OOS 37-1
Great Lakes ethno-ecology from the lens of Anishinaabemowin

Thursday, August 14, 2014: 8:00 AM
306, Sacramento Convention Center
Scott M. Herron, Biology, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, MI

The dominant indigenous language of North America’s Great Lakes region is known as Anishinaabemowin to speakers of its language. This language is spoken by approximately 56,000 people in the United States and Canada, according to census data as recent as 2006. This language family consists of better known languages including Ojibwe, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Oji-Cree, and Algonquin, with all having linguistic overlap and dialects that are partially mutually intelligible. Linguistic evidence dates the proto-Algonquin ancestral language of Anishinaabemowin to have diverged at least 3343 years before present and possibly as old as 5554 years ago. This long history has interwoven the words used to describe the plants, animals, rocks, place names and spirits of the Great Lakes region with the living history of the Anishinaabek communities. The research question analyzed here is whether the current language dialects of Anishinaabemowin possess ecological information in the words, statements and related actions of individuals utilizing the language. The method utilized is a deductive etymology that reduces indigenous words to their components and analyzes the meaning and intent to determine encoded ecological knowledge.


The findings demonstrate that significant ecological knowledge is encoded in the modern dialects of Anishinaabemowin, and that knowledge is retained and utilized by keepers of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Both fluent and semi-fluent speakers of the language utilize the intent of this verb dominated, action oriented language to guide the rules of engagement with the Earth Mother, Sky Father, the Great Lakes proper, and all ecosystems in this ecoregion. The mechanism which keeps this knowledge alive is the spirituality fused with use of Anishinaabemowin words, which dictate the ethics, rules of engagement with the environment, phenology of seasonally available resources, along with the consequences for breaking such rules. For example, months of the year tell you what subsistence activity the people should be doing in a specific moon or month, ie. Manoominkegiizis, describing the moon during which one should be gathering wild rice or manoomin, corresponding to the moon between August and September, during which wild rice has historically ripened. In conclusion, much of the ecological sustainability of the Great Lakes ecoregion could and should be a multi-national effort, bringing fluent tribal speakers, Anishinaabemowin language instructors, and tribal natural resource managers across the Great Lakes together with ecologists studying key questions to investigate best practices for understanding this system.