times. This is a story about the power of story and hydromythology. It looks at the Ojibwe mythical creature Mishipizhu, an underwater panther and powerfulmanitou. A manitou is most easily and often translated to mean “spirit,” but according to Ojibwe writer Basil Johnston, this is “the simplest of the abstract.”² For...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 235-236)

      Anishinaabeg stories are a form of resistance. As stories illustrate worldview and guide how we interact with our world, Anishinaabe stories resist narratives of domination and subjugation that subsume Indigenous communities by providing an alternate way of understanding the world and relationships within Creation. At the same time, stories are not solely reactive creations, but expressions in the interest of the continuation and innovation of cultural and political traditions. They are acts of survival, innovation, and growth.

      Kimberly Blaeser, in her essay “Wild Rice Rights: Gerald Vizenor and an Affiliation of Story,” illuminates how Gerald Vizenor’s use of story strategically...

    • Wild Rice Rights: Gerald Vizenor and an Affiliation of Story
      (pp. 237-258)

      The library where I write this is roughly 460 miles away from the reservation where I grew up—White Earth. My hometown in northern Minnesota today has a population of 1,161—down more than 250 people since I last lived there full-time. But for a weekend every fall, the three-block Main Street fills as the locals, plus farmers and residents of the lake regions and other small villages, gather to celebrate Wild Rice Days. The annual festival gets its name from the city’s own—Mahnomen. In Anishinaabemowin,mahnomenormanoomin(as it is spelled in the current popular orthography) means...

    • Transforming the Trickster: Federal Indian Law Encounters Anishinaabe Diplomacy
      (pp. 259-278)

      King reminds us that stories have power. They are both wondrous and dangerous. Federal Indian law contains many of the creation stories of the nation-state. These stories have proven dangerous, having the power to (re)imagine the legal universe, (re)create the nation-state, and (re)structure Indigenous-state relations. The creation stories of the state have transformed the legal landscape and left Indigenous peoples in a constant state of flux as they seek to challenge and reconfigure the law to make space for themselves. But what happens when creation stories of the state, codified in federal Indian law, encounter stories of Anishinaabe diplomacy?


    • Theorizing Resurgence from within Nishnaabeg Thought
      (pp. 279-294)

      One of the most crucial tasks presently facing Indigenous nations is the continued creation of individuals and assemblages of people who can think in culturally inherent ways. By this, I mean ways that reflect the diversity of thought within our broader cosmologies, those very ancient ways that are inherently counter to the influences of colonial hegemony. I believe we need intellectuals who can think within the conceptual meanings of the language, who are intrinsically connected to place and territory, who exist in the world as an embodiment of contemporary expressions of our ancient stories and traditions, and who illuminatemino...


    • [Introducton]
      (pp. 295-296)

      Anishinaabeg stories claim our lives, assert presence, and ensure the continuation of our communities as active contributors to humanity and all of Creation. They honor the past, recognize the present, and provide visions for the future—all of which engage the struggle of being Anishinaabeg in an ever-changing world. Just as Anishinaabeg have encountered the challenges and beauties of existence in the past, Anishinaabeg storytellers from all walks of life are using the critical tools of the present to engage their futures. They are centering our critical paths and guiding our paths—providing gifts for future Anishinaabeg to inherit.


    • Aadizookewininiwag and the Visual Arts: Story as Process and Principle in Twenty-First Century Anishinaabeg Painting
      (pp. 297-316)

      In his preface toNarrative Chance, Anishinaabe writer Gerald Vizenor asserts that “Native American stories are told and heard in motion, imagined and read over and over on a landscape that is never seen at once.”¹ The natural imagery, ubiquitous in Vizenor’s writing, is literal—“words are heard in winter rivers,” he continues; “crows are written on the poplars”—but, with its emphasis on the visual, on the ocular, and on the explicit relationship he describes between telling, hearing, imagining, and seeing, that imagery refers also to the represented landscape. Whether we see the word “landscape” in formal European terms...

    • Stories as Mshkiki: Reflections on the Healing and Migratory Practices of Minwaajimo
      (pp. 317-340)

      At the moment of inception, humans gained the ability to speak. As a parent, I still recall the moment when my daughters uttered their first words in reference to the world around them. Much like birth itself, speech emerged, from my daughters as well as within our Indigenous communities, as a sacred act that connects human beings with non–human beings through dialogic conversations. According to the biblical tradition, “In the beginning was the Word.” The Anishinaabeg, as original inhabitants of Turtle Island, are no different in this regard, with Anishinaabemowin communication being the preferred mode of storytelling, with Nanabozho...

    • Horizon Lines, Medicine Painting, and Moose Calling: The Visual/Performative Storytelling of Three Anishinaabeg Artists
      (pp. 341-360)

      In her collection of narrativesPortage Lake: Memories of an Ojibwe Childhood, Anishinaabe elder Maude Kegg relays a story entitled “Canoe.” Her student and editor John Nichols transcribes and translates “Canoe” as follows:

      I can barely remember long ago—I don’t know how big I was—going down to the shore. There was a canoe there so I got in it. I must have climbed down to the far end. I don’t remember much.

      When I took a look, the boat was far out and I heard some ladies, maybe three or four of them, my grandmother and my aunt,...


    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 361-362)

      Finally, stories reflect Anishinaabeg lives. They encourage Anishinaabeg to turn inward and devise visions that can live in the world, changing themselves, their communities, and the rest of Creation as a result. Stories provide the basis in which Anishinaabeg Studies is a tribally specific field while at the same time a global one. Stories embody partnerships between the corporeal and incorporeal world too, transporting speakers, writers, listeners, and thinkers across planes of existence. They are reflections of a dynamic culture within humanity.

      Brock Pitawanakwat opens the concluding section of this anthology by providing much-needed critical reflection about the field of...

    • Anishinaabeg Studies: Creative, Critical, Ethical, and Reflexive
      (pp. 363-378)

      This essay explores the transformative potential of Anishinaabeg Studies as it takes root in North American educational institutions. The present anthology gathers together several interpretations of Anishinaabeg Studies that unite around their collective engagement with the concept of “story.” To better understand this topic from an Anishinaabe perspective, I turn to one of my favorite storytellers, who demonstrates how Anishinaabe stories can make sense of the world while also revealing how to transform it. In November 2008, Basil Johnston accepted my interview request about his extensive work developing Anishinaabemowin learning and teaching resources. He began by explaining how stories are...

    • Telling All of Our Stories: Reorienting the Legal and Political Events of the Anishinaabeg
      (pp. 379-396)

      What is a story?

      In this essay I seek to establish that the scope of what constitutes the category of Anishinaabeg stories is—or at least could and/or should be—larger than what one might first imagine. It is important to consider the question that opens this essay, because Anishinaabeg, and others, will be better served by conceptualizing aspects of what we now consider tribal “histories” as tribal “stories.” More specifically, we would do well to reconceptualize the legal and political histories of Anishinaabeg as stories. It is becoming increasingly imperative that we rethink these events in more tribally cogent...

    • On the Road Home: Stories and Reflections from Neyaashiinigiming
      (pp. 397-408)

      Anishinaabeg stories take me home. Stories are the center, the periphery, and the negative spaces within and beyond our circle of dreams. There is value in searching for a center in a field of studies, but the trickster doesn’t know boundaries. As we rest in our perceived centers, blindly comfortable, Nanabush is active throughout our field.¹ We live his stories, and they place, displace, and replace us. Nanabush teaches and teases us as we live and learn his ways. In so doing, we seemingly lose our center—who we thought we were as Anishinaabeg: “the good people.” Thus, when we...

  12. About the Authors
    (pp. 409-417)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 418-418)