…I too call her “Nokoomiss,” a term of respect for the elder women who are kind and forgiving and ready to share what they know with children. Besides sharing what they know with the young they help mothers care for their babies.
Anishinabemowin, the Ojibway Language and way of life, is a gift from the Creator and is shown with great honour in the story Walking in Balance / Meeyau-ossaewin by Basil Johnston. Traditional life was one of working together as humans with nature, our spirits, and ancestors.
What sets Johnston’s book ahead of most books of Indigenous legends is that he writes each chapter in English and Anishinabemowin. As the reader, I found myself reading in English and then reading in Anishinabemowin. Though I am not Anishinabe, nor do I understand the language, I still felt a connection to our ancestors through Johnston’s written words in both languages.
Walking in Balance is the legend of N’gushih – Nokoomiss and her offspring. Nokooomiss is a term that is given to women when they age into wisdom that is respected by the community. Nokoomiss will always be there to assist her family and community with a good heart, and the knowledge to help the young find their way.
The book starts with Winonah, Nokomiss’ daughter, who is becoming a woman. Nokoomiss’ tells a legend to Winonah on how woman are to act and be during traditional times and how men and spirits can take advantage of women if they are not careful. Through an error in judgment, Winonah herself becomes a mother to three children from the spirit of Ae-pungishimok – the Spirit of the West. It is through this legend of a woman’s way of being in the world that set the stage for the legends of her children: Maudjee-Kawiss, Nana’B’oozoo, and Waub-oozoo.
All three characters go through their lives with teachings from Nokoomiss. Though at times you find yourself intrigued with the lives of the three boys in their journey to become men, all of them rely on Nokoomiss to share her teachings with them through her knowledge of the Anishinabe ways. Nokoomiss uses her knowledge of the Human, Spirit, and Animal worlds to help guide—but never lead—the characters to take on roles for which they were destined.
The book is one of many traditional teachings that celebrate the connection of the Anishinabe peoples and their Ancestors. The book is one for a mother to read about the teachings of the people and how to be as a woman, mother, and a Nokoomiss. A father can read the book and learn through Ae-pungishimok to be a father and how to let their children find their own way—even if it is a different path. The legends of the three children of Winonah (Nokoomiss) are stories that parents should to teach their children of today. The three boys all become leaders in their own way and learn through Nokoomiss to trust themselves and nature to find their calling in life.
Though Nokoomiss is the main character throughout the book, like all Nokoomisses you will not find her outshining any character but rather supporting each one of them through their journey. Like a true Nokoomiss she shares her words of knowledge and lets the other person find their way through life.
Illustrations by Don Chrétien and Adrian Nadjiwon
Walking in Balance / Meeyau–ossaewin by Basil Johnston
PUBLISHED BY KEGEDONCE PRESS:
Basil Johnston has written 15 books in English and five in Ojibway to show that there is much more to North American Indigenous life than social organization, hunting and fishing, food preparation, clothing, dwellings and transportation. Among the books that Basil has written are Ojibway Heritage, Indian School Days, Crazy Dave, and Honour Earth Mother (Kegedonce Press). Basil believes the key to understanding culture is language and to this end he has developed audio programs on cassette and CD. For his work Johnston has received numerous awards including the Order of Ontario and Honourary Doctorates from the University of Toronto and Laurentian University.