For the longest time I wondered what it really meant to be Ojibway. After I’d been reconnected with my family after twenty four years and been introduced to our lifestyle, I was still unsure of what it meant. I had disappeared and the nature of my identity was lost to me.

            There were a lot of books. I dove into them with a passion but I always seemed to come out of them feeling even more lost. As much respect as I had for the written word, books didn’t seem to be able to contain the spirit or the energy I was looking for.

            Then there were gatherings. I went to feasts and powwows, tea dances and round dances and as much as I was welcomed, enjoyed myself and felt the beginnings of a definite connection, there was still something profound lacking in those joyous occasions. I didn’t know what it was but I could sense it.

            Ceremonies brought me closer. When I went to sweat lodges, sun dances, naming ceremonies and spiritual gatherings there was a palpable sense of rightness that I’d ever encountered before. Ritual seemed to be the closest link to what I was looking for and I went as often as I could.

            I talked to a lot of older people and they had hundreds of stories about the older, more traditional tribal times. I got lost in those. The way they were told made me able to see and get a vivid sense of what it must have been like before everything changed forever.

            I searched and I searched for the definitive definition of what it meant to be Ojibway. I learned a lot. I was given a tremendous amount of teachings. I was even directed to become a storyteller.

 In the end it was the people themselves that gave it to me. The more time I spent with them and grew to feel comfortable and accepted and a part of things, the more I saw who I was created to be.

I stood on the shore of a river and watched old men smoking, laughing and mending nets. Their hands moved almost by themselves and when they looked up and saw me there they smiled, their hands continuing the dance they’d learned by touch.

This is what it means to be Ojibway, I said to myself. To be human. The effortless, almost mindless mending of the nets we cast across the currents of time.


About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

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