from the Ahnishinahbæótjibway (We, the People)
The foundation of Ahnishinahbæótjibway society is the Dodems. It is hard to describe the nature of these Aboriginal Indigenous extended families in the language of the Western Europeans—the expansion of Western society over the past several thousand years has been dependent upon the destruction and denigration of indigenous forms of extended family, and the conceptual structure of Western Civilization is not conducive to comprehension of kinship/family based egalitarian and organic social organization like that of the Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems. Egalitarian nonviolent societies of any form are an inherent threat to the structure of hierarchical society—hence the government-sponsored boarding schools and other assimilation policies aimed toward the Aboriginal Indigenous people.
There is very little information on Ahnishinahbæótjibway society accessible to Western Europeans, but volumes and volumes have been written about the Chippewa and other Indians across the country. In order to begin to comprehend the nature of Aboriginal Indigenous social structure, it is crucial to realize that the vast majority of both the writing and the people identified as “Indian” has nothing to do with the Aboriginal Indigenous people—these Indians are Métis with an European or North African patriline and a hierarchical creole culture which has very little resemblance to Ahnishinahbæótjibway or other Aboriginal Indigenous cultures. Recently, there has been a resurgence of White interest in indigenous cultures, which has been re-directed toward the Indians. The Indians speak frequently of a “cultural revival,” of “bringing back traditions”—but how can the very people who played a crucial role in destroying the Aboriginal Indigenous people and cultures, and selling our land, hope to “regain” something which they never had? The Indians have a hierarchical, nuclear-family based social structure, and the same values as their Western European relations. The Chippewa Indians’ historical authorities such as William Warren write about “migration from the East,” which is an accurate description of the movement of the Métis during the fur trade, although they could have extended the description of westward migration over the Atlantic Ocean.
The “extended family” for the Indians centers on European feudalism and the Great White Father: the institutional patriarch who used these mixed-blood people as tools in the occupation and conquest of this continent, the genocide of the Aboriginal Indigenous inhabitants, and the assuaging of the White man’s burden of guilt by giving the Indians “sovereignty” and continues to use these people as intermediaries in the ongoing destruction of the ecosystem and the “mopping up” in the total annihilation of both the Aboriginal Indigenous people and every trace that we ever existed. “Indian sovereignty,” as used by the United States government, is just another form of segregation. When the Indians have served their purpose, the U.S. Government will resume the policy initiated during the Eisenhower administration: termination of Indians and their assimilation into the lower socio-economic strata of the mainstream American society. The Indians are not the Aboriginal Indigenous people; the “Indians” are an entirely different people than the Ahnishinahbæótjibway.
The expansion of Western society has been filled with abandoned fragments of nuclear families, and the children created and molded to fill the needs of the state. Corporations, churches and the government—the patriarchy—purport to be the extended family, but they meet their obligations toward “their people” only when it is convenient for them to do so; frequently evading responsibility for the pain, economic distress and dislocation which they have created by blaming the victims of their own policies. The State is going after “deadbeat dads,” imprisoning jobless men who have abandoned by the corporations or expropriated by GATT, scathingly criticizing people for doing the impossible within the constraints of the nuclear family. People are kept off balance and in chaos by conflicting and irreconcilable messages, mutual impossibilities, and psychological and social violence. For example, young people are cut off from the wisdom of their elders (“youth” is the idol and the target of the Nation-state, and the discarding of elders is a part of the nuclear-family cycle that each generation experiences), flooded with multi-dimensional and market-tested messages of sexuality, and then condemned for either “teen pregnancy” or abortion. These and other strategies are repeated over and over again, with the chorus of “exploitation is healthy.” The paradigm of Western nuclear families creates an unhappy society full of hate and violence.
The egalitarian Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems are neither “tribes” nor “bands”—they are intricately inter-linked aspects of a continent-wide extended family, inter-related with the fish, the birds, the furred animals and the amphibians. There were at least 32 Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems—immortal extended families, and in order to understand Aboriginal Indigenous social structure, it is important to realize that there were no hierarchical nuclear families here, and our Aboriginal Indigenous language was not hierarchical (the Chippewa language, which the White man created, is hierarchical and has no connection with the Ahnishinahbæótjibway language except for a few mutated vocabulary-words)... and it has been destroyed as a living language, as planned by the invading Western society.1
The only perspective available to the average American of Ahnishinahbæótjibway society is that written by the Western European invaders, who did not understand the nature of our extended family and community—and who do not understand their own society’s lack of extended family or community. From an Aboriginal Indigenous perspective, Westerners have no comprehension whatsoever of our most fundamental social structure, the extended family; and indeed there is an enormous and pathological void in Western society because their extended families have been systematically destroyed as Western Civilization “advanced.” The Western European people are fleeing the ghosts of their past, running away from their own history and denying the reality of their own identity by trying to create the new identity of “Americans.” In order to create a viable society in the twenty-first century, they need to come to terms with their past: both what they themselves have lost, and what they have taken from others; their historical revisionism and their projections onto other people.
The love and connectedness which are inherent in Ahnishinahbæótjibway extended family are a normal and natural requirement of all living beings; Western society depends on the destruction of extended family and the perversion and sublimation of healthy human social drives into the minimally-fulfilling hierarchical institutional structures upon which Western society depends: organized religion, political structures and Western economic structures, and the patriarchal Nation-state all depend upon the absence of egalitarian extended families.
The nuclear families of Western society do not have any roots—they are “fly-by-nights,” here today and gone tomorrow, transients who do not care where their people are buried. If they would have had Aboriginal Indigenous connections to their own land, they would have maintained that land. But, the poor substitute of an extended family which they have, the State, touts the “highly mobile” Western society. Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems are of the land in ways which are incomprehensible to Westerners: for example, my ancestors of the Bear Dodem have been born right here, have lived here and died here, and have been buried here over the course of at least four ice ages—this land; the beings of this ecosystem past, present and future; my ancestors, my descendants and myself are one and inseparable. There is neither boundary nor separation between the Bear Dodem, the land and myself—we are family, we are connected throughout what Westerners would call “eternity.” Even though Western society has done its best, and in most ways succeeded, in destroying Ahnishinahbæótjibway people, language and culture, our spirit and the ghosts of those who have been killed, remain an integral part of the land.
Western languages are profoundly disconnected from nature and Aboriginal Indigenous reality; these languages are masters of deception which create illusions. An example is the description of forests as “renewable resources,” ignoring the ramifications of cutting down even one tree, and blinding people to the imminently self-destructive process of demolishing natural ecosystems and hiding from reality by planting “tree farms.” The Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems lived in harmony and in balance with an ecology which we kept as an abundant paradise where Grandmother Earth gave us all that we needed: food, clothing, health and shelter. What for us can only be translated into Western European thought as “heaven on earth,” the Western invaders called “wild,” and wildly proceeded to destroy what he laid claim to as “God’s creation.” “Wild” is a projection which fits the European invaders—when they label what was here as “wild” they are really telling on themselves, and identifying what they are.
The patriarchal elite of Western society operates on the principles enumerated by Machiavelli, including “divide and conquer;” intolerant of even hierarchical extended families, and driving wedges into the most intimate aspects of the nuclear family. The State, which is the patriarchal pseudo-family offered to the masses, penetrates its influence even into the bedrooms of the people subjugated under its Democracy, Socialism, Communism, Capitalism, Christianity, and other institutional philosophies. The destruction of the extended family leaves a void which is felt but cannot be described in Western languages; people within Western society adopt many different strategies to deal with that void, resulting in teen pregnancies, gang membership, drugs, divorces, addictions, anger, joining “unhappy groups” like the Neo-Nazis so that they can project their own pain onto other people in the form of hate... all of these patterns resulting from the destruction of the extended families and the abstract hierarchical languages of Western society prevent people from dealing with the root causes of their pain. There is no language or grammar in Western society to structure, maintain, or even comprehend egalitarian extended family. Westerners are forced into the mold of “mechanical man,” and are crippled by their culture and their language in ways which abuse them, wound them deeply and prevent them from becoming fully human and from realizing their inter-connectedness with all life on earth.
If one could stand outside the structure of the Western society, and look at it from another paradigm, they would realize that the Hippie movement, the New Age phenomenon, and the great numbers of Whites searching for “medicine men,” shamans, and “Indian religion” all come from the innate sense of loss which remains on some level of awareness for many Westerners, despite the numbing, sado/masochistic, addictive and disconnecting effects of Western language and culture.
Western society has come full circle, using the achievements of their “advanced technology” to bomb the barren sands of the land which they once called the Garden of Eden. They are maintaining institutional illusions about their society and their history at an ever-increasing cost.
Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems/extended family, language and culture have been destroyed—the people of my grandfather’s generation were the last of my people who experienced anything resembling an intact society, and even in my grandfather’s youth our people were under heavy genocidal attack. As a child I spoke my native language with my grandfather and other older relatives, and came to understand my Ahnishinahbæótjibway heritage through my grandfather; but what remained of the Ahnishinahbæótjibway in my childhood was shattered fragments of a people and a culture, many who were the last of their Dodem, survivors of a holocaust who would take the living Ahnishinahbæótjibway language with them to their graves.
Being “Indian” is culturally apropos at the moment, and many mixed-blood acculturated Chippewa Indians talk about “bringing back traditions,” or “reinventing Indians” from by an acculturated people who were almost terminated by the Eisenhower administration, and have very little understanding of their own history and traditions, and virtually none of the Ahnishinahbæótjibway one. But, one can never re-create the past, nor bring the organic vitality of a living culture back from extermination. The “traditions” accessible to born-again Indians are White interpretations and projections, or discoveries of “lost tribes” who conveniently came back from the brink of extinction just in time to open up an Indian Gaming casino.
After being confronted with undeniable documentary evidence of the extent of the destruction wrought upon my people, I have finally come to terms with the harsh reality that I tried to deny for most of my life: the Ahnishinahbæótjibway, which interpreted into English means “We, the People,” are gone; our culture has been destroyed. Those few of us who survive as individuals and tattered shreds of Dodems have some understanding our identity; a tiny percentage of our Aboriginal Indigenous land—ravaged and plundered by the Westerners, her ecology wrecked or teetering on the brink of collapse; we have our Ahnishinahbæótjibway perspective and memories of the time when our language lived. We are no longer “We, the People” living in what seemed the eternal and infinite harmony of our Dodems; we are extinct in terms of the culture and people who we once were. What we have lost is almost beyond comprehension, but there comes a time to let go of the distinctly non-Ahnishinahbæótjibway emotion of anger, and live in harmony with reality, in accordance with the non-violent values of my people.
What remains for me to do is to offer what I know to all of the people who are here now (I won’t say “black” or “white” or “yellow” because everybody has been mongrelized by centuries of Western war-and-peace). The history of Western Civilization has come full circle upon itself, and they are coming to the end of their paradigm. The descendants of the immigrants and invaders are here, and probably have no place else to go. The Ahnishinahbæótjibway tradition is a part of this land; our spirit and our ghosts are inseparable from this living part of Grandmother Earth. The time has come for the newcomers to learn how to address the violence which is an inherent part of their culture; to treat other people as human beings rather than exploiting them, and to live in harmony with this land and with themselves.
The Dodems were the foundation of Ahnishinahbæótjibway society: they were egalitarian extended families. The network of Dodems and maternal relatives was the bedrock of our social universe, our identity, our culture, our relationships with each other and our understanding of what it means to be a human being. Anthropologists have focussed on the “kinship” of indigenous peoples, without ever coming to a full understanding of the meaning or pervasive significance of the extended families which we had. They had no basis of comparison in their own hierarchical, nuclear-family society; they had no cultural groundwork for understanding community in our terms.
There were at least 32 Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems; I am of the Bear Dodem. The Dodems are patrilineal, meaning that one is born into their father’s Dodem; when a woman married she also took on her husband’s Dodem; her children were born into her husband’s Dodem but had an equally close kinship relationship with their mother’s side of the family. Ahnishinahbæótjibway favored marrying from outside of the local community; the women coming from across the continent to live with their husbands’ Dodem and people. Ahnishinahbæótjibway are and have always been exogamous, meaning that we do not marry anyone to whom we are related; and we defined relatives as anyone of the same Dodem, or otherwise related by blood through seven generations... grandparents’ (two generations) grandparents’ (four generations) great-grandparents, and all of their descendants are blood relatives—and we knew who all of these thousands of relatives were. This huge network of relatives created a vast “social security” safety net; a loving family extending thousands of miles in all directions; more than ten thousand brothers and sisters with whom any kind of sexual relationship was unthinkable and unimaginable, and therefore with whom we interacted in ways not readily understood in the sexually-permeated Western society.
Many of the original birchbark scrolls were genealogical records, recording the Dodem’s family history far beyond seven generations; the birchbark scrolls which I have examined are Métis scrolls (many of which are hocus-pocus made specifically for sale to anthropologists in the mid to late nineteenth century)—I do not know of any Ahnishinahbæótjibway scrolls which have survived. Almost all of the scrolls which are preserved in museums as “Chippewa scrolls” are the Métis’ creole scrolls, just as the language which as recorded as “Chippewa” is a creole fur-trade language. Because we did not marry within the sixteen Dodems to whom we were the most closely related (our parents’, grandparents’, great-grandparents, and great-grandparents’ Dodems), and because we did not marry blood relatives through seven generations, we avoided many of the genetic diseases which plague Western society; the Ahnishinahbæótjibway people were environmentally, socially, and genetically healthy... we were the third-tallest group of people in the world—most of us over six feet tall.
Identity and affiliation, including what in English are tangentially referred to as the “herd instinct” and the “nesting instinct,” are among the fundamental human needs which were filled by the Ahnishinahbæótjibway Dodems and egalitarian extended family; food, clothing and shelter were readily provided for in our permacultural relationship to our intact ecology, leaving plenty of time for leisure and socialization, arts and other forms of creativity. We were totally secure with our identity as ourselves, as human beings, and of our being loved and belonging within the constellation of our relatives; within the context of our kinship-oriented society—we did not need external definitions of ourselves. Western society has intentionally limited even the hierarchical feudal extended families of its past history, in part because Western institutions such as the Church depend on usurping the natural human drive for affiliation which was filled by the Ahnishinahbæótjibway extended families.
The gangs, teenage pregnancy and abortion, divorce, violence and social “deviance,” which stem from the unbalanced and dehumanizing dynamics of attenuated nuclear families and Western hierarchy—none of these were generated by Ahnishinahbæótjibway extended families. The principal emotional states of Western culture: including anger, fear, sorrow, disgust, lust, surprise, jealousy, hate, profanity and greed, result from the inherent imbalances of Western hierarchical nuclear-family social structure (and the abstract languages which help maintain that structure), and because of Ahnishinahbæótjibway kinship, egalitarian society and extended families, were not a part of our personality structure nor social repertoire.
From an Ahnishinahbæótjibway perspective, Western European people are transients who have no roots and no sense of connection to the land. In our tradition, the Dodems had an eternal connection to the land; each patriline belonged to a particular place of the land, had lived in that place since time immemorial, and was a part of the natural cycles of the land; our ancestors had been buried in the land since the beginning of human time, and “selling land” was a metaphysical impossibility. We did not have Nation-states (or the “tribes” or “bands” which are part of the popular Western misconception of Aboriginal Indigenous culture); we were not defined or entrapped by any abstract monetary system, and our relationship to the land was a living, untaxed one. We understood and respected the ecological balance of the land, and maintained it as a paradise—in the Ahnishinahbæótjibway understanding, no sane people would foul their own nest.
The Westerners have been running from the immense pain of their past and their hierarchically imposed identities. Western society is full of “blind alleys” which are designed to eliminate threats to the structure by diverting people, re-directing them into “fighting the establishment” in violent, dead-end hierarchical terms—the survivalist “anti-tax” movement is one of these blind alleys, as is communism and the “get government off our backs/states’ rights” movement. Westerners can begin to regenerate their relationship to the land by doing their genealogies, and putting their extended families back together again; by recreating a vocabulary and a grammar which is in harmony with egalitarian extended family. The land is a critical part of this, and a family which works together on the land, growing their own food, is beginning to rebuild the links which are essential for a truly human society. All people need to put their hands into the Earth, and understand “this is where I come from, and this is where I will return.”
Ahnishinahbæótjibway did not
have domesticated animals—we did not need pets like cats or dogs to
void left by lack of extended family, and we understood the ecological
devastation wrought by domesticated herbivores such as sheep and cattle. The deer and moose with whom we lived in
harmony, lived gently in relationship to the environment, leaving
faint traces where they had eaten... they did not devour the young
destroy the ecological balance like cattle, sheep and goats do. It is true that deer, like wolves and other
non-domesticated animals, maintain the ecological harmony by eating
is out of balance—like introduced horticultural species such as
apple trees. Western agriculture is an
entirely different, hierarchical paradigm: in which the cattle have
better land than the people do, the foundation of the food supply is a
mono-cropped species which are extremely vulnerable to disease, and the
eventual residue of “civilization” is desertification.
These pathologies would not be possible in
the context of balanced, egalitarian extended families—this is why Ahnishinahbæótjibway families were attacked
and destroyed as a part of
Western expansion (if the Westerners had taken care of their land, they
have never needed to “expand” here... and they are not taking care of
either, they are destroying it also.)
Ahnishinahbæótjibway land of the Bear Dodem near Wub-e-ke-niew and Clara’s home, Winter 1996.
1The deliberate destruction of Ahnishinahbæótjibway and other Aboriginal Indigenous languages is documented in the book, We Have The Right to Exist, also by Wub-e-ke-niew.