Linda Grover: The heart and soul of the Ojibwe nation is its familiesWe Ojibwe tend to be sentimental about our children, who will not know until they are adults, themselves, just how much they mean to us and the many reasons why.
By: Linda LeGarde Grover, Budgeteer News
We Ojibwe tend to be sentimental about our children, who will not know until they are adults, themselves, just how much they mean to us and the many reasons why.
Throughout history since the time of impact, Ojibwe families have experienced the loss of land and the lifestyles our ancestors lived on that landbase. We have experienced the endeavors and experiments, some well-intended and some not, of missionaries, boarding schools, homesteaders, land speculators; we have experienced the constant presence and pervasiveness of federal Indian policies. Survival of the family has been a struggle; today we continue to deal with the complexities of history that persist in our lives today.
How did a loss of landbase and relocation to reservation lands affect family life? In traditional Ojibwe life, extended families lived on a landbase that was large enough to support a lifestyle based on seasonal sustenance: spring maple sugaring camps, summer fishing, cultivation and gathering, fall wild rice harvest camps, winter hunting and trapping camps. During the warmer seasons, families prepared and saved for the cold winter months, and everyone in the family had a job and role in the process. Every person was created with a job to do, everyone was born with the ability to contribute to the group and the obligation to do so. In extended Ojibwe families, the education of its young was accomplished through the oral tradition as well as experiential learning: children learned from their elders the satisfaction of helping family and community. In learning the creativity and skills of survival they also learned problem-solving, how the world works and how to work with others. In listening to their elders they learned the history of their people, the traditions and teachings and Mino-Bimaadiziiwin, the good ways to live. They learned that one day they, themselves, would become elders and teachers.
Here in Onigamiising and in the entire Arrowhead region, this lifestyle came to a stop after the 1854 treaty, which established the reservations of Bois Forte, Grand Portage and Fond du Lac. The effect on the traditional lifestyle was immediate and severe.
The government attempted to alleviate this with food supplies that held off starvation but created physical difficulties such as malnutrition and digestive problems to a people not used to flour, sugar and dairy products. Physically confined and growing less healthy every day, families and communities struggled to survive. To thrive — or even to maintain — was nearly impossible.
The Treaty Era ended in 1871, and was followed by the Boarding School Era, which lasted from 1879 to 1934. During that time, Indian children were removed from their families and sent away for formal schooling that was based upon a federal policy of assimilation. This policy had devastating and far-reaching effects upon American Indian families that continue today.
For several generations of American Indian families, the loss and absence of children became the norm. Extended family relationships were injured and broken — some permanently. The time-honored ways of teaching and learning were interrupted, for some families never to be continued. The privilege and blessing of raising children was cruelly denied, which hurt tribes and communities far beyond the family unit.
The heart of a nation is its families, and the future of a nation is its children. In the years since the Boarding School Era, and the Termination Era that followed, we have endeavored to retain some of what we lost, and to maintain what we have.
We remember what our grandparents and all who came before us endured and try to live the good lives they would want us to, honoring what is important, Bimaadiziiwin, which is the living of a good life. We are sentimental about our children, as they were about us.
As parents and grandparents ourselves now, we at last understand why.
Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.