Linda LeGarde Grover Talks ‘Onigamiising’

Courtesy Brett Groehler / Linda LeGarde Grover, author of Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year to be published in October 2017.

Tanya H. Lee

Award-winning author chats about her new essay collection ‘Onigamiising,’ and her hopes for the future

Linda LeGarde Grover’s essay collection Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year is her account of contemporary and historical Ojibwe life in northeastern Minnesota as only a woman who has lived this history can tell it. Together these essays reflect on the spiritual and the mundane, the everyday and the extraordinary, the seasons of the year and the seasons of a life.

A professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Department of American Indian Studies, Grover has won the Flannery O’Connor Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for her collection of short fiction, The Dance Boots (University of Georgia Press, 2010). Her novel The Road Back to Sweetgrass (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) garnered the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers 2016 Fiction Award, and The Sky Watched: Poems of Ojibwe Lives (Red Mountain Press, 2015) received the Red Mountain Press Editor’s Award. The acclaimed author spoke with Indian Country Media Network about her latest book and how it came to be, her hopes for the future, and her grandchildren.

What are you doing/teaching/writing these days?

I am working on a book that will link to my first two novels, The Dance Boots and The Road Back to Sweetgrass. It is almost finished and will continue the story of the fictional LaForce family, centering on two sisters from the fictional Mozhay Point reservation growing up in Duluth. This fall I will be teaching classes about American Indian women, movies and sports—my favorites classes to teach!

How did you come to move from academic to nonacademic writing in the course of your career?

The writing of fiction, poetry, essays and newspaper columns had made it possible for me to tell a story that is more real than anything I could do in academic writing. Fiction, especially, provides a kind of veil, or barrier, that protects the societal realities of what I write about.

How has being a grandmother changed your perspective and your role? What do you think are the most important concepts elders can convey to their grandchildren’s generation?

My grandchildren are the beat of my heart. Their generation will link mine to an earthly existence after my generation has passed. We grandparents were once young ourselves; through the tactful and indirect telling of stories of the past, our elders taught us that our existence and survival meant everything to them, and that we were part of something much greater than any individual. That is what I hope I am conveying to my own grandchildren

Could you talk about grandmothers and grandchildren in the context of intergenerational trauma? Do you have any sense that there is a unique path to healing in that relationship?

As older people we are conscious that our grandchildren are young, and that we must do our best to share only what they are yet able to handle. I don’t know if it is possible to share everything; we endeavor to strengthen them as individuals and as a generation. I think it was likely the same with my own grandparents’ generation. Can the intergenerational relationship provide a unique path to healing? I just don’t know. I do believe that it can provide a great gift of knowledge that can be passed on to other generations, and that this sustains us.

Onigamiising is a social history that might logically be organized in linear time. But you use a principle of natural, cyclical time to organize the essays. Could you talk a little about that choice?

The essays in Onigamiising, presented by themes that are seasonal, are layered over time. I believe this is an Ojibwe way of looking at the world: Everything has a season, not only each year of the Earth but the span of each generation, and of every individual person’s life. One day it begins, and everything is new, unknown and untested. Through the four seasons, experiences emerge, we learn, and knowledge grows—and with this our ability to understand, and to care for and pass along what we have learned. We work on our education as Anishinaabe people every day, realizing that any season, or any day, could be our last; we do our best to practice Mino-bimaadiziwin, the living of a good life, and to gift those who will follow us as we have been gifted. It is my hope that Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year will communicate some of what this Anishinaabe-Mindimoye-Ikwe has experienced and learned, and how she feels.