Life in an Anishnabe Camp – WALKER (CSS)

WALKER, Niki. Life in an Anishnabe Camp. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2003. 32p. SMITHYMAN, Kathryn; KALMAN, Bobbie Kalman. Native Nations of the Western Great Lakes. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2003. 32p. Resenha de: HARVARD, D. Memee.  Canadian Social Studies, v.39, n.1, p., 2004.

As I set out to write this review I am troubled. In the traditions of my people, the Anishnabek, one must never openly criticize another, to do so would cause a loss of face and is therefore strictly avoided. However, as an Anishnabe woman in the academy I must tread a fine line between the expectations of my ancestors and the demands of modern society. Although this path tends to be all uphill and full of stones, it is not without its rewards. This request to examine literature that may potentially educate innumerable generations of children about the ways of our First Nations people provides a rare, yet necessary, opportunity to add an Aboriginal perspective, which has so often been missing in the past. At this point it is important to clarify that this is indeed ‘an’ Aboriginal perspective, not ‘the’ Aboriginal perspective, for it would be sheer folly to suggest that all Aboriginal peoples would be like-minded. With this in mind I offer the following words.

Native Nations of the Western Great Lakes provides an excellent overview of the many Aboriginal nations living around the Great Lakes area. After much discussion with an Anishnabe elder who was herself a teacher almost 80 years ago, we concluded that this book would be an excellent resource for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal classrooms. The written text is clear and simple enough to be understood by early readers with some assistance, yet interesting and complex enough in content to still be of interest to more accomplished students. The numerous illustrations provide both stimulation and increased content comprehension for those who learn more visually, as is often the case for First Nations learners. I initially thought the book would have benefited from more Aboriginal artwork and illustrations, and less reliance on the portrayals of (undoubtedly biased) early European artists. However, Smithyman and Kalman’s discussion of the abuse of Aboriginal peoples perpetrated by land hungry foreign invaders has softened my critique. Smithyman and Kalman address issues that are often overlooked, especially in juvenile literature, specifically the less than honourable history of a nation built on the dispossession of Indigenous peoples.

The depictions of the Aboriginal nations are very informative and cover a broad range of distinct tribal groups. Smithyman and Kalman provide a good introduction to the diversity that existed among the various First Nations of this continent. This work will hopefully help to dispel the commonly held belief that all ‘Indians’ are the same, i.e., riding around on horses and hunting buffalo. Indeed, my people were traditionally more comfortable traveling by canoe and eating fish, a fact which often comes as a disappointment to many.

It is important however that such introductory lessons be followed up with literature that goes into the specific details of each distinct nation. Unfortunately, as is often the case with this genre of literature, the need for brevity can result in errors of omission. These are not inaccuracies as such, but rather simply a lack of the necessary depth of information. For example, in reference to the illustration on page 11, Smithyman and Kalman claim the Ho-Chunk decorated their clothing and baskets with the quills of the porcupine. While this is in all likelihood strictly accurate, the fact that it is mentioned with regard to only the Ho-Chunk leads one to assume it is unique to this particular nation. Porcupine quillwork is traditional to the Anishnabe people as well-they are well known for their beautiful quillwork-a fact that is clearly ignored by the text. Indeed, the work of both my grandmother and great grandmother has been on display in the Smithsonian.

As a compliment to Smithyman and Kalman’s introductory text, Walker’s book, Life in an Anishnabe Camp, provides an in-depth depiction and invaluable information about the way of life of the Anishnabe people specifically. In fact, I was originally skeptical of several claims made in the book especially with regard to recreation, yet upon further research, I was pleasantly surprised to learn something new about my own ancestors. Although lacrosse as we now know it is a direct descendant of the Iroquoian version of the game with the crooked stick with webbed triangular baskets, early missionary records describe the round closed pocket of the Great Lakes Indian lacrosse sticks as they engaged in competitions outside the missions. Apparently we all have much to learn when it comes to the history of our First Nations and the more we can promote quality literature such as these texts the better.

Unfortunately, the authors make fundamental mistakes very early on in both books which later lead to several contradictions. Specifically, both books claim Anishnabe refers only to the Ojibway people in all their various forms including Ojibwa and Chippewa (Smithyman Kalman, p. 6; Walker, p. 4) and that the Odawa and Pottawattomi are distinct from and most decidedly not Anishnabe. Indeed, Smithyman and Kalman go so far as to claim that the Odawa language is different from the Anishnabe language (p. 5). To the best of my knowledge, which I have confirmed with Rita Corbiere, an elder of the Wikwemikong First Nation of both Odawa and Ojibway descent and a fluent speaker of Anishnabemowin, the term Anishnabe refers to the Odawa, Pottawattomi, and the Ojibway peoples collectively. Furthermore, as was confirmed initially by Rita Corbiere and subsequently by Elaine Brant, a language teacher with the Toronto school board, although there may be slight variations of pronunciations or dialect among the three tribes mentioned above, all still speak Anishnabemowin. Indeed there is no distinct Odawa language that is different from the Anishnabe language.

Interestingly, on page 6 of the Smithyman and Kalman book we find that apparently Anishnabe means the people in Ojibway, while Weshnabek means the people in Odawa. What we see here is in fact different spellings of the same word (which is common as there is no standardized spelling for our mother tongue). Clearly the meaning is the same, even by the authors’ account, and as any fluent Anishnabe knows the ‘k’ at the end of the word is simply the plural form: one Anishnabe, two Anishnabek. Although I generally hesitate to rely upon government publications for verification of my traditional knowledge, as I flipped through the pages of a business resource document in the office of the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat I found their definition of the Anishnabe people includes not only the Ojibway, Pottawatomi, Chippewa, and Odawa peoples but also the Algonquin and the Mississaugas as well. While I may seem to be overstating my point here, this inaccurate definition becomes an important source of contradiction later on in both works.

The illustration of the Anishnabe summer village that is found on pages 18-19 of the Smithyman and Kalman work, as well as on page 9 of the Walker book, is fraught with inaccuracy if we adhere to Smithyman, Kalman and Walker’s own, albeit mistaken, definition of Anishnabe as an Ojibway specific term. Indeed, this idyllic scene of happily working brown-skinned people depicts longhouse style dwellings and primitive agricultural activities, which are decidedly inconsistent with the northern Ojibway, but are in fact found among the southern Odawa as asserted by Smithyman and Kalman elsewhere (see page 17 for housing descriptions and page 7 for the depiction of Odawa crop planting). Thus we must conclude that either Anishnabe is indeed inclusive of the Odawa peoples, or that this illustration is mislabeled and therefore misleading. As I already have done, I personally argue for the former. Indeed, the Odawa are Anishnabe people and as a result of their alliances with the Huron in the mid-17th century they learned to cultivate maize.

Another illustration I find troubling in Walker’s book is found on page 13. Inside the wigwam we see a young man laying next to the fire wearing a ceremonial breastplate. Such a thing would never have happened, such regalia was only worn during ceremony or battle. It is the garment of a warrior. Although I recognize this is only an illustration, and as such is not reality, the book presents itself as a resource book. It is not a work of fiction. Such misrepresentations can become the very source of future misconceptions.

Unfortunately for these authors it can be very difficult to keep abreast of the ever-changing terminology preferred by the descendants of North America’s original inhabitants, i.e., those referred to in the literature as Native peoples. Political movements and increasing Aboriginal self-determination have lead to great uncertainty over acceptable terminology. Although many established Aboriginal organizations (such as the Ontario Native Women’s Association) have chosen to continue using the term ‘Native’ for financial and legal reasons (if they were incorporated under such names), in contemporary circles when not using our specific tribal affiliations such as Anishnabek, we generally prefer to refer to ourselves collectively as Aboriginal or First Nations peoples. Such terms clearly establish our place as the original peoples, not to be confused with someone who was merely born here and is therefore considered native to the area. However, that being said, I do recognize the terminological consistency with Native Studies curriculum documents. Perhaps what is necessary for future works in the field is a brief comment on the rationale behind the choice of the particular terminology being used over the others available.

While these books are not without their faults, overall they are of exceptional quality. They were done in a positive and sensitive manner, and they are respectful of the Aboriginal traditions, something which was often not present in much of the previous literature. I can still remember the horribly demeaning depictions of savages that so often graced the pages of my school books (whenever some particular historian chose to remember that history in Canada did not begin with the arrival of the explorers). Overall they are an excellent elementary resource that will likely be the source of much discussion in my teacher education class next year.

Memee Harvard – Faculty of Education. University of Western Ontario. London, Ontario. President, Ontario Native Women’s Association.

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