Exploring the Mindfulness Insights in Ojibwe Words

Educator and linguist James Vukelich Kaagegaabaw explains the mindfulness concepts nested in his ancestral language.

Adobe Stock/ Kateryna Kovarzh

For James Vukelich Kaagegaabaw, an educator and linguist who lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota, learning his ancestral language of Ojibwe has been “a fascinating story about myself that had never been told”—an opportunity to connect to his culture in a way that was previously unavailable to him. He began learning Ojibwe about 20 years ago at age 25, from elders including Dr. Rick Gresczyk Gwayakogaabaw at the University of Minnesota, and the late Dr. Dan Jones Gaagigebines and Dr. Dennis Jones Pebaamibines (both originally from Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation, in what is now northwestern Ontario, Canada).

Now, Kaagegaabaw is keeping his language alive by posting an Ojibwe Word of the Day on social media, featuring the pronunciation of an Ojibwe word, with illustrative images—such as “Ode’imin” (“strawberry”), “Wiikonge” (“S/he gives a feast”), and “Iskigamizige” (“S/he boils sap”).

In longer weekly videos, Kaagegaabaw offers a basic translation, along with an explanation about how the philosophical and spiritual aspects of the words are connected to the cultural practices of Ojibwe and other Anishinaabeg peoples, such as the Chippewa, Odawa, and Menominee. So while Ojibwe words reflect the Seven Grandfather Teachings, as Kaagegaabaw explains, “They are not just abstract concepts, they…