Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
An Outsider's Opinion on the Importance of Anishinaabemowin

Today’s post comes from retired Quetico Provincial Park biologist Brian Jackson.

Anishinaabemowin is the traditional language name of the Anishinaabeg or Ojibway people who have lived for centuries on the land now known as Quetico Provincial Park.

In recent years, Quetico has taken steps to incorporate more Anishinaabemowin into the park’s educational materials.

Examples include the “Quetico Animals in Anishinaabemowin” brochure available at entry stations, or the new Anishinaabemowin/Ojibway lake naming display we are working on that will be placed at the Dawson Trail Pavilion.

But why should learning more about Anishinaabemowin be important to non-Indigenous people like me who know very little of this beautiful language?

I think there are several reasons

The first is as a sign of respect to the people who lived and cared for this land before our arrival and who continue this management today and tomorrow.

canoe on the coast

When most of us travel to a non-English speaking country, we try to learn at least a few phrases of the native language.

Being able to say “hello” and “thank you” in the host’s language is a form of respect for the people who are from there.

Likewise, being able to pronounce even a couple of words like boozhoo (Hello and miigwech (thank you) is a sign of respect for the Anishinaabeg and Ojibway people, and a recognition that they are the people who were part of this land before we arrived.

I have found Anishinaabemowin to be a wonderfully rich and complex language that captures the history, cultural and spiritual connection to the land in a way not possible through other languages.

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sun shining through the trees

Maintaining this culture is not only essential for indigenous peoples, but also enriches the lives of non-indigenous people.

Indigenous teachings about caring for the land are increasingly important to all of us today and many of these teachings would disappear if the only language that contains them were lost.

Keeping Anishinaabemowin Alive

As a non-Indigenous person, being aware of its importance and supporting the use of Anishinaabemowin helps maintain its survival.

We are very fortunate to have local communities like Zhingwaako Zaaga’Iganing (Lac La Croix First Nation) with members who are fluent in Anishinaabemowin.

From the elders who have spoken it as their first language their entire lives to the younger members who are working hard to ensure it remains a part of their future, Anishinaabemowin is alive here.

full moon

Hearing Anishinaabemowin speak today is an honor that, tragically, came too close to being lost during the internment period of the last 150 years.

Hearing the language spoken today is an important reminder of the loss that almost occurred due to the actions of our culture and a lesson to not allow this to happen in the future.

Connecting with the earth

Finally, the opportunity for me to hear a person speak Anishinaabemowin is beautiful, even if I don’t understand all the words.

The flow of language feels as much a part of the earth as the waves on the rocks or the breeze among the pines; the call of the loon or the howl of the wolf.

An indigo lake with reeds in the foreground.  In the distance, the sun sets, turning the sky orange, mauve, and violet.  The silhouette of a coast is on the right.

Names like Gaa’andokonaadeg (“lake where we collect birch bark for canoes and containers”) and Basimina Zaaga’igan (“The lake to go pick berries”) show an intimacy and connection with the landscape that English names rarely, if ever, achieve.

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Maintaining that connection

View of the lake from inside the canoe.

I have learned that the Anishinaabeg view caring for the land as a sacred responsibility and, by signing Treaty #3 with non-Indigenous peoples, these duties and responsibilities were shared with all the peoples with whom they share the land, including us.

Learning something about Anishinaabemowin, even if it’s just a few words or an understanding of names, is another way to increase our connectivity to the Quetico landscape and help us understand what it means to care for the land.

I am indebted to the indigenous people of this area and, in particular, the people of Zhingwaako Zaaga’Iganing for opening me to a greater level of consciousness of connection with the land around me.