We Had A Good Life
As First Peoples on our homeland (Niidaakiinam) Turtle Island, we thrived and had everything we needed to sustain our lives in our communities among our many Nations.
We had a good life, Pimatisiwin. We lived in harmony with our people and nature and didn’t bother anyone. We lived in a humble way (Gibibamatiziimin). We knew and understood how to raise our children (Anishinaabe Ombiigowsowin) in a healthy way. Our children were healthy and loved. Our people were experienced and skilled in whatever they did to accomplish their work to survive. We were always a strong (Giizoongiziimin) people. We knew how to adapt to our natural environment and climate. We lived according to each season. We thrived because we understood how to live with the earth in a reciprocal way. Our people were hard workers and always helped each other. Our people were happy (minowendamook).
Kinship is a word used in the Western language, as stated in the dictionary, which means “blood relationship, the sharing of characteristics or origin (Oxford University Press Canada 1998, Pg 782). In Anishinaabemowin, Kinship (Nidinawaamagan) was a very important value understood and respected before the residential school system was imposed on the Anishinaabe people. In our sacred language, kinship goes way beyond just blood relationships. Kinship (Niidinaawamagan) is about our blood relationship to each other as relatives in our family systems, including our relationship and our connection to the land and to the Earth (Aki). Kinship includes our connection to our original mother, Mother Earth, to us all as humanity. We are related to the animals, to the plants (Gitiiganaasan), to the water (Nibi) and to all life (Pimatisiiwin), to the sun (Geezis), to the moon (Dibiki Geezis), to the rocks (Asiniik), and to everything (Kakina gagoo) that was placed on earth and in our universe. We view the stars (anaangook) as our relatives and teachers. The northern lights (Wawatay), we understand that they are our ancestors dancing in the sky to come and show that we are never alone and that our ancestors are always with us through spirit.
The extended family was not a concept we recognized. To the Anishinaabe people, all our relatives were important and close. In the Western concept, our aunt’s and uncle’s children are cousins. In our ways of knowing, cousins are considered brothers and sisters. Our aunts (niimama-ance or ninosheh), my little mother and uncles (nii babaence), and my little father is considered extensions of my mother or father. This meant that the aunts and Uncles had a significant role in raising their nephews (doozhim) and nieces (dooshimikwe).
Niidinaawamagan is a worldview where we recognize that we are related to everything in the sacred hoop of life. When the settlers came onto our lands and brought their colonial system, they imposed their foreign paternalistic and linear viewpoint onto our people. This new way of seeing and doing things contradicted how we have seen and done things. This confused and scared our people because they could see and feel the impacts this had on their day-to-day lives. The settlers devalued, dishonoured, and disrespected our traditional ways of knowing and doing (Kagii izhe miinigoozii ang). This extended into how we parented and raised our families and how we took care of the land. Our relatives always say if we take care of the land, the land will take care of us. These words and teachings were passed in our stories to the people prior to colonization, residential schools etc.
To understand what kinship (Niidinaawamagan) means, we must return to our traditional and customary roles as individuals, families, communities, and nations. We are now reclaiming our responsibility to teach our children and families about how meaningful and sacred relationships are, which links to our responsibility to look after the land, waters, and earth. This means that we must respect (munajiitoon) and honour all life. This is a value that our communities must reclaim and go back to, as this is the most important and sacred value.
We lived according to each season. Spring (Ziiigoon) is a time when everything is melting, the snow, the ice, the rivers, and the lakes. The waters start to flow. Fish are plentiful. We view it as a renewal time. It’s a time of new beginnings. It’s our new year. It is when birds start to arrive from the warm climate down south, such as crows (Aandak) which is the first bird to arrive to show that spring is here. Eagles (Kinewuk), geese (Nikaak), ducks (Zheezheebak), songbirds (Biinayshii- ensuk), and cranes (Oojijakook). It is also a time when our people trap for muskrats (Ozhaak).
As a child (Abinoonjii), I went with my late father to go and check on his muskrat traps (oniiganun) and to reset his traps. I remember there was lots of snow, and I was fascinated by watching my dad harvest the animals he trapped. I loved being out on the land with my late father. The time I spent being outdoors with my dad was a quality time of bonding and teaching and, of course, a fun time for me. Today I am so grateful to have those memories I can share. My dad loved us immensely as his children and fulfilled his role as a provider, protector, and father. He cared for us in the way he was taught by his parents (Oniigiigoon) and his ancestors.
My late grandfather (Nimishoomis) shared stories about when they went out to the islands (Minisun) on Lake Manitoba to pick eggs (Wawanoon) and that there was plenty (Neebowa). There was a lot of food during the time when my grandfather was a young man, and our food was safe to eat. Today, there are so many chemicals and poisons that are put on the earth and the land, and the animals (Awesiak) eat from the land, and our foods become poisoned (pichiboodoon) as well the food is processed in factories with all kinds of additives and chemicals. A lot of sugar and salt is added to enhance the flavour and preserve it. These processed foods are unhealthy and directly affect our health which causes us sickness.
When spring (Ziigoon) came, we ate what was available in our area and enjoyed the food (meechim). It was healthy food and natural to us, directly from the land and waters. This is our way of life and has sustained us for generations. Spring is a new beginning to our year, a time when we commence our ceremonies like fasting and going on vision quests (Baawajigaa), making maple syrup (Iskiiga miizi gaa), harvesting goose (Niika), duck (Zheezheebak), mud-hen (Aajikadaa), and seagull (Kyask) eggs. It wasn’t until colonization was imposed on us and we were confined onto reserves and weren’t allowed to move freely on the land that we started going hungry. Our resources were limited where there was once an abundance of food, plants, fish, and berries. Those things started to deplete in our small confined areas.
We lived a good life (Apijii gii minow bimaachiwok). We lived peacefully, and we lived in harmony with nature. We were connected to that law of the sacred circle. Our people never forget to give thanks every day. For all this, I give thanks (Niinanakodum). Our old people (Onigaaneek) tell us that if we want to move forward, we must go back to the beginning.
Kiishpin niigan noda izhe majing, bigoo chii azhe giiang Kizhe Manidoo Kagii izhe minigoowing.