Ojibwe Women, Keeping Community Alive: Book Review

Editor's note: A new book details the ways in which Ojibwe women kept the cultural flame alive from contact onward. In honor of Women's History Month and International Women's Day, Indian Country Today Media Network highlights this work on an underrported subject. See also the story from our chat with historian and author Brenda Child.

In Ojibwe tradition, mindimooyehn—“one who holds things together”—is the term for a mature, older woman.

“Far more than merely designating an ‘old lady,’?” historian Brenda Child writes, “mindimooyehn-—an idea born of women’s autonomy—evokes the status, strength, wisdom and authority of the older female in Ojibwe society.”

In her latest book, Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community (Viking, 2012), Child, an enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, documents the status, strength, wisdom and authority that women employed in nurturing their families and communities.

She intertwines women’s personal stories through the centuries with accounts of changes in Ojibwe society up to today. The author also spans distances, surveying North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan to illustrate the roles of women within Ojibwe communities. Her book reveals the authoritative -places held by women in all aspects of life—spiritual, familial, political and -economic—and how they adapted to the changes to traditional culture through first contact with Europeans, creation of reservations and the migration of some into urban settings.

This is history from the people’s perspective. Because she focuses on personal stories and because of her own Ojibwe heritage and family history, Child brings a relevance to this historic work that is often lacking in accounts that use conflict as a springboard. She gives a true sense of how people lived—and lived with each other. And that makes for a history that can actually teach us how to lead fuller, better lives today.