||Aug 7, 2007
Ways of Our Grandfathers describes Ojibway culture from pre and early contact with Europeans.
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Books by Award Winning Author David D Plain
Ways of Our Grandfathers compliments David D Plain's previous book, The Plains of Aamjiwnaang. While his first book focused on the history of the Ahnishenahbek (Chippewa) of Aamjiwnaang territory Ways of Our Grandfathers describes Ahnishenahbek culture and traditions from the pre and early contact period with Europeans. It covers such anthropological topics as social life, economic life, and religious life. Clear descriptions of characteristics, language, political structure, band designations and their totemic system are illustrated. Gatherings, games and stories are depicted with vivid illustrations. Construction of their dwellings and canoes are described as well as methods of hunting, fishing and sugar making. Trade routes and places of trade are given as well as types of trade goods. Religious life is detailed and includes a description of the political structure of the Midéwiwin Medicine Society, healing practices and death customs. The book includes an appendix listing many traditional medicines. Another appendix provides a detailed description of a Midéwiwin initiation ceremony performed on the banks of the St. Clair River recorded verbatim by a local missionary.
Most muneedoog were good most of the time but could at times be mischievous or even spiteful. A good example of this type of muneedoo was the Mamagwasewug or the hidden or covered beings. They were little spirit beings commonly called fairies or sprites. The preferred to live along riverbanks or wetlands and are at most times invisible. Some of the old ones say they have seen them and have even talked to them. They are described as two to three feet tall, have a human form walking erect but their faces are covered with soft hair. They are said to be fond of shooting firearms and love bright bits of cloth. If one helps them to attain these things one will be rewarded with long life or success in hunting. The following is a story of a group of Mamagwasewug living along the St. Clair River in the 1820s.
In 1824 a Scottish family who were living on the banks of the St. Clair River came under harassment by some invisible entities. Their property was being assailed; first their poultry suffered seizures and died then their livestock. Next the house was attacked. Small pieces of lead and stones were thrown at the windows, which broke and they landed on the floor. Later, live coals were found placed in different parts of the house and at first were discovered by the family and extinguished just in time. However, eventually the house burned down.
The family, friends and neighbours attributed these occurrences to witchcraft and a famed witch doctor from Niagara Falls named Troyer was called in. He attempted to exorcise the property by shooting off his gun, which he said was loaded with silver bullets. He said this was the only kind of weapon that would be effective against a witch. While this was going on the local magistrate heard of it and issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Troyer. He heard of the warrant and so beat a hasty retreat back to Niagara Falls.
Pazhekezhikquashkum, the old Otahwah head chief and shaman from Walpole Island was consulted and he confided that he knew what was going on all the time. He said the place on which the house stood was the former residence of the Mamagwasewug but when the Scotchman built his house on the spot where the Mamagwasewug lived they moved back into the poplar grove. They lived there for several years but then the Scotchman cleared and burnt the grove. This made the Mamagwasewug angry and feeling indignant at such treatment they exacted revenge on his property.
Jones, History, 157-159.
In his second book, Plain also considers his ancestors thematically. This reveals intriguing characteristics about
Ahnishenahbek society, and illustrates why a significant number of Europeans philosophers in the 1700s saw in aboriginal culture
an alternative to their own class-based societies: ‘Each band, indeed each village had total autonomy. Each village had a council, which was made up of elders. Village councils invited its members to sit according to ability and demonstrated wisdom. The council invited chiefs to their positions…it was the council that determined support for a war effort, not the War Chief…There were also civil chiefs, who were responsible for such
decisions as trade negotiations and in conjunction with War Chiefs, peace negotiations…[only] occasionally a single person could be both a War and a Civil chief.’
The author’s last chapter is simply entitled ‘Religious Life’. Because of the revival of interest in native spirituality there may be fewer surprises for more readers. And so the sweat lodges and vision quests and the spiritual qualities of nature of which he
speaks, for instance, may be widely recognized in contemporary society if still poorly understood. But he also points out the
character of creation stories which were early recognized by Christian missionaries as echoes of their own. But nowhere does
the author really discuss the impact of Christian worship or theology on the spirituality of the Ahnishenahbek, though by the mid-nineteenth century this interchange had certainly begun. Was Christianity so completely European and did Christianity
become so entangled with the Indian Act that he feels there really could be such a thing as an authentic Ahnishenahbek
Christianity? Or does he plan to write another book explaining a connection between his own Ahnishenahbek inheritance and his Christian faith? One senses that there is meaning to the silence here, especially coming from an author who spent so many years studying Christian theology.
In any case, it might be time for many of us to pick up these books, or books like them, or better yet hear in person the stories
of the Aboriginal peoples of our country. It is a ‘sacred obligation’ we might say for many of us, to the fellow humans who offered
our ancestors hospitality when we first fled across the ocean from the oppression of our fellow Europeans to come to this land.
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