Smagnis Says; This week`s postings to the site is a potpourri of subject matter. The  week`s biggest  hit for social media response  was a sitting Canadian Senator`s comments pertaining to those good and well intentioned people who were teachers and administrators at Residential  Schools. Yes, there were good and well intentioned people and some who attended had a good experience but that must not cloud the real facts and impact of Residential schools. The intent was to eliminate the Indian in children by ripping them from the arms of their parents. The intent was pure and simple …Change who you are to conform to those in authority`s thoughts of who you should be. Let alone, suffering on going abuse in the process.That was and is wrong and should not be clouded during this sensitive time of reconciliation for many survivors and family members of survivors who have been impacted.

Another tramatic event in our history is the 60`s Scoop. The product of which were children with a lost identity. One such individual was Richard Wagamese, one of our great authors who joined the Spirit World this week. I have chosen one of his many articles that appeared in Aboriginal publications to highlight. It is entitled, ” Took me a while to find out what being Ojibway meant”. To me he captures what the meaning of being Aboriginal is in this article and it is far beyond the “Status Card”! Indeed it means ” learning to inhabit what you do. Pulling it into you. Letting it become you. Letting it live in you”. May your Spirit continue to teach us Richard Wagamese and thank you for leaving such a footprint to follow!


Took me a while to find out what being Ojibway meant

Eagle Feather News – Richard Wagamese


(previously published)

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For the longest time I wondered what it really meant to be Ojibway. As a child growing up in a non-native world, the word Ojibway was always just a word. I was never allowed to frame a definition for it. Instead, I was expected to become a cardboard cut-out of the person my white adopted family wanted me to be. That image had nothing to do with being Ojibway.

I lived in a strict Presbyterian home where church and discipline were the twin tenets of living. You followed the commandments and you followed the rules and there was no room for any living outside of those lines. I was never offered the chance to connect with any of my own people. Apparently, there was no reason to do so. In that world, adopted meant painted over and forgotten.

I left that home at sixteen and finally rejoined my Ojibway family in 1979 when I was 24. Talk about culture shock. My greatest fear back then was that if I didn’t fit in with my own people, if they didn’t accept me, then I would be truly lost. . I worried about that. I’d spent my entire life searching for a peg to hang it on and I really wanted it to be a brown one. But I was still unsure of what Ojibway meant because when I disappeared into the adoption vortex my identity was lost to me.

But I was hungry to learn. There seemed to be an enormous amount of things the people around me took for granted. I wanted to know about these things and I searched valiantly everywhere. There were a lot of books. I dove into them with a passion but I always seemed to come out of them feeling even more lost. As much respect as I had for the written word, books didn’t seem to be able to contain the spirit or the energy I was looking for.

Later, I would discover that learning to be native from a book is about as effective as learning to dance by climbing trees.


Then there were gatherings. I went to feasts and powwows, tea dances and round dances, hand games and sports tournaments and as much as I was welcomed, enjoyed myself and felt the beginnings of a definite connection, there was still something profound lacking in those joyous occasions. I didn’t know what it was but I could sense it. The people had a spirit, a definite, particular energy and I wanted to find it.

Ceremonies brought me closer. When I went to sweat lodges, sun dances, naming ceremonies and spiritual gatherings there was a palpable sense of rightness that I’d ever encountered before. I fasted, did four-day Vision Quest ceremonies, made tobacco offerings and spent time asking questions about ceremony of traditional teachers. Ritual seemed to be the closest link to what I was looking for and I went as often as I could.

I talked to a lot of older people and they had hundreds of stories about the older, more traditional tribal times. I got lost in those. The way they were told made me able to see and get a vivid sense of what it must have been like before everything changed forever. The greater part of my cultural education and reawakening came from the stories people gave to me.

I searched and I searched for the definition of what it meant to be Ojibway. I learned a lot. I was given a tremendous amount of teachings. I was even directed to become a storyteller. In the end it was the people themselves that gave it to me. The more time I spent with them and grew to feel comfortable and accepted and a part of things, the more I opened myself to the experience, the more I saw who I was created to be.

I remember standing on the shore of a river in northern Saskatchewan watching old men smoking, laughing and mending nets. They were comfortable in the work and with each other and their hands moved almost by themselves. They chatted and their fingers twirled and pulled and shaped the nets into workable fashion and it fascinated me. Their hands remembered. The activity lived in their skin. When they looked up and saw me there they smiled, their hands continuing the dance they’ve learned by touch.

That’s when I finally got it. That’s when I knew that what it means to be First Nations, aboriginal, indigenous, Ojibway, or even Scot, Iranian and German, is learning to inhabit what you do. Pulling it into you. Letting it become you. Letting it live in you.

Being Ojibway, being human, is the effortless, almost mindless mending of the nets we cast across the currents of time.



Ojibway author Richard Wagamese dead at 61

Acclaimed Indigenous author reflected on legacy of residential schools in novels such as Indian Horse

Award-winning author and journalist Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario whose work was deeply influenced by Indigenous experiences in Canada’s residential school system, has died.

Wagamese, 61, called himself a second-generation survivor of the government-sponsored schools, attended by his parents and extended family members.

In many of his 13 titles from major Canadian publishers, he drew from his own struggle with family dysfunction that he attributed to the isolating church-run schools.

One of his many novels, Indian Horse, was a finalist in CBC’s Canada Reads in 2013, bringing it to wider attention. It also was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.

It tells the story of the intergenerational trauma that played out in the lives of those who attended residential schools in the 1960s and ’70s. It’s the story of Saul Indian Horse, a boy who finds release through his passion for hockey.

Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese’s novel Indian Horse was a finalist in CBC’s Canada Reads 2013. The author was born in 1955 near Kenora, Ont., and lived in Kamloops, B.C.

Two years after its release, in 2014, he spoke to Carol Off, host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens, about the psychological impact of being separated from family and how the trauma is passed on to the next generation.

“The nature of their experience, their common experience in residential schools, really robbed them of their tribal and cultural ability to be nurturing and to be loving parents,” Wagamese said.

“They had suffered the scrapes and woundings of their souls and their spirits that was not readily healable. And when we were born as children, we were subjected to the neglect and the pain that that generation had suffered, so intergenerationally, residential schools infiltrated my generation in my family, and that’s true across the country.”

The film Indian Horse, adapted from the book, is currently in production, directed by Dennis Foon (Life, Above All, Double Happiness).

Father-son themes

Wagamese’s 2014 novel Medicine Walk also addresses efforts to preserve culture and heal a divided family — as a teenage son and dying father who barely know each other embark on a journey through the backcountry of the B.C. Interior so that the father can be buried according to Ojibway custom.

After its release, the author, who lived in Kamloops, B.C., spoke to friend and CBC host Shelagh Rogers about Medicine Walk on B.C.’s Gabriola Island, where she lives.

He said he saw Medicine Walk as the continuation of a story that started with For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son, his critically acclaimed and largely autobiographical 2002 novel.

Wagamese said he was reaching for an explanation for his problems, including “dropping out and dropping into active addiction,” when he wrote For Joshua, dedicated to his younger son.

A year after Joshua was published, Wagamese learned he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, news that helped him to start managing the trauma from childhood abuse.

“With the diagnosis of PTSD I suddenly had something that was treatable, and if it was treatable it meant that it was manageable, and if it was manageable it meant that I needed to find ways to manage it,” he said.

As one of Canada’s foremost Indigenous authors and storytellers, Richard Wagamese has been a professional writer since 1979. His body of work includes six novels, a book of poetry (Runaway Dreams) and five non-fiction titles, including two memoirs and an anthology of his newspaper columns.

He won the Molson Prize in 2013, a prize awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts for achievement in the arts, humanities and social sciences. That same year, he picked up the inaugural Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature.

Wagamese has twice won the Native American Press Association Award and the National Aboriginal Communications Society Award for his newspaper columns, which were collected in The Terrible Summer.

In 2010, he received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, in recognition of his lifetime of achievement in writing and publishing, and in 2011 he was the Harvey Stevenson Southam Guest Lecturer in journalism at the University of Victoria.

Toronto Star

Time to recognize Indigenous people as one of Canada’s founders

That First Nations were so brutally pushed aside after they had in fact worked with French and British explorers, fur traders, and buffalo hunters was perhaps the worst indignity.

Terry Aleck Coyote of Lytton First Nation shows his necklaces during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's closing events on June 2, 2015 in Ottawa, Ont. The necklaces each have meaning: from left, a cougar claw, a jade piece, a cedar paddle and a eagle feather. "As we celebrate the 150th year of Confederation surely it is time to recognize that Aboriginal Peoples are intrinsic to what we are as a country," writes Gillian Steward.
Terry Aleck Coyote of Lytton First Nation shows his necklaces during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s closing events on June 2, 2015 in Ottawa, Ont. The necklaces each have meaning: from left, a cougar claw, a jade piece, a cedar paddle and a eagle feather. “As we celebrate the 150th year of Confederation surely it is time to recognize that Aboriginal Peoples are intrinsic to what we are as a country,” writes Gillian Steward.  (Justin Tang / Special to the Star)  

As people fearful of living in Trumpland straggle to our border through bitter cold and deep snow trailing suitcases behind them, they seem reminiscent of an earlier time.

A time when some aboriginal people had to gather all their possessions and walk to the piece of land that had been deemed their new home.

Of course, those people weren’t walking to the kind of freedom the current U.S escapees are hoping to find. They were walking to confinement and in some instances starvation.

This is exactly what happened to Doug Cuthand’s ancestors. The Saskatchewan writer and film producer evoked that era recently in a thought-provoking piece for the CBC.

He detailed how his people originally lived in the Cypress Hills in what is now southeastern Alberta near the U.S border. After signing Treaty 6, their chief wanted a reserve there but the government had other ideas and they were sent much further north to the Fort Battleford area.

It is a story that resonates across the Prairie Provinces where once nomadic peoples such as the Cree, Blackfoot, and Sioux were forced to abandon ways that had sustained them for thousands of years to live in a much smaller world where food was scarce and disease was plentiful.

Too bad, as the joke goes, the First Nations didn’t have an immigration policy at the time so they could slow the onslaught of settlers who were pushing them aside and taking over their land.

“ … it’s kind of odd as an Indigenous person to sit and watch refugees cross the border into Canada,” writes Cuthand. “It’s kind of late to complain about immigration. There are 35 million people in Canada and only 1 million of us are members of the original First Nations. What difference will a few more make?”

 That First Nations were so brutally pushed aside after they had in fact worked with French and British explorers, fur traders, and buffalo hunters was perhaps the worst indignity. Without the sure knowledge of how to survive in the northern wilderness, how to find and trap fur-bearing animals, how to track the vast herds of buffalo, the newcomers might have given up and gone home. It might have been well past 1867 when Canada started to come together as a country.

So when are we actually going to formally recognize that Canada has three founding peoples — Indigenous, French, and British — not just two?

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the oath of Canadian citizenship include a promise to honour Indigenous treaties. It also recommended that government information packages designed for newcomers include Indigenous history.

The government is already following through. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter for new Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen lists making the change to the citizenship oath as one of his key priorities. Consultations between bureaucrats and Indigenous representatives are already underway.

Talk about squaring the circle: Hussen is a former refugee from Somalia. Perhaps refugees understand the isolation and humiliation of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples better than anyone else.

Philosopher and author John Ralston Saul asserts that Canada’s story is one of a “Métis Nation,” as all Canadians sit within the circle of the aboriginal people who inhabited this land first and whose descendants are still here.

Kathleen Mahoney, a law professor at the University of Calgary, wants to take the recognition of Canada’s Indigenous roots even further.

She would like to see Indigenous people recognized in the Canadian constitution as one of the founding peoples. Of course, there were no aboriginal people at the table when the Fathers of Confederation came to an agreement and called it Canada. Some treaties between Indigenous groups and the colonizers had already been signed at the time but technically Aboriginal Peoples are not considered founders.

As we celebrate the 150th year of Confederation surely it is time to recognize that Aboriginal Peoples are intrinsic to what we are as a country.

It would be a symbolic gesture but it would go a long way to recognizing and embracing the idea that First Nations have always been much more than refugees in their own country.

Gillian Steward is a Calgary writer and former managing editor of the Calgary Herald. Her column appears every other week.