Wed. Nov 29th, 2023

Today’s post comes from DJ Fife, a park ranger at Petroglyphs Provincial Park. DJ takes every opportunity available to promote Anishinaabemowin preservation during programs at the park and in everyday life. DJ has taught Anishnaabemowin for several semesters at Georgian College in Barrie and during various other cultural events.

Anishinaabemowin has and always will play an important role in my life.

I have been fortunate to have the circumstances to dedicate myself to my traditional language to the extent that I have. Some people describe me as fluid, but I try to avoid that label. I will always have more to learn and, frankly, I can still find it difficult to keep up when listening to speakers of my first language.

In any case, at 28 years old, I am among a very small number of Anishinaabe youth who have the ability to converse in our traditional language.

But there are many thousands of people seeking to learn.

Would you be surprised to discover that you recognize several words in Anishinaabemowin?

As a language forged in this land, many geographical names have their origins in Anishinaabemowin or other related Algonkian languages, such as Cree or Pottawatomi.

Speakers of Algonkian languages ​​were generally the first to encounter English explorers and settlers along the eastern coast of North America. As such, many English words come from these languages.

In fact, the names of about one in five provincial parks come from the Anishinaabemowin or a related Algonkian language. The names of Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and a handful of American states also originated in the Algonkian language family.

entry signal

Some Anishinaabemowin words that should sound quite familiar include:

  • waiter (moose)
  • jidmoonh (chipmunk – jidmoonh it means squirrel though)
  • maanzh-ginoozhe (muskellunge or bad/ugly pike)
  • makizin (moccasin – shoe)
  • Congratulations (pecan or nut, pronounced “bug-onn” – pecan in English was apparently borrowed from our Illinois relatives, who said it “pakani”).

Unfortunately, most people don’t know the history of these words or the people who originally spoke them.

For those who want to learn a little about Anishinaabemowin.

Below are some commonly searched translations of typical English formal courtesies, i.e. “please”, “you’re welcome”, “hello”, “goodbye”.

There is no “please” in Anishinaabemowin. The term is used similarly to “goodbye” – “Gwaabmin“It’s literally ‘see you later’ (as in ‘see you later’) in English.

Aaniin” (either “Aanii”in Odawa and some nearby communities) is often used as a greeting. In this case, it essentially means “how” (e.g. short for “how are you” / “how is your life going”). “Aaniin“It can also be used as a question, like “which” or “what.”

visitors CenterPetroglyphs

boozhooSome use it as a formal greeting the first time they meet someone. My understanding of this word contains a kind of challenge in reference to the trickster. Nenboozhoo (Nanabush), who, being able to transform, can meet you disguised as a typical human. By calling “Boozhoo” as a test, the idea is that the individual may give a signal or flinch if the person is Nanabush, thinking that he has been caught. This shudder tells you that this person may be the trickster in disguise.

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Even the word “miigwech” for “thank you” may have a more recent history than expected. “mii” and “see“are separate words that together effectively mean “that is appropriate/accurate/sufficient.” Today, “miigwech“It is universally understood to mean “thank you,” as it has been for at least 200 years or more.

Why the differences?

My understanding of this lack of formalities is a difference in culture. As I understand it, traditional Anishinaabe culture was a culture of understood and embraced cooperation and gratitude. Having to exchange “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome” was unnecessary. Gratitude was shown in cooperation and sharing.

This makes a lot of sense when you consider the typical social structures that operate in traditional culture. Compared to today, it’s easy to view favors and thank yous as potentially unnecessary formalities when you’re only dealing with your family at home rather than in some sort of business setting while dealing with strangers.

More phrases for beginners

Listed below are some typical basic phrases taught to new language learners:

  • Aaniin, I am Zhnikaaz (Hello, they call me .)
  • Ndooonjibaa (I’m from _____.)
  • Gdizhnikaaz (You are called .)
  • is special (You are from ___.)
  • Aaniin ezhnikaazyen? (What is your name what is your name?)
  • Aandi wenjibaayen? (Where it is?)
    • ^Abiish wenjibayen? (For Odawa/Manitoulin Island dialect)
  • Gdi-ntaa-nishnaabem na? (Do you speak Ojibwe? [well]?)
  • To Gaaw/Kaaw/Kaa (No)
  • Enh (Yes <– “one“it is a nasalized sound, like saying a slightly long “y” without pronouncing the “n” or “d”)
  • Ndi-nta-nishnaabemsi Cave (I don’t speak Ojibwe [well])
  • Hello, e-kids? (What is he saying?)
  • Am I an e-kidoyen? (What are you saying? <– as my grandparents say it comes out)I am ektoyen?”)
  • I’m a boy (I say, “I say”, I’m saying)
  • Gdikid (You say, you’re saying)
  • boy (he/she says, he/she is saying)

Protect and share our culture.

Anishinaabemowin can be a bit of a touchy subject for some Anishinaabeg. Some feel shame at not knowing it or frustration at the challenges of learning and using it. Others still may associate serious concern with the dire language situation.

In truth, although this is where Anishinaabemowin emerged, it is not necessarily in a secure position.

According to the 2011 census, there were only about 213,000 indigenous language speakers among more than 33 million Canadians. More than 40 non-Indigenous languages ​​are spoken in Canada, with more speakers than Anishinaabemowin, which, behind Cree and Inuktitut, is the third most spoken Indigenous language.

The problem, from my point of view, is that if, say, Greek (which has six times as many speakers in Canada) is no longer used in Canada, there is still the country of Greece, where the Greek language thrives and Greek culture It continues its legacy as it has done for millennia.

But if the Anishinaabemowin continues its decline into disuse in its traditional area, there will be no other place in the world to find it.

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To add a disappointing thought, few Canadians would even recognize Anishinaabemowin or other indigenous languages ​​to hear if they even knew the indigenous people living in their area. It is considerations like these that drive the passion behind Anishinaabe people who are determined to continue their traditional language.

a living reminder

Following the feeling of language as part of cultural continuity, my work as a park ranger is carried out in the Petroglyphs Provincial Park.

Guardian standing in front of the building with the signDJ at Petroglyphs

The Petroglyphs, for those who don’t know, are a collection of rock carvings made by indigenous people more than 600 years ago. It is a unique place.

In addition to being an educational and historical opportunity for visitors, today it remains a ceremonial and spiritual site for indigenous peoples.

Over the years I have been at Petroglyphs, one perspective I have learned from elders and traditionally minded people is that the site itself should not be considered a disconnected remnant or masterpiece of the past, but rather a living place, spiritual and ceremonial, reflecting a people and culture that are still here today and, beyond that, a reminder that we, indigenous people, have not been expelled from our homeland.


The site – and indigenous peoples in general – are not simply a museum exhibit or historical figures in a history book; We are still here.

Anishinaabemowin is similar to the petroglyph site. It has endured and is linked to the people who have lived on this land for a long time. This is not to say that it is an easy task to continue the resistance of Anishinaabemowin or the petroglyph site as living beings.

The challenge of balancing the site’s ceremonial use with its existence amidst Western society echoes the challenges the Anishinaabeg and other indigenous peoples face as they try to balance their cultures, languages, and identities with the realities of modern life.

The future of the Anishinaabewin

Despite the current situation, there is much hope for Anishinaabemowin in the current generation. In addition to a number of remote communities where the language has some degree of refuge, there are numerous resources for language learners in the form of books, websites and even some mobile apps. There are many people who strive to preserve, promote and use the language every day.

Immersion camps are held in various locations, where the use of English is restricted to stimulate meaningful learning for the duration of the event. Courses and classes are held in various communities and educational institutions, including primary and secondary schools.

Although there may be challenges and some discouraging cultural losses, much is still being done to preserve one of the indigenous languages ​​of this land, and many people are working to continue the legacy.

So the next time you sit around a campfire by a lake, imagine the voices of the people who have existed on this earth for countless centuries. Think about all their history, all they have seen and experienced, and know that those voices speak in Anishinaabemowin or other indigenous languages ​​that formed on this land, like the white pines or trilliums we commonly associate with Ontario scenes.

The languages ​​of Ontario’s First Peoples are as much a part of Ontario’s history as the land and water.

Listen to me anishinaabemodaa. (Come on, let’s talk Anishinaabemowin.)

I invite you to learn more about the language: