June 24, 2011

Artist Rabbett Before Horses Strickland Reignites Ojibwe Narratives

Filed under: Arts & Entertainment — Tags: , , , — Konnie LeMay @ 1:00 pm

At the age of 15, in his first oil painting, Rabbett Before Horses Strickland depicted the Greek father of gods, Zeus, sending down a thunderbolt from the clouds. It was done on a four-by-five-foot piece of Masonite.

Since then, the legendary figures bursting from Strickland’s tableaux have grown larger and ever more powerful—and so have his canvases.

Strickland, of the Red Cliff and Bad River bands of Lake Superior Ojibwe, has spent seven months on his latest painting, a nine-by-18-foot epic titled The Right to Consciousness. He expects to finish it this month in a secluded (and borrowed) cabin surrounded by woods in Bayfield, Wisconsin, a small town not far from the Red Cliff reservation.

Like many of his works, this one combines brilliant colors, robust figures and Ojibwe narrative into impressive visual storytelling that evokes his dreams of spirits and humans while invoking past and present injustices. And it contains Nanabozho, the frequent protagonist in Ojibwe stories, who is the offspring of the West Wind and a human woman. In Strickland’s art Nanabozho, a shape-shifter, appears as part rabbit. “He’s in every painting,” Strickland says of Nanabozho. “He’s never not in it.”

Often Nanabozho takes center stage as Strickland retraces stories of his birth, or Nanabozho’s creation of butterflies or his luring of cranes and ducks into a “shut-eye dance” so that he can kill them for food. Other times, the legendary figure is one among many in Strickland’s well-populated landscapes.

Rabbett Before Horses Strickland moving the sun painting

Moving the Sun

The artist became fascinated with Nanabozho in his early 20s, not long after he joined Richard Oakes and other American Indians in the occupation of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay starting in 1969. “That’s when I got into the mythology,” says Strickland. “I think my Indian-ness came out in 1963 and 1964, and it became cool to be called ‘Rabbett,’ ” a nickname that he has since legally adopted as his name.

There is much for a young man to admire in Nanabozho and even plenty for an older, wiser man of vision. “The supreme entity or being for Nanabozho is the Earth, Kitchi Manitou. He is an emissary who did not come into the world but rather came out of it,” according to Strickland.

Nanabozho, both spirit (manitou) and human, embodies what Strickland once said everyone must decide about their place in the world. “Are you a part of the earth, or did you come from someplace else? Did your God put you here, or did you come in a UFO?” he told Ken Bloom, director of the Tweed Museum of Art in Duluth for From Dreams May We Learn, the 2007-2008 exhibit and catalog of his paintings and drawings.

Strickland was born in San Francisco, and grew up far, one might assume, from the influences of his mother’s Ojibwe heritage along the Wisconsin shores of Lake Superior. He says that where he grew up, American Indian was not even on the list of ethnic options; Strickland recalls that anyone not white or black was considered Mexican.

RABBETT before horses strickland storytelling painting


His mother, however, grounded him in his Ojibwe culture. “My mother introduced me to Nanabozho.” She also introduced him to art. “My mother, her sisters and brothers were artists; I grew up immersed in art.”

As a teen, he experimented. “All I did from 15 through 18 was explore through color. I started out doing figurative art and morphed right into a Picasso style.” It took another 10 years for him to develop his distinctive style.

Strickland has never had formal art training, but he is as fascinated by theoretical mathematics and jazz as he is by visual art and has a fertile mind. He found his mentors among the masters of art, studying the techniques of Renaissance painters Botticelli and Michelangelo, the realism of 17th century artist Peter Paul Rubens and the surrealism of Salvador Dali. “I also like Picasso. I like the idea that he changed his style all the time.”

The styles and perspectives of these masters resonate in Strickland’s work, yet his painting style is distinctly his own. It recently has drawn much local attention, a major exhibit and some interested patrons. “I was blown out of the water,” Mary Rice, a passionate patron of the arts and a watercolor artist, said of seeing one of his paintings for the first time. Rice, who lives in Bayfield, so liked the nearly seven-by-10 foot painting, Ag Ki Gisiss (Out of the Sun), that she bought it and donated it to nearby Northland College. She was also instrumental in getting a showing of Strickland’s works at the Tweed Museum of Art and has loaned him her family’s cabin in the woods, which has a room large enough to tackle his current tableau.

Part of what attracted Rice to his work is the blending of traditional ideas and stories with unexpected imagery. “The shapes of the bodies are somewhat voluptuous, not typical of the legendary long, tall Native American figure of the North. Their faces often represent Native people, but the body is pure Botticelli.”

Categorizing Rabbett’s work is not easy, says Bloom. “It’s intended to be timeless, intended to be mystical, intended to be lessons. I think the lessons part of it is important, too. It’s not just that it is narrative; there’s a pretty intentional didactic component to these things. Power and oppression. This is a unique mind. It’s not just that he has drawing skills. It’s the way he assimilates historic information and classical, pictorial styles. Rabbett does his homework.”

Even a short conversation with Strickland reveals the complexity of that unique mind. He comfortably shifts from discussion of his latest work to his passion for mathematics. His current obsession is the Riemann Hypothesis about the distribution of prime numbers, an unresolved problem considered a Holy Grail among some mathematicians.

When he isn’t working five hours a day painting or isn’t contemplating a complex math problem, he composes music. He plays guitar and piano, and back in 1965 he was part of a group called Universal Joint. “I wrote, over eight years, about 60 smooth jazz songs and picked about 13 of those and sent them to a friend of mine in the Bay Area. He mastered them and I put them on NativeRadio.com.”

The resulting CD Smooj features his jazz piano compositions. “It is in my nature to be busy,” he says, “but I also enjoy doing nothing.”

After living mainly in California and the Southwest, he moved five years ago to Wisconsin to concentrate on his art, a promise he made to his mother before she died.

Now 62, Strickland is gaining more attention for his art. Since 1998, his paintings have been shown in London, Santa Fe, Minneapolis, several galleries in California and in a traveling exhibit by Honor the Earth, an organization that raises awareness and money for environmental issues. Several of his paintings are sold as prints and note cards to support Native Harvest, which promotes healthier diets and a return to the old ways of eating and harvesting food.

But he faces challenges in gaining a broader audience. The size of most of his works—generally six-by-nine-foot or eight-by-12-foot canvases—makes it daunting for most private collectors, though he has sold pieces to collectors in Japan, Hawaii, most of Europe and Canada. And he says that selling yourself can become full-time work for an artist—a job that only partially interests him. “Little paintings do nothing for me but sell,” he says. “Money isn’t everything, but it is the medium of exchange and when opinions pay the bills, I’ll listen.”

Still, don’t expect too much concentration from him on the small and intimate—or on self-promotion. “It takes a lot of work to promote yourself,” says Rice, “and I think he’d rather paint pictures.”

Rabbett Before Horses Strickland out of the sun painting

Out of the Sun

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June 25, 2011

Watch a Birch Bark Canoe Being Built

For the second year, the Fond du Lac Cultural Center & Museum in Cloquet, Minnesota, is building a birch bark canoe and streaming it live on the web for all the world to see. The project will take about three weeks and promotes language preservation in an immersion setting.

Visit the Canoe Cam to watch the boat take shape.

Goals of the birch bark canoe project include implementing a “language preservation project that will contribute to the fluency, knowledge and comfort using the Ojibwe language” and creating “community members skilled in our cultural arts who then can be the future teachers and mentors.”

The 2010 canoe build is detailed in a book called Wiigwaasi Jiimaan 2010—birch bark canoe—which discusses the importance of preserving culture through hands-on learning. The book also includes an illustration with the Ojibwe words for all the parts of the canoe, and a step-by-step guide to traditional canoe-building.

“Intergenerational teaching and participation provides the foundation for our culture and was a cornerstone of our project,” the book says. “Canoe building skills and the language go hand in hand in maintaining each other.”

The process of gathering the birch bark—maniwiigwaase—is a time-consuming one. Trees have to be 50 to 70 years old, and have thick, flexible bark with small horizontal lines. “One good canoe birch bark tree peeled in the proper season can yield enough bark for a complete canoe,” the book says.

The language is prevalent throughout the building process. Language CD’s were developed and played and Ojibwe words and phrases are all over the jiimaanike- wigwaming, or canoe making house.

For example, the word jiimaan comes from the root word ojiim, to kiss. One of the pages in the book details how this came to be: “jiimaan are tested for holes and imperfections by putting your lips to the bark inhaling or exhaling to search for small holes in the bark needing to be pitched.”

During the 2010 build a screen shot was taken once per minute, visit the Fond du Lac Cultural Center & Museum website to see the entire build from start to finish in four minutes.

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July 6, 2011

Death Rate of American Indian Infants Doubles Whites in Some States

American Indian infants in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are roughly twice as likely to die as white infants, and health officials say the best defense is prevention and education, reported The Grand Forks Herald.

American Indian infants tend to face greater risks, including being born prematurely, having teenage mothers, growing up in poverty, or having a mother who smoked or used alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy.

The Herald stresses that one of the highest risk factors is sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A Minnesota infant mortality study revealed that nearly half of the babies who died from SIDS or other sleep-related causes during 2005-2007 were American Indians. The study included infants who were suffocated while sleeping in bed with a parent who accidentally rolled over the child during sleep.

One prevention and education method that’s proven successful in Cass and Clay counties in North Dakota is the Nurse-Family Partnership for mothers who qualify according to income and other criteria. Nurses with the national program visit homes weekly and act as both a health professional and a life coach.

Currently, two tribes, the White Earth and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota, are collaborating to offer a Nurse-Family Partnership visiting nurse program to their reservations.

The two tribes recently participated in a pilot study to adapt the national program, blending Western standards with a culturally sensitive approach that incorporates Ojibwe culture. Thus far, families have been very receptive. “Moms are engaging with that curriculum,” Pat Butler, a nurse who manages the White Earth Home Health Agency, told the Herald.

“If the Minnesota Ojibwe bands succeed in getting approval to modify the Nurse-Family Partnership program, they will become the first tribes to do so,” the Herald reported.

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July 20, 2011

Ojibwe Physician Named as President and CEO of Blandin Foundation

Dr. Kathleen Annette, a physician who grew up on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and is enrolled with the White Earth Band of Ojibwe—both located in northern Minnesota, has been selected as the new president and chief executive officer of the Blandin Foundation, a nonprofit focused on strengthening rural Minnesota.

“The Blandin Foundation has a strong mission, goals and values and makes a tremendous difference in the state, especially the Grand Rapids area,” Annette said. “This is a real honor, and I look forward to continuing the Foundation’s journey of partnering with communities to strengthen rural Minnesota.”

Annette currently serves as deputy director for field operations of the Bemidji, Minnesota-based Indian Health Service. There, she supervised area directors throughout the country at 48 hospitals and 238 health clinics serving 1.9 million American Indian patients and 15,000 federal employees. She will retire from the federal service September 1 and join the foundation immediately.

A former board member of the Blandin Foundation from 1991-2003, Annette has chaired and participated in the Blandin Foundation American Indian Advisory Committee since 2004.

“Kathy has deep appreciation for the mission of this foundation and has been a long-time partner in our work,” said Marian Barcus, chairman of the Foundation’s board. “She will be an excellent guide for the Foundation’s continued journey-contributing to the vitality of the Itasca County area, investing in rural community leaders statewide, and expanding opportunity for rural Minnesota residents through education, economy and inclusion.”

Annette succeeds former CEO Jim Hoolihan, who plans to return the private sector October 1.

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August 8, 2011

Knocking the Rice as Autumn Descends in the Great Lakes Region

 Knocking the Rice as Autumn Descends in the Great Lakes Region

Dale Carson

Recently, an ancient strain of rice has risen in perceived value and popularity, as the crop has become more threatened by development of natural resources, industrialization and genetic modification.

Wild rice (called manoomin by the Ojibwe people), the only grain indigenous to North America, is steeped in rich tradition. Wild rice is largely associated with the Ojibwe people, although in the 17th century, the Dakotas regularly harvested the grain—a source of strife between the two nations, who competed for both hunting territory and the wild rice range.

Over the course of 200 years, the Dakota moved west, away from the the Menominee (“wild rice people”) in the Great Lakes region.

During this period, Europeans from the east descended upon the area and discovered wild rice. The harvesting of this aquatic grass was not an easy task. The Ojibwe had established set, traditional ways of harvesting, also known as knocking the rice.

To this day, women bind the stalks prior to harvest as a way to mark their territory and also protect the stands from wind and birds. Then individual families or a group of families set up ricing camps by the shore. Women generally manage shelter for a couple of days, while others harvest the grain.

Collecting the rice in canoes—the best way to traverse the marshy offshoots of waterways, incidentally—was a remarkable feat in itself. In the rear of the vessel, pushing it, would be a pole handler. In the front, someone would sit and steer while working the two knockers, a pair of ricing sticks usually carved from lightweight wood—thin and about three feet in length. One stick held down the stalks over the canoe and the other was used to knock the ripe kernels into it. Families could nearly fill the canoe and take home sacks of processed rice for a winter’s worth of use.

Following harvest, the rice is immediately dried for two to three days so it does not become moldy. Then it is parched, the process of roasting the kernels to reduce moisture and loosen the hull from the grain—essential for preserving the food. Next, the manoomin is hulled to help remove the chaff from the rice kernel. The practice involves digging a small pit in the earth and “dancing” on the rice over a cloth with special knee-high, unbeaded moccasins, which never touch the ground. Lastly, the manoomin is winnowed. It is taken to a high place or somewhere windy and gently thrown up into the air over a birchbark tray so the wind can remove the remaining hulls and chaff.

The first rice to be processed and finished is cooked at the camp and served as part of a feast, or thanksgiving to the Creator and the good spirits who made the wild rice.

Manoominike-Giizis, a.k.a. the wild rice moon, is usually in late August or early September. The harvesting period runs about two weeks. The kernels that are lost or fly away while being hit with the knockers are seeds for next year’s harvest.

Wild Rice, Quinoa & Pine Nuts

2 cups of cooked wild rice
1 cup cooked quinoa
½ sweet Vidalia onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ green bell pepper, (or jalapeno) finely chopped
3 tablespoons roasted pine nuts
4 tablespoons golden (blond) raisins
1 golden delicious apple, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 teaspoon seasoned salt, pepper to taste
½ cup water or chicken broth

Sauté onion, garlic and peppers until golden, a couple of minutes. Combine all ingredients in a baking dish and toss lightly. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes.

Note: You can also stuff squash, such as acorn, with this mix before baking. It’s the perfect partner with smoked turkey breast or duck.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American CookingNative New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.

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September 21, 2011

Native American Language Revitalization on Red Lake Agenda

Red Lake Ojibwe Nation Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. offered tobacco to 11 persons gathered at the Little Rock Roundhouse on September 6 for the purpose of exploring Ojibwe language revitalization at Red Lake. Melvin Jones offered a prayer.

Red Lake Frances Miller 270x206 Native American Language Revitalization on Red Lake Agenda

Fluent speaker of Ojibwemowin, Frances Miller.

The meeting was attended by fluent speakers, elders and others interested in aspects of Ojibwemowin revitalization.

“Ojibwe is now the official language of Red Lake,” said Jourdain, “and that’s not just a public relations thing, we want to make it so. Many things can be done, including encouraging more language and culture in our schools.”

Many ideas were discussed. Fluent speaking elders will be key, and will be encouraged to share their knowledge, give advice, and participate in this important initiative. After much discussion, it was decided that the group would begin with Ojibwemowin signage on the reservation in two areas, buildings and street signs.

Jourdain complimented the City of Bemidji on their use of Ojibwe signage in places of business.

Red Lake Economic Development and planning director Sam Strong will organize community meetings to discuss street sign changes with Red Lake members. The main roads would receive Ojibwe names first.

The group further decided to put together a strategy for either renaming tribal buildings or translating the existing names into Ojibwemowin, for example New Beginnings would be translated to Oshki-maajiitaawinan.

Much discussion centered around the need for consistency in the spelling of Ojibwe. All concurred that Red Lake should encourage the use the “double vowel” system. The double vowel system is used at Ojibwemowin immersion schools in Minnesota, and is the preferred spelling used in books being written in Ojibwe, and bilingual publications.

The Nichols/Nyholm Dictionary is the book of reference for the double vowel system.
The committee will spend some time at the Niigaane Ojibwemowin Immersion School at the Bug School near Bena sometime in October.

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December 29, 2011

Literature the Ojibwe Way: Erdrich Sisters’ Wiigwaas Press Helps Preserve Ojibwemowin

“Thank you for helping to save the world.”

That’s how Ojibwe language teacher Dan Jones greeted his beginners class after explaining that some believe an end to the language means the end of all things. By learning Ojibwemowin and keeping it alive, the Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College instructor said, his students could take credit for helping to save the Earth.

In this regard, the mission of Wiigwaas Press and the Birchbark House Fund is a big one.

In 2008, Heid and Louise Erdrich, both authors and sisters from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, founded the Birchbark House Fund “to support the work of indigenous language scholars and authors,” Heid Erdrich told Indian Country Today Media Network. In 2010 the two created Wiigwaas Press to publish books solely in the Ojibwe language. Heid oversees the day-to-day operations. Wiigwaas, or birch bark, seemed an appropriate name; the durable bark once served as the medium for delivering messages.

“That was our original writing material for the sacred literature as well as the personal stories,” said Erdrich. “Birch bark was also used for messages such as, ‘We went thataways.’ It was the ‘sticky notes’ of the Ojibwe.”

The sisters first discussed a need for an Ojibwe-language press when Louise helped Mille Lacs Band elder Jim Clark write his autobiography. In 2002 she published that book, Naawigiizis, The Memories of Center of the Moon, through her Minneapolis bookstore, Birchbark Books.

“James Clark has written both in English and in Anishinaabemowin,” Heid Erdrich said. “But the language doesn’t translate precisely.”

Louise and Heid remember hearing the language as children, though not in casual conversation.

“I heard my grandfather speaking his prayers in Ojibwemowin,” said Heid. “I think I knew three or four words as a child.”

In a 2010 interview with Bill Moyers, Louise said she grew up thinking that Ojibwemowin was like Latin—a ceremonial language, not a conversational one. Then she heard people speaking it and laughing in a store, and she wanted to get the jokes. Now both of the sisters are learning.

AnnaGibbs and AntonTreuer 300ppi 270x151 Literature the Ojibwe Way: Erdrich Sisters Wiigwaas Press Helps Preserve Ojibwemowin

Ojibwe elder Anna Gibbs from Ponemah, Minnesota, works with Anton Treuer. Both took part in developing a collection of original children's stories in Ojibwemowin that became the first book published by Wiigwaas Press. Awesiinyensag came out in 2010. The press may also publish Dakota language books in the future.

Opportunities to speak and hear indigenous languages are increasingly rare, said Anton Treuer, member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University. Of 183 aboriginal languages in Canada, only 20 are spoken regularly by children, and only four have large numbers of speakers, he said.

“Ojibwe is one of those four,” Treuer said, but added that it has not fared as well farther south. “In the United States we’re down to around a thousand speakers, most of them elders around 70.”

Yet Treuer sees successes with students in the Maoritanga school system in New Zealand, nearly 100 percent of whom again speak Maori, and in Hawaii, where the number of fluent speakers rose from 500 to about 15,000, though it took almost 30 years.

“We are a couple of light years behind them, but we are trying to move as fast as we can,” he said.

Immersion schools, where teachers speak only Ojibwemowin to students, show strong results; they even improve children’s English and math scores, Treuer said. A handful of such schools operate in Wisconsin and Minnesota. In this regard, publishers like the Mohawklanguage Kanyen’keha Books and Wiigwaas Press are critical.

“To be effective, we need materials,” Treuer said. Immersion teachers agree. They told him, “We need vocabulary for teaching math and science and social studies, and we also need books to read to the kids.” Thanks to a Minnesota Humanities Center grant, Treuer gathered, as he puts it, “some Jedi masters of the Ojibwe language and some good second-language learners and scholars.”

Working with fluent-speaking elders, the team developed original stories that are neither rehashed Mother Goose nor traditional legends told only during certain seasons. “Once we got rolling, it turned out to be very productive,” Treuer said. “We developed about 20 stories in just a few days.”

One example came from elder Nancy Jones. As a child, whenever she complained about chores, she was told, “I’m giving you a white hair [wisdom].” That turned into the story of an immature eagle, or migiziins, who gets a white feather each time he helps others and whose head thus turns white, the sign of a mature bald eagle. Since these stories were only in Ojibwemowin, the question arose of how to publish them.awesiinyensCover Literature the Ojibwe Way: Erdrich Sisters Wiigwaas Press Helps Preserve Ojibwemowin

“As soon as we pitched the idea to Heid, she believed,” said Treuer. “They produced a first-class, high-quality book.”

It was precisely the type of project that Heid had envisioned for Wiigwaas Press. Executive Director Jim Cihlar and designer Steve Foley worked with Ojibwe artist Wesley Ballinger to create Awesiinyensag, sold through Birchbark Books. The press’s second title—a language book for adults by Dennis Jones, a teaching specialist at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities—came out last summer.

“My teachers said the language is alive, and we are part of that life, the life of the language when we speak the words or even when we write the words,” said Heid Erdrich. “We hope for its well-being and respect it as a relative.”

Moreover, “we have a responsibility to help the language live,” she added. “I feel strongly that there’s knowledge in our language [that] everyone will need to survive. We need to share with it and give it our strength.”

With that strength, the world may yet be saved.

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December 30, 2011

Of Rhyme and Meter: Dozens of Indian Poets, Rescued From Obscurity

Poetry is often an acquired taste, and many of the works in the weighty Changing Is Not Vanishing: A Collection of American Indian Poetry to 1930 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011) are not destined to become standards.

But in Changing Is Not Vanishing, editor Robert Dale Parker has done a service to dozens of American Indian poets writing before 1930, rescuing them from obscurity with a hefty anthology of their pieces. The book also features an exciting find—the first Indian poet to write in a Native language.

It is important to note what this book is and is not. It is not a collection of American Indian songs, many of which are extremely poetic. And it is not an assemblage of bits from Indian oral histories rearranged to look like poetry (often done so, as Parker points out, by non-Indians, of which he is one). With two important exceptions, the book is not poetry written in Native languages. Here’s what the book is: poetry written in English, using the poetic forms of the day—rhymed and metrical European forms that these poets were taught in school, some of them in the infamous Indian boarding schools. This Eurocentric verse may explain why many of these poets are little known, as it does not represent the mainstream of Indian creativity found in the Native forms mentioned above. Still, this is an important volume, though more so historically than poetically. Indeed, much of it is a chore to read, with its clanging rhymes, too-regular metrics, and imitative, often conventional sentiments. The gems are few and far between.

The book reproduces the work of 82 Indian poets. The majority of their poems were written in the 1800s, though the first one dates back to 1678. It is an impressive work composed in Latin and Greek by an Indian named Eleazar while he was attending Harvard University. Nearly all the rest of the entries are written in English. Two of them, by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, were written in her native Ojibwe (Anishinaabemowin) and represent an impressive Indian poet pioneering the use of her Native language in verse.

Schoolcraft (whose Indian name, Bamewawagezhikaquay, translates to Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky) wrote in both English and Ojibwe, mirroring her heritage as the daughter of a white man and an Indian woman. Parker, a professor at the University of Illinois, credits her with being “the first known poet to write poems in an American Indian language.” Schoolcraft was a conventional poet in English, writing in rhyme and meter as was the style of her time. (She was born in 1800 in Sault Ste Marie in what would become Michigan.)

The two poems in her native language reproduced in the collection, however, escape the conventional by being the only two in the book that are not in English. The first, called “To the Pine Tree on First Seeing It on Returning From Europe,” conveys Schoolcraft’s deep love for her motherland. The second, “On Leaving My Children Jane and John at School, in the Atlantic States, and Preparing to Return to the Interior,” is even more unusual. For one thing, unlike her poems in English and unlike the work of most of her contemporary poets, the poem itself contains no punctuation at all.

This unusual example contrasts Schoolcraft’s feelings about being separated from her children with her sustaining love of the homeland to which she is returning (the short poem refers to her land or her home seven times). The poem comes to a thoroughly modern self-realization: In Ojibwe it is “Ishe ez hau jau yaun” and in the English translation by Dennis Jones, Heidi Stark and James Vukelich, “That is the way I am, my being.”

The poem ends with another breathtaking line that anticipates much of modern poetry, Native or otherwise, in its expression of the song of the self. In Ojibwe it is “Nyau ne gush kain dum” and in English “Ahh but I am sad.”

One affecting and repetitive theme in the book is the removal so many Indians endured during the 1800s. Examples include “Though Far From Thee Georgia in Exile I Roam” by the Cherokee poet Te-con-ees-kee, and “The Indian’s Farewell” by a Cherokee (possibly Jesse Bushyhead), which contains this warning to those who now inhabit Cherokee homelands: “Tread lightly on the sleeping dead / Proud millions that intrude / Lest, on your ashes be the tread / Of millions still more rude.”

On the other hand, Francis L. Verigan, Tlingit, misses the current of history when, in “Be a Carlisle Student,” he sings the praises of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, notorious for its military-style education: “Be a Carlisle Student, not a reservation bum.” Another poet, William Walker Jr., Wyandot, edges closer to modern attitudes toward Indian boarding schools in a poem titled “Oh, Give Me Back My Bended Bow”: “I hate these antiquated halls / I hate the Grecian poet’s song.”

Some of these offerings are enjoyable for their own sake, rather than as historic markers of Indian thought or events. Take John Rollin Ridge/Yellow Bird, Cherokee, a Romantic in the style of William Wordsworth or Percy Bysshe Shelley. His “Mount Shasta” is an excellent lyric poem, an effusion on the beauty of nature as seen at Mount Shasta, similar to what a Wordsworth or a Shelley would have written in England. And a sonnet called “Spring Morning-Santa Fe” by another Cherokee, Lynn Riggs, could stand up to many of the thousands written over the centuries in that overdone form.


“On Leaving My Children Jane and John At School, in the Atlantic States, and Preparing to Return to the Interior”

Nyau nin de nain dum
May kow e yaun in
Ain dah nuk ki yaun
Waus sa wa kom eg
Ain dah nuk ki yaun

Ne dau nis ainse e
Ne gwis is ainse e
Ishe nau gun ug wau
Waus sa wa kom eg

She gwau go sha ween
Ba sho waud e we
Nin zhe ka we yea
Ishe ez hau jau yuan
Ain dah nuk ke yaun

Ain dah nuk ke yaun
Nin zhe ke we yea
Ishe ke way aun e
Nyau ne gush kain dum

By Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (Bamewawagezhikaquay, or Woman of the Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky); written 1838 or 1839, published 1851

As I am thinking
When I find you
My land Far in the west
My land

My little daughter
My little son
I leave them behind
Far away land
[emphatically] But soon It is close however
To my home I shall return
That is the way I am, my being
My land

My land
To my home I shall return
I begin to make my way home
Ahh but I am sad

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January 18, 2012

Native American Child Speaks Ojibwe

A proud aunt posted her 3-year-old niece’s progress with learning the Ojibwe language using flashcards last year on YouTube.

The aunt reported more recently that Ava’s mother got her started with the flashcards but now the “whole family is pitching in to teach her what we can.” Ava is now 4 and has expanded her vocabulary. She can now count to five in Ojibwe.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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January 21, 2012

Native American Language Project Takes Another Step Forward

The Bemidji School District has jumped on the Bemidji Ojibwe Language Project bandwagon. Soon Ojibwe/English signage will hang throughout the district’s schools.

“I think it will benefit all of our students,” Brian Stefanich, principal of Bemidji HIgh School, told The Bemidji Pioneer. “We want to recognize all cultures and our Native American students are a big part of our high school.”

Machine tool students at the high school in Bemidji, Minnesota volunteered to make the 300 signs on their school machines, helping to cut the cost of the project down from $10,000 to just over $2,000.

Michael Meuers, language project organizer, told Lakeland News that having the students volunteer gives them “some ownership in this project.”

Bemidji High School teacher Bryan Hammit agreed. He told The Bemidji Pioneer that the students chose the fonts, colors and sizes of the signs as well as supervised the engraving of the signs.

“Michael came to us with a problem,” Hammit told the newspaper. “The students did the research and designed the signs. They really owned this project.”

Anton Treuer, Bemidji State University professor of Ojibwe, also helped defray the cost of the signage by donating $1,000 he won from the St. Paul Foundation when he was honored with a Facing Race Ambassador Award in March.

Other donations for the signs have come from community businesses, but the group still needs $250 to cover the costs. Donations can be made payable to Shared Vision/BARRC and can be sent to:

Michael Meuers
4160 Connelly Circle NE
Bemidji, MN 56601

“Any money over and above, we will use to try get signage in charter and parochial schools, and perhaps county buildings,” Meuers said.

Lakeland News report about the project:

Click here to view the embedded video.

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