Waswagoning is a uniquely re-created Ojibwe village open to the public to educate them in the ways of the traditional Ojibwe through tours or overnight programs. It was created by Nick Hockings, a member of the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe Indians. He is a traditional pipe carrier, and is a certified teacher of the Ojibwe language and culture. Nick has appeared on talk shows and radio talk shows, often sharing his philosophy that there is only one race – the human race.
Fire was a key to survival for the Ojibwe. A boy wasn’t considered a man until he could make fire. Naturally, that’s where our tour began in the summer village. Ernest, the owner’s grandson, made it look so easy. And I suspect it is when you have the right tools and conditions.
Family was very important to the Ojibwe. Therefore the summer village would have upwards of 400 – 500 family members gathered together. Summer would be a time of spear fishing and setting snares for game. The local Ojibwe used spears and fished at night by torch light. The Europeans saw this when they arrived and named the area “Lac du Flambeau” or Lake of the Torchlight after the practice. They would also set fish traps in the lake.
I learned that they used a tool made from beaver tooth to chip away at obsidian and create the arrow heads. Arrow heads were only used for large animals and blunt wood arrows for the smaller animals so they wouldn’t be ripped apart by the sharp arrow tip.
In the winter they gathered in small camps of only 4-5 families. The group was small because they shared food with among the group. The winter wigwams were built with birch bark roofs and cedar bark skirts to keep out the weather. They would first dig out the ground and fire pit then line it all with stones before covering the ground with dirt and skins. There would be a “pipe” of birch bark from the fire pit to the outside to allow oxygen to get to the fire. As the fire burned it would warm the stones and the floor of the wigwam would stay warm. The fire was not for cooking for the same reasons we don’t cook in our tents – bears.
Birch bark has many incredible features including being waterproof and insect repelling. The bark was used to line their foot stash and also the canoes. Because it wouldn’t breakdown in water, the canoes could be filled with rocks and sunk in the lake for winter storage.
The tribe would move 4 times a year for the purposes of gaming, fishing and wild rice harvesting. Along the way they had previously built temporary lodging and set snares for small game. Ernest demonstrated how they tracked the animal to its home and set snares. They were quite effective without allowing the animal to suffer or be taken by other animals.
Our last stop on the tour was designated for youth’s rites of passage. It was explained that the Ojibwe boy would be put in a large tree and tied for his safety. He was about to spend a week in the tree without food or drink while he waited for his vision. Once he had the vision he would call out and they would release him. He never had to share his vision, but he was then considered a man and could take a wife.
Young women coming of age would have “moon wigwams” outside the village to stay in during their cycle. Each girl would spend time in her individual wigwam every month for a year while elder women would visit and teach her the ways of becoming a woman including plants and parenting. After the year she would be considered a woman and be eligible to take a husband. Notice to become a woman it required a year of teaching, and a man only days alone in a tree?
I also found it interesting how there was little government. There was very little crime, everyone would know who did it. It was stressed that the children were taught bravery, manners, self-control and expected to help their families from an early age. Examples given were: 1) You may not walk between an older person and the fire. 2) You may not interrupt an older person who is talking. And 3) You may not go to the neighbors at mealtimes and look wistfully at their food.
Speaking of food, I was beginning to feel a bit looney from hunger. I scurried off to the Turtle Flambeau pig and corn roast. It was a good birthday.