Ojibwe Stories: Gaganoonididaa this month features Larry Amik Smallwood, a language instructor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, who (in both Ojibwe and English) talks about "gifts" -- special skills that people have and offer to the community, such as healing, medicines, naming, craftsmanship, hunting, and singing.
Larry Amik Smallwood grew up in Aazhoomoog, the Lake Lena District of Mille Lacs. He has worked as a language instructor for the Minneapolis Public Schools, Nay Ah Shing School, the Leech Lake Tribal College, and the University of Minnesota - Duluth. Since 1999, he has served as the director of language and culture for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Akawe omaa bangii inga-ojibwem. Mewinzha ko gii-oshkiiniigishiwiwaad ingiw ininiinsag mii ko apii megwayaak gaa-izhiwinindwaa da-gii’igoshimowaad. Namanj dasogon maagizhaa niizhigon nisigon niiwigon - gii-nanaamadabiwag iwidi gii-kii’igoshimowaad. Mii dash imaa gaa-onjibaamagadinig iw obawaajiganiwaa gii-pawaajigewag. Gii-kikinoo’amawaawag kina gegoo ge-aabajitoowaad i’iw gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziwaad. Nashke a’aw mashkikiiwinini ogii-pawaadaanan bebakaan niw zaagakiigin, bebakaan ingiw mitigoog ge-aabajiwaajin awiiya wii-noojimowaad miinawaa gaye a’aw nanaandawi’iwewinini. Mii ge aw gii-kikinoo’amawaag gewiin gii-pawaadaan gewiin aaniin keyaa ge-izhichiged awiiya wii-nanaandawi’aad bebakaan waa-aabajitoojin mii keyaa izhi-wiidookawaad gewiin owiij-anishinaaben.
Miinawaa ongow waandaawasojig awiiya waabamigowaad mii maa ge-wiinawaa dibaajimowaad aaniin keyaa gaa-inaabandamowaad. Mii maa wendinamawaad i’iw izhinikaazowin waa-miigiwewaad. Booch akina wiiya da-ojibwemod. Gaawiin daa-zhaaganaashiimosiin maa awiiya i’iw izhichiged. Bawaajige ingiw maajaa’iwewininiwag. Geget chi-apiitendaagoziwag ingiw gaawiin awiiya kina odaa-gashkitoosiin da-zhichiged i’iw onzaam baataniinad imaa weweni ge-ni-ikidod. Miinawaa go ge ingow netaa-giiwosejig ge-wiinawaa mii ge-izhi-zhawendaagoziwag ge-wiinawaa mii maa ondinamowaad ge-wiinawaa gii-kii’igoshimowaad i’iw da-nitaa-giiwosewaad. Nashke omiinaawaan iniw gichi-aya’aan maagizhaa ge waawaashkeshiwan iniw anooj igo gegoo awesiinyag emawaajan o’ow Anishinaabe. Mii aw netaa-giiwosed mii i’iw ezhichiged mii imaa giiwed i’iw niibowa wiiyaas.
Miinawaa go ge ingiw anooj ezhitoojig gegoo. Nashke i’iw aanind onitaa-ozhitoonaawaa gegoo iniw waa-aabaji’aawaad iniw mitigoon, mitigoonsan awegwen igo. Nashke ge ingiw ingiw inashke ge iniw bikwakoon ozhikodamowaad inow bikwak miinawaa inow aya’aa - aaniin ezhinikaazod a’aw, niwanenimaa ezhinikaazod ‘a bow’ - mii ge ingiw gaa-ozhi’aajig nitaachigewag ge-wiinawaa kina gegoo. Miinawaa ge ingiw negamojig gaye. Nashke wenipanitoonaawaa gekendamowaad inow nagamonan ayaabajichigaadeg imaa Manidoo-dewe’iganing wii-aabadak wii-aabadizid. Wii-kikendaanaawaa inow nagamonan mii eta go noondamowaad aabiding mii go izhi-gikendamowaad mii izhi-minjimendamowaad. Mii akeyaa bangii imaa gaa-izhi-debibidoowaad i’iw gii-kii’igoshimowaad gii-wiidoodookaagoowiziwaad gii-shawendaagoziwag isa go. Gaawiin gakina awiiya daa-izhichigesii. Miinawaa ge a’aw gegoo awiiya izhichiged maagizhaa maajaa’iwed wiindaawasod kina gegoo. Booch sa Ojibwemowin nashke ninoondawaa noongom niibowa gegoo izhichigewaad mii izhi-zhaaganaashimowaad. Mewinzha ingii-igoog ingiw akiwenziiyag gaawiin awiiya indaa-bizindaagosiiwaan omaa zhaaganaashiimowaad ge indanishinaabewin booch aabajitoon i’iw Manidoo gaa-miininang da-inweyang.
Gaawiin igo kina gegoo niin ingikendanziin. Gaawiin niin niibowa gegoo ingikendanziin niin. Aaniish naa gaa-izhi-gikinoo’amowaad ingiw gichi-aya’aag mewinzha, mii eta go minik ge gikendamaan. Inashke gaawiin nidaa-michiwizitoosiin ge gegoo ikidoyaan omaa. Gichi-aya’aag ingiw gaa-gikinoo’amawijig. Gichi-aya’aag ge ingiw gaa-kikinoo’amawijig gaa-ojibwemoyaan. Mii eta go gii-ojibwemowaad gii-abinoojiiyensiwiyaan. Mii eta go mii nitam gaa-kaagiigidooyaan i’iw Ojibwemowin. Baamaa wiin naagaj ingii-aabajitoon i’iw zhaaganaashiimowin bizhig gaa-niizhwaaso-biboonagiziwaanen gii-maajii-zhaaganaashiimoyaan. Pane ingii-pi-ojibwem. Niibowa dash azhigwa niwanendaan i’iw Ojibwemowin. Nashke gaawiin ninoondanziin aapiji i‘iw. Mii i’iw bangii izhi-wiindamoonagoog.
I want to talk a little bit about the gifts people have. And to gifts that they had. You know a lot of us people when we were growing up back home, or in the country out in the reservations, and things back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, a lot of our young people when they reached puberty, they were sent out to fast for a few days. And, all that went anywhere from two days to three and four was pushing it pretty much. But the reason for a fast was to go and get a spiritual gift. You know they were sent all to the woods where nobody would bother them.
And it was a nice place provided for them. Somebody would make sure they went out there and made sure they wouldn't be disturbed. And that’s how people knew things, know things. They were sent thought probably early in the morning and they already knew where to go or one of the uncles or the grandfathers or the OJIBWE would take these young ones out there to that place where they were to fast. Without food or water nothing but tobacco. And they would go out there and they were instructed not to put anything in their mouth not even a straw or a stick to use for a toothpick or nothing was going in there was pure. And they had their tobacco and what they would do is they would pray for a gift.
You know these young people they didn't know what kind of gift they were going to get. So, while they were out there, they just kept putting their tobacco out. You know they were out there 24-7 for two three or four days. And as a result of that, they would begin to have dreams, spiritual dreams, instructional dreams. They might not have come while they were out there they might have they might have gotten their dreams a week or two later a month or two later or whatever but they would have these dreams. And they were shown things and they were instructed by the spirits as what to do and what their gift would be the gift how to help their fellow beings.
So, we had Indian healers a long time ago. Indian medicine men. Name givers, people that could do ceremonies. They were shown these things in their dreams. And today that's not happening very much anymore because we have the generation that I'm in, neglected to send their sons out too fast. There was too much interference by the time, you know, our generation came along and everybody had TVs, and they had things to do, and now it's getting worse and only tv's and all these things, everybody wants to relate to a different culture.
But you know these guys that had their dreams, were shown how to do things like a healer. He was shown the items that he needed to use to heal somebody. After they had their dreams and stuff, they began to slowly start making their tools or whatever they needed to doctor to heal. And they were shown how to do it. Now when somebody has somebody come over that wants to be healed that person that wants to be healed has to take an offering to that person that's going to do the healing. And the offerings today are getting kind of a little bit not the way they used to be. I remember my folks going to see a medicine man, a healer, and they would take a couple of blankets a big knife, a hatchet, some tobacco, and a few dollars. And they would give it to that healer and they would say I'm sick here, I'm sore here, whatever. Can you heal me?
And of course, that healer would begin a ceremony. And the language is number one when somebody does something spiritually. So that healer would start talking in Ojibwe. First, he would tell each and every one that he healed, where he got the authority to heal. He would tell of this fast and of his dream when he was shown. And then after he got done talking and then he would start to heal this person. After he was finished with the ceremony, and these healers always had medicines on hand, he would give these people these medicines and say you mix this with that, you boil this that way, and add this in there, or whatever and you drink it so many times a day, for so many days, and you'll notice the difference.
So, that was that was one way that they would approach a healer. And the same thing you know, you might have had somebody that has gone out to fast and that had some dreams about spirits that have been instructed to use my name when somebody comes to ask you for a name and you’ll have a dream and then when that person or the people want to get a name again, they give an offering to that name giver. Now, those gifts that they offer, that offering, that's not for the name giver. That's for the Manidoog, the spirits and how much you give you know that's how important you think your name is. Nowadays, I've seen people get names and they've giving the guy twenty bucks, a pack of tobacco, and that was it. You know well they don't think too highly of their names.
And then also when he gives a name, he starts off again by telling of his fast. And telling of the spirits that are helping him, so from there he gets a name, and he gives it that child or that young person. You know there are different ways to give names. For example, a baby you know different things you have a big feast or a small child a toddler or a younger child you know you have a big feast for them. Adults it's a little different. They don't need to feast. At least the way I was told. So, what I do is I take the tobacco and the offering and I offer it to the spirits that I dreamed of and I explained all that in Ojibwe. And out of that I get a name. I give them a name, and these are ways that you help other people when you get those gifts.
There are other gifts that people have. Hunting is a gift. And you have to help people when you have a gift. Hunting as a gift, you have that guy that hunts all the time and he makes sure he gives meat to the elders, the families that need it, and he always has enough for himself. Well, he's paying for his gift by giving that meat away, you know, and then he has good luck again. People that do crafts work. We needed a lot of craftsmen back then. We had a lot of craft people. You take the person that is good at making bows and arrows. You take a person that makes good fish traps, all those things, drums everything. You take those people that's a gift.
Yeah, there are people that have different gifts. I mean there are people that are good craftsmen, there are hunters, there are name givers, there are healers and also people that are medicine men. These people and their fast as a result of their dreams from their fast, they're shown, different plants. They're instructed as to you take this plant and this plant and that plant and you gather it, and if somebody has this kind of an ailment, you know you're given this, you're given that, so we had a lot of people that knew medicines and then that as a gift. All these gifts I talk about there to help their fellow man or woman.
I myself got the gift to name when I was eleven years old. And I didn't use it till I was 50. Now I've got about 200 wen’enhs right now. People that I've named, adults and small children. Since I did my first naming I have had a lot of dreams myself so I do have a lot of names that I do give.
Also, singing is a gift. We need people that need to sing our ceremonial songs. We need people that know different songs and for someone to pick those up that itself is a gift. And by being a good singer and knowing all the songs your helping the people that come to these drum ceremonies.
And they, too, got to give in return you know. Put an offering of tobacco out for their gift. I know I myself have to do offering for the spirit I saw, the Manidoo and did that just this past fall again I went out in the woods and I did my offering.
Well, they, you know, after they're finished fasting they come in of course and then there's a usually a big feast given to them. Of course, they're hungry. Two, three, four days hungry, so there is a big feast provided and there is kind of a little celebration that they fasted. And they're always told, too, a lot of them were told don't tell us your dreams. You know your dreams you keep them to yourself. You know what to do. So, a lot of them didn't tell about their dreams until they got much older. I know that that one thing that I was talking about there when you get up in the morning and you're ready to eat and they tell you, “No, you're not eating today.” That happened to me too, and some of my, I think one or two of my cousins, they did that too, “You're not eating today. You’re fasting. Go on out in the woods and play.” And that's what we did you know. Well, not at the same time not together, but that's what we did.
Well, communities vary in Ojibwe country today. We have less people who conduct ceremonies than in the past. Can people go out after, you know, if they're adults? Young adults? If they haven't gone through fasting, how does that work?
You know, a lot of young people are getting back into their culture right now, a lot of them are older, you know, maybe in their 20’s, and they know what being Anishinaabe is all about. So, they want to do everything that they did a long time ago and fasting is one of them. So yeah, they’re out there fasting in their 20’s. I mean I've heard I heard a guy say he was like 43 years old, he said I'm going to go out and fast. And I'll say fine, you know, go for it. You know and I heard some people say you should fast when you're young you know when you're already when you're old you don't need a fast you know or you should know things what you know. I don't know, but I know this guy said, “I'm going to go and fast,” and, “I need to fast.” Well, good you know, maybe you'll get a dream, but you know number one is the language.
So, our spirits talk to us in Ojibwe. They don't come down and you know say, “Hey, Erik, I want you to be a medicine man.” And here is a dandelion over here and here's a wildwood flower over here, mix these two and you'll get rid of your acne. I mean, that's not the way it works. No, it's all in Ojibwe.
And then, too, you mentioned types of healers so and types of skills that people learn from fasting and I take it, you know, each one of those is unique, right, I think, I mean people kind of have this concept maybe that being a medicine man is just kind of one thing and you can do all these different things but really, you know, correct me if I'm wrong, it's a different skill set. Each one of these things, naming.
A lot of healers have their specialties that they work on, there's healers that their specialty might be diabetes, another one might be cancer, another one might be arthritis, and another one might be stomach problems… all kinds of things… a headache… problems a lot of pressure in the head, you know? Doctors know all these different things. Indian doctors I'm saying. Indian healers, but most of them can do pretty good on all of them but some of them just specialize in this because they were shown the right medicine or whoever their spiritual helper is, you know, might have said you're going to concentrate on this you know and so that's what he does.
No, it's… I would say it's because our young people don't know the language. They don't know the language. They want to do this, but they don't know the language and that's the hardest part of doing anything is the language. They would rather just skip the language part and just go through the motions of doing things. We've got a lot of people out there today that claim they can do this, do that, you know. They don't know the language, and those kind of people, I tend to stay away from. I'm old school and I want to hear what this medicine man or the doctors’ saying to me in Ojibwe and I want to know where he got his authority to doctor me. You know, which is the way they used to do a long time ago. OK, what I understand him in Ojibwe, what he is doing, I go OK. When he talks to me, he must have understood the spirits in Ojibwe, so I want to believe this guy.
Yeah, you know, usually use the meat, the fish, the berries, the rice, you know, whatever, it's nice to have that. Some people can’t get all that, but you know, and do the best they can and that's OK.
A long time ago they used to give gifts like bows and arrows, knives, tools, and what women used, you know their tools that they had. Blankets became popular probably in the 30’s and 40’s, when they used to have a lot of old clothes, they would cut up, I remember my grandma doing this, cutting up old shirts, all these, and making those blankets. And that's a new blanket once you make it, so they save it, put a lot of effort and work into it, so they say I'm going to save this one. I need to go see the Indian doctor. I want to save this but I gotta get some spiritual advice or whatever and she would give that.
A lot of times the tools are very important. Now, I'm talking again about the knives, the ax, the hatchets the… I've seen guns given away. Here in the late eighty's and I knew a guy that gave a rifle away along with some goodies to get his name. That's how highly he thought of his name. So, an old guy said one time in Mille Lacs, he said, “gidoonishish i’iw biiwaabik mii inweng aabajitood gegoo ezhichiged Anishinaabe.”
He said it's good to give metal objects, metal tools, because that's what a Shinaabe uses when he does things. I mean, I've got a lot of good gifts, great gifts. I've got anything from Pendleton's to hundreds of dollars, down to a few dollar store items and pack of cigarettes, but see, I can't refuse that. If that's what people can give, that's what they can give.
Well, once you're given tobacco as a gift to do something, you have to follow through with it the best we can and it's not always possible. Tobacco was used from the beginning of the Anishinaabe and grows all over the place. It grows here in Duluth and it grows all over, but people don't recognize it. Anishinaabes will recognize it, but don’t want to tell too much because some will say, “whoa man, let’s go harvest that and sell it!” You know? And that's not what it's for. Tobacco, we offer through our pipes or through to fire or to putting it out some place on a clean ground, we offer it to the Creator and his helpers and say, “Help me this day, help me today.” That's how we pray. Back in the ‘50's they started using store bought tobacco and when they pray, they use that too, which is OK. A lot of us still use the traditional tobacco. Sometimes, we mix commercial tobacco in with it but it's all good, it's all tobacco.
I never really heard of women going out fasting. I'm sure they do, but you know, where they got their teachings is a when they first entered womanhood. Their first cycle, they were kept in a small wiigwam away from the main wiigwam and for those three or four days, whatever that's where she stayed and that's where the grandmas, and aunties, and the wen’ens women would go sit out there and tell her all about life, all about motherhood, parenting, all about growing up, about being a wife, that's where she would get all her life time education. Right there and then when she came there was a big feast for her and also… but women do have gifts. They do have gifts and knew medicine. My grandma was a medicine woman, had medicines hanging up all around the house. Different bags, and she knew which one, everything was. She never fasted and she knew medicines though, and she would have me picking medicines. So, they do have gifts. Oh yeah.