How Do You Say Idle No More in Anishinaabemowin?
by Melody McKiver
Looking through the site search statistics on my personal website, I’ve had a number of readers arrive in recent days wondering “how do you say idle no more in anishinaabemowin?” Daga aanakanootamawishin. Please translate it for me.
Perhaps what has hit me the hardest as the Idle No More movement develops, is the reminder that I still can’t answer that question with confidence. Nin-gagwe-nitaa- anishinaabem. I’m trying to learn Ojibwe. I was raised in Ottawa, and my mother was adopted during the Sixties Scoop and raised in a non-Anishinaabe household. My kookum attended Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora, and she passed on years before anyone in my family could find her. All of her children were taken from her. Nobody in my immediate family speaks the language fluently. Bangii eta ni-nisidotam. I can understand only a little. I hope that my relations living on and near Obishikokaang hold onto the language. Reconnecting with our extended family is an ongoing, long-term process, and there are many relatives I have yet to meet. Many other Indigenous people can share similar stories on how the Canadian state has implemented strategies to rip apart their families and impede the transmission of language between generations. Residential schooling, adoption, hospitalization. Enfranchisement, marrying out. You hear these words and terms over and over again. These are all strategies of colonization, and they have been very, very effective.
To me, the search engine query “How do you say Idle No More in Anishinaabemowin?” reflects many of these histories of colonization and the damage it has dealt to our Indigenous languages. My website receives little traffic, and when I replicated the query I had to dig through over a page of results before reaching my own site. It is sad to note that none of these pages, mine included, answered the question. And yet, knowing that others are asking leaves me with a great hope. People are seeking to engage with Idle No More, and they want to engage in Anishinaabemowin. How many other people are learning how to say “Idle No More” in their own respective Indigenous languages? And how, as language speakers and learners, can we work to support those that want to learn?
I first started to learn at 21, taking night classes at Toronto’s Native Canadian Centre on my way home from my undergraduate studies. I have since continued to study through print and web resources. I am profoundly grateful to the wonderful people in my life, both in-person and online, that share their knowledge of Anishinaabemowin with those around them. Their guidance, gentle corrections, and insistence on using Anishinaabemowin continuously inspires and challenges me. Chi-miigwech! There are many educators creating language nests and talking circles, compiling dictionaries and workbooks, and developing apps and websites. These are all incredible resources, and we must continue to harness community resources into a targeted effort to restore our languages to the vibrancy that they deserve. I continuously fight against my own internalized shame at speaking English and French fluently while my Anishinaabemowin skills barely rival that of a toddler; I tell myself that I could be doing so more to learn. Let this be my public commitment. Nindanokii’idiz. I make myself work.
The University of Michigan’s Nongwa e-Anishinaabemjig language resource posted a poem in Anishinaabemowin and English about Idle No More, and presented their translation as “Kaa Maamda Geyabi Baabiinchigeying!” No longer are we waiting! I asked on Twitter how language speakers would translate Idle No More, and received two additional translations. My friend Geraldine King (@JibbyJoos) suggested “gaawiin nii-wiimdbaasiimin minwaa”, which translates to I will not sit again/anymore. Jeff Monague (@brando44) provided a translation in the Southern Georgian Bay dialect, “kaa wiikaa, kaa gegoo wdaa zhichkesiimin”. Note how each speaker provided a different translation based on their own dialect and interpretation of Idle No More. Anishinaabemowin is a complex language and learning it, like decolonization, can’t happen overnight. But for both, it is essential that the work be put in.
Melody McKiver is a Two-Spirited Anishinaabe musician, media artist, and graduate student. She currently resides in unceded Algonquin territory, Ottawa.