Skip to content

Lessons in Anishinaabe parenting

Aazhawaashiik, also known as Rosie, knew how to live off the land. "She just moved around the lake," said Sherry Copenace, who is from Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation to the east of Lake of the Woods in Ontario.

Aazhawaashiik, also known as Rosie, knew how to live off the land.

"She just moved around the lake," said Sherry Copenace, who is from Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation to the east of Lake of the Woods in Ontario.

Since Shawon, Aazhawaashiik’s daughter and Copenace’s grandmother, only spoke Ojibway, Copenace didn’t learn English until kindergarten. She has retained her language.

"I was fortunate to be raised with our original way of life," she said.

Shawon was humble and wouldn’t call herself a medicine person, but Copenace said she was.

"She knew the plants and people would come to her for different ailments. She knew what kinds of medicines to give to people. So I knew our ways of life, our teachings, our practices, the tools our ancestors left us. I knew they are preventative. I knew they have a strength. And I knew if we know them, follow them and live them that we’d have a healthy life," she said.

Some of this knowledge is what she will share in her upcoming Brandon workshop, with the blessing of her elders whose knowledge it is.

"I asked if I could write it down and share," said Copenace, who is a former nurse.

The elders said yes, because while the lodge was the traditional place of learning, that’s not so much the case now due to the heavy hand of colonial policies. And people remain afraid, due to being told the traditional knowledge wasn’t good.

Residential school is often cited for breaching the bond between Indigenous parents and their children. As Copenace says, a baby raised in the sophisticated, traditional way, which fostered belonging, bonding and attachment, lives that way every day.

"So when you were thinking or had that intent to become a parent, you already had that knowledge with you. You didn’t wait until you got pregnant and had a baby. You were raised up like that."

But Copenace learned something else from an aunt about the breach in parenting in countless Indigenous families: "Don’t let anyone ever make you believe that you don’t have parenting within you, because you do. You have your ancestral knowledge. You just need to activate that knowledge."

That’s why Copenace teaches Anishinaabe Ombigiiowsowin (Raising up your child Anishinaabe), which will be offered March 13, thanks to an invitation from SHIFT (Supporting and Honouring Indigenous Families Together).

SHIFT is a committee that’s been around since 2009, offering a variety of workshops and conferences throughout the years in keeping with its mission: to build healthy Indigenous families through reclaiming traditional and cultural knowledge.

Lisa Ramsay is on the committee.

"A couple of our committee members had heard her give workshops in the past and were very impressed with what she had to offer," she said.

"So we thought we could bring her here and invite parents, community service providers to come and hear her talk."

Copenace will begin the workshop – which she’s taught to moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – with "the story of us." She moves from the "good things to the not-so-good things to the good things again." The good things begin back when the Indigenous population thrived at 90 million to 120 million. The not-so-good are European diseases, colonialism and government policies, and the near-decimation of Indigenous peoples and their cultures.

"Even today that still happens. We’re overrepresented in all the social and medical (categories). I tell them about the 11,000 children in care in Manitoba and 90 per cent of them are Indigenous," she said.

"But it doesn’t have to be like that. We have our ways to heal ourselves, to go back to our ways, and adapt them in today’s contemporary world. We can do that. We can do that. And we have that inner blood memory."

Copenace said medical professionals now call blood memory genetic memory. And she said the medical professionals focus more on trauma.

"But, me, I focus more on the strengths that our ancestors left for us. We still have that."

She leads the group through a variety of activities centred on identity, purpose and aspirations, as human beings, and as parents. She shares a bit of the Anishinaabe creation story, Anishinaabe child development knowledge, as well as western child development knowledge.

"For me, raising up our children to be Anishinabe is to be a human being," she said.

That’s what Anishinaabe means: human.

Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun