2018 “Gabeshiwin” (The Camp) Story
Photos and Story By Michael Meuers
RED LAKE INDIAN RESERVATION — The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians hosted its’ Sixth Annual Gabeshiwin – Ojibwe Language and Culture Camp – for youth on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, July 24 – 26, 2018 from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on three perfect, warm summer days. The camp is located at the Ponemah Round House in the backwoods of Obaashiing near the lake. Admission was free with transportation and meals provided.
One hundred seventy-nine adults and youth registered the first day, more than 450 over the three days. Campers are not allowed to have cell phones or other electronics at the camp.
This is a time that Red Lake children, families and community look forward to; it provides them an opportunity to immerse themselves in Ojibwemowin and our rich culture. Campers learn to identify with their history, the hope being that they learn what it means to be from Red Lake and to be Ojibwe. Great effort is made to teach children the importance of kinship, language and culture; this helps to build confidence. Traditional Elders play a large role as teachers for the teachers and parents, as well as for the kids.
Concerned that language and traditions might disappear as elders move on, citizens of Red Lake Nation – and across Indian Country — are focused on language revitalization and related efforts to retain tribal culture. Much of indigenous culture depends on native language as many concepts and ceremony just cannot be translated to English.
The camp was held appropriately at the Ponemah Round House near the Point. Obaashiing, a village known for practicing many of the traditional ways, is home to more than half of the remaining fluent Ojibwemowin speakers in the United States.
Nate Taylor, a teacher at the Camp as well as the tribe’s fledgling Ojibwe immersion school, said it was the language which got the camp started in the first place.
“We knew we had to do something about the language,” he said. “But what can we do? How do you get community buy-in? It seemed the camp held at the Round House, a traditional place for teaching would appeal to young and old alike.”
Taylor said that many First Speaking Elders did not pass on the language and ceremony. “They didn’t want their children to go through the treatment that many of them went through at during the notorious boarding school.”
During the Moccasin Game, the team players that are currently hiding the marbles take turns playing a drum
But there was one small, remote village where the language wasn’t lost: Ponemah.
“The cool thing about where you’re standing is an unbroken line of Red Lake culture, our traditions and our way of life,” explained Director of Economic Development and newly elected tribal secretary Sam Strong. “This land was never ceded to the United States, unique in Indian Country, and we never stopped practicing our traditions and our way of life.”
Strong explained that this is partly because Ponemah is isolated on a relatively isolated reservation. The village is built on a small point of land between upper and lower Red Lake. There’s just one road in. If there’s any place where young people can plug back into their culture, Strong said, it’s Ponemah.
Reyna Lussier of Red Lake Chemical Health, and a major organizer of Gabeshiwin also spoke to the issue. “Our language was basically stripped from us a generation or two ago. The children were forbidden to talk their native language,” she said. “It’s our way of life, we have to pass it on. We come through that oppression and we want to revitalize it, to keep it alive…Our language is who we are.”
Lussier was recalling how US government authorities swept onto reservations and carried Ojibwe children off to boarding schools to assimilate to the white culture. The ripple effects of that action are still being felt by American Indians today.
“We feel if we can raise kids’s self esteem their chance of using chemicals will be less,’’ said Lussier. “Self esteem is all tied up with knowing who you are and having a sense of pride in your heritage, language and culture.”
One important key is intergenerational transfer of knowledge. The Camp promotes having the elders be part of it, so it’s really that traditional lifestyle of respecting your elders and transferring that knowledge to each generations.
Among the several activities the kids would participate in…was learning to say in…Ojibwemowin words related to what they were doing such as; Noopiming (Nature Walk), Makizintaagewin (Moccasin Game), Dewe’igan Naagamowining (Drum Teachings), Bagizong (Swimming), and Baaga’adoowe (Lacrosse).
The youth also learned lessons in good living, including the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers; Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom), Zaagi’idiwin (Love), Minaadendamowin (Respect), Aakode’ewin (Courage), Gwayakwaadiziwin (Honesty), Dabaadendiziwin (Humility), and Debwewin (Truth).
The Camp combines fun and tradition while filled with the sights and sounds of a typical summer camp. Children chased each other around the grounds, played games like “telephone” and “Marco Polo” as part of an icebreaker game on the first day, the game “Telephone” became Ojibwe telephone, There were stories in Ojibwe, most notably the story of the three little pigs, told by Elizabeth “Pug” Kingbird in the Ojibwe language.
Each day started off at 10:00 AM with a prayer and a hearty breakfast of traditional foods which was served throughout the campout as part of the curriculum. John and Carol Barrett were the cooks who parked their “chuck-wagon” (RV) close, north of the roundhouse, and kept everyone well fed. After breakfast, the kids were given introductions and orientations followed by an Ojibwe cultural activity. Lunch followed around noon.
After lunch, kids could participate in a variety of activities pretty much going on simultaneously. That included lacrosse, drum & dance, moccasin game, and nature walks. Working on Ojibwe crafts such as, drum stick making, and leather work, went on pretty much all the time, interspersed with cultural lessons and Ojibwemowin related to the activities the kids were participating in.
At each day’s end, Miigwechiwendam (Circle Time) was held. During this while, youth would hear words from elders and review the day’s activities, followed by a traditional food dinner. The last day, usually reserved for swimming found the weather too chilly.
Plant ID, with Special Guest Linda Black Elk
Youth and adults both had the opportunity to go on several planned nature hikes. The hike doubled as an opportunity to learn about traditional medicines and edible plants with renowned ethnobotanist Linda Black Elk, a special guest from Standing Rock.
Black Elk, an instructor at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, N.D., guided the campers along a dirt track near the Round House, speaking about different plants that can be used as medicines. Her goal was to teach the children that traditional forms of medicine are still relevant today, and that we can learn to use them. Black Elk showed the kids how to make bug repellant and medicinal salves. Campers also were taught to make their own tea bags, filling the bags with ogin, Ojibwe for rose hip, and mazaanaatig, nettle.
“The people know this land better than anybody, they know the plants that are medicines, they know what foods to eat, they know exactly how to build excellent structures to live in,” Black Elk said of the campers. “It really helps them to value themselves as Native children, and to value their culture, and to look at themselves like ‘Hey, I’m descended from scientists,’ you know, it changes their perspective.”
Language & Culture
Kids were reminded of the four sacred medicines, sweet grass, sage, cedar, and tobacco that areused in our ceremonies, as well as the Seven Teachings.
In one corner of what was now the Baga’adowe field, near the huge tent and in the shade of a mitig (tree), Makizinitaagewin (the Moccasin Game) was played. Competing in the game of their grandfathers, two teams sit cross-legged on either side of a colorful blanket, while another boy taps a drum rhythmically — boom, boom, boom — throughout the play.
Ojibwe words and phrases were often in use. Ojibwe bingo, normally a part of the Camp, a fun way to learn words for numbers and critters including the tribes Seven Clans, was cancelled due to an ever present breeze.
Meanwhile several boys and girls played Baaga’adowe (Lacrosse) with several young adult teachers led by Kelly Iceman, Sr. The first order of business was explaining and demonstrating the use of the baaga’adowaan. (Lacrosse Stick) The young people picked up the basics of the game quickly.
Many children worked with leather making midewayaan (medicine bags) or asemaa (tobacco) pouches, braiding, while others spent time making drumsticks. Afternoon Activities included live painting with recognized artist Wesley May,
Closing Day 3
Much conversation ensued between new or better friends following the morning circle review, while nearby…a few played what seemed to be a never-ending game of baaga’adowe. (Lacrosse)
Because of the cool weather, swimming was cancelled and kids continued to work and play on crafts and games. About mid-afternoon, a giveaway and T-shirt distribution took place followed by a group photo. Gifts were also given to participating elders.
Ojibwemowin was heard and spoken throughout the three day Gaabeshiwin by elders, teachers, and even some youth. Fluent speaking elders told important things for the youth to remember, the Seven Grandfathers Teachings, the value of ceremony, and the importance of gratitude.
The elders formed relationships with the young people as they taught them Ojibwemowin everyday phrases such as the often heard ambe (let’s go), and gego (don’t), along with being taught native names for plants and animals.
The warm summer sun encouraged smiles and energy as Gaabeshiwin (The Camp) came to a close. The Round House was bid farewell. The camp turned shy young men and women campers into more self-confident youth, and with that self-assurance comes better behavior in school and at home.
The Camp was hosted by Red Lake Economic Development & Planning, Chemical Health, and the Ojibwemowin Waasabiik Immersion School. The Gabeshiwin (camp) is part of Red Lake Nation’s Ojibwemowin (Ojibwe Language) Revitalization efforts.
Gichi-Ma’iingan (Larry Stillday, Spiritual Leader) Closing Statement at the First Gabeshiwin in 2013
“I’ve seen a lot of wisdom here. The kids picked up on what was going on right away and took a chance to express themselves. I taught no one, they taught me, they taught me what I don’t know.”
“Nothing is lost. Let the little ones live. No one is coming from across the sea to hurt them. They are going to sing the words of the old people. This has been a powerful healing. Wisdom is here. Each child has a gift. We provided an opportunity. I don’t want these kids to believe they have lost something.
“Yes, they are speaking our language. It is like singing, singing a song that the old ones want to hear. The young ones will never know there was a loss. We provided a place for them. This is where they are from. Quit teaching that they have lost something. Our youth will pick it up. We just have to give them the opportunity. This has been nothing but learning. All will go away with something. All will go away as better people.” ~ROAD TO PONEMAH: The Teachings of Larry Stillday