Kim Anderson shares her Anishinaabe family story about intersections and interconnectedness between the Ojibwe language, White Earth, and what it means to be truly home.
Stories of the Land/Connect
Season #1 Episode #5Kim Anderson: The meaning of being from here
Host: Rebecca Dallinger
This is Stories of the Land Connect. And I'm your host, Rebecca Dallinger. We will hear from diverse people and communities of the Northern and Northwest Minnesota's rural landscape. This is where the prairie meets the pines, the headwaters of the Mississippi flows, where the hardwoods and the Tamarack trees meet. This is a place of many rivers, lakes, and watersheds. This is home.
Host: Rebecca Dallinger
Kim Anderson is an educator and teaches Ojibwe language in the White Earth Nation.
She lives in Naytahwaush village and is surrounded by her family. We talked with her on her front porch we talked about her connections and family history. while we were recording all her uncles were busy loading up a trailer, starting up lawn mowers and heading out on ATV’s after a short time we headed to the woods to finish our visiting.
Kim introduces herself in the ojibwe language. Biidaabanikwe indizhinikaaz, makwa nindoodem. Mii omaa Gaawaabaabiganikaag nindoonjibaa igaye besho Gaaniizhoogamaag nindaa noongom.
Hi, my name is Kim Anderson. My Anishinaabe name is Biidaabanikwe I am from the Bear Clan and I come from here in White Earth and live in the Naytahwaush village.
Host: Rebecca Dallinger
What is a story of the land for you?
I think Naytahwaush (village) is really special place for my family. This reservation (White Earth) was established in 1867 by our traditional chiefs and they sought out the land and looked where we could gather our medicines. There was abundance of food, hunting grounds, and lots of places that have spaces for us to be able to gather our food. When they signed the treaty, this became our reservation. My family used to live over in Mille Lacs area, and so they were moved up to White Earth. My grandmother and grandfather, Great-Great-Great-grandfather were one of the first families here in Naytahwaush. They lived right down by the lake. I've been told stories of my grandma setting net and catching lots of fish and she's famous for her Bullhead soup and all of those good things. And she was one of the last speakers in my family for the Ojibwe language.
Her name was Josephine Robinson, and we called her Grandmama. It kind of goes with that name that we hold for grandmas, “Nimmaamaanaan” ( Ojibwe word) so that extra mom, right? So, when we call her Grandmama that kind of resonates with my language learning in Naytahwaush. They had their family here and grandmother and her brothers and sisters were raised here on the reservation. And later on, my grandmother met my grandfather. So Lucille Estey and my grandfather Clyde Estey, they made their homestead here on this land that we're sitting on right now. They raised their family here. It used to be a lady that, I think she was a nurse that my grandfather had drove an ambulance for her. After a while, she had given all the land to my grandfather, and it was a big plot of land.
So when my aunts and uncles and my mom grew up, they all each got a plot of land of 20 acres. This land here has been in my family for at least almost 70 years. Long story short, me moving back here in my grandmother's home, my grandfather's home, it's like coming home. I only lived a mile away. But one of my life goals was to move here at this place because it's so special to me. I and my grandma would go out and walk in the woods and we'd do about five to seven miles, and that was a long way for me as a little girl. So we'd have places that we would stop. And there was this one spot where we stopped and we would get drinks of water from this natural spring. She'd talk about water and how it would come up from the earth. And she pretty much taught me about what springs were.
Then on our way, we would talk about the different plants. And so my knowledge of plants was growing as I was growing up because of the walks. We would have a place where I would sit on this log because there was this great, big, huge hill that we would have to climb to get back onto the trail that would bring us back to the house. And I would sit there, rest my legs for a little bit. I would always look around and I remember looking at this log and seeing the lichens on there and everything growing and watching the ants there and just kind of taking in everything that was around me. There was always places in the woods that she would point out to me that were special to her. That log became kind of my special place of sitting, remembering, walking with my grandma and having those special times with her. She'd asked me if I was ready and I would get up and say, "Yep, I'm ready."
And then we'd count the steps up the hill. And it took 100 steps to come up the hill and be at the top. My grandma had diabetes. She always taught me eat from gardening because those are the best things to eat, the vegetables and the fresh stuff. And she always was a really good cook, so we'd go out and gather from the garden. She was always busy in the kitchen. And that became an important part of who I was growing up. So when it came to a choice of what I was going to go into, I was at Bemidji State for two years and I had tried out biology, I tried out computer information systems. I just could not see myself sitting at a computer all day every day and not be outside. So I was like, "Well, I'm going to look around for different programs because it might be at a different college."
So I really looked at my life and I looked at what made me happiest. And it was those walks in the woods with my grandma. It was gardening. It was everything that was to do outside. So then I looked around for, "Well, is there something that I could do in a garden for work?" I found that there was a program in horticulture at the University of Minnesota Crookston. So I transferred there. I wasn't expecting the stuff that I would be learning there because it was agriculture and all the chemicals and the soil stuff. I did just fine in the science, but my grandpa taught me never to use fertilizer, never to use chemicals. I struggled with some of those classes because it didn't jive with who I was as an Anishinaabe person. One of the classes that I took was a plant taxonomy class.
It was so funny because I knew most of the plants before I needed to even take that class. So I thought, "Well, I never had done the taxonomy part of it," looking at different attributes of the leaves or the plant itself and what everything is called, like a humble flower. So this is really cool because this is furthering my knowledge of what I already know and taking it to a whole different scientific area. I embraced that part of it, and then I also embraced the gardening and the greenhouse work because I love that as well. When I came back to the reservation, I didn't know that I was going to come back, but I didn't expect to come back and have a job. Mahnomen Extension Office had a grant with the tribe, they wanted me to do an internship. So I did that and it was teaching young kids about gardening and nutrition.
And it was right along with what I knew as growing up, because my grandparents had taught me so much. My parents had taught me so much, about the land and everything that was here. So was able to teach the kids, I'd go and have a garden group over in Pine Point area. And we had a community garden right at the place that I live right now. We had a place in the field that was all garden. So we would be working out there and I was able to work with my grandparents because they were master gardeners. And so they were a part of this [inaudible 00:07:36] planning circle that came together where we had elders and we had scientists and we had [University of Minnesota] Extension workers and nutritionists. It was such a great group because we'd get together, we'd talk about what we want people here to understand, because when my grandparents grew up, they survived off of gardening.
They survived off of gathering [wild foods and plants]and going out and getting rice and getting a maple syrup and things like that. And those are some of the things that I grew up with as well. But the generation that we were working with, the kids didn't even know that potatoes grew underground. They only knew that it was coming from a store. So they weren't connected to their food. Connecting back to the food sources was one of the things that we wanted to make sure people understood about. When we were working, we had seven community gardens and 432 individual gardens that we helped people to maintain, take care of, give seed to, and till. That was a really fundamental time in my life because of what I grew up with and what I knew, that became an important thing that I wanted to make sure that I passed on to other people.
At that time as well, my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer and he was a phenomenal basket maker. When he was working with the basket, the splint and everything, I spent a month with him just working on baskets with him. He talked about how the land was affecting the splint, how the land would was, the water, everything that was in the water from the chemicals that were being used in whatever else that was in the rain, was affecting his art, his lifestyle. Being that he had cancer as well, that is most likely connected to what we drink and what we eat. He talked about anytime he was working with baskets, how healing it was, how working with your hands and taking the time and actually just being by yourself and working with the materials from the land was such a healing practice for him.
He had experienced boarding school, so I imagine that there was quite a bit that as an Anishinaabe man that he had to heal from going to those boarding schools. He knew the language, but he didn't speak it. I grew up without the language. Later on, as I got a different job in cultural arts and history over at Circle of Life, I became more interested in language and culture and started learning the language. I crashed a course over at the tribal college. The instructor was so passionate about the language, and he really lit that passion for the language for me. That amazingness that just, you're so amazed by what the language holds within it. And so each thing that I learned, and I didn't know this at the time, but I understand it now after learning for 15 years, I understand that each and every phrase that I understood and each and every phrase that connected me to the land, the people, the understanding that our people have about everything that's around us.
It was also connecting me with my own spirit because we're told that our spirit understands the language. That's what is inside of us. As I learned the language and connected with it, it kind of aligned me straight with my spirit and who I actually was meant to be. Today as I speak and as I'm helping other teachers to learn the language and learn how to teach in the best way, I hope to also give that passion to somebody else, light their fire. Getting excited about the language and getting excited about what it holds and the understanding that it has, because that journey right there has healed me tremendously through a whole lot of things. I suffered from depression and anxiety and things that I don't even know about because of historical trauma, whatever my family has gone through. It really has healed me and brought me to a better place in my life, the breakdown of words and the descriptions of things, it's so much richer than you would find, than it is in English.
Host: Rebecca Dallinger
So with that, when you speak of the language and the connection to the land, with the language, can you describe that relationship a little more for those that may not see that it's all a circle?
What the Ojibwe language has for us to understand everything around us, the land and everything. There's words that describe things. When we think about the maple tree, ininaatig, right? And the understanding, the breakdown of that word is the man tree. Well, that directly goes back to that. There's a story that is about the maple tree. And having that understanding about the story, how the maple tree gives what it does to us for healings. We get the maple sap and that's a medicine, our people understand that as a medicine. We understand that with that story, ininaatig gave us that medicine for us to come out of times of really harsh, when there's food shortages. We're coming out of that winter time where the food is scarce, the people are weak from going through such harsh winters.
Now science understands [maple saps] that it's re-mineralizing our blood and calls it [maple sap] a super food. Our people knew that long ago.
Our people knew that was a gift given to us and we drink it because it's medicine. We may not have the scientific words for it, but that understanding is for sure there.
There's a lot of things like that we understand, and that's related to especially our stories, our aadizookaan. And I can't tell them at this time, but having that good understanding of those things and the description of stuff. I always go back to pizza, but that's not one of our original words. Mawandoonisijiganibakwezhigan. It means things that are gathered up that are piled in layers on bread. We have to describe everything, so that big, long word says all of that.
And so you have an understanding of what the pizza may look like. Other things Gaawaabaabiganikaag, the place of abundant white clay. So that describes the land that we're on right now. It describes what the land has in our connection to it to use, things that were given to us. And that, of course, we were taught that we give thanks for that, give an offering back for that. Anything that we take from the land, and that we make, I suppose tobacco. But old time tobacco, it's not the commercial stuff that we have today. The apaakozigan that we make from the willow bark in itself has some stories and things, that the reasons why we use it. All the stuff that we mix with it help us when we smoke it. But also it's a good, natural thing that we make a offering for whenever we're taking things from the land. Gathering plants, gathering food, gathering medicines or gathering game, fish and deer and whatever.
Host Rebecca Dallinger:
Is there a message or how you feel about nature that you'd want to share, that you bring forward?
Yeah. So I think within the language, the teachings that I want to make sure that I pass on is that everything that was given to us, our ancestors, what they understand, the vast amount that they understood is really relevant and useful, and it's valid. Valid knowledge that we can use today. A lot of times we were thought of and called primitive, but I don't see it as primitive. I see it as we had an understanding, maybe it was different from Western knowledge. But we had an understanding and a very scientific understanding of everything that was around us. And so those understandings and that knowledge that is passed down through the generations, just the act of going out and having a sugar bush, you're doing something that has been done here for many, many, many, many generations. It has survived through so many things and I'm going to digress here a little bit, but it's part of the story.
Our people are often thought about, "Oh, the suffering, the trauma," all of the stuff that our people have gone through and in people can get lost in that. They can say, "Oh, we're the forgotten people. This was done to us. We can play the victim. We can use it as a crutch because we're this way." That's for sure is in our blood. That for sure is in our DNA memory. However, what is also in our memory is the strength that our people had, the knowledge that our people had, the language that our people have. Our duty, I suppose, as people of this generation is to recognize that we are not an oppressed people, unless we choose to be. We can embrace that strength that our Anishinaabe people have had through these generations, through these trials and tribulations of being colonized.
We have that strength and we have everything still here on our reservation to learn from, and we're trying to strive to keep our language strong. These days we're writing it down in books and things like that, so generations to come will have those resources. But to embrace that strength that is within us and embrace that knowledge that is within us, all you have to do is start learning language, to connect with your own spirit and to be out in the woods. Go gathering, learn how to rice, learn how to take care of sugar bush, learn how to hunt, learn how to gather. Even the simplest foods, learn how to do some of the simplest medicines, because that's all going to help. That is like gaining back that knowledge, that strength that we had. And so embracing that and not dwelling in what has been done to us, because we have that choice.
We have a choice of play the victim, or can we say, "You know what? We still have this stuff here. We still have our ceremonies. We still have our language. We still have land that we can gather from." And yeah, there's outside influences that are happening, but at this very time, we still have that. And so learning as much as you can and keep passing it on. Like I used to tell my students, "If you learn five words and you teach five words to those people, that's nation building." Those are the things that I want to pass on to people. Empower them to take back their strength, empower them to take back their language and in the knowledge that we have.
So there was a time where I had to move off reservation to really learn the language, because I wanted the language, because I wanted to experience teaching in elementary. I was given a chance to do an internship over at Leech Lake. And so I drove back and forth, it was an hour and a half one way, and I would bring my kids. So I really had to find a place over there to rent. One of my friends had a cabin and it was by the lake and it was beautiful there. And the land over there is beautiful, but I never felt at home. So I thought about that concept about why don't I feel at home? I mean, this is another reservation, I'm around Anishinaabe people. I'm in a job that I love. So how come I don't feel like I'm home? I was just like, "Man, every time I go home, I feel so good."
I go out to the woods and the woods know me. That's the thing. Everything in the woods, the spirits there, everything. It knows me. And I relate it back to what I ate. Everything that I ate, the deer and the plants and the maple syrup and the wild rice. Everything that I ate came from home. That I think is related to changing who you are, that very intake of deer meat, for example. The deer eat off the land, they drink from the water. And then of course you take in the meat and it's just like, for me, the connection to home is because of what I ate. So coming home and being out in the woods and even just sitting or gathering. The woods know me, the spirits know me. And so that was my connection to home. And finally, after I left Niigaane and came home, I'm home. I can't go anywhere else.
I can't be anywhere else. I can't move off reservation ever again, because this is where I'm meant to be. This is where everything is….My body, my spirit, everything is home.
Host: Rebecca Dallinger
Many thanks to everyone who's been part of telling their Stories of the Land Connect. Thank you for the generosity of your time and the beauty of your words. Again, I am your host, Rebecca Dallinger. Special thanks to mentors and podcasters, Shirley Nordrum and Zach Paige. The theme song is by Zach Paige. You can find Zach's podcast, Seed Stories on his North Circle Seed company page.
Host: Rebecca Dallinger
This series couldn't have been done without the generous support of the University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum, and the Itasca Biological Field Station, as well as the generous support of Extension's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships also known as RSDP. To find out more about sustainability projects in your county, go to extension.umn.edu/regional-partnerships.