Writing Di-bayn-di-zi-win (To Own Ourselves): Embodying Ojibway-Anishinabe Ways with Jerry has been a honor and pleasure. Jerry’s insight, knowledge and experience have come together to produce a book that tackles some of the key issues facing Anishinabeg today. It was an honor to be invited to share my thoughts to produce the volume. In the book we are attempting to change the narrative and challenge mainstream institutions and ways of thinking.
The Pope’s recent apology is seen as an historic moment in the relationship between the church and Anishinabeg. Many view it as a major step in reconciliation. Jerry and I argue that, while important, it may not contribute to true reconciliation. A central theme of the book is that Ojibway-Anishinabe ways of doing and knowing are fundamental ways of understanding and living the world. For a “level playing field” to be created and genuine reconciliation to occur, non-Anishinabe people need to “come halfway”. That is, to begin the process with some understanding and honoring of Anishinabe cultures.
We suggest that, for this to occur, three Anishinabe protocols, principles and practices could be employed:
1 bezhig onaagan gaye emikwan
(One dish and one spoon), involving symbolically sharing a meal together within an environmental ethic which recognizes that there is only one dish (the land) and one spoon (humans) which must be taken care of in an attitude of bi-mee-ku-mah-gay-win (stewardship);
(To enter into one another’s lodge), a cultural practice whereby parties put aside their biases and enter into an agreement as to how to live together;
3 and naa-wi-aki
(Middle ground), a historical process whereby Anishinabeg and Europeans came together to create an agreed upon way to respect each other’s way of life and live in peace.
It was a paradoxical process in which each group came from a separate place, culturally and politically, but with each group having an understanding and respect for each others worldview and cultural practices. In effect, it was “reconciliation through separation.” We suggest that by engaging in these practices there is a possibility of attaining genuine reconciliation.
Another theme of the book is that to understand where you are going you have to understand where you came from. Therefore, we look back 50 years and discuss the many political events and activism that we have observed and been involved in that have led to where we are today. We examine events from the infamous White Paper of 1969, the Native Peoples Caravan, the Oka Crisis through to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Report. We also discuss the cultural revival that began in the early 70’s which restored Elders, Spiritual Leaders and Medicine People to their rightful place as honored leaders, teachers, and ceremonialists in their communities.
We hope that readers will come to appreciate Anishinabe ways of doing and knowing as valid knowledge systems and understand how they can be incorporated in efforts of reconciliation and in universities and colleges in Canada.
Related reading: Clocks Don't Bring Tomorrow by Jerry Fontaine
Ka-pi-ta-aht (Don McCaskill) is professor emeritus in the Department of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, where he taught for forty-seven years and served as chair for thirteen years. He has edited seven books in the fields of Anishinabe culture, education, community development, and urbanization. Don lives in Toronto. Learn more here.