Children's Books

OJIBWAY INDIANS COLORING BOOK, Drawings by Chet Kozlak, translations James E. Clark, Mille Lacs Ojibwe Reservation; Minnesota Historical Society, 345 Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102, 800-647-7827; 1979, 32 pages oversize paperback $3.50, map, historical introduction, 0-87351-146-8

The pictures to be colored here are of a more elaborate type than the usual outlines in children's coloring books. They will make good classroom bulletin board displays, and the book is also an accurate pictorial history of Ojibwe traditional life -- the seasonal round centered on food. With the help of elders from the Mille Lacs Ojibwe reservation who were involved in the late 1970's with the tribe's Ojibwe Museum project (that the Minnsota Historical Society is a partner on) , the MHS a produced a black-and-white line drawings picture book of the seasonal round of food gathering for Ojibwe people in early-contact time (there are a few metal tools, for instance). Though there are some scenes of men -- jigging or dancing on wild rice that has been dried for a short while, then parched in a kettle, to free it of its husks, hunting deer, mending fishnets, most of the farming, gathering and food processing work shown is being done as it traditionally was by women. The young man jigging thee rice (which is on the cover, too) is slacking off in both pictures. Jigging is so exhausting because the dancer must rest almost all his weight on the 2 support poles, to avoid breaking the rice grains, while grinding away their husks. This kid is going to have a lot of broken rice. How the traditional people passed over that one I'm not sure. Probably because by the late '70's, the mechanical threshers that ran off car engines invented by Indian elderly men during World War II, when the young men were away fighting were being used everywhere, and traditional processing was only being done for educational and cultural reasons, as ricing became mainly a fall cash crop for reservation people. Noi Ojibwe name is given for two root vegetables -- because nobody seemed to be that sure any more (in the mid-70's) which of them was Opiineg, Indian potato.

The processes are shown accurately. For example, tapping maples for sap is today done by drilling or driving a spike, because this controls the flow ofsap through the tubular spile better and is thought to injure the trees less. but traditionally, a V-shaped cut was made with an axe (stone or later metal) and the spile was a partly open trough of birchbark, since it is not easy to pith branches for hollow pipes in winter. Today, those few who still make the traditional gift sugar cakes pour the thickened syrup into muffin tins. Pictured are the traditional carved wood molds for fancy-shaped candy cakes. that were prestigious gifts.

Names of the seasons, and picture captions dscribing the actions are in Ojibwe as well as English, but a couple are misleading. The beadwork design of the traditional woodland thunderbird is called bi-nay-si, which just means small bird-in-general. Thunderbirds are aminkiig. Large, botannically-accurate drawings of important food and utility plants are included, as are a few outline-drawings of traditional beadwork patterns.

The 4 seasons are named with Ojibwe words, and there is an English and Ojibwe description of what's going on captioning each picture. The year starts with Spring (Zee-gwun), and scenes from maple sugaring. Sap is being boiled in 2 kettles, while in the background , outside a temporary birch-bark tipi, a woman is working finished sugar in a wooden trough to granulate it. Other sugaring scenes show most parts of th process. Summer tasks, work in the cornfield, are shown but not the important gathering and drying of berries, crushing berrycakes, the main source of all winter nutrients -- especially vitamin C -- not supplied by meat and grain. There's a big botannical close-up of raspberries and what's labeled cranberries (but actually the drawing resembles blueberries. The name given for them just actually means "berries that grow in the swamp" which chould be either one. No Ojibwe name is given for the sarsaparilla vine (wabos odjibik, rabbit root) or butternuts (which I don't know either). The plant ID's in Ojibwe are quite a bit shakier than the ones used in the similarly-designed Dakota coloring book, perhaps because the Mille Lacs people consulted knew less about the traditional gardning-and-gathering than the Dakota women involved in the other coloring book did.

In early fall,wild rice harvesting and processing (the men fish and hunt wildfowl) is the main food activity. In winter, people left the large summer planting villages with their rectangular bark houses, and moved into much smaller family groups in the woods, while the men hunted and ran thir traplines. Winter wigwams, a framework covered with bark, mats, brush insulation and a thick cover of dirt, would be where the women, children and elders lived. We see a men's hunting camp with small, portable tipis. and some of the women's main winter activities -- including scraping and tanning the thick hides winter animals have.

The coloring book starts with a very short explanation that would have been more useful if a calendar with Ojibwe month-names had been added, and perhaps a bit more info about plant and food preparation than can be gathered from the pictures unless you already know what's going on. Rice processing, in particular, is going to mystify most people, and the picture of making a birchbark canoe doesn't explain anything, because too many stages have been combined in on picture.

I do have to say something about the cover. This shows a young man jigging or dancing the wild rice, which has been parched to loosen its husks (and make it taste better and last longer). He's barely holding the two support poles, resting his full weight on the rice in the lined pit. So that rice is going to be all broken up! The reason jigging requires a strong young man and is so exhausting it can be done only for an hour or so is that most of the dancer's weight is borne on the 2 support poles while he moves his feet in a kind of dance step -- not like a powwow -- that grinds the rice grains gently, breaking loose the husk but not injuring the grains. Today, almost all rice is threshed mechanically.

Mechanically adept Ojibwe men invented home-made mechanical threshers (paddles in a barrel) that run off a car or pickup engine, when the strong young men were away during World War II. This unfortunately opened the door to commercial machinery development that large companies now use on paddy (non-wild, cultivated) rice, a variant developed at the University of Minnesota, financd by the State legislature.

Wild rice you see in grocery stores is a new breed harvestd mechnically in drid-out artificial paddies that are chemically fertilized and sprayed with pesticides. The grains are shorter, thicker, tougher, less tasty, and contain less nutrients. The only way you can get real wild rice now -- mahnoomin, gift of the Manitous -- is from Indian people at a ricing reservation in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Almost all the traditionally-prepared rice nowadays is either made by young people as part of their cultural education, or it is made for use in ceremonial feasts.

What you see in stores comes from large food companies that have nothing to do with Indians, despite labels on the packages. 90% of wild rice sold is now raised in California. That wasn't true in 1978, when this coloring book was made, but it has been true since the mid-1980's, when the "tame paddy rice" was developed by University of Minnesota scientists for the large food companies.

Teachers and others unfamiliar with Ojibwe culture will find background on the traditional activities of Ojibwe daily life in Frances Densmore's CHIPPEWA CUSTOMS, material gathered in the early 1900's, republished by the Miinnesota Historical Society.

Though it would be improved by more text info, this is an educational and enjoyable coloring book, containing reasonably accurate information in the form of interesting pictures to color and perhaps post for a classroom display on woodland (lakes) foods and food preparation, and the traditional daily life of the 4 seasons as it was lived by many Ojibwe well into the 20th century. Recommended. Reviewed by Paula Giese

File: ch56

Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 30, 1996 - 3:16:58 AM