September 8th, 1862
Red Rock Reservation, Ontario
My mother always said that one day I’d get ripped open by my stubbornness, and she was right. It’s my fool, stubborn heart which led to Ignacio’s banishment and will most likely lead to mine.
A harvest moon of orange glows in the evening sky like a pumpkin guiding my steps. My feet squash down the mounded soil as I walk through the corn in the field. I hope I have not been followed. I turn my head to watch, but I see no one in the shadows. Some spidery strands of corn silk cling to my hide dress. Tufts of silk spring from the corn ears, brown and brittle like an old woman’s hair.
I walk deeper into the maze of stalks. Wide, curved leaves as big as my arm cling to me as I pass. Most are dry and they crunch as I wade into them. They are reluctant to see me go. Perhaps the corn wonders when I will ripen.
My hand finds the curve of my belly under my doeskin dress. I wear the traditional clothes of my clan with pride. They were forbidden at school, but I’m no longer a girl. I will not go to the white man’s place of learning anymore.
With the white man came his ways. They want to make the Anishinaabe white, but we are not. The Black Robes say they teach us civilized ways, but they are the ones who are not civilized. It is the white men who need to be taught this, for they are sick with greed. What grows inside me springs from such a place.
I can still feel his greedy hands on me.
A knife-like pain suddenly presses against my back. I stop in the
shelter of the last row of corn. A warm stream runs down my legs.
I look up at the moon and groan. It is time for the harvest to come. Time to bear the sin of a needy man . . . a man I thought I could trust.
“Errr. . .”
I pant and crouch down. Fear rises in my throat like bile. A heat rushes down my back. My legs tremble.
Should I have rid myself of this seed?
The thought rolls in my mind like the waves of Gitchi-gami. Wiineta-gikendan told me to. But she did not say why. She is as her name, which means: Only she knows. She is a Medawin woman, my teacher, and she knows many things. She wanted me to take an infusion of wild parsley and pennyroyal to flush this seed out months ago, but I could not. Gitchi-manidoo stopped me, spoke to me. I trust him. He is bigger than man and his lust. He will take this dirty seed and make him clean. He will make me clean.
“Rrrr . . .”
I pant and wait for the right moment, as I have seen done. The time comes when I can no longer resist. It pulls at me. It threatens to tear me apart. Finally, I can stand it no longer.
I push forth a child—a son. With shaky hands, I cut the cord with my foraging knife and tie the stump off with a piece of leather fringe from my dress. I cradle him in my arms, not caring that he is slick with the life of my womb.
He wails, and I join him. I cry for what I have lost—my innocence and the man that I love.
Red Rock Reservation
“What we call her, Maamaa?” Seven-year-old Maang-ikwezens gazed at her baby sister and commented, “She fuzzy like a baby bird.”
“We must wait and see.”
“Papa Baptiste see her yet?”
“No, he’s gone still.” Wiigwaas-ikwe—Birch Woman—motioned to
her daughter. “Come, sit closer.”
She held her arm out to her Loon Girl. Maang-ikwezens nestled
herself next to her mother and sister.
Wiigwaas-ikwe draped her arm around her eldest daughter. “Now,
you must promise to be a good big sister and always watch out for this little one.”
She smoothed back some loose strands of raven hair from her daughter’s brow.
“Eya’—yes, Maamaa.” Maang-ikwezens nodded her head solemnly.
Wiigwaas-ikwe shifted the baby next to her and leaned back on the stuffed deer hide. She was tired. She needed rest. The birthing had come early in the morning, but it hadn’t been till afternoon that the little one was born.
“Are you ready for school tomorrow?”
Maang-ikwezens crinkled up her brow. “Why must I go? I want to stay and learn from Wiineta.”
“And so you shall, but this is what we must do now. It is required for reservation life.” Wiigwaas-ikwe tried to hold back the bitterness threatening to rise in her throat. Bitterness would help no one, least of all her family.
The little girl hung her head and buried it in her mother’s side. She didn't cry or fuss. Gratitude rose in Wiigwaas for a daughter who carefully obeyed.
She held her newborn in one arm and cradled her only remaining link to Ombaashi in the other. In just over a year, she’d lost her sons and husband, remarried, and now had another child.
A piece of her heart would always belong to Ombaashi. He’d been a good man: quiet, kind, and always of gentle spirit. His name fit him well—Lifted by the Wind. Although he’d been cheerful, he had also been seeking something. He had flitted from place to place and task to task like a bird gliding on the breeze.
Wiigwaas-ikwe thought how wrong it had been to bury his beloved body in the dirt. At least he was not alone, for she had lain one son on either side of him, like seeds planted in a row.
They had been taken by the waabishki-inini’s—white man’s—curse: measles. It had not only been Wiigwaas-ikwe who had grieved. Many families in the reservation had lost at least one member.
She leaned her head back on the hide and closed her eyes. Her daughters had quieted and were both resting, and so should she. Makade-makwa, Black Bear, the family dog, curled up at their feet. His fur warmed Wiigwaas-ikwe’s toes while she rested. As she drifted off to sleep, she thought of what she’d lost instead of what she had gained.
“You must promise, Wiidigemaagan—wife. Say it.”
Wiigwaas-ikwe looked into the wild eyes of her husband. His face
bloomed with raised, red bumps; moisture clung to his forehead like bug eggs on the underside of a leaf.
“Oui. I will. Your daughter shall take your place in the Medawin.” She
sponged his head with a cool cloth.
It had long been a bone of contention between husband and wife.
Wiigwaas-ikwe didn’t want her daughter to learn the healing ways. It could be a strange, dark work. She had turned her heart to the white man’s God. The priests said such things should be laid aside and that there was no need to call on the spirits for healing. They called it idolatry.
“Good. Continue to . . . teach her the ways of the people.”
Ombaashi floundered in the air for her hand. She stilled his hand and rested it in hers. Of course, she would teach their daughter the traditions, but she determined Maang-ikwezens would know of Gitchi-manidoo as God. The priests at the mission school would teach her of the love of this God they spoke about.
“You must calm yourself now. Rest.”
Ombaashi nodded his head and did as Wiigwaas told him. She noticed his breath came out much too shallow. When his eyes closed and Wiigwaas could see he rested, she moved to the cot her son lay on—the son who was still alive.
“Maamaa.” The little boy’s voice cracked. His eyes had swollen almost shut.
Wiigwaas could barely stand to look at her poor little boy. Her heart was pricked all over as if it had just been thrown into a bed of wild roses. The tiny, little, dagger-like thorns remained for a long time, digging and poking over and over again.
He was just one year older than Maang-ikwezens. Thank God she had recovered. She’d been the first one in the family to contract the illness. It had taken only a day for it to spread to the others.
Wiigwaas’s eyes rested on the cot emptied of her eldest son’s body.
Ten years is not long enough to live, she cried in her soul.
It wasn’t fair that the little ones should bear such burdens and be taken
to their maker so soon.
The men had taken Bagamaashi away after the sun rose. His young
body had turned stiff as a tree limb before he’d been sunk in the earth. She remembered the night she had birthed him. He had blown in with
the wind and storm that night. She’d named him accordingly.
What good are names now when he is planted in the dirt like a seed?
Wiigwaas asked herself.
She touched her Little Boy, Bangi-bezhig, on the cheek.
He feels a little cooler, she comforted herself.
She turned back to Ombaashi and saw he no longer breathed. His spirit
had lifted with the wind and only his shell of a body remained. Wiigwaas lowered her head to his chest and let out a low wail. Nothing will ever be the same again, she thought.
It hadn’t been, but Wiigwaas-ikwe would never have guessed that months later a carefree wanderer would come and steal her heart with his kind ways. He had called her Pearl the first time she’d seen him. She nestled deeper next to Maang-ikwezens and dreamt of him . . .
1851 Near Superior Bordering the Red Rock Tribe
“What are you digging for? Pearls?”
The man stepped closer to Wiigwaas as she dug in the pebbles by Gitchi-
gami’s shore. His tall, lanky stride promoted a friendly and easy-going air. His long, coffee-stained hair curled around his pale face as lovely as a woman’s would, but he was no female. Despite his lean physique, she saw he sported brawny muscles, which appeared through his loose shirt as he bent over her.
“Or maybe I should call you Pearl. You are as lovely as one.” He smiled crookedly at Wiigwaas, which made him look rather like a fool in love.
“I am not a Pearl. Pearls are white. I am not white,” she stated firmly, a bit affronted at this handsome stranger.
“Ah, well . . . pearls can be many tones.” He tempered his grin and looked intently into her eyes.
“I do not know of such things.” She shrugged her shoulders, paid him no
attention, and went back to searching through the pebbles.
“What is your name?” His voice was soft and gentle, almost like Ombaashi’s. “Wiigwaas-ikwe,” she said without looking up.
“What does it mean?”
He kept quiet. No doubt he wondered how she’d gotten her name, but
she didn’t elaborate.
“I am Gerard.”
She kept to her digging.
He crouched down by her and took a more direct tone. “What is it you
look for?” “Agates.”
“A most beautiful rock when polished, I’m told.”
She looked up at him and felt undone by the kindness she saw reflected in his eyes. Wiigwaas had not heard of much kindness coming from white men. She studied him, wary still, but found nothing to cause her alarm. She relaxed her face and turned her lips up ever so slightly to match his.
“May I help you?” Gerard reached down and began sorting stones without her permission. “Describe the stone I should look for.”
Wiigwaas pulled a stone from her tanned hide gathering pouch. She spit on it and rubbed the wet surface to highlight the striations of the semi- precious gem. She held up the stone in the sunlight, and her spit polish clearly showed its pattern.
“Ah, I see. How very lovely.” Gerard quickly gazed at the stone, but then rested his eyes on hers.
She moved to pick up another agate she had found. “Some have eyes instead, you see.” She pointed out the spots like tiny, round eggs. They were a pattern of circles within circles.
They worked together, raking through the shore’s stones as Lake Superior crashed gently behind them.
The afternoon sun lowered, and Wiigwaas watched the shadows slant even longer.
“It’s time; I must go.” She stood and pushed her ebony hair back from her face.
“Will I see you again?” He reached out hesitantly towards her.
She shrugged. “We will see.” A smile bloomed of its own volition on her face and signaled her pleasure at the thought of them meeting again.
“I am a writer. I journeyed with the traders. I want to know more about . . . well, about Ojibwe life.”
She listened as he tried to explain his presence in her territory. “You French?”
“Oui.” He nodded. “You speak French?”
“Little. I pick up here and there. The priests who have come teach too.” “Oui.” He looked at her with something akin to longing. It made her
“Maybe you look for stones tomorrow?”
“Maybe, but I have traveled with a group of clansmen. My home is near
Nipigon. I am not sure we will stay yet in the new day. If we do, I will be here.”
She nodded, strung her pouch on her arm, and stepped slowly away.
Wiigwaas felt his eyes on her back. She was aware her hair swung as her hips did. Her doeskin dress hung long and the fringe played just above her ankle with each step. She stopped, turned in a slow arch, and looked back at him. She couldn’t resist the urge to wave.
He waved back . . .
The baby stirred and cried. Wiigwaas left her dreams and positioned her daughter to nurse. Maang-ikwezens awoke as well from her nap.
“Are you hungry? Maybe you can make food for us?” Wiigwaas asked her.
Makade-makwa, their black bear of a dog, whined in response. His eyes and ears were attentive to the possibility of something to eat.
“My tummy rumbles.”
“Why don’t you fetch some wild leeks and cook them with some rice and dried venison. Can you do that, Nindaanis, my daughter?”
Wiigwaas bore pride that even at the young age of seven, Maang- ikwezens knew how to keep a fire going and get a meal ready.
“Eya’, Maamaa.” The little girl nodded, yawned, and stood up. She did a little stretch which revealed her copper legs under her hide dress. Wiigwaas-ikwe watched her daughter gather a few things inside of their hut. Maang-ikwezens stoked the fire in the center and set their cast iron pot over the coals. She filled it with a cup of manoomin, wild rice, some water from the storage barrel, and some chopped up pieces
of dried meat.
“You may add some salt from the box and some dried herbs. Thyme
will go well and maybe some juniper berries too. Those are in the pouch,” Wiigwaas-ikwe instructed.
She pointed to the bundles of gathered, dried plants that hung from the hut poles before leaning back once more and allowing Maang- ikwezens to tend to their needs. The tug of her life to her infant daughter’s accompanied an intense sense of peace and made her drowsy.
Maang-ikwezens smiled and reached for the bundled plants and the pouch of dried berries. She liked it when she could handle herbs and plants. She had particularly looked forward to starting her training with Wiineta. Her father had been adamant she receive training in the traditional ways. Her mother had resisted but had promised him on his deathbed she would.
Already she had been taught how to preserve many of the plants and roots used. She’d even been shown how to make a salve for healing skin irritations. Maang-ikwezens looked forward to more instruction and took to the teaching well. It fit her. Even so young, she felt it was important work, work she eagerly undertook.
“You must listen carefully and do as I say.” Wiineta’s voice pecked out her words like a crow cracking corn on a post.
Wiineta reminded Maang-ikwezens of the black bird. The old woman was smart and wily and cackled like the “caw” of a crow when she laughed, which wasn’t often. The few hairs on her chin resembled the fine feathers which tufted out underneath a crow’s beak, but her hair shone white, not black.
“You hear?” The old woman sharpened her words.
Maang-ikwezens nodded her head solemnly and looked at the cross- hatched, wrinkled skin on her teacher’s face.
Wiineta took in a deep breath. “Plants heal, but they also hurt.” She softened a little as she looked at Maang-ikwezens. “You have much to learn. You are so young yet.”
Wiineta looked at her hands.
Maang-ikwe looked too. Her teacher’s hands were like etched maps of a life quickly fading. She knew her teacher was the oldest woman in the tribe.
Winetta grabbed her student’s chin with lightning speed for one so aged and studied her pupil. Maang-ikwzens tried not to be frightened and did not waver.
“Good. Good. Something more than dandelion fluff rests between your ears,” Winetta concluded. “My wisdom will not be wasted.”
She dropped her wrinkled hand and pointed to an array of herbs.
“Now, you tell me which of these to use for belly sickness. There are other herbs which work too, but this one is the best. Sometimes you can ginigawin—mix—them.” She made a churning motion with her arm.
Maang-ikwezens looked at the row of pouches. Each one lay open and spilled forth a small portion of their contents upon the large, flattened tree stump Wiineta used as a workbench.
“Ah, I know what the growing plant looks like.” Maang-ikwezen’s finger hovered over one pouch but then moved towards another in indecision. She puffed out her cheeks and twitched her nose in thought. “You must know what the dried plant looks like and after it is
ground too.” Wiineta offered a clue. “Take a sniff.”
Maang-ikwezens lowered her head and obeyed. One had a
distinctive spicy smell, but bitter too. “This one?”
Wiineta smiled. “It is just so. The wild ginger. Minochige—well done.”
Maang-ikwezens felt pleased that she had chosen correctly. She wanted to make her father proud, if he could still see her.
She helped her teacher grind some of the dried leaves up fine with a stone on top of a larger rock that had a dished-out section in the middle. As her hand moved the stone, her thoughts wandered to her father. She remembered how he’d first called her his Loon Girl, and then her name had stuck . . .
“Enough. Come away now.” Ombaashi pulled on her arms to keep them off the boy she had decided to teach a lesson to. The boy was several years older than her, bigger and meaner.
“Piff.” She spewed out a puff of breath and spittle in the boy’s direction as her father peeled her off the bully.
The boy got up from the dirt and brushed himself off, one eye turning purple. He scowled at her and her brother, who stood shivering by Ombaashi.
She scowled back.
“Go on. Off with you,” Ombaashi commanded with a flash of his hand. The boy scurried away with a slight limp.
Ombaashi turned her around and tipped her chin up. He looked directly into her eyes. “You are like a little loon that I dream of.”
His eyes softened into hers as he spit on his thumb and smoothed a smear of dirt off her cheek.
“Why am I like a loon?” she asked, scrunching up her face in protest as her father pulled her hair back from it and wiped another streak of dirt off of her forehead.
“Have you seen a maamaa loon take after another bird who threatens her chick?”
She shook her head.
“She is fearless. Even if this bird is bigger.” He smoothed her hair and ruffled her brother’s, who rubbed his ear where a red lump formed.
“I am the loon and my brother is the chick?”
“En’. Now, I call you my maang-ikwezens, I think. It is a fitting name.” He smiled.
“That boy was mean to Bengi-bezhig.”
“I know.” Maang-ikwezen’s father gathered her under one arm and her brother under his other. “Come, we go home now, my Loon Girl and my Little Boy.”
“Can we have maple sugar?” Little Boy looked up at his father, still a few unshed tears in his large eyes.
“If gimaamaa—your mother—says. A treat is good, I think.”
Maang-ikwezens walked with her father and brother and from then on was known as Loon Girl.
Late fall 1852
Jesuit Mission School Red Rock Reservation
“Hold still, child.”
“I do not like this cloth. It itches.” Maang-ikwezens spoke in Ojibwe
and scratched over the top of the printed, brown cotton at her collarbone.
“You are blessed to have such things to wear,” Father Marcius scolded her in French.
Maang-ikwezens deciphered most of what he meant.
“Come, sit.” He pointed to a bench that held three other girls. Maang-ikwezens plopped down next to a little girl her age, who was
in the mikinaak—turtle—clan. She had on an identical dress. They looked at each other with shared sympathy and understanding.
Father Marcius marched to the front of the schoolroom. His black robes billowed after him, along with a distinct smell of onions. He turned and stood in front of the pine chair and table that served as a teacher’s desk. He tapped his long fingers on the wood as if playing a drum.
“Now, children, these will be your assigned spots.”
He motioned for the interpreter to relay his message. A young man who appeared to be Métis stood off to the side and translated in Ojibwe to the room full of children. They were a group of around twenty-five. One side of the room held three rows of boys’ benches, and the same was reserved for the girls’ area, although there were fewer of them. The girls were not to participate in all of the lessons. Only the boys would have a complete education in reading, writing, arithmetic, and history.
“You must sit here every day. In order for us to relate more clearly, you will be given a French name.” The Jesuit priest waited for his instruction to register with the children before he moved on to the next set of requirements.
Some rumblings were shared among the group.
Father Marcius rapped his knuckles on the desk.
“Quiet!” he shouted. A stormy look darkened his languid face.
The children obeyed, and the priest tempered his voice.
“After today, you will not be allowed to speak your language in the
classroom. Instruction and questions will be in French. Now, most of you know a little, and soon you will catch on nicely. Is that understood?”
Maang-ikwezens stared at him, eyes wide and unblinking. She looked quickly at the other children. They did the same, as if they were row upon row of little owls. Her heart started to beat harder, and she felt the heat rising up her neck and into her ears.
I will never stop speaking the language of The People.
She looked down defiantly at her clothing. She would tear it off when she returned home and put on her doeskin dress once more.
“Now, I will start here,” he stood next to Maang-ikwezens, “and go around. William will record your given name and your new French name.”
He looked over the children, as if waiting for more protests, but only stoic faces met his gaze.
“What is your name?” the man called William asked her in Ojibwe.
His voice was not unkind. Maang-ikwezens told him and in return he christened her.
“You will be called Marie.” He looked her in the eye, firmly but with softened features. “It is a good name, a pretty name just like its bearer.” A slow thin smile followed his endowment.
She didn’t waver and replied back, “Oui. Marie.”
Inside, however, Maang-ikwezens rebelled against this new name and language. It had not been long ago that she had been given her own name. She’d waited for something more than ikwezens—girl—and now it was being taken from her.
I am not Marie. I am Maang-ikwezens, she told herself.
Let them call her what they wanted. She knew who she was, and no one could take that from her.
“Here’s a nice one.”
Maang-ikwezens walked with her stepfather, Gerard Baptiste. She
watched him finger a small, flat rock in his hand.
“Show me what you can do.”
He handed her the smooth, pink, mottled stone, shielded his eyes
from the sun, and watched as she flung it sideways at Gitchi-gami. It skipped several times after it left her hand and then sunk from view into the low waves.
“Tres belle!” Gerard proclaimed her skip very beautifully done.
Makade-makwa barked and jumped as if thrilled with Maang- ikwezen’s effort as well.
Maang-ikwezens smiled shyly, petted Makade-makwa, and threw another in a copy of the previous toss. “Imbaabaa taught me.”
Maang-ikwezens missed her father. She still dreamt about him and her brothers some nights. She tilted her head back at Gerard. She could tell he truly cared for her as a daughter. If she had had to pick another man to replace Ombaashi, she couldn’t have chosen wiser.
“Oui, your father taught you well.” Gerard tipped down his head to her.
Maang-ikwezens skipped another rock and thought of her father and the change that had come with the fair-skinned people: disease, the Black Robes, school, their traditions. Even at her young age, Maang- ikwezens knew life would never be the same again for her tribe or the Anishinaabe as a whole.
“Tell me about school,” Gerard questioned her.
“Oof, I not like it.”
She stopped skipping and plunked down on a large piece of
driftwood, her bare toes just touching the reach of the water as it flowed towards her. Bubbles of foam tickled at the tops of her digits and made her wiggle them.
“Maybe because it is new, different.”
Gerard’s smooth mix of French and Ojibwe soothed her. His voice calmed her fears. He spoke comforting words to her when she awoke from a bad dream, which happened frequently.
She shrugged her shoulders. “The priests try to make us French, but we are not French. We are Anishinaabe. Ojibwe.”
“I understand. I’m thankful you do not hide your true feelings from me.” Gerard stepped closer and met her at the edge of the lake.
She turned up her eyes to his hazel amber ones. Maang-ikwezens found a strength in his gaze that assured her of safety.
He put an arm around her shoulder. “I think the priests are trying to help you relate to the changing world around you. The Anishinaabe have been here for many centuries, but they are not alone with their brothers anymore. We must learn from one another.” He kissed her lightly on the temple. “It will not hurt you to learn French and be taught other knowledge and ways of living beside the Ojibwe way.”
Maang-ikwezens had her doubts.
“Do you understand?” Gerard asked gently as he put his big, tan hand around her small, darker one.
She looked at him. Rebellion burned in her heart.
He sighed. “Well, someday, I hope you will.” He stood up and
pulled her with him. “Come on, my Loon Girl, let’s go back and help your mother with some chores.”
Maang-ikwezens nodded with reluctance and followed him. They walked at a slow pace back to the bark hut that served as their home.
As they headed towards home, Gerard called, “Makade! Come on!”
Makade had been chasing a seagull a little way off, but he flounced back at Gerard’s command and fell in step with them.
Maang-ikwezens gazed over at him. “What will we name the baby?”
She thought about Ojibwe tradition. Names often came as a result of a dream the father had, but Gerard wasn’t Anishinaabe.
“I have been thinking of that very thing.” He glanced at her. “What about . . . Celeste?”
“Se-lest. What does it mean?”
They walked on in quiet for a while. Maang-ikwezens loved her new
sibling. She often called her wiishkobi—sweet.
“What is this hev-en?” At times, she had trouble understanding
“Ah, let me see . . . Giizhig, that’s it,” Gerard clarified, using the
word for the skies in Ojibwe. “Like the stars in the sky too.” Maang-ikwezens nodded.
“It is mino—good—name,” Maang-ikwezens pronounced with gladness. “She has a bright, little face and eyes. She is . . . like a star.” “I’m glad you approve. Come, let’s hurry and tell gimaamaa.” He
gave her a wide grin, full of teeth.
Maang-ikwezens smiled back and rushed with him to their wigwam.