the Ojibwe, history and legends are passed down orally. There are
the stories of Wiindigo, a giant monster, a cannibal, who killed and
ate our people. Colonization was our Wiindigo.
Colonization and historical trauma travel together. That trauma
is passed down from generation to generation and exhibits itself
in the behaviors, both psychological and physiological, of our people
today. These aftereffects of historical trauma are called historical
loss symptoms. Depression, anger, suicide, dysfunctional parenting,
alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, and diabetes are examples
of these loss symptoms.
Long ago, the Ojibwe people were sick. A terrible epidemic was
killing them. There was a man called Ode'imin who got sick and died.
In death, he traveled west to where it's more beautiful than the
sunset. When he got to the river that he would have to cross to
the other side, the spirits asked him, "Why are you grieving, Ode'imin?"
He answered, "Because my people are dying." The spirits told
Ode'imin that he was to return to the Ojibwe. He was to tell them
that their teacher was coming to teach them about minobimaadiziwin,
the good life. Their teacher would bring to the Ojibwe their rituals
and ceremonies to help them get over the hills in their lives, those
sad and traumatic times that all experience.
Over the years, the Ojibwe experienced many traumas. That is
the way of the Wiindigo. A story is told of the Wiindigo, running
amok amongst our people and killing them. There had been thousands
of Ojibwe and many villages before the Wiindigo came. The Wiindigo
was killing everyone, so an Ojibwe man challenged Wiindigo to a
race. If the Ojibwe man won, the Wiindigo would leave. They raced,
and the Ojibwe man lost. After that, the Wiindigo continued killing
Another Ojibwe man had a dream that he could defeat the Wiindigo.
In his dream he talked to a grandma who shared a story. She told
the man that she had traveled around to find out who was left. She
had gathered the remaining Ojibwe children and took them with her
and made them practice running upon a lake, back and forth, all
day long, day after day, in preparation for the next race with the
Wiindigo. There were 15 children remaining and each time a race
occurred, another child died. The grandma would be the last one
to race the Wiindigo.
This lake that the Ojibwe children ran upon symbolized their
subconscious. They didn't know who they were. Their culture, their
language, their rituals and ceremonies had been taken from them
through forced removal to new lands and the boarding school experience.
Families were fractured. When the children met this Ojibwe man,
he asked them what their clans and their names were. They didn't
Eventually the Ojibwe man raced the Wiindigo and then its brother.
He defeated them. This last Wiindigo begged for mercy from the Ojibwe
man who had had the dream. The Ojibwe man knew the Wiindigo to be
a liar, and he slew him. Then the Ojibwe man raced around this land
and slew the other Wiindigos. The few remaining ran away, it's said
to the North. As the story ends, the Ojibwe man with the dream,
the vision, gave the Ojibwe children their Ojibwe names, the names
by which the universe knows us.
The Wiindigo killed us in many ways and took our land and culture.
We continue to pick up those things taken from us by Wiindigo. At
Leech Lake Tribal College, we teach that we are people of a nation.
We have our own history as a people, our own land base, governance,
language, and culture. We are not ethnic minorities.
Once I had a dream. I dreamt of these two old Ojibwe grandmas.
They were naked and their dead bodies were hanging from a coat rack
in a meeting room with many people. The others were not Ojibwe,
and they could not see the two grandmas. I kept trying to get them
to see the grandmas, but they just ignored me. That morning when
I woke, I took the pipe that I care for outside and I talked to
those two old grandmas. I told them that they could go home. I told
them that things were okay now and that we were healing; we would
take care of things. The grandmas could rest
in that place
more beautiful than the sunset.
Bezhigobinesikwe Elaine Fleming is an Ojibwe storyteller, jingle
dress dancer, and chair of the Arts and Humanities Department at
Leech Lake Tribal College.
Fleming's full-length history, "Nanaboozhoo and the Wiindigo."