Today I am presenting about a short film that I helped create some time ago. This film brought about 20 Anishinabe community members including women, Elders, men, youth and children from northwestern Ontario. It was filmed over the course of a weekend, and then a few follow-up sessions in different locations including Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation, Fort William First Nation, Savanne and Thunder Bay.
The purpose of this film project was three-fold:
1) To document the practice of making a brain-tanning a moose hide;
2) To record some of the Anishinabemowin words that are connected to this practice; and,
3) To honour the voices/perspectives of our older ones/language speakers
It is important to mention some guiding principles/teachings that we followed to help ensure that we were doing things “in a good way”:
- Involving multiple generations of Anishinabeg
-Learning by trial and error
-Doing our best as we went along
-Taking it easy on each other
- Making sure the little ones were around and looked after well/kept safe
The film can be accessed here: https://vimeo.com/102961623
Now as a maker and researcher of Anishinabe visual and material culture, I find that this film project opened up my mind to thinking a bit differently about Indigenous language revitalization.
We often discuss/read about learning Anishinabemowin, talking Anishinabemowin, or listening to Anishinabemowin, but as someone who experiences the world through making things—someone who learns best through tactile processes… I ask,
Have we considered the possibility and potentiality of making Anishinabemowin?
We have been gifted with different ways to experience this world (through our mouths, through our ears, through our eyes, etc.).
BUT we also experience/learn about the world in other ways, for example, through our fingertips and through our noses (touch and smell).
We are not designed to suspend any of these senses in order to do the other. They work together.
So if we consider this, then making Anishinabemowin implicates not only our eyes (sight), ears (listening), mouths (talking), but also calls upon us to consider what we are also doing with our hands (touch)… our entire bodies (e.g. smell, taste).
Let’s consider how our ancestors made Anishinabemowin happen:
-Through activities on the land (hunting, skinning, gathering plants, walking with each other to visit, etc.)
-Through a range of cultural/social/spiritual activities (dancing, drumming/singing, sewing/mending clothes, beading, preparing food, etc.
The thing is all of these activities activate and engage our ENTIRE BODY and bring us in close relationship with a wide range of materials in our environment.
Through the embodied and social act of tanning hides, skinning animals, etc. our ancestors were not just simply talking Anishinabemowin, but they were also inscribing Anishinabemowin upon/within their bodies just by living a way of life that facilitated and developed a very sophisticated relationship between language and their material/physical environments.
So if we take up this idea of making Anishinabemowin happen, then we must carefully consider the way we feel, touch, smell, etc. the language as well speak, read and listen to it.
Why is all this important?
It affects our pedagogical approach to Anishinabemowin revitalization.
If we link language revitalization with land-based, highly physical and tactile activities that, indeed, include repetition, texture, rhythm, muscle strength, etc.
then we can both locate/access that language knowledge that is deeply inscribed in our bodies through hundreds of years of work conducted by our ancestors AND we can simultaneously re-inscribe that language in our very being.
As we continue to create opportunities for the acquisition and retention of Anishinabemowin, we should consider:
-More emphasis on connecting words heard/spoken to material things. These can be complex practices like making a pair of moccasins or more simplistic like passing around the moccasins for people to touch while saying the word.