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1/20 Ojibwe Stories - Gaganoonididaa: Clans, Feathers, and Pow Wows

On this episode of Ojibwe Stories: Gaganoonididaa, Larry Amik Smallwood talks with host Erik Redix and Brian McInnes about Ojibwe clans in the region, feathers, and provides some thoughts on pow wow customs.


1/20 Ojibwe Stories - Gaganoonididaa: Clans, Feathers, and Pow Wows

Larry Amik Smallwood grew up in Aazhoomoog, the Lake Lena District of Mille Lacs. He has worked as a language instructor for the Minneapolis Public Schools, Nay Ah Shing School, the Leech Lake Tribal College, and the University of Minnesota - Duluth. Since 1999, he has served as the director of language and culture for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Ojibwe Stories: Gaganoonididaa is produced by KUMD and the Department of American Indian Studies at UMD, with funding provided in part by a UMD Strategic Initiative Grant from the Chancellor's Office of UMD, by Eni-gikendaasoyang - the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Language Revitalization at the UMD, and by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

Ojibwe language-related content in this episode:

Today we're starting our conversation about the importance of clans for Ojibwe people. Clans, I know who my clan is I know I am the Eagle clan. There are several other people with several different clans. They have the Loon clan, the Wolf clan, the Bear clan, the Sturgeon clan the Lynx clan.  All different clans. That started way back on the East Coast many years ago. As far as myself being the Eagle clan, my grandfather was an Eagle clan and I did ask my grandma one time, "How did I get to be eagle clan"? “Aaniish wenjibaamagak i’iw odoodeman migizi, ingii-inaa mindimooyenh. She said, mii ingiw gaa-odedejig iw Wayaabishkiiwenijin ingiw Chi-mookomaanag ingiw wiisaakodewininiwag mii aw odoodemiwaan ingiw. Migiziwag. Migizi odoodemiwaan.


So, she was telling me. The half breeds and the Anishinaabes that were born to non-native fathers they were under the Eagle clan. Now I don't know how that came about whether it was from the government using the eagle as a symbol I don't know if that's where it started many, many years ago.


And see in Ojibwe country, we always, I know us locally here the "Southern Ojibwe", they call us, we follow our father's clan. If our father was not Ojibwe or Anishinaabe, then we would Come under the Eagle clan. You know that's a very important thing to Anishinaabe people, the clanship.


I remember back in the early fifties. My uncle came home back here to Aazhoomoog. He had his new wife with him and his mother-in-law with him, his new mother-in-law. And at the time she was an older lady. I suppose in her sixties or seventies and then my mom who raised me, my great aunt I should say, was around the same age. And when they came into the house the first question that my mom asked that other lady - Awenen gidoodem? Who is your clan? And that old lady said migizi indoodem. And my mom started crying and she said that was her clan too mii gaye niin indoodem. They grabbed onto each other and held each other and cried together. They called each other sister.


So back in the day that was really important. Eagle clan women are and Eagle clan men are like brothers and sisters back in the day. That is why they're kind of asked not to get together in a relationship. And it was very important a long time ago. We would like our young people to start learning about their clans finding out who their clans are.


It's very important to your name to find out and who your clan is. And to prevent any intermarriage of the clans so to speak. I see nowadays that's kind of catching on a little bit. You know I was at a powwow about a year ago and I was announcing I heard a young woman ask a young man I think they were in their late teens, "who's your clan?". And the young man told her who his clan was and she said "Oh" and they started talking there. But that was pretty good and I thought good it's catching on people are starting to recognize their clans and they're asking whoever they meet. They're asking who their clans are. So that's really important to know. Find out who your clan is and they should not have one of the things I was told, if anything, is they should not have children together. I don't really know the reason why.


You mention that the Eagle Clan and I guess almost like adopted the children because we're patrilineal. And you know we get our clans from our father's side that the Eagle clan took in the children had a non-native Dad.




So, did we have the Eagle clan before that or?


I don't believe so. I don't believe we did. I don't know when that started.


You know you mentioned that you were happy to see, these young people, kind of take an interest in their clan and talk to each other about their clan. What is your advice to them if they don't know their clan?


Well. Not to put you on the spot. Well a long time ago, we had, we still do, have spiritual leaders. We have dreamers people that can dream and find out things. They also have jiisakiiwininiwag that can find out the clan. So, I would recommend them go to one of those types of people. You know either a spiritual leader a person that has the power to dream and find out things or go to a jiisakiiwinini I mean, you know the sacred ceremony where they have the tent shaking.


Meta go gaa-izhi-wiindamaagooyaan i’iw chi-apiitendaagozid a’aw migizi. Nashke go wawaaj igo ge iniw omiigwanan apiitendaagoziwag. Nashke mii a’aw migizi maaawi waasa ishpiming enaashid. Nawaj besho iniw Manidoon akeyaa dibishkoo da-babaa-ayaad. Nashke mii iw geget igo manidoowaadizi a’aw Migizi. Mii wenji-apiitendaagozid a’aw miigwan.


He is the one held in really high regard because he's the one that flies the closest to the sky and very important and very spiritual and very respected to the native people. Once in a while I hear somebody shot an eagle or somebody shot eagles to make bustles. Man, that is downright wrong to do that for those purposes. If you want an eagle, you know, go out in the woods and look for one or send for one through the U.S. government or whatever but you don't have to go out and shoot those. Those feathers are very highly respected and a lot of individuals, most of the people that I know, and respect their feathers. I listened to my grandfather and another guy talking one time and they were out of powwow somewhere and they saw some young kids wearing feathers. The kids looked nice, you know, they were in their outfits about ten, twelve years old. I think they were wearing bustles, eagle bustles. My grandfather's buddy says to him:


Gikendaan ina noongom ayizhichigewaad? Gaawiin gegoo da-apiitenimaasiwaawaan miigwanan noongom. Nashke mewinzha a’aw Anishinaabe geget ogii-kichi-apiitenimaan iniw miigwanan. Mii eta go a’aw gaa-nisaad awiiya mii eta go a’aw gaa-padakibine’od miigwanan. Nashke dash noongom mii go anooj awiiya ezhi-badakibine’od anooji igo awiiya ezhi-aabaji’aad iniw miigwanan. Gaawiin geyaabi odapiitenimaasiwaawaan iniw miigwanan.


My grandfather's buddy had said, look at those boys out there with those feathers on. He said you know that's what's happening nowadays everybody is wearing Eagle feathers, little kids, little girls, women, everybody. He said a long, long time ago only those that took the life of somebody of another human were allowed to wear a feather.


And that's not happening anymore. He said there's no respect there for those feathers.  And you do, you look around today you see a lot of kids, you know, nine, eight, ten, twelve years old with eagle feathers. Man, I saw one kid he had a visor of eagle feathers, two eagle feathers, on his roach, shoulder wings were eagle feathers, bustle if he had one more feather I think he would have flew away.  But you know how did that kid earn those feathers? A long time ago, they said you had to take a life before you could wear an eagle feather and that's not happening anymore today. This is what we believe in here I don't know somebody else might have a certain way of thinking about eagle feathers from another tribe or somewhere else but this is what our local Ojibwes here believe.


And so if someone has an eagle feather is there a good way to maintain it? Things you have to do so you're doing things in a good way.


Meta go gii-wiindamaagooyaan ingii-wiindamaag gii-wiindamawindwaa mewinzha weweni da-bimiwinaawaad iniw miigwanan maagizhaa ge giishpin awiiya gii-miinigoowizid iniw bezhig miigwanan da-wiiweginaad imaa ishpiming da-agoonaad imaa endaad. Miinawaa gaye weweni ganawaabamaad iniw nawaajige maa odoodaabaaning aanind odagoonaawaan iniw miigwanan. Mii go maanoo eganawenimigooyaan gii-ikido gichi-anishinaabe ganawenimagwaa iniw miigwanan.


A lot of times they'll get a feather somewhere and a way to take care of it you know, the person giving the feather should instruct the person receiving the feather but a lot of time they were told to hang them up in their house somewhere you know nice or even some of them were told hang this in the car you know for safety they take care of us. And while I'm on that subject, too, I remember a lot of the houses years ago and a lot of the houses that Anishinaabe's lived in there was always a littler slat, or a little board, or a little pole on a northwest corner of the house with a feather hanging from it. Whether it'd be a hawk feather, or goose feather, or eagle feather, or whatever kind of feather, and they used to hang them up there for protection. They're not doing that anymore.


I remember we had one in our house for many, many, many, many years until we tore the house down and those feathers were out in the weather too so they can change them. I remember one time down south here aways, there was a big storm went through. Course a lot of those houses had a more traditional people had feathers hanging up and everything but the one house didn't. That's the one whose roof got messed up and I just kind of chuckled. I wonder if that's because they didn't have a feather hanging up, which it probably is.


So, if a person finds a feather, say you know, you through whatever, you know you put out some fish in the woods and those eagles came and say they left a feather what should a person do?


That happened to me a few times, I mean you know if I found it I picked it up, it's my feather and it was given to me. So you know one time when I was working in LCO I was driving through there and I saw an eagle sitting on a side road eating a deer so I pull over and there were three small probably about five inch eagle feathers laying there so I picked them up and I took off and went to work and coming back I stopped in the meat market there, and I picked up a fish and I brought it to where that eagle where I picked those feathers up and there he was sitting there again. So, I ease out of the car and he took he flew up in the trees. I went and put that fish there and thanked him and there were four more eagle feathers there so I picked them up and kept them.


Lot of times I'll do, I'll give them to my namesakes. I do naming. I'll give them one of them and tell them to hang them up in their house or whatever but once you find that feather that's yours, you know, you're the one that it was given to.


Giin gigii-miinigoowiz a’aw miigwan giishpin mikawad imaa ingoji megwayaak. Gaawiin awiiya bakaan gidaa-miinigoowizisii a’aw miigwan. Mii go ezhi-aabaji’ad ezhi-gwanawenimad giishpin mikawad.  Gaawiin wiin obabaamiziwin gegoo a’aw Waabishkiiwed da-miinad maagizhaa gaye ongow dakoniwewininiwag chi-mookomaan-dakoniwewininiwag gizhaadage-wininiwag.

Gaawiin giwii-miinaasii gegoo. Nashke ingii-mikawaa bezhig maa migizi ingoji go midaaso-biboonagak iwapii gii-mikawag jiigikana aw migizi gii-asemaakeyaan gaa-izhi-boozi’ag imaa indoodaabaaning gii-kanawenimag. Ingii-anoonaa dash a’aw bezhig bwaan da-nanaa’inaad bakwajibinaad kina iniw miigwanan da-aabaji’ag.


Gaawiin niin ingii-izhaasiin iwidi ayi’iing gizhaadagewininiwag endazhi-anokiiwaad mii go niin igo gaa-izhi-ayaag. Ingii-kaganoonaa dash wiin igo, “Ingii-mikawaa migizi.” “Ahaaw, biizh omaa.”

“Gaawiin niwii-piinaasiin, niwii-aabaji’aa anishaa go giwiindamooninim,” ingii-inaag gaa-izhi-boonimiwaad. Mii sa a’aw migizi gaa-aabaji’ag iniw miigwanan eyaamwag imaa geyaabi endaayaan.  


I found an Eagle one time alongside the highway and I picked it up this is years ago and I kept it. And I called the D.N.R. said I found an eagle and they said, "Bring it here" and I said, "No, I'm not bringing it over there. It's mine. I found it. I'm just telling you guys. I found it, it got hit and was alongside the road and I'm going to keep it and use those feathers. So, they haven't said anything to me it's been about 10 years.


But they know now.


They'll know now.


Mii go maanoo. Gaawiin inga-gosaasii gichi-mookomaanishag.


Gemaash gaye wii-ojibwemoyang eta go.


Mii go maanoo.


Mii go ge ko ingii-mikawaaban aabiding 0-manoominikeyaan a’aw miigwan.

Gii-deteba’agwanjing maa zaaga’iganing gaa-mamag. Ingii-aabaji’aa dash.

Megwaa go dezhindamaan ge-manoominikeng miinawaa nashke wayiiba da-manoominikeng.

Miinawaa, nashke, ambegish eyaamagak noongom i’iw manoomin. Nashke, dagwaagong gaawiin gii-ayaamagasinoon gwech manoomin onzaam gii-chi-maawamishkaa gabe-niibin. O’ow dash, ambegish noongom ge-azhe-ishkaamagak miinawaa gaye giwiindamoonimin i’iw manoominikeng. Mewinzha ko ingiw akiwenziiyag ogii-kanawendaanaawaa iniw zaaga’iganan widi bebakaan ishkoniganing i’iw ge oganawaabandaanaawaa iniw zaaga’iganan aanapii ge-giizhiging i’iw manoomin. Mii dash apii gii-maajii-bawa’amowaad. Noongom dash gaawiin da-izhiwebasinoon. Mii go a’aw Gichi-ogimaa imaa Minnesota mii go iniw kina ogizhaada’igewiniiman izhi-wiindamawaad apii ge-baakaakising. Mii go apii izhi-baakaakising mii akina go izhi-baakaakising kina zaaga’iganan. Nashke bebakaan giizhiginoon iniw zaaga’iganan manoomin zaaga’iganing. Gaawiin kina gizhigasinoon imaa naasaab.


So, you're coming off the Honor the Earth powwow and I guess I wanted to ask if there is anything that stuck out in your mind from that experience that maybe you'd like to share with us.


I know it was a great pow wow it was a huge powwow, it was a lot of fun, a lot of vendors there and had a lot of good drums there. I don't have any complaints on it. I did notice a few times when visitors come in or even some of the local people when they're come in dancing they would be carrying their child which is a “no no” in Ojibwe country. You just don't do that. It's like you're offering your child you know when you go to a giveaway, and they sing that song, and you carry your gift, and you raise it up. That's the same thing you're doing with your child.  You're holding them up there. So that's one of the main reasons, they tell them not to do that.    


I saw some of that this weekend although the other M.C. and I we made that announcement several times. People still would do that so the directors had to go out there and be the bad guys and tell hey that's not allowed here and tell them can't do that here.  And, of course it offends some people but you know when you go someplace you know I always say make sure you check the protocol for that area on that powwow. Whatever, whatever beat contests or traditional what the do's and don'ts are.


I know a lot of places, they don't allow Eagle whistles. That's not an Ojibwe thing actually but you know in the last fifteen years or so twenty years or so some of our Ojibwes have gotten ahold of whistles and for whatever reason they're blowing them. When they're told not to blow them now I can say over in Mille Lacs when we have our traditional powwow the elders do not allow that.  And if they do blow their whistle anyway they're fined. And then they could be escorted off property because you're disobeying the elders of that community and that's one of the other one of the biggest NO NO's we have is do not disobey the elders. And, unfortunately the M.C. sounds like the bad guy when he announces those things, but then again, the M.C.'s working for the Powwow Committee and the Powwow Committee is working for their elders from that reservation and that's the M.C.'s job to make the announcements of the committee and so that's a lot of times why we sound like the bad guys. But that's the way the community works and that's the way you gotta behave.


So is there anything you'd like to share with us about, about that experience going in these different Ojibwe communities and if people may or may not know I mean these places are along ways away from each other.


It's interesting to see the different ways people run their powwow's. OK you take the Hinckley contests powwow for example. The elders said we want a local M.C. here along with a guest M.C. And the reason for that is a local M.C. is knowing the culture and traditions of the local area. OK, that's why he's there.  That's why when I go to other powwow's as a guest you know they usually have their local M.C.'s and I'm the guest M.C. So, a lot of times there are specials going on or whatever, that they know the families and stuff and then I'll let them take that part over to do specials because they know what's going on, there you know.


So yeah, it's good to be aware of the culture and traditions of that community that you're going to go and emcee for. A M.C. has to keep in mind that he's a guest of that community also he's an employee of that community so you do what they say. You behave yourself in a positive way so you get to keep that in mind.  And a lot of times M.C., and I know in Mille Lacs and also in Hinckley I'll help out. If they have questions, if you're not sure about something, you'll ask somebody.


We do have a Spiritual Advisor there and in Hinckley he takes care of our prayers or feathers dropped. I know in Hinckley I pick up the feathers. Lee Staples is the Spiritual Advisor. And over in Mille Lacs they do their ceremony a couple days before the powwow. They put out a feast and tobacco offering, somebody does a pipe ceremony for the safety of all the dancers, all the singers, all of visitors that come there for the weekend. They pray for safety and wellbeing during the course of the powwow time until they get home.


It's interesting to do that. Plus being M.C. you get the bird's eye view of everything that's going on you know. I just did an interview for our local paper as far as being an M.C. I'm not the greatest M.C. around but I do know a little something about it.  There was an M.C. back in the 70's that I really admired. His name was Henry Greencrow. He had a loud voice and he was very humorous and was also very stern. I mean he could say "hi" and make it sound funny. I mean, you know but when he said something you know he meant it and I always admired him. You know, unfortunately he passed away. I think in the 80's.


Well, there has been massive changes in powwow culture in the last 30 - 40 years. How much of that do you think is due to our local communities here being wealthier because of gaming?


Well, the prize money and their casino powwows is good. There are good casino powwows and there are reservation powwows.  You know some of the reservations don't have a lot to offer because they might not have the funding you know other places might have and then there's a difference there.


But all powwows are good. I mean all singers are good man everything's good and it's all for happiness and entertainment.


Is there anything you miss specifically about the older days before maybe the powwow grounds weren't as nice but there is something back then that was a little different?


I can't think of anything I missed you can tell you what I don't. I don't miss dancing and singing as a tourist attraction in front of a store trading post anymore that's what I don't miss. So, we have more control over our own powwows. You know, we used to by far we're going much better.


Was there a pressure to like perform, a certain expectation back then?


Well it's just there was I don't know how you say you were more exploited or you know and of course they threw you money you know. That money was hard to get back in the day back in the 50's and early 60's.  You know so you either dance and get money or don't dance and wish you had money. And, also it was one of the small ways we would earn a few bucks.


I was thinking about your work as an emcee as you go and talk to different people and the different things. I don't know if this is probably the wrong way to say it for powwow but I know what homes especially you know my grandparent’s house there was always OJIBWE, the things you were to be cautious of you know.


Now you, your behavior, how you acted I know powwows certainly had those etiquette protocols. I actually did see I was around the powwow and I saw a couple try to bring a dog like a little hand dog, like a purse or something and (a Paris Hilton dog), a Paris Hilton dog into the powwow grounds and a few people talked to them I think about that. You know, bringing a dog into the arena and the dance circles. It's maybe not an approved practice?


I'm not sure of the meaning of that or what that is I just know that you don't bring dogs into the circle or in around the ceremonies anymore.  Whether it be a dance or a Mide Lodge or anything like that that goes on there, they're not in the realm there I guess it's one of the things I didn't ask because they always told me just never mind, don't ask.  You just do what I tell you and I heard that a lot of times in the 50's.


“Gego gakwedweken i’iw, bizindawishin waa-ininaan, gego ganage izhichigeken i’iw.”  “Ahaaw goda!”


I never asked why. Now that I want to ask why gii-maajaawaad gichi-aya’aag, now that I'm curious the elders that I wanted to ask are gone.  So, I don't know.


Well probably because you have people asking you why do we do this?


Well yeah and then a well I gotta tell them I don't know, you know.


Well then you have to say but yet, gego doodangen!


Yes, but you just can’t do it. Well never mind just don't do it.


Is there any kind of message you would include I guess maybe closing today or bringing this to a good close as you think about even a message in Anishinaabemowin ji-bi-wiindamawind gwayak awiiya ji-bi-waabanged ji-bi-dazhiikang Anishinaabe-izhichigewin gaye dash Anishinaabe-naaniimiwin, about good mino-izhiwebiziwin sa go ji-inaadizid.


Just that make yourself aware of that community’s ways before you go there as soon as you get there whether you go to a contest powwow, or a traditional powwow, a ceremony of some kind, or whatever just kind of be aware and be respectful of those people that you're visiting.


Weweni go ingiw bakaan ingoji bebaa-izhaajig begish gekendamowaad akeyaa ezhitwaad iniw mewadisaajin. Nashke gaawiin anooj gidaa-biindigadoosiin imaa giin keyaa izhitwaayan. Odayaanaawaa gewiinawaa izhitwaawaad ingiw Anishinaabeg bebakaan. Geget gidinigaazomin gaye. Kina dash ingow giwiikwajitoomin da-gwayakochigeyang minik igo dibi go wenjibaayang Omiskwaagamiwizaaga’iganing, Obaashing, Gaa-miskwaawaakokaag dibi igo gidinigaazomin kina nebowa ingiw giwanitoomin akeyaa gaa-izhi-miinigoowiziyang.


We lost them a lot of our ways that our teachings, but just to be respectful of that community you go and visit especially the emcees. You know be aware of the ways of that people that you're going to visit, and you're going to work, for and talk for, and I want to say that about the Ojibwe language teachers too that come down here and teach from different places.  Be aware of the community that you're teaching for. We have a lot of things here that aren't being taught in the schools or the colleges. Our drum ceremonies aren't talked about very much or not witnessed very much or our Mide ceremonies. You know, there is a reason we were given our Anishinaabe language to use for ceremonies and to communicate with each other that's why it's very important if someone were to come to the Mille Lacs Nah Ay Shing School, an Ojibwe from Manitoba, I would make sure to try to get that guy or that lady to become aware of our ways in Mille Lacs. That's our home.


Be aware of the drum ceremonies.  Be aware of the Mide ceremonies, the naming ceremony, the funeral ceremonies.  When I go into your house I have to abide by your house rules you know I can't come in there and say I want to change this furniture around here, I don't like it here where I'm sitting here. Be respectful of different communities.


Mii nange ge.