Women’s Leadership Echoing Through Generations: The Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI) 2019
by Carolyn Podruchny and Katrina Srigley
Ancestors, elders, leaders, youth, and those yet to come met together for the seven-day summer institute (MISHI) from August 19 to August 25, 2019 on Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island) to explore the theme of women’s leadership. Co-sponsored by the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF), an organization devoted to Anishinaabe history and culture, and the History of Indigenous Peoples (HIP) Network, a research cluster embedded within the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York University, MISHI brought together 50 established and emerging scholars, graduate and undergraduate students, librarians, administrators, Elders, and knowledge-keepers to explore all things Anishinaabe through site visits, lectures, stories, and activities (the video below encapsulated MISHI 2018, see the end of the post for more about the film).
For Anishinaabeg, the gendered world is deeply contextual. Gender roles, experiences, and meanings are shaped by dynamic relationships to land, animals, and spirits, as well as, family, community, and self. To reflect on gender for Anishnaabekwe (Anishinaabeg women) is to acknowledge the complexity of this engagement: gendered meanings rooted in time immemorial, the binary of the colonial and western world, or an individual’s own understanding of their being can be simultaneously present (or absent) and powerfully reconfigured across time and place.
In present day and historic contexts, knowledge, skills, contributions to community, and emphasis on balance can be far more important markers of gender than prescribed meanings. Maazikaamikwe (mother earth) is gendered female based on her role as life-giver. Doodemag (clans) are passed down through the fathers’ lines, but a balanced political and diplomatic world requires the female perspective. Anishinaabekwe are recognized and respected as leaders, healers, and stewards of the water. Their contributions are integral to every community’s success. Centering the stories of Anishnaabekwe leaders gifts us this gendered history and creates space to walk together, challenging the violent legacies of colonialism and supporting Anishinaabeg resilience and resurgence. The summer institute was guided in considering these issues by presentations and lessons from 26 women and 4 men.
Our sounds of women’s leadership began on our first day, with an opening prayer and an opening talk by Elder Leona Nahwegahbow, who was the first female chief of her community, Whitefish River First Nation. She led the tone for the week with her wisdom about the importance of showing up, being present, and listening to all. Elder Veda Trudeau provided a workshop on working with materials from the land, specifically birch bark and sweet grass. Next, Alan Corbiere and Carolyn Podruchny discussed the ethics of working with Indigenous peoples and communities, underscoring the values of respect, courtesy, and reciprocity. Our day ended with Alan leading the group on a walk along the Kagawong River to listen to the sounds of Bridal Falls and to learn from Michael Belmore’s art installation “Replenishment.”
On the second day, we engaged with reciprocity as some participants shared their knowledge with the group and members of the island community. Pamela Klassen and Krista Barclay (Religion, University of Toronto) discussed their project “Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations: A Digital Storytelling Project in Collaboration with the Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre.” Doctoral student Katie Lantz (History, University of Virginia) presented on “Intercultural interactions of Anishinaabeg, Métis, and American peoples in the upper Great Lakes, c. 1790-1840s.” Susan Glover (English, Laurentian University) talked about her project with Alan Corbiere and Tom Peace on “Anishinaabe Writers before 1860.” Katrina Srigley (History, Nipissing University) described the Nipissing Homemakers Club in her talk “Everything from our hearts to our hockey sticks.” And lastly, MA student Chelsea Reid (Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation, Art History, University of Guelph) presented “Living Trees and Networks: An Exploration of Fractal Ontology.”
Next, the group traveled to Birch Island in Whitefish River First Nations. On the powwow grounds, Elder Marion McGregor and her daughter Deborah McGregor (Whitefish River First Nation) spoke about Anishinaabe spirituality, environmental views, and the ethics of university research, while Stirling McGregor (Whitefish River First Nation) led a hike to Dreamers Rock. We were blessed by a visit from a Lake Erie Watersnake, splashing around looking for food.
In the evening Leslie McGregor and Candace Jacko (Whitefish River First Nation) spoke about their personal experiences that led them to work with youth in their community, specifically working to tackle suicides and substance abuse. They surprised us by bringing with them five members of the Seven Generations Youth Council (all under 18 years of age). These people are devoted to creating programming for youth in their community to help them learn about Anishinaabe culture. We could hear women’s leadership literally echoing through generations.
We spent our third day as guests of the WHO on Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, where Elder Phyllis Williams led a medicine walk along Bebamike Memorial Trail and Elder Rita Corbiere shared her stories of teaching and leadership at the Holy Cross Church. At lunch we heard a talk by doctoral student Josh Manitowabi (Wikwemikong First Nation, History, Brock University) on “Reconsidering Anishinabek Clans during the Fur Trade Era.” In the evening, half of the group went to dig for locally occurring clay with Elder and artist David Miigwans (M’Chigeeng First Nation), while the rest played bingo at the M’Chigeeng Community Centre.
The main theme of our institute, women’s leadership, was the focus of our fourth day. We were honoured by a panel discussion at the OCF among three current female chiefs: Linda Debassige (M’Chigeeng First Nation), Elaine Johnston (Serpent River First Nation), and Patsy Corbiere (Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation), who all taught us of the strength, diversity, creativity, and resilience required of female chiefs.
After lunch we resumed with participant panels that were open to the local community. First, we listened to a talk on Ojibwe Cultural Foundation Archives Project by Anna St. Onge (York University Libraries) and student interns, Erin Goulais (Nipissing First Nation), Nan Zhou, and Brandon Brown-Bear (Wolastoqiyik). Heidi Bohaker (History, University of Toronto) then discussed “Anishinaabe Women’s Councils in Treaty Negotiations.” Lastly, Susan Gray (History, Arizona State University) presented “An Anishinaabe Family and the Canada-US border.” Next, half of the group joined Elder and artist David Miigwans to process the clay dug the night before and fashioned bowls. The other half listened to an artist talk by Wyandot Faith Keeper Catherine Tammaro.
After dinner, we listened to talks by archaeology professor Alicia Hawkins (Laurentian University) and anthropology MA student Hillary Kiazyk (Western University) about the Providence Bay site. We then traveled to the archaeological site to view it in person and further discuss its history dating from roughly 10,000 years ago to 100 years ago). The cranes circling overhead in the early evening punctuated our visit with their rattling calls.
On our fifth day we listened to two guests speakers. Emily McGillivray (Native American Studies, Northland College) spoke about “Navigating the Currents: Anishinaabe Women and Political Changes in the 19th-Century Great Lakes,” while Bimadoshka (Annya) Pucan (Saugeen First Nation, Western University) presented “Voices of Chief’s Point,” the story of her work with 80-year-old wax cylinders containing recordings made by Anishinaa Robert Thompson.
After lunch, half of the group continued working on their clay pots with David Miigwans, while the other half joined artist Jessie Purcell in blocking printing designs by Christie Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch of the Onaman Collective, who were exhibiting in the OCF Art Gallery.
We met for a closing feast at Red Lodge Resort, and heard closing presentations from Alan Corbiere (M’Chigeeng), who discussed the ethics of research and powwow protocols, and Naomi Recollet (Wikwemikong), who discussed the history, work, and power inherent in her personal jingle dresses, which she brought to share with the group.
The last two days of MISHI, while we visited a traditional powwow at Zhiibaahaasing First Nation on the northern shoreline of Manitoulin at its western edge, drums provided the backdrop to our reflections on our week of learning.
Participants in MISHI learned important lessons this year about women’s leadership through our speakers, visitors, activities, and sounds.
We were guided by the very generous Elders in lessons of wisdom and honesty. Chi miigwetch to Leona Nahwegahbow, Veda Trudeau, Marion McGregor, Rita Corbiere, Phyllis Williams, and David Miigwans.
Current leaders took time out of their hectic, overwhelming schedules to teach us about humility and truth. Chi miigwetch to Sophie Corbiere, Linda Debassige, Elaine Johnston, Patsy Corbiere, Deborah McGregor, Leslie McGregor, Alan Corbiere, and Bimadishka Pucan.
Emerging leaders taught about bravery and respect. Chi miigwetch to Naomi Recollet, Candace Jacko, Josh Manitowabi, and the powwow dancers.
And finally, the youth we met, especially the Seven Generations Youth Council, taught us about love. Through the sounds of falling water, hissing snakes, echoing cranes, jingling dresses, and beating drums, these seven lessons of wisdom, honesty, humility, truth, bravery, respect, and love highlight the roles of Anishishnaabekwe ogimaawiwin in the past, present, and future.
Carolyn Podruchny is a professor of history at York University. Katrina Srigley is a professor of history at Nipissing University.
Event organizers were Carolyn Podruchny (co-founder of HIP Network, York University), Alan Corbiere (doctoral student in History, York University, M’Chigeeng First Nation), Sophie Corbiere (acting executive co-director of the OCF, M’Chigeeng First Nation), Naomi Recollet (archivist and acting executive co-director of the OCF, M’Chigeeng First Nation), Lewis Debassige (Elder and co-founder of the OCF, M’Chigeeng First Nation, who sadly passed away in March), Leona Nahwegahbow (Elder and former chief, Whitefish River First Nation), Deborah McGregor (York University, Whitefish River First Nation), and Katrina Srigley (History Department, Nipissing University).
The OCF represents six First Nations (Aundek Omni Kaning, M’Chigeeng, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Whitefish River, and Zhiibaahaasing) and is dedicated to nourishing and preserving Anishinaabe history, arts, language, and spirituality. The HIP Network encourages and supports the research of the histories of Indigenous peoples, primarily among graduate students and faculty members at York University and neighbouring institutions. MISHI builds on a partnership developed between the OCF and the HIP Network over the last four years through fieldtrips, workshops, and lectures. Our partnership includes the Wikwemikong Heritage Organization (WHO), located on unceded territory on Manitoulin, dedicated to preserving and enhancing Anishinaabe culture through education and participatory cultural opportunities with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and ActiveHistory.ca, a website that connects the work of historians with the wider public.
About the film:
Aanii. Niinsa Waazakone’ankwad’kwe. Chelsea Reid nindizhinikaz. Atikameksheng Anishnawbek Nookomis indoonjibaa, Migizi indodem. Hello. I am Cloud with the Silver Lining. My name is Chelsea Reid. My grandmother is from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek (Formerly Whitefish Lake First Nation) and I have been told that I am Eagle Clan. My Father and my Grandfather are of European descent.
In 2018, as part of my research with the MA program at the University of Guelph, I called the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation to see if they might be interested in collaborating on a project. Then-Executive Director Anong Beam invited me to participate in a conference Anishinaabe History that would teach me about how to work reciprocally with community for research projects. I spoke with Carolyn Podruchny who was coordinating the conference and asked if they would be interested in having the proceedings video-recorded, for the archives at the OCF.
That is how I came to be the videographer for the Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI) Conference this year, where we learned about Anishinaabekwe Ogimaawiwin (Women’s Leadership) by spending the week listening to talks and doing workshops with Chiefs, Knowledge Keepers, Artists and Scholars who shared their experiences and knowledge to enrich our understanding and connection with Anishinaabekwe in both historical and contemporary contexts.
Over the course of six-months after I left MISHI, I worked to edit and synchronize audio for all of the talks and some workshops, which amounted to just shy of twenty videos. This video is a montage that I made from the footage collected last year. The music is by Ziibiwan, an electronic artist from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory who synthesizes beautifully ambient soundscapes.