“Everyone has the right to feel good about who they are, and for us, with all that we have been through since the coming of the visitors to our island, this place given to us by the creator – it’s been a long time that we have not felt that way, but everyone, and there is no exception to this, everyone has the right to feel good about who they are” – Onaubinisay
This statement, while seemingly uncomplicated, is a profound expression of an important aspect of the Anishinaabe worldview and serves as a guide for how we as Anishinaabe peoples can heal the wounds in our communities. As a result of the legacy of the Residential School system, the loss of land, language and culture, and other unresolved trauma – Indigenous peoples collectively and individually – have existed for a long time without the ability to feel good about who we are.
For Anishinaabe peoples, material culture carries so much meaning. Moccasins don’t just cover our feet, they connect us to our mother the earth – they are how we leave spiritual tracks for our descendants to follow. Our floral beaded vests aren’t just for warmth, they express our appreciation for life. Our medallions are not just jewelry, they express our spiritual identities and let creation know something about us before we even say “Boozhoo.” Items and objects which in other cultures would just be tools or accessories, are for us living beings, they are our relatives, we dress them up, to protect them and to show our appreciation for the work they do for us.
Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig is a unique and beautiful Anishinaabe educational institution, located in Bawaating (Sault Ste Marie). Shingwauk is the embodiment of the vision of Chief Shingwaukonse (1773-1854) who spoke of a “teaching wigwam” where the children of his community could learn the skills and tools of the new society that has come to our lands. His vision was taken over and corrupted by church and government officials and it became a sad period in our history. Located on the site of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and in partnership with Algoma University, Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig offers two, one-of-a-kind undergraduate degree programs, Anishinaabe Studies and Anishinaabemowin.
Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig’s approach to education is known as “culture based education” a method developed in the 1970s by Ojibwe activist, spiritual leader and author, Bawdwaywidun Benaise (Eddie Benton-Benai.) In 2008, Bawdwaywidun joined the Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig team as professor and academic dean. Bawdwaywidun brought with him his culture-based approach which roots our learning, first and foremost in our own ways of seeing, knowing, doing and relating. Culture based education understands that as Anishinaabe people, we are all dealing with the legacy and lasting effects of colonialism, and that “in order to heal, we must know the wound.”
Bawdwaywidun teaches us, “when you are creating things, you are doing spiritual work, you are tapping into the original energy that the creator used to create our universe. That’s why it feels good, because it connects your spirit to the spirit of creation” For Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig’s students, we try to provide them with as many opportunities to connect their spirit with that creative spirit. Throughout the year, we host various workshops, giving students access to teachers who can share their knowledge and experience. For example, we have hosted tikinaagan and moccasin making with Ryan and Shannon Gustafson, Quillwork with Dallas Abitong, and workshops focused on birchbark baskets, tobacco bowls, and shakers to name a few.
Most frequently, we host a weekly beading circle. The circle brings together professional crafters and those who have never picked up a needle. They learn from some of the best beadworkers around, Dawnis Kennedy, Doreen Day, Noodin Shawanda and many others over the years. I first learned to bead at Shingwauk bead night, nearly 8 years ago.
Bead night is a wonderful time, to unwind, to disconnect from your emails and assignments and to reconnect with yourself. We share food, and stories. We discuss issues of the day, the latest in NDN politics and giggle about our favourite new memes, and discuss our dreams of a de-colonial future guided by love for ourselves and our peoples, far beyond the platitudes of “reconciliation.”
The students discuss their latest lessons from their Anishinaabe Studies class and try to incorporate was much Anishinaabemowin as they can. What bead night is most of all is a chance to do what our elders say we don’t do enough, which is to visit, as a community, as a family. As we visit, we connect with that creative spirit of creation. Our students are beading their graduation caps, sewing together their moccasins for ceremonies, beading a moss bag for their little ones who are on their way. This is how we heal ourselves. This is how we heal our communities. This is how we exercise our inherent right to feel good about who we are.
Mitch Case is the Director of Student Services, Outreach and Resources at Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig. A citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario, Mitch is a much respected and sought after beadworker, who practices a traditional Métis floral style