The stories in Sagkeeng Legends (Sagkeeng Aadizookaanag): John C. Courchene's Stories were recorded by my grandmother, Josephine Courchene, in the early 1980s. She was my greatest teacher and she always obliged my constant questions about Sagkeeng's past.
My grandfather, John C.Courchene, was not a natural storyteller but instead preferred to be out at a hockey rink or a baseball diamond.
John was born in Sagkeeng First Nation in 1914, the youngest son of Louis Courchene and Suzette Charbonneau. He briefly attended the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School but was taken out of the school by his brothers "Joejay" and Louis to help them cut wood out in the bush.
This action resulted in a lifetime commitment to hard work, which he did at the Abitibi Pulp and Paper Company for 30 years. It also resulted in John being considered illiterate, in the European sense, though he was not illiterate in the ways of the bush or in our greatest gift, the Anishanabemowin language.
The two stories in this book were told in Anishanabemowin and should really be understood in this language for a person to truly capture their essence. The English language is not equipped to express many Indigenous ideas and concepts. A person who wishes to understand "Indian ways" has to go to the language.
Oral history is crucial in determining Indigenous Peoples' connection to our lands. These kinds of stories provide our connection to our place in the Sagkeeng First Nation. They also establish our continuing existence as Anishanabe as well as provide evidence of the rich history of the Courchene family.
Here is an excerpt from Sagkeeng Legends (Sagkeeng Aadizookaanag): John C. Courchene's Stories, in Anishanabemowin and English.
/Story Number One:Anishnabek, api ka ayawat mewesha Anishnabek, wigwaming ka wendadewat api, mii ima kii ayawak niish a'ak, ininiwok, kii wiich-ke-ndi-wok, o'mama-i-wan ogi wiichii'a'mawan, kii nibowan o'baba-i-wan. Mii ka izhi, kii machii-am-kanawok ima onji. Kaan ogi andaweni migosiwan Anishnabek ima chi ayawat. Mii ka izhi machawat ogo niish ininiwok tago o'mamaiwan. Kii migosiwok, mii kaan ogi gishtosiinawa gego chi nitowat.
...he threw himself onto the snow rolling about and finally the old woman gave in. (Lloyd Swampy, illustrator)
A long time ago, when the Anishnabek Nation were still living in wigwams, there was a group of Anishnabe living together in an area near a lake. Within this group was a family of two brothers who lived with their mother... the father had died. After time the Anishnabe within this group decided that they no longer wanted this family living among them. It became evident that a curse had been placed upon this family by someone. It was determined by the tribe that this family was no longer capable of supporting themselves and so they were driven away from the village. Mii ka inaanimigowat Anishnabek chi gawanadamawat, kego chi gistosiwat chi nitowat, kii inugimawak. Ey kii machawak, kii gabeshiwok, sagai'gan ogi atitanawa. Mii zhigo a'sayema ka izhi machat, anda atawengige, gigizhep kii macha. Ey kii papimose, piinish skwa nawkwe, ani nii 'o'nakoshin ogi ma'a'nan oni atik'on, piinish kii ani apitchi o'nakoshin kega'go ani-bagishimon. Gooding igo ma'a-nat oni atik'on,mii ka gii atabin oni giiwezensan
The family, left with no alternative, decided to leave the village. As the family moved the two brothers, along with their mother, did indeed experience a lot of trouble and difficulty in hunting animals upon which to sustain themselves. This was as the tribe had predicted and assumed. The family continued to move in search of animals. From their campsite early one morning the oldest brother set out to track and hunt for game. Mii ka izhi ma'a'nat, piinish ka izhi ati-mat, apitchi kii aganshiiwe a'agiiwezens, ka izhi otabinat. Mii o'mamawin shemak ogi nagadaweniman chi piitamawat ono giiwezensan, keget mii ka izhi giiwaat, mii ogi wiizinigawmaan ini giiwezensan kii tagoshin wendawat, wigwaming. "Mama," otinaan, "kii piitamon giiwezens a'gashiiwit." Apitchi kii minwedam midimowe giiwezensan chi ayawat.
During the day he came upon the trail of a caribou and he immediately set about tracking it. The day grew late but still there was no sign of the caribou. Undeterred the elder brother continued on to track the caribou. As the day started to set into evening, the tracks of the caribou strangely changed into small human footprints. The footprints were very small. Intrigued, the elder brother continued to track them. Eventually, as the sun was about to set, the boy overtook the "being" that was making the tracks and to his amazement it was a very small boy. Mii ka izhi, ogi wiichii'a'man. Mii zhigo giiwezens ka izhi wiidamawaat ini o'mamayin, "Ni saye, ni saye wabung weti ta izha, n'ga wiichiiwa" otinaan "Asha kigawanandamin kaan gego kida'assimin chi miichiiyang." "N'ga wiichiiwa weti saga'igan." Asha kii ani pibone, mii api atikok ka pabambatowat saga'iganing. "Zhegwa ki ga wiindamawa kii dagoshinang yeti saga'iganing, n'ga atikow" "N'ga papaminishawak atikok, piinish ta ani-ey-eykwaziwok
The elder brother picked up the small boy and upon doing so thought immediately of his mother back at the wigwam. He thought of how happy his mother would be to have a child once again in her wigwam. Immediately he set off for home carrying the small boy on his shoulders. Upon their arrival at the camp the elder son told his mother that he had brought home a young boy for her. This overjoyed the old woman while she sat in her lodge.Sagkeeng Legends (Sagkeeng Aadizookaanag): John C. Courchene's Stories launches Tuesday September 11, 7:00 p.m. at McNally Robinson.