“I wanted him to hear her laugh”
The Ojibwe Language Immersion Camp was this past June. Last year I was unable to go as I need 3 months advance notice to take time off due to my clinic schedule. This time I requested my vacation a year in advance. The camp was Thursday June 24 through Sunday June 27, 2010 and is something Rick Gresczyk , Jim Northrup and Pat Northrup have envisioned for many years. Last year the camp was successful, but smaller than this year. There were several hundred people there this year. The meals were taken care of by families at the camp and the community centers on the Fond du Lac reservation.
Ulla Suokko is a Finnish Flautist (flute player) and is known worldwide. She has played Carnegie Hall in New York City and she played Conan O’Brien’s wife when he did his Late Night with Conan O’Brien show in Finland for a week. We met her in the week prior to the camp. Frank Montano is a well known Ojibwe artist and musician and he was teaching flute making. Ulla and I and about 10 others spent the better part of 2 days making our own flutes. We started with 2 pieces of cedar and had to carve out the centers and drill out the finger holes. This was very slow work, but the end result was worth it. I told Ivy mine was a courting flute and she fell for it. Ulla and Frank showed us how to play a little bit and 4 of us played our flutes with them.
Miigwech, Frank! You and I will always be friends. Ulla and I are now like brother and sister and I’m thankful we have her in our lives. The carving tools were sharp and our blood is mixed inside my flute. Her spirit will help me learn to play.
I was also able to make my first dewe’igan (hand drum) from buffalo hide and black ash. This was a 2 day process and the drums are beautiful. Now I need to learn the songs that go with it. Randy is a born teacher and was very patient with everyone. The buffalo hide was tough and I broke one of the elder’s moozhwaagan (scissors) cutting through it. She forgave me and told me I didn’t need to replace them, but I gave her a replacement moozhwaagan that will never break and she’ll think of me every time she uses them.
Gordon taught us how to play the moccasin game and he did everything in Ojibwe. He’s a gifted storyteller and everyone was able to understand him by watching him and following his lead. He started teaching kids how to play and then the kids showed their parents. This was a great time for families to connect with each other in that way.
There were fluent speakers present and they were teaching constantly. Ancient stories and songs, traditional ways of life and the lessons we need to keep with us today. Respect for our elders is strong and was evident at the Language Camp.
Charlie Nahgahnub makes ricing poles and knockers and he was busy teaching the entire time. I hope to do this next year. I was busy making my dewe’igan and my flute and didn’t want to take a space from someone else.
Jim and Pat Northrup were sharing their birch bark basket making skills. This is very hard, painstaking work and there were beautiful baskets made by several people. It takes days for someone to make their first basket and most people don’t realize just what goes into making one.
Others were making pottery from clay with Ojibwe artist Carrie Estey. Parents and young children were working together on bowls and pots.
There were canoe races and there were 3 races with 5 or 6 teams. It was windy and the canoes were being blown sideways, which made it tricky to get around the marker going clockwise. Several of the canoes tipped over and one of them tipped over 4 times. They didn’t give up and they took the teasing they got with dignity and humility. My respect for Howard and Jay grew in that moment. Lesser people would have been mad, indignant and blaming each other. Their grace and sense of humor was a valuable lesson for everyone.
Keith Secola showed up and sang “Indian Car” and sang with Frank Montano after the canoe races. That was pretty cool.
There was a pow wow and the spot dance got everyone dancing. Then there was a forty-nine. Ivy and I held hands and danced as a couple. The dancers paired up and followed and copied head dancers Leonard and Mary Moose. They led us all around the circle and into a big spiral that seemed impossible to get out of, but they were able to turn around and lead everyone out. Then we played musical chairs. The drum and singers seemed like they were going to stop all the time. If one person got faked out and tried to sit down, everyone would try to sit down at the same time and would end up sitting on each other. I was the first one out and it was hilarious watching the rest of the game play out.
The final day was breakfast, cleaning up the
campground and it finished with a talking circle. As the eagle feather was
passed around, each person held it in turn and said whatever they needed to
say. It turns out the Immersion Camp was a very powerful event in the lives
of many of the people there.
I became an elder in my family at age 38. I
wasn’t ready for it then and I’m not ready for it now. But I have no choice,
I need to step up and accept my role.
He heard it in the Immersion Camp. Her laugh and her knowledge are in Frank, Randy, Gordon, Dan and Rick. It’s in Charlie, Carrie, Nancy, Brenda, Leonard, Mary, Jim and Pat.
It’s in everyone who was there, students and teachers alike. It’s in Ulla, it’s in Ivy and it’s in me.
It’s in all of us. We just need to remember to listen for it.
Arne Vainio, M.D. is a Family Practice Physician at the Min-No-Aya-Win Human Services Clinic on the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Reservation in Northern Minnesota. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.