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Social Science Indigenous Studies

Di-bayn-di-zi-win (To Own Ourselves)

Embodying Ojibway-Anishinabe Ways

by (author) Jerry Fontaine & Don McCaskill

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2022
Indigenous Studies, Native American
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    Feb 2022
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    Feb 2022
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A collaboration exploring the importance of the Ojibway-Anishinabe worldview, use of ceremony, and language in living a good life, attaining true reconciliation, and resisting the notions of indigenization and colonialization inherent in Western institutions.

Indigenization within the academy and the idea of truth and reconciliation within Canada have been seen as the remedy to correct the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canadian society. While honourable, these actions are difficult to achieve given the Western nature of institutions in Canada and the collective memory of its citizens, and the burden of proof has always been the responsibility of Anishinabeg.

Authors Makwa Ogimaa (Jerry Fontaine) and Ka-pi-ta-aht (Don McCaskill) tell their di-bah-ji-mo-wi-nan (Stories of personal experience) to provide insight into the cultural, political, social, and academic events of the past fifty years of Ojibway-Anishinabe resistance in Canada. They suggest that Ojibway-Anishinabe i-zhi-chi-gay-win zhigo kayn-dah-so-win (Ways of doing and knowing) can provide an alternative way of living and thriving in the world. This distinctive worldview — as well as Ojibway-Anishinabe values, language, and ceremonial practices — can provide an alternative to Western political and academic institutions and peel away the layers of colonialism, violence, and injustice, speaking truth and leading to true reconciliation.

About the authors

Makwa Ogimaa (Jerry Fontaine) is Ojibway-Anishinabe from the Ojibway-Anishinabe community of Sagkeeng in Manitoba. He was (indian act) Chief during the period 1987 to 1998 and has been an adviser to Anishinabe communities and industry. Jerry currently teaches in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Winnipeg. He lives in Traverse Bay, Manitoba.


Jerry Fontaine's profile page

ka-pi-ta-aht (Don McCaskill) is professor emeritus in the Department of Indigenous Studies at Trent University, where he taught for forty-seven years and served as chair for thirteen years. He has edited seven books in the fields of Anishinabe culture, education, community development, and urbanization. He has gained knowledge from Anishinabe Elders through teachings and participation in ceremonies. He lives in Toronto.


Don McCaskill's profile page

Excerpt: Di-bayn-di-zi-win (To Own Ourselves): Embodying Ojibway-Anishinabe Ways (by (author) Jerry Fontaine & Don McCaskill)

Niinitam (My Turn)
Don McCaskill
After the meeting at Trent University with Jerry, Scott, Kathryn, Elena, and me, we had the eagle feather we presented to Scott dressed at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. I then went to the Dundurn offices to present the feather to Scott. Scott invited the staff of Dundurn to join us, and I conducted an Eagle Feather teaching and gifted the feather to Scott. Thus, we secured our relationship in a ceremonial way.
We view Di-bayn-di-zi-win (To Own Ourselves): Embodying Ojibway-Anishinabe Ways as an attempt to articulate Ojibway-Anishinabe i-nah-di-zi-win (ontology), nah-nahn-gah-dah-wayn-ji-gay-win (epistemology), i-zhi-chi-gay-win (methodology), and indian ways as a valid way to understand the world. It is part of a larger movement of political, cultural, and academic resurgence of Anishinabeg across North America. As Odawa-Anishinabe Elder Edna Manitowabi suggests, “It is time for us to come home as a people. To find our way back to our mother. A place to open our hearts and use the tools we were given to help the land.” The movement involves Elders, Spiritual Leaders, Medicine People, political activists, academics, and community people who have worked over many years to ensure that Anishinabe ways of doing and knowing are maintained as an authentic knowledge system. We believe that it is important for the younger generation to know about and acknowledge the struggles and sacrifices that earlier generations of Anishinabe Elders, Spiritual Leaders, Medicine People, activists, and academics went through to achieve the successes of today. Therefore, in part, the book is about how to live as an Anishinabe person that aligns with original ways of doing and knowing. We believe that the volume will also be valuable to non-Anishinabe members of the general public who are interested in understanding how Anishinabe people came to this place in their history and how Ojibway-Anishinabe and indian ways are valid ways to understand how to live in Canada for all Canadians. It is about how Anishinabe and non-Anishinabe people can come to coexist in true reconciliation through the culturally-based processes of bezhig onaagan gaye bezhig emikwaan (One dish and one spoon), biin-di-go-daa-di-win (To enter one another’s lodge) and naa-wi aki (The middle ground), as described below.
In chapter 1 I tell my di-bah-ji-mo-wi-nan (Stories of personal experience) about how I came to understand aspects of Anishinabe and indian ways. It explores my spiritual journey and my involvement with Kitchi Anishinabeg (Elders), gi’i’ i’ go-shi-mo (fasting camps), and teaching in the Department of Indigenous Studies at Trent University. In telling my story, I attempt to convey what I have discovered by being with Elders, Spiritual Leaders, and Medicine People in ceremony, and through teaching in the hope that others can come to appreciate the richness and depth of Ojibway-Anishinabe Indian ways.
Chapter 2 focuses on the political activism and cultural renewal of the Seventh Fire from the late 1960s to the present, which I participated in and observed over my five decades of involvement with Anishinabeg. It traces political events from government attempts at assimilation through the infamous White Paper in 1969, to the confrontation at Oka in 1990, to attempts at reconciliation outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report in 2015 and in Bill C-15 in 2020. The chapter also discusses the revival of Anishinabe culture across Canada beginning in the early 1970s, which witnessed the restoration of Elders, Spiritual Leaders, and Medicine People into their central roles as leaders in their communities and the resurgence of sacred ceremonies and cultural teachings throughout Turtle Island. We believe that it is important to understand where you have come from in order to move forward and achieve political, personal, and spiritual di-bayn-di-zi-win (Self-determination).
Chapter 3 explores how post-secondary educational institutions have endeavoured to authentically reflect the philosophy, values, worldview, and practices of Anishinabeg within the context of reconciliation and Indianization of the academy. The discipline of Indigenous Studies has been the primary vehicle within universities and colleges to attempt to understand Ojibway-Anishinabe ways. The discipline is over fifty years old. Indigenous Studies functions in a world where five hundred years of colonialism, imperialism, and oppression have severely impacted the lives of Anishinabeg and their cultures and functions within a Western institution with specific values, structures, and practices.
But, as Jerry (Makwa Ogimaa) suggests, Ojibway-Anishinabe cultures possess strong linguistic, spiritual, and ecological traditions that still reside in the imagination and way of life of the people. At its best, Indigenous Studies can be viewed as doors and windows into the world of Ojibway-Anishinabe ways of doing and knowing. It can reveal windows into various aspects of Ojibway-Anishinabe life and open doors to pragmatic action that can renew and help heal Anishinabeg on their life journey through alternative ways of doing and knowing. It can assist students in unpacking their o-dah-bah-ji-gahn (Medicine Bundles) and rediscovering with new eyes the inspiring stories and wisdom of a world rooted in the wisdom of Ojibway-Anishinabe and indian ways. We at Trent are proud of the many generations of students who have gone on to make significant contributions to Anishinabe life in a variety of capacities.
As an academic discipline embedded in a Western institution, Indigenous Studies can assist students in seeing and appreciating Ojibway-Anishinabe indian ways and can open the door to their further understanding of this alternative way of knowing the world, but the students must walk through the door themselves. Meaningful comprehension of those ways involves learning from Elders, Spirtiual Leaders, and Medicine People and establishing relationships with the community, the ceremonies, the land, and the language. Universities and colleges are fundamentally institutions based on Western values, beliefs, and practices and can go only so far in instilling Ojibway-Anishinabe indian ways, no matter how well-intentioned these institutions are in their efforts to indigenize the academy. For as Gustavo Esteva and Madhu Suri Prakash observe, “No challenge to the proliferating experiences of people’s powerlessness succeeds when conceived and implemented inside the institutional and intellectual framework which produced it.” They are two separate worlds and two separate educational experiences.
It is a central theme of this book that to appreciate Ojibway-Anishinabe and indian ways, it is important to change the discourse, challenge mainstream institutional approaches, and ground those understandings in the nah-nahn-gah-dah-wayn-ji-gay-win (epistemology), i-nah-di-zi-win (ontology), and i-zhi-chi-gay-win (methodology) of Ojibway-Anishinabe ways of doing and knowing. The Ojibway-Anishinabe worldview and pedagogy differ substantially from the Western worldview and pedagogy. By presenting an alternative paradigm based on di-bayn-di-zi-win (To Own Ourselves) we are attempting to open new ways of seeing and living our experiences based on Ojibway-Anishinabe indian ways. It is rooted in place and is centred in relationships and responsibilities of humans to the universe. In this way we are attempting to shift the narrative toward a different way of understanding the circumstances of Anishinabeg and their place in Canadian society and to assist Canadians in appreciating Ojibway-Anishinabe cultures and aspirations. We live in an era of reconciliation, largely as a result of the TRC and a recognition that we need to search for new ways to come together and live side by side on this land. The TRC defines reconciliation as “coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among peoples going forward.” The TRC is an invitation for Canadians to learn the truth about the marginalization of Anishinabeg, admit the harsh reality of racism and oppression, open our minds, let go of knowledge and opinions that no longer serve us well, and rethink our relationships. For this to occur, there needs to be a relationship established between Anishinabeg and non-Anishinabeg that is based on respect for, and to some extent understanding of, each other’s knowledge systems. This respect can lead to trust and an ongoing dialogue as to how to live together in friendship and come to an agreement as to how to share the land.

Editorial Reviews

There are multiple ways to inhabit our deepest principles. There are also many ways to honor land and our elders by embodying the teachings of both. Here is life found in kindness, loving, and truth. How do we access healing and how do we share this healing with others? Reading this book is one way. Tears of gratitude are for you both, Jerry Fontaine and Don McCaskill. Mahalo nui no ko “ike nahenahe. Thank you for this mutual emergence shaped as much by friendship as it is by “ike kupuna - elder knowledge. What is within these pages are ceremonial gifts offered to all who will take the time to connect with what is inevitable about our collective evolution.

Manulani Aluli Meyer, University of Hawaii

The work that will take us towards the equitable and respectful mutual co-existence that our ancestors envisioned with each treaty signed to share land and resources includes this book and others to come.

Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations

These messages must be for ourselves first and foremost in that a much-neglected area in our struggle is the reclaiming of our minds — our own imaginations. Di-bayn-di-zi-win will be useful for our people here in New Zealand and many of the Indigenous jurisdictions I have worked with across the world.

Graham Hingangaroa Smith, Distinguished Professor, Massey University - NZ

This book can be a source of inspiration to take a new path, in and out of academia, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Gustavo Esteva, Universidad de la Tierra en Oaxaca

Other titles by Jerry Fontaine

Other titles by Don McCaskill