Sinclair (2013). First Thought. (Nindoodemag Bagijiganan: A History Of Anishinaabeg Narrative.)

Sinclair, N. J. (2013). First Thought. In Nindoodemag Bagijiganan: A History Of Anishinaabeg Narrative (Doctoral dissertation) (pp. 1–24). University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

[Balance, harmony, reciprocity were set at the beginning and were models for human values and action …]

“… the breath of Gizhe Manido also fused the constituents of the universe into a system governed by laws and principles of balance, harmony, and reciprocity. … _universal order_ — a sustainable network governing the ‘movement and purpose’ of all things (9). Everything had a role and meaning … The first thought of Gizhe Manido was therefore not only a blueprint for Creation, but a praxis.” (p 2)

[Gift bears a message …]

“… the greatest gift –- the power to [page break] dream’ (_Ojibway Heritage_ 13). … a means by which to communicate with all beings throughout the universe and to think beyond themselves. Through this gift humans found empathy, reflection, imagination, and creativity as well as the ability to bring these thoughts into being. … this gift came with the same responsibilities all gifts came with — to work within universal order and operate within this praxis.” (p 2-3)

[Universal order reflected in language and other activities …]

“… the language which constitutes universal order is a relationship-making structure. Relationship-making practices based in language — like naming, gift-giving, and narrative, to name a few — therefore is how an Anishinaabeg universe operates.” (p 5)

[Language to describe the gifts …]

“The breath of Gizhe Manido therefore is not only a gift of movement and connectivity to Creation but of communication: _it is language itself_.” (p 5)

[Language not simply communication but a gift of relationship …]

“In return, human beings use their bundle to connect themselves to other entities and share their complexity and uniqueness.” (p 6)

[Relations …]

“Words are signs of affiliation –- gifts marking a long chain of relationships.” (p 7)

[Relations with other entities …]

“Combined to form expressions like stories, songs, and speeches, words are signs of specific relationships. … Anishinaabeg (and non-Anishinaabeg, for that matter) communicate with animate beings like water, air, the wind, the four directions, animals, plants, rocks, and other entities constantly …” (p 8)

[Meaning as shared, connected discourse …]

“… meaning is produced in an independent but inter-related way, like an autonomous network attached to another, a circle connected to a circle, a treaty alongside a treaty.” (p 9)

[Gifts as language of reciprocity …]

“Translated often as an ‘offering,’ ‘presentation,’ or a ‘gift,’ a bagijigan is arguably the most important social, political, and ideological interaction in Anishinaabeg life. Referring to it as ‘giftgiving,’ historian Cary Miller writes that this act is ‘the cornerstone’ of Anishinaabeg kinship and community, functioning as a glue that creates relationships between people and other beings, forges agreements, and forms individual identities (_Ogimaag_ 32). … Bagijiganan provide entryways to Anishinaabeg communities, long-term or short-term, while the renewal of relationships are ensured by their ongoing and fair exchange. When accepted, bagiijiganan imply responsibilities between parties, a shared relationship, and are used most often to welcome newcomers into communities as relations.” (p 18)

[Accepting a gift acknowledges a responsibility …]

“‘… when one accepted a gift from a human or Manido, one had to fulfill promises made to perform appropriate ceremonies or use the gift in appropriate ways lest the individual become ill or the gift be withdrawn.'” (p 18, citing Miller, 2010)

[Reciprocity is built-in …]

“Receiving a bagijigan is giving one as well.” (p 18)

[Gratitude is a gift …]

“… the appropriate acceptance of a bagijigan in Anishinaabemowin is _miigwech_ — often translated as thank you. A clearer translation comes from the verb _miigiwe_ (‘to give’). Miigwech is therefore to give a gift of gratitude and respect for the gift you have received. In other words, miigwech is a bagijigan.” (p 19)

[Communication of narratives is important and establishes relationships …]

“Understanding Indigenous narratives as relationships one can help facilitate a supportive, nurturing, and nourishing critical environment or, if misrecognizing or misusing them, forge a barren, violent, or colonizing imperialism where Indigenous words are obscured, veiled, and even forced into absence.” (p 22)

Selected Notes

  • 9. A good example is J. Edward Chamberlin, who acknowledges that “there are those who will quarrel with my use of the term literature” in describing Indigenous expressions but he claims there is “no other word” that “acknowledges their aesthetic and intellectual character, their beauties and – inseparably – their truths” (“The Corn People” 72). But others do use praise terms such as “verbal art.”

Selected References

  • Johnston, Basil. Ojibway Heritage. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976.
  • Miller, Cary. Ogimaag: Anishinaabeg Leadership, 1760-1845. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2010.

About the artwork

  • Odjig, Daphne. The Creation of the World (Detail). 1972. Acrylic on masonite, 590 cm x 326 cm. Manitoba Museum, Winnipeg.
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