On this episode of Ojibwe Stories: Gaganoonididaa, Brian McInnes talks with Obizaan [Lee Staples], a spiritual advisor for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and Chato Gonzalez about their apprenticeship model of passing on language and traditional ways, and the vital importance of preserving that knowledge for future generations.
Obizaan [Lee Staples] is a first language speaker raised in Aazhomog where only Ojibwemowin was spoken. The family in which he was raised was totally immersed in a traditional way of life. As a result, Obizaan has the ability to do most of the ceremonies given to and practiced by the Ojibwe people. He is drum keeper in Aazhomog and runs a Mide Lodge in Mille Lacs.
Ojibwe language-related content in this episode:
Geget a'aw Ombishke-bines anooj atoon geget wenda-biminizha'aan gekendang i'iw gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziyang da-ani-inweyang naago gaye gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziyaang i'iw sa ani-asemaaked Anishinaabe ogaagiigidowin imaa eyaamaag geget odaangwaamitoon ginwenzh imaa nanaamadabi o’ow isa agindaasod gagwe-gikendang naago gaye apane go maa bi-dagoshing imaa endaayaan o’ow sa Ojibwemowin dezhiikamaang.
Ishke ezhi-wawiingezid noongom gekendang Ojibwemowin gaawiin geyaabi indaa-dazhimaasiin! Gaawiin maji-inaapanemag aw gaawiin geyaabi niwaanimaasiin i'iw ogikendaan i’iw wenda-dazhindamaan. Geget dash i'iw mii i'iw mewinzha nimisawendaan sa da-ayaawag a’aw weshki-bimaadizid a'aw da-gikinoo'amawag eni-bimiwidood i'iw sa gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziyang Anishinaabewiyang.
Ishke dash mii i'iw zhaaga-inendaagozigwen a’aw Ombishkibines aw gii-nagishkawag ginwenzh dash imaa a'aw niwiiji-anokiimaa gekinoo'amawag geget a'aw wawiingezi. Mii dash imaa bangii imaa miinawaa da-ni-aanikanootamaage maa eni-dazhindamaan. Mii go i’iw.
What Obizaan was talking about was my desire and my willingness to learn the language. I spent a lot of my time reading and listening to Ojibwe. I'm always reading the Ojibwe that we work on, I read other people's Ojibwe, other dialects, I read grammar and archive documents, I download a lot of audio, as much as I can come across, to not only be able to speak with Obizaan, but to be able to understand other people while they talk.
And I always use Ojibwe when I see Obizaan. I talk to him, when I see other elders, also, I speak to them and just keep on speaking Ojibwe till they speak back to me. This is just an example of what needs to be done within our community of younger people, as myself, to learn a language. It's not easy, it's something that’s not just 24 hours, it's just something you live. You don't just pick it up like a school assignment and do it three days a week and put it away and expect to learn it. This is a lifetime. A lifetime job that you pick up.
It's a lot of work. He talked about that I've gotten to the point that he can’t talk about me. That's what we were laughing about, he says he can't talk about me, he can't say bad things to me because I know what he's saying to me. We worked so long together that I've gotten to the point that he no longer stumps me.
He talked about, a long time ago, he had this desire that somebody would come along that he could teach this stuff to that he knows and that possibly that was the reason why I came into his life. To carry on these teachings that he knows, to help pass these on to others, not only from myself and that's my major desire.
My major wish is these teachings would wouldn't benefit me as long as it was only myself that knew them. So that's why I’m really adamant about writing these down, passing these on. I learn something and I'm texting a friend or, you know, I'm sending an e-mail, like look at this cool word he just said or, you know, because it's not worth nothing to me to be the only one that knows that word, to know what these things mean, to know all of that language in general.
How our work came about is we work in our master apprentice program through Mille Lacs band of Ojibwe and I had come to Obizaan to seek spiritual guidance. I wasn't living my life the way I should. I met Obizaan, something sparked. It was... something sparked that it was it was exactly like home.
I was going through something in my life and I know I needed something, and it was something about Obizaan that caught me. That caught me inside, and I knew, so I approached him and he was willing and, not only myself, but everybody. Everybody I met, "come to my house, come over," you know, "come sit with me, I'll share what I know," or whatever!
And roughly around the summer of 2008, Obizaan was helping some people and my employment at the time would not allow me to take the time off of work to help him. And it was very important what he was doing. It was very important that he had assistance. He needed somebody to do the physical labor and I said, "Alright, I'll quit my job, we'll figure it out." And within a matter of what week or two, Joyce Shingobee - Biidwewekwe - she was Commissioner of Education at the time in Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
She approached me and she says, "You know what, I heard you quit your job," and I said, "Yeah," you know, so she says, "Well, I can help you. I can give you a part time job to work with Obizaan under our master apprentice program." And that's how it started.
Wii-kikendang awiiya i'iw Ojibwemowin booch da-ni-aabiji-noondang da-baa-wiijiiwaad inow da-ayaad maa Ojibwemotawind. Ishke mii o'ow gaa-naadamaagod a'aw Ombishke-bines. Mii go maagizhaa ko aanigodinong ishkwaa-aabitaa-dibikak geyaabi indanokiitaamin i’iw ozhibii'amaang gegoo. Ishke mii imaa eni-gaagiigidoyaan Ojibwemoyaan mii dash i'iw wawiingezi wiin omaa ezhibii'ang i'iw Ojibwemowin i'iw double vowel ezhi-wiinjigaadeg naago gaye biinish ani-aanikanootamaang imaa ezhibii'amaang mii i'iw ezhichigeyaang ginwenzh imaa anokiitamaang naago gaye wiikwajitooyaan a'aw isa da-ojibwemotawag aanigodinong niwiindamaag, "daga, Ojibwemotamawishin, aanigodinong niwanendaan wii-izhichigeyaan. Ishke mii o’ow naadamaagod ishke dash i'iw Ombishke-bines maagizhaa ge nising niiwing dasing ninoondawaa eni-gaagiigidod omaa a'aw Anishinaabe endanakamigizid asemaaked maagizhaa ge endazhi-niimi'iding inow Manidoo-dewe'iganag gaa-aabajichigaazowaad naago gaye maa ayaapii eni-bazigwiid imaa da-naadamaaged imaa maajaa'iweyaan eni-gaagiigidod geget minotaagozi i'iw Ojibwemod.
Ishke a'aw Anishinaabe weshki-bimaadizid imaa gikinoo'amaagozid a'aw maagizhaa ge gabe-gikinoo'amawind iwidi imaa ezhaad gwayako-gikendang Ojibwemowin maagizhaa ge maa da-okwi’idiwaad i'iw maagizhaa aabiding maa ingo-giizis maa okwi’idiwaad naago gaye maa mazina'iganan imaa wendinang sa da-gikendang i’iw Ojibwemowin. Ninoondawaag gaagiigidowaad ingiw. Gaawiin igo minotaagozisiiwag eni-gaagiigidowaad. Ishke dash gaawiin wiin a’aw Ombishke-bines mii ganabaj i’iw pane eni-aabaji-noondang Ojibwemowin mii go wawiinge Anishinaabeng enitaagozid gaagiigidod. Mii go maa kawe ezhi-gaagiigidoyaan.
Well, what he was talking about was, in order for someone to really learn Ojibwe language or any language, they have to always listen to those to be able to always hear it, always use it. He talked about us sometimes working past midnight on the language, doing different things. We could be writing something. He talked about that it is hard to stay in the language, you know, every now and then, maybe I'll remind him, "Hey, hey, hey, Ojibwemotawishin - speak Ojibwe to me!” But it's something that needs to be done in order to be able to learn the language. You have to have some way that you could listen to it, you have to have someone you could speak to. He talked about times that he has listened to me speak Ojibwe. He said that he really liked the way I spoke Ojibwe, that I sound like I was fluent in Ojibwe because I sounded natural. I didn't sound as if I was taught in a college and university or use of books or in textbooks or a camp. And that he believes it's because I was taught in a more natural situation to where it was taught in the home. I'm with Obizaan practically seven days a week.
Awegonen ge-ni-dazhindamaambaan maagizhaa a'aw ishkweyaang inaabiyaan gaa-ni-izhiwebiziyaan o’ow isa ganabaj igo ingii-inendaagoz akeyaa ingii-shawenimigoog ingiw Manidoog o’ow da-ni-gikendamaan da-ni-bimiwidooyaan akeyaa gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziyaang Anishinaabewiyaang. Ishke ingiw a’aw wawiinge-gitiziimiyaanin a'aw nidedeyiban gii-shimaaganishiiwi mii widi endazhi-miigaading gaa-izhaad mii dash imaa gii-paashkizigaazod go imaa ingoji imaa shtigwaaning. Ishke dash mii i'iw apii gii-wenda-abinoojiiyensiwiyaan ishke dash a’aw nimaamaayiban gaa-ikidod ogotaan mawiyaan gaa-koshko'ag indedeyiban gegoo go a'aw noondang i’iw enond mii go imaa eni-zegendang enishwanaajiwebiniged isa mii maa gaa-onjikaamagadinig sa gii-maakozid apii gii-paa-zhimaaganishiiwid. Ishke dash nimaamaayiban ingii-ig “mii dash o'apii gaa-inendamaan sa bakaan ingoji widi da-ni-ganawenjigaazoyan." Mii dash inow gechi-aya'aawijin ingiw ingii-piindiganigoog ingii-kanawenimigoog ingii-biibiiyensiw i’iw igo apii. Ishke dash ingiw gaa-nitaawigi'ijig. a’aw akiwenziiyiban Ogimaawab gii-izhinikaazo naago gaye mindimooyenh a’aw Naazhik gii-izhi-wiinaa Nazhikegaabawikwe mii ingiw gaa-nitaawigi'ijig. Mii go pane gii-Ojibwemowaad. Gaawiin gii-kikendaziinaawaa i'iw Zhaaganaashiimowin. Ishke dash mii i'iw imaa wendimamaan sa gekendamaan a'aw Ojibwemowin gii-aabiji-noondamaan. Ishke widi geyaabi eyaayaambaan ingiw ingitiziimag dedebinaweg gaa-inawemagig gaawiin indaa-gii-kikendaziin i'iw Ojibwemowin. Mii dash imaa gii-asigooyaan mii imaa wenji-gikendamaan i'iw Ojibwemowin.
Ishke gaye ingiw gaa-nitaawigi'ijig mii i'iw akeyaa gaa-izhi-bimaadiziwaad akeyaa Anishinaabe gaa-miinigoowizid mii go widi gii-naazikaagewaad i'iw ani-naadamaagewaad a'aw midewi'iwed a’aw Anishinaabe. Naago gaye a'aw akiwenziiyiban gii-kanawenimaan inow gimishoomisinaanin a'aw Manidoo-dewe'iganan naago gaye a'aw mindimooyenyiban i'iw ogichidaakwewi imaa inow odewe'iganag naago gaye mii a'aw gaa-kikendang i'iw mashkikii a'aw bagwaj enaadid a’aw Anishinaabe ge-naadamaagod aaniin go ge-ni-inaapined. Naago pane
go gii-paa-manoominikewaad gii-ozhigewaad jiigi-zaaga'iganing wiigiwaam gii-izhitoowaad kina gegoo sa go naago gaye gii-kiiwosed akiwenziiyiban waa-ashangewaad zhigwa eni-manidooked a'aw anishinaabe naago gaye a’aw mindimooyenyiban gii-kashkigaadang inow waaboowayaanan pane waa-atoowaad. Mii maa pane gii-paa-wiijiiwagwaa gii-naazikaagewaad enaabajigaazowaad ingiw Manidoo-dewe'iganag. Ishke ashi-bezhig widi ayaawag Misi-zaaga’iganing widi wenjiiyaan. Mii apane gii-paa-wiijii’iweyaan gii-paa-ganawaabiyaan naago gaye a’aw akiwenziiyiban gii-maajaa’iwe mii i'iw akeyaa gaa-izhi-naadamaaged. Ishke mii o’ow maamawi-zanagad iko eni-gaagiigidod a’aw Anishinaabe maajaa’aad inow owiiji-anishinaabeman.
Ishke dash o’ow izhi-zanagad moozhag ko gii-ni-waniike gegaa o’ow akiwenziiyiban wii-kaagiidigod. Ishke dash gaa-izhichigeyaang a’aw mindimooyenh gaa-nitaawiged naago gaye niin imaa zhigwa bi-giiweyaang mii maa gii-nitaa-dazhindamaang i’iw gaa-waniiked a’aw Akiwenzii imaa gii-kaagiigidod wawaaj igo gomaapii gii-izhi-biyang
a’aw mindimooyenban. Ishke dash mii imaa wendiminaan i’iw gikendamaan i’iw maajaa’iweng ezhi-gaagiigidod akeyaa. Naago gaye ganabaj a'aw nii-ashi-niizhobiboonagiz apii imaa gii-inaakonigewaad gii-asigooyaan imaa da-biigisagewininiwiyaan a’aw inow gimishoomisinaanan a'aw Manidoo-dewe’iganan a'aw Akiiwenziiban gaa-kanawenimaajin. Mii imaa gaye weweni ingikinoo’amaagoog niimi’iding niimi’idiiwin naago gaye ge-ni-izhichigeyaan da-biigisagewiyaan ge-niniwiyaan. Ishke geget i'iw mii imaa gaa-onjikaamaag ko noongom i'iw isa gii-shawendaagoziyaan gii-inenimiwaad ingiw gichi-aya’aawijig imaa da-ni-ganawenimiwaad shke niwenda-mino-doodaagoog apii gii-tagosijigaazoyaan imaa da-ganawenimigooyaan. Mii iniw bizhikiwan gii-izhi-adaawewaad idash iw wenji-nibaadazhishin noongom geyaabi. Mii go maa minik onzaam-ginwaabiigosidoon a’aw Ombishke-bines imaa da-aanikanootaage miinawaa. Mii go i’iw.
So, Obizaan was talking about, he looks back on his life again and he's talking about, as a baby how those Manidoog had taken pity, compassion, on him. He was chosen to be removed from the house that he was living in, and taken in by a couple old people at the time, Ogimaawab, John Benjamin, and Naazhak - Nazhikegaabawikwe, Sophia Churchill Benjamin. Those are the two who had raised him. Those are the two he calls his mom and dad. He talked about his biological parents. His dad was a war veteran and had a head injury and his biological mother was scared that his crying would bother him, would set him off, so they decided, I think, maybe about three, four months old, they decided that he would live elsewhere, and his biological mother's sister was Naazhak.
So Naakzhak and Ogimaawab was the two that took Obizaan in. And he was fortunate to be raised by them. Those old people, they lived a traditional life. They never spoke English. They barely even knew how to speak English or the little they did know. They only spoke Ojibwe in the house and that's why he knows how to speak Ojibwe. They were traditional in the sense where they always attended the Midewiwin ceremonies. That old man Ogimaawab he took care of one of the ceremonial drums in Aazhoomoog. That old lady Naazhak she was Ogichidaakwe. She sat as one of the women on that ceremonial drum. She also worked with a lot of medicines. A lot of people would see doctors, medicine men, and refer them to her to get their medicines and she... He didn't talk about that, but he talked about with me in the past how she delivered a lot of the babies. She worked with a lot of the women in the community. She was the one that that did all that work. They riced, they'd go out, find their rice bed, build their wigwam and that's where they would stay during ricing season. That old man hunted for their food and then especially what they used at the ceremonial dances. That old lady she was always quilting and making bandolier bags for the ceremonial dances.
He learned all this stuff by watching them. This is how he was raised. He watched how that old man took care of those drums. They always attended the ceremonial dances and around the Mille Lacs and Eastlake, Sawyer, Aazhoomoog, and he always went with them to these dances. That's why he knows so much about these dances today because he was always with those old people as a young kid. His dad did funerals and he was talking about how difficult it is to do these talks at these funerals, you know, talking to the spirit of the deceased. What happened was his dad would tend to forget a lot of things, a lot of the talk that would go along with these ceremonies.
So what they would do, his mother would make notes and when they would get home, Obizaan and his mother would sit down with old man and tell him, "hey you forgot this part and you forgot this part." And so Obizaan listened to this. Every time they did these funerals, they would sit down and they would talk about it and talk about what he forgot, what he should have put in there and stuff like that, and eventually, she wrote down the talk. She wrote down how this talk goes for these funerals, as a tool for his dad to remember when he did these funerals, and this is the source of Obizaan's knowledge of doing the funerals, directly from his dad and his mother. He also talked about, he was about twelve years old, possibly younger, he was put on the drum that he carried as a
Biigisagewinini, as a drum warmer, drum hitter.
He just reflected again about how everything was put in place, you know, those Manidoog are the ones that make the decisions on how we are to live our lives and how he was taken away from his biological family, which I'm sure was traumatic at the time, but now that he looks back, was the most precious gift that he was probably able to receive. He talked about how well those old people took care of him. He ended with that, they took such care when they went and bought him his own cow so that he would have milk as a baby and wenji-nibaadazhishin - That's why he is such a big eater today because he had his own cow as a baby to eat off of so he didn't starve.
Ganabaj i’iw ge-naadamaagod a’aw weshki-bimaadizid noongom da-ni-bimiwidood i’iw akeyaa gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziyang Anishinaabewiyang gegoo daa-wiiwayezhimigoosiin inow Waabishkiiwen. Ishke niin enendamaan ingiw ingiw Manidoog gimiinigonaanig i'iw Anishinaabewiyang akeyaa da-izhi-bimaadiziyang da-ni-asemaakeyang da-ni-manidookeyang wawaaj igo ge-inanjigeyang mii i'iw ge-ayaangwaamitooyang ge-bimiwidooyang gegoo gidaa-aanawendiziimin. Ishke eni-bimiwidoosiwaang i’iw eni-wiikobinikichigaazod a'aw Waabishkiiwed widi akeyaa a’aw Waabishkiiwed ezhi-bimaadizid. Gaawiin wiikaa imaa zakab biinjina da-ni-izhi-ayaasiin da-miigonaadizi dibishko go ani-manezi gegoo. Mii i'iw ge-inendang a’aw weshki-bimaadizid. Mii i'iw ge-naadamaagoyang naago gaye da-ayaangwaamitoowaad da-gikendamowaad i’iw Ojibwemowin.
Mii go apane ekidoyaan. Geget ingiw Manidoog daa-wenda-minwendaanaawaa noondawaawaad nebowa inow Anishinaaben inow Ojibwemonid imaa a'aw daa-ayaad imaa a'aw Manidoo gidakiim webiitamang Anishinaabe a’aw odaa-wenda-minwendaan. Aaniish naa mii i'iw gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziyang da-inweyang. Mii dash i’iw mii go pane ikidoyaang gaye ishke gikinoo’amaagoziyang a'aw Waabishkiiwed dazhiikamang iniw mazina’iganan.
Chi-ginwenzh go maa ingii-nanaamadabimin gwekweki-gikendamang mii dibishko gaye ge-doodamawang Ojibwemowin. Ginwenzh gegoo debinaak gidizhichigesiim - gwayak-gikendamang da-ayaangwaamitooyang da-ni-gikendamang i'iw Ojibwemowin. Mii go maa minik. Kawe dash a'aw Ombishke-bines da-aanikanootamaage.
What Obizaan was talking about is, what will help our young people today is to not be deceived by the mainstream society. That we were given our own way to live, we were given our own way to eat, we were given our own way to do our ceremonies, that we need to work at that, that needs to be our goal: to live our life as Anishinaabe. And if we don't do that, if we try to assimilate into mainstream society, our spirit within us won't be at peace. He always talks about a gunny sack of rabbits, you know, we'll never be at peace, we'll always be miigonaagizi omaa biinjina, like not being settled down inside. It's important for us to learn our language. He always talks about how much the Manidoog, how the spirits would love to listen to all Anishinaabe across this country speaking in Ojibwe again, because they were the ones that gave us our language.
We were given a way to sound, we were given a way to speak, and that's Ojibwemowin, that's what we need to be doing. That's the way we need to communicate between each other. And then also between the Manidoog and us. A lot of us, myself included, going to school, colleges, and he always told me, you know, "you work this hard at those Chi-mook books, you know, you work hard at learning the white man's teachings, getting a white man's degree," he says, "work just as hard at your Anishinaabe language." And that's what needs to happen, we need to put just as much effort into learning our own ways, our own ceremonies, our own language, that if we do so, then we will succeed at what we want. We do not do things half-heartedly. This isn't something that we take lightly, this is a serious matter and this is who we are, this makes up who we are. The way we speak Ojibwe, the way we sound. The way we live our life is what makes us Anishinaabe.