Basil H Johnston

Anishinaabe author, historian Basil H. Johnston. (Anishinabek News)

Basil H. Johnston, respected author, storyteller and preserver of the Anishnaabe language, has died. He was 86 years old.

"He was a ground breaker," said Cree playwright and fellow author Tomson Highway.

"We wouldn't have been able to do what we are doing today, this current generation of writers, including myself, without people like him coming before us."

Born in 1929 on the Wasauksing First Nation, Johnston was a member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation in Ontario.

First published in the 1970s, he went on to author 25 books and often wrote about Anishinaabe history. Five of his books were written in Anishinabemowin, the language of the Anishinaabe. 


In addition to his writing career, Johnston worked at the Royal Ontario Museum in the Department of Ethnology for over two decades. He also taught high school and was a lecturer at universities and colleges in both Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Throughout his life, Johnston was honoured with many awards and accolades for his work. He was a recipient of the Order of Ontario and received the 2004 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Heritage and Spirituality.

"He was a treasure trove to the community and true keeper of the language," said Gregory Nawash, chief of the Chippewas of Nawash. 

"Basil learned very early in life that knowledge is power."

News of Basil's passing triggered a flood of condolences online by some of those indigenous writers and artists.