Last week staff from CCED (invited by UOE/OPES/NAI) had the opportunity to visit and learn from our guides about the Anishinabek people. Our guides graciously shared their beliefs on how the Anishinabek were lowered and placed on earth, the Creation Story and how they were given the Seven Prophecies (aka Seven Fires) from the Creator. One of the prophecies foretold was of the Great Walk (a migration of the Anishinabek people from the East Coast to different parts of Michigan and Minnesota to locate food that grows on water) in addition to the arrival of light-skinned peoples who, it was foretold, would come bearing the face of brotherhood, but also, the face of death.
We also learned how lodges were built according to season and the belief that nature, from plants and animals, are equal to us. Hence, there is honor and respect in the way the Anishinabek engage with everything around them, from their food to materials, and medicine. I was particularly interested in the winter lodge which was built with stone flooring to allow the heat from the fire to emanate throughout the lodge. This technique was also taught to the light-skinned people to help them survive the harsh winters.
The group also learned about the US government’s establishment of American Indian Boarding Schools. These schools, like the Holy Childhood of Jesus Catholic boarding school in Harbor Springs, Michigan (1829-1983), sought to force Natives to adopt an ‘American culture’, forcibly removing them from their families and stripping them of their culture and language. Assimilation to White society was the goal, leading to the phrase, “Kill the Indian in Him, and Save the Man.” Tribal nations are doing much work to bring home the thousands of children who died while captive in these boarding schools. The Interior Department reports over 500 Native children died in boarding schools, however the count is expected to increase into the thousands.
At the end of our tour, we visited the quilt exhibition and learned various ways the Anishinabek and other Natives continue to carry their culture and expressions forward to the next generation. If you would like to learn more, please consider visiting the Ziibiwing Center or you are welcome to borrow booklets about the Center and American Indian Boarding Schools located in CCED.