Worlds Apart: The Enduring Significance of Ojibwe Culture

Ojibwe Resistance in the News – I don’t often reblog previous posts these days. I’ve also noticed an interesting trend. The posts about Native American issues tend to be the least popular in terms of views, likes, and comments. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they’re viewed as historical, too long or academic, angry, or no longer relevant. Yet as I read the news today, contemporary Ojibwe resistance was among the highlighted stories on Huffington Post.

From my perspective, differing worldviews about life and our responsibility for protecting our environment – our world – our relatives – never lose relevance. As hunting and gathering season begins here in the north country, I decided to reblog this post.

Voices from the Margins

Carol A. Hand

It makes me angry when I hear about cultural competence. There aren’t any cultural differences between the people on the reservation and the rest of the residents in the county. The culture is gone; it’s a thing of the past. (County Decision Maker, October 15, 2001)

To say there is not a culture is not true. It justifies them [county social services and court systems] for not learning about us. (Terrence, Ojibwe Community Member, October 19, 2001)

These statements were given voice by Ojibwe and Euro-American community members during a critical ethnographic study in 2001-2002. One perspective carried more weight. Because of the speaker’s gender, ethnicity, and position, the statement symbolizes one of the many ways in which Ojibwe sovereignty continues to be constrained and traditional lifeways, disparaged.

The Ojibwe community I studied had been confined on an ever-decreasing landbase and subjected to the policies and institutions…

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18 thoughts on “Worlds Apart: The Enduring Significance of Ojibwe Culture

  1. It really is a shame, or tragedy, how Native American perspectives have been marginalized. This problem is worse now than ever before – at least in my lifetime. I recall from history how tribal leaders dealt with the existential dilemma before them – to fight against overwhelming odds, or sacrifice their autonomy in order to save their children.

    There are too many factors in this dynamic to review here (racial, etc.), but perhaps the cultural differences between Native Americans and Europeans doesn’t get enough attention. The American colonists were largely Protestants from northwestern Europe where Calvinist philosophy was strong. It advanced aggressive ideas relating to work, material values, and the application of power. To many Native Americans, these newcomers must have been seen as something of an enigma and often at odds with their cultural mores.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Robert. I think the reluctance to consider Native American perspectives is complex and multi-faceted. Yet I agree that the contrasts between the protestant work ethic, competition, and rugged individualism and Indigenous values of communal responsibility and environmental stewardship based on spiritual beliefs are among the most important.

      And I do have a rather humorous take on one of the examples that came to mind when I read your comment about Native views of newcomers. Imagine a people whose worst fear is starvation, a very real threat, and the most feared monster, the windigo, the cannibalistic giant that could possess people if they let their hunger control them. In come the catholic missionaries who invite the people to share the symbolic body and blood of their savior. Is it any wonder understanding is ever illusive?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I have this bookmarked and will read it over the next few days. I have a hard time sitting at the computer for long periods these days.

    As I read what I have read up to this point, this thought kept coming to me: A criminal wants to downplay his crime against others, he wants to bury it, and either pretend it didn’t happen, or claim it was “for the greater good:” “Manifest Destiny.”

    As a student in public schools, I never was taught anything about how the real American peoples were treated by white Europeans. I had to find out for myself throughout the years, and I’m still ignorant. We heard about the “hero,” Custer, and how he and his men “Bravely” fought to the last man, while the “Indians” mass murdered them. They never bothered to tell us of the heinous atrocities Custer, and the other war mongering military generals, were guilty of perpetrating against Native Americans.

    As we can see today, this is the modus operandi of the elite U.S./Europeans.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comments, Sojourner. I can relate to the challenge of sitting at the computer, and this is a very long post 🙂

      Your experience in school is the norm – few students in the US are taught real history. Probably everyone remembers the Louisiana purchase and few if any were encouraged to think about who really held claim to the land France sold… Still, Native peoples survived. As you point out, the legacy of global genocide and exploitation left by colonial powers continues today throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East – to name just a few.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve found my posts about Native issues are the least well received, generally. I’m not sure why. It’s really rather confusing and sad. Maybe it just reflects the deep currents that underlie our settlered culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate knowing that you have noticed the same trend, Michael. I’m not sure if it’s the topic, but it could be, or the tone or length of what I write about Native issues. It could reflect deeper issues in the “settlered culture,” as you suggest. It is troubling nonetheless when coupled with a general lack of knowledge about history and contemporary issues.


    1. Thank you so much for sharing this fascinating and disturbing article, Sojourner. In the hundreds of books and articles I have read, I have never read this incredibly well-argued perspective on the racism embedded in the conservation movement. The arguments are elegantly-crafted, well-supported by evidence, and make a great deal of sense based on what I have read and observed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re more than welcome!

        It was quite serendipitous , since I had just found your article on the Ojibwe people.

        I will be posting it soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It was great reading this again. Thank you for reposting.
    It’s interesting (sad) to note that while UNESCO has specified “intangible cultural heritage” practices all over the world to recognize the irreplaceable value of diverse cultures, as far as I know, not a single example of cultural heritage has been recognized in the US.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Diane. It was a week of memories and chance encounters that reminded me of this old post. I always think of these stories about hunting and gathering in the fall, and I had lunch with Carl Gawboy and his partner last week (the artist who gave me permission to include some of his work). And then I read the news in the Huffington Post about Ojibwe people challenging Minnesota’s violations of treaty rights.

      It is troubling that there’s so little knowledge of tribal histories and cultures in the US. Speaking of which, Sojourner just sent me a link to an incredible article about the history of national parks. Here’s the link in case you’re interested:


      1. Yes, I just started reading the National Parks essay. Have you read An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz? Along with histories of treaties, she explores the racist violence embedded in US settler culture and in the words of some of our (white) national heroes — including people like Walt Whitman and L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz fame).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I did read Dr. B.’s review of Dunbar-Ortiz’s work, but I haven’t read it. It’s one of those books that I’m not sure I can read without becoming too angry and too deeply sad. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I’ve learned that I need to have a strong action-focused reason to walk through all of the senseless pain, loss, and evil of the past. The legacy and enduring repetition of senseless oppression are more than enough for me to bear some days…


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