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Event - Intersection Discussion Series - Face-to-Face Meeting (1 December 2006)

The interesection discussions wrap-up with a face-to-face discussion during the Culturall Toronto Summit. Five members of Debaj and one person from the ATRC were involved in this wide ranging discussion that touched on gender specific knowledge, the use of Ojibway syllabics, how new words come into usage, storytelling and localization of stories.


  • 1 December 2006


  •   Toronto, ON


  • Ron Berti (De-ba-jeh-mu-jig)
  • Catherine Gull (De-ba-jeh-mu-jig)
  • Joe Osawabine (De-ba-jeh-mu-jig)
  • Jan Richards (ATRC)
  • Elisha Sidlar (De-ba-jeh-mu-jig)
  • Christopher Wemigwans (De-ba-jeh-mu-jig)

Discussion Notes:

Background: Members of Debajehmujig have reviewed the first draft put out by Jan Richards and their comments on the draft guide the meeting.

A possible new challenge is that in trad storytelling, the storyteller tells story entirely in response to the people being talked to. So stories can change in their quality and emphasis. This makes recorded stories very stagnant.

Gender specific knowledge:

In Ojibwe, gender specific-teachings are always oral and never recorded. Documenting such things in a written or recorded way is simply not discussed or thought about - it just doesn't happen.


Maybe it is useful to differentiate the use of the terms "information" vs. "knowledge". "Wisdom" is more than knowledge and can't be passed directly. "Wisdom" is the experience, the feeling.

Debaj is recording stories and housing them in an off-line facility where people have to go there to get it. This is being done because they can't see a safe way to put it online.

The use of syllabics:

Original comment is that syllabics were not taught at all.

But ??? calls her grandmother on Manitoulin and finds out something interesting: syllabics were taught by the church in early childhood as a way of teaching the bible, but then the same religious people took the kids to the residential school where they were forbidden to use The Language or the syllabics they had been taught. Perhaps this was a way to help transition the children to learning English? Interesting question.

New words:

There's an example from Inuit...when snowmobiles were first introduced, names were needed for the parts. The Inuit used the names of body parts such as motor=heart, skiis=feet.

In Cree, people use "crenglish" words such as "bingo-can" and "school-ik".

Storytelling online:

One idea would be to make a test site with a variety of media (only audio, audio+still image), audio+video and then show it to people and ask about their trust level. Assume that seeing the body language is important to trust.

Traditional storytelling was actually very physically animated until 1960's when gesturing wildly became considered "rude" and stopped everywhere in a very short period. Some older storytellers have to keep themselves from making the gestures that go along with the stories (maybe a parallel here with sign language). Some native cultural events have been incorporating their signs and there is a native sign language. There was a "universal" native sign language for trading between groups that didn't share a common spoken language.

Debaj recently did a show that made use of "Old Ojibwe" - people in the audience had a hard time understanding.

Sort of like Shakespeare is hard for the uninitiated.

A lot of Anaishnabe humour is actually double entendres.

Localisation of stories:

Each culture and even community has specific patterns, colours, and shapes that go with it. It's very local/regional. For example flower designs in beading - geographical

Localization of stories - couldn't talk about cedar trees north of cedar range.

When telling stories it is very important to acknowledge the person you heard it from and their territory.

It is very important in this document that it be made clear that the Debaj members speak from their own perspectives not for all Ojibway.

Stories don't clash because - even when myths directly contradict each other (e.g. origin myths) - because they are locally adapted and not considered to be a universal truth.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 April 2007 16:07