Wednesday, February 17, 2010

HUM 221: Passing on Ojibwe (Anishanaabe) traditions, 'prayer in motion'

The largest group of Woodland Indians in the United States and southern Canada is known as the Anishanaabe or Ojibwe peoples, with 150 Ojibwe bands throughout the north-central United States and southern Canada. They are related to the Potawatomi. The Native Languages of the Americas website has links to several of these bands and tribes. "Ojibway history is interesting and important," say webmasters Orrin Lewis and Laura Reddish, "but the Ojibway are still here today, too, and we try to feature modern writers as well as traditional folklore, contemporary artwork as well as archaeology exhibits, and the issues and struggles of today as well as the tragedies of yesterday."

We'll concentrate on dance. Amateur journalist Neal Moore has posted to the CNN iReport website a feature story he shot at the Mii-Gwitch Mahnomen Days pow wow in 2009 on how Ojibwe traditions are handed down by the Leach Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota.

Also we'll watch footage of a pow wow hosted by another Minnesota Ojibwe band, as ITASCA Community College Ojibwe instructor Larry Aitken explains the traditions involved. "Dancing in a circle is prayer in motion ... the heartbeat of Mother Nature," he says.

Pow wows are a fairly recent innovation. But dancing, specifically to the beat of a drum, has long been an important part of the religious and ceremonial life of the Ojibwe and other Woodland peoples. According to "Indian Country Wisconsin," a website put up by the Milwaukee Public Museum, a Drum Dance or Dream Dance
... ensured social cohesion and was carried out for special events such as marriage, divorce, and removal of mourning. More recently, it has become more of a social occasion, in which the cohesive aspects consist of singing, dancing, feasting, and visiting with friends and relatives. However, prayers and invocations of prosperity, good health, and brotherhood still accompany the ceremony.
The following footage is from the 2007 pow wow. It's a very small affair, apparently held in the community college gym. But notice how the MC draws spectators, including children, into those parts of the ceremony that are open to outsiders. His explanations to the kids also explain its importance to us.

A video by a student at Penn State called "Knowing the Ojibwe" combines footage of a pow wow on an Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota with an interview with Richard Morrison, a pipe carrier or traditional spiritual leader. Morrison explains some of the underlying spiritual foundations of Ojibwe culture. Morrison's religion was banned for a time during the 20th century, and important parts of it are not shared with outsiders. But he explains some of the ethical principles behind it in terms that are common to many of us. Watch for what he says at the end of his interveiw about what each of us can do in our own communities.

Something to think about.

Background If you want to know more about the Ojibwe, this short promotional video tells the story of Leech Lake Tribal College, a two-year college with a student body of 90% Native American students. Traditional modes of subsistence, especially gathering wild rice that grows in the lake; dance; and other cultural traditions are part of the curriculum.

A documentary about what life is like for young people living in the rural village of Kego Lake on the Leech Lake Reservation. Produced by the young artists of Kego Lake

second half

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