The book Unpapered, available through the University of Nebraska Press is a gathering of responses to the ongoing debate about indigenous identity. In it, diverse gifted and wise writers address their own experiences and the history of the issue broadly.
The book begins with a poem by Margaret O’Donnell Noodin who became the target of online forums and heightened media scrutiny in 2021 because her work with Anishinaabe languages stems from an oral history of family connections and lived experiences within existing nations rather than through the status of enrollment which she has never claimed.
As she states by way of introduction to the volume, “In Ojibwe the word for relative is ‘inawemaagan,’ literally ‘one who speaks a similar way.’ I have come to know who I am through both oral and written histories shared with respect within and beyond our own families and communities. I am not a member of an indigenous nation, but I am a keeper of several languages and can share stories of the relatives who spoke those languages before me.” The traditional and respectful way to verify her name, nationality, ethnicity, level of fluency, experience with traditional practices or any aspect of her biography is to speak with her directly or ask for references and evidence to help independently verify her decades of work to document, teach, share, and creatively use Ojibwemowin.
Although she has published essays and prose most often in English and poetry most frequently in Ojibwe, Margaret learned French early in her life, has visited Montreal often, and lived for a time in Nevers, France. She has recently worked to complicate her own, and others’ understanding of her heritage by learning to speak and write poetry in Gaeilge (Irish), something that she did not have the opportunity to do until she was over 55.
The poems below are not exact mirror translations. Careful readers will find differences, but the message in each linguistic direction is that our ways of knowing ourselves and one another do not only stem from what is in print, but also what is imprinted in us and protected across time.
bagidendang gaye ziigwebinang.*
Aanind gegoon gidonji-gikendaamin
bakaan gegoon wenji-nisidotamang
Aabideg daa-bimaadiziyang akiing
ge gii-wiindamaagwag gaye waabanjigaadeg.*
I echo the voices
of all my relations
on paper, in pictures
and in memories across time.
I believe in their
prayers and tears
their enduring wisdom about
when to add sweetness and
when to escape from the fire
how to forgive and how to forget.
Some things we know
through documents saved
other things we understand
through stories we tell together.
We must shape our lives
based on what has been said
and what can be seen.
Je fais écho aux voix
de toutes mes relations
sur papier, en images
et dans les mémoires à travers le temps.
Je crois en leur
prières et larmes
leur sagesse durable sur
quand ajouter de la douceur et
quand s’échapper du feu
comment prier et comment pardonner.
Certaines choses que nous savons
à travers les documents enregistrés
d’autres choses que nous comprenons
à travers les contes que nous racontons.
Nous devons façonner nos vies
basé sur ce que nous entendons
et ce dont nous sommes témoins.
Déanaim macalla de ghuthanna
mo ghaolta go léir
Mo shinsir, mo thuismitheoirí
Mo chlann, mo shliochtaigh,
ar pháipéar, i bpictiúir
agus i mo chuid cuimhní cinn.
Creidim ina gcuid
paidreacha agus ina gcuid deora,
a gcuid feasachta a n-insíonn dúinn
ca huair le fanacht foigheach
ca huair le héalú ón tine
agus cen dóigh chun scéal a scaoileadh tharainn.
Roinnt rudaí ar eolas againn trí na
doiciméid a sábháladh,
an chuid eile a d’fhoghlaim muid trí
scéalta a insímid dá chéile.
Ní mór dúinn ár saol a mhúnlú
ar an mhéid atá ráite
agus cad é atá fós le feiceáil.