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Every year, the Lac Courte Orielles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe hosts a "Mid-Winter Social Dance" in Hayward, Wisconsin. Hayward is way up north, a good 7 hour drive from Milwaukee, and is a strikingly beautiful part of the state. Rolling hills and fields are broken by patchwork pine and oak and maple forests, as well as the white barked beauty of paper and yellow birch, all trimmed and softened with billows of pristine snow, whiter than it ever is in the city. The town of Hayward looks like the winter will never leave it; the wide streets have a snow-globe charm, all lovely and lonely and cold. The Mid-Winter Dance serves as an important community gathering of various Wisconsin tribes, and is also an important venue for the discussion of the issues surrounding the proposed Gogebic Taconite open-pit iron mine that will be upstream to important estuaries that make the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation some of the most productive wild rice land in the nation. The mine will leave open tailings that will leach acidifying sulfites into the water, and it has been discovered - and suppressed - that there is significant asbestos content in the bed rock. Our group, the Overpass Light Brigade, had been invited to hold forth messages on stage right before the evening powwow. We had done a similar action last year, inviting the future generation to hold messages such as NO TAR SANDS, NO FRAC SANDS, and NO MINES. This year, we wanted to highlight the teens, highlight the struggle against the colonial forces of out of state corporations, and do it all in the Ojibwe language. In short, we were up for a challenge!

I have a friend and colleague who teaches Ojibwe language and culture in Milwaukee, and sought her help for some words that would be meaningful and compelling, without too many vowels, and short enough for both the stage and the limitations of our now 71 letter alphabet array. Did I say that the number of vowels was an issue?

We came up with this beautiful script:

Boozhoo / Aaniin -  Hello

(the letters spelling GEGO are walked onto stage)

It's a common word "gego."
It's a gokomis, mishomis - a grandmother and grandfather word.

Paul DeMain from the LCO, the Overpass Light Brigade, Wisconsin Anishinaabeg and the Earth's children say "gego" today!

The first phrase  we have spelled out is:
Gego moonakeg!
This means: Don't go digging!

Don’t go digging. Don’t go digging, Gogebic Taconite!

The company name Gogebic is interesting. It comes from

The second phrase requires a word change:
Gego googiibike!

(PAUSE FOR WORD SCRAMBLE, holders bring out second phrase)

“Googiibike” or Gogebic translates as:
Don’t dive into the metal!

There is a word folks around Maashkiki Ziibing (Bad River), Miskwaabikaak (Red Cliff) and Odawa Zaagaaganing (Lac Courte Oreilles) use to talk about having a heart strong enough to say "don't" when others "do," – Zongide'e

Our third word is Zongide’e


Zongide'e is the kind of courage it takes to gather, to speak up, to step out and say Stop! to digging and diving into the earth in deep and dangerous ways. 

Why? Why not take what lies in the earth beneath our feet, beside the lakes?

Because taking too much, too fast can tangle the cycles of water and weather and walking.

When Anishinaabeg ask, "aaniin ezhi-bimaadizi"  or “How are you doing?” those words literally ask, “How is your path?”

How is your path?
Aaniin ezhi-bimaadizi?

To have a good path is "minobimaadizi".  
To have a good path requires a solid, healthy place to put your feet.

Our fourth and last word for you tonight is:



How is your path? What does "minobimaadizi" mean to you, your children and their great-great-grandchildren?

What does minobimaadizi mean to the earth beneath our feet and to the cycles of water and weather and walking?

Another dear friend of mine, Sarah LittleRedfeather, had agreed to read  the script to the assembled crowd, but also to riff with it and improvise, because it is quite difficult to get complex messages re-sorted in real time in terms of the backstage needs to get this all worked out, as there is overlap of letters from phrase to phrase and when one phrase comes in, it is a real scramble to get the next letters out and in the right order! Since Sarah isn't fluent in Ojibwe, she asked an elder to help her with the pronunciation. It was a wonderful generational link between her, the elder, and the teens on stage, all negotiating the lighted letters of living language. We had invited hand drummers, and the Haye Creek Drummers of the LCO along with the Pipestone Drummers came in force and sang traditional songs to open and close the oratorial action, and they were amazing as their rhythms and pitch surrounded the audience in an eerie sonic embrace.

An event like this is more like improv guerrilla theater than anything else - there is no rehearsal, there are no experienced actors, there are only real people, generous and willing to put themselves into a creative community that, in this case, was organized around political resistance in the form of both message and medium. Language is the life of culture, and the lighted letters offer a strange performative embodiment of text.

How is your path? Minobimaadizi?

A path is connected with the ground we stand on, but is also worn, over time, by the people walking with you, walking before you, walking beside you, and walking after you. It was suggested to me that "Minobimaadizi" might also translate as "Solidarity Forever."

Originally posted to noise of rain on Sun Feb 16, 2014 at 05:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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