BY LINDA LeGARDE GROVER
Here in Duluth, not long after my seventh grandchild was born, I began to write short essays about aspects of Ojibwe contemporary life that link to the joy and gratitude that Ojibwe people have for new life and the continuity of our existence. He is a third-generation child of our extended LeGarde family born in Onigamiising, which is the Ojibwe word for “Duluth” and translates in English to “the place of the small portage”—referring to Park Point, the five-mile-long sand bar which, during the days of canoe travel, was a short and easy overland portage between Lake Superior and the St. Louis Bay.
Along the shoreline of Gichigami, Lake Superior, we live our lives on land that is historically significant and sacred. Mewinzhaa (a long time ago), Anishinaabe people followed a vision that led to a journey from the east coast of North America here to Onigamiising, this place of the small portage. European explorers, missionaries and settlers who traveled inland to this area had tremendous and continually increasing impact on the Anishinaabeg; upheaval and loss layered over the backdrop of history have resulted in an intergenerational trauma that has touched the tribal histories, values, and knowledge passed down over the centuries since Euro impact; yet the damages of upheaval and loss do not negate the sacredness and beauty of this place. All that is goodness and truth, the living of a good life that we call Mino-bimaadiziwin, continues as an unbreakable thread.
Examples of Mino-bimaadiziwin can be seen every day, in so many aspects of life: Just today I observed a young waitress conversing with an elderly man who was eating supper by himself as solicitously as if he was her own grandfather; an unhappy-looking driver breaking into a smile and waving at the other driver at an intersection who waved her through; an encouraging Facebook posting on a friend’s page by someone she has never met. We have opportunity to live those values of thankfulness, modesty, generosity and an awareness of our place in the world around us in all that we do, and in the most humble tasks and occasions which are elevated to the honorable and sacred when performed and appreciated in the spirit of Mino-bimaadiziwin.
We Anishinaabeg of northern Minnesota, like other Native people, come from ancestors who shared histories, beliefs and values by teaching generation to generation through storytelling, conversation, and by example. How fortunate we have been that the means by which the survival of our ways, based on Mino-bimaadiziwin, has also been such a source of pleasure and meaning. We are lovers of stories who have learned that everything that we experience, no matter how small, is a story. Here in Onigamiising, this place of the small portage that is also a place of four distinct seasons, each year we live on Earth is a larger seasonal story; cumulatively these become the seasons of our lives: spring is our infancy and childhood, in our summer season we are young, in autumn we are in mature adulthood, and in winter we become elders. Our lives follow the four seasons in the same way as does the Earth, and as a people we are replenished by the creation of new life in the same way as spring brings new life to the Earth.
The stories we live as individuals are filaments of that unbreakable thread upon which are strung the beads that are our collective story, an always emerging pattern of reverence that is Anishinaabe existence. The essays that comprise Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year are one woman’s single bead on that thread: what I have learned and thought about here in Onigamiising and now pass on, an Anishinaabe-mindimoye’s perspectives on contemporary and historical Ojibwe life in northeastern Minnesota. Our existence is a beautiful thing: Onishishin.
Linda LeGarde Grover is author of Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year. Her short fiction collection The Dance Boots received the Flannery O’Connor Award as well as the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize; her novel The Road Back to Sweetgrass (Minnesota, 2014) received the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers 2016 Fiction Award, and her poetry collection The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives received the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award and the Red Mountain Press Editor’s Award. She is professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe.
“Reading these essays is like quietly listening to a thoughtful elder telling tales, spinning stories, and subtly offering wise guidance to her descendants, as well as to anyone else fortunate enough to hear.”—Foreword Reviews
“A finely nuanced reflection on the spiritual and the mundane, the everyday and the extraordinary, the seasons of the year and the seasons of a life.”—Indian Country Today
“Fascinating stuff. Perhaps the best reason to spend 200 pages with Grover, though, is her sense of humor.”—Star Tribune