Winner- 2022 Governor General’s Literary Award for English-Language Nonfiction
Members of Eli Baxter’s generation are the last of the hunting and gathering societies living on Turtle Island. They are also among the last fluent speakers of the Anishinaabay language known as Anishinaabaymowin.
Aki-wayn-zih is a story about the land and its spiritual relationship with the Anishinaabayg, from the beginning of their life on Miss-koh-tay-sih Minis (Turtle Island) to the present day. Baxter writes about Anishinaabay life before European contact, his childhood memories of trapping, hunting, and fishing with his family on traditional lands in Treaty 9 territory, and his personal experience surviving the residential school system. Examining how Anishinaabay Kih-kayn-daa-soh-win (knowledge) is an elemental concept embedded in the Anishinaabay language, Aki-wayn-zih explores history, science, math, education, philosophy, law, and spiritual teachings, outlining the cultural significance of language to Anishinaabay identity. Recounting traditional Ojibway legends in their original language, fables in which moral virtues double as survival techniques, and detailed guidelines for expertly trapping or ensnaring animals, Baxter reveals how the residential school system shaped him as an individual, transformed his family, and forever disrupted his reserve community and those like it.
Through spiritual teachings, historical accounts, and autobiographical anecdotes, Aki-wayn-zih offers a new form of storytelling from the Anishinaabay point of view.
About the author
Eli Baxter is a fluent Ojibway speaker, a survivor of the residential school system, a knowledge keeper, and a certified Ontario teacher who is married and has two grown children.
- Short-listed, The Canada Council for the Arts
"I truly enjoyed reading this book: its way of storytelling drew me in from the opening page. Aki-wayn-zih sets up the storytelling approach of the Anishinaabay language, offering important teachings in a subtle way, and bringing in a strongly experientially grounded sense of the language and its importance for healing and connecting with the spirit of land relations." Timothy Brian Leduc, Wilfrid Laurier University and author of A Canadian Climate of Mind: Passages from Fur to Energy and Beyond
“These narratives are not as harrowing or traumatic as some other stories in circulation; however, they make it clear that residential school was a disruptive force, occasioning profound loss that was engendered by being separated from one’s family. These stories are elegant and simple, and therefore accessible, sometimes repeating elements that suggest both their roots in oral narration and their importance as a resource in the building and restoring of Anishinaabay Knowledges.” Montreal Review of Books
"Aki-wayn-zih will help many North American settlers and immigrants understand the history of the Anishinaabay people and the land that now sustains all of us. This book is eloquent and well written and offers perspectives that range from supporting dominant narratives to providing important contrasting views. It is clearly the work of an articulate storyteller respected in and beyond his community." Margaret Ann Noodin, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and author of What the Chickadee Knows
"Eli Baxter eloquently weaves us through his life on the land. This is not just a book, but also a record of Anishinaabay customs and beliefs. What also makes this an incredible treasure is the fact that it is expressed in the language. No doubt a language resource for many generations to come, the information in this book is sacred and will transform lives." Isaac Murdoch, Onaman Collective
"Aki-wayn-zih will educate not only Canadians but the world as to what my people went through during this tragic part of history. I recommend this book wholeheartedly, and I hope that it inspires our young people and the public to learn more about Indigenous Peoples, our history, and why we remain strong in our culture, our languages, our lands, and our nations." David Paul Achneepineskum, Matawa First Nations