Saturday, March 04, 2017

In Conversation: Brian McInnes

Winnipeg Free Press—PRINT EDITION
by Ariel Gordon

Brian McInnes is an Ojibwa Anishinaabe education professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is also the great-grandson of Francis Pegahmagabow, Canada’s most-decorated indigenous soldier, chief of his community, and supreme chief of the National Indian Government.

Brian will be launching Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow on March 7 at McNally’s.

Free Press: What do you want people to know about Sounding Thunder?

Brian McInnes: I would like people to know that Sounding Thunder, while of clear interest for indigenous peoples and communities, is a story for all Canadians. Although the book features several stories of military legend and political hero Francis Pegahmagabow, it is not meant to serve as "his story" in the biographical sense. Sounding Thunder provides us all with a greater understanding of the history of his people, the Ojibwa worldview, and the major life experiences that made Francis the extraordinary individual he was.

FP: In addition to these public roles, Francis Pegahmagabow was also your great-grandfather. Did you feel any extra responsibility when writing this book?

BM: Absolutely! His contributions to Canadian history alone warrant a special degree of care and description. He is a significantly under-recognized Canadian figure, and the timing seemed right to release this book on the eve of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Francis was never recognized as a citizen in his lifetime but his contributions to Canadian society deserve commendation in this time of remembrance and celebration of the efforts of all peoples in making Canada what it is today. The book also provided a much-needed opportunity to gently correct some of the misinterpretations in the written record that marred his legacy.

FP: Why was it important for Francis’ stories to appear in both Ojibwa and English?

BM: In the contemporary movement to recognize indigenous languages as official languages of Canada, materials that first feature a native language should be of increasing value. I spend a considerable amount of the book explaining how language is central to identity, and how native languages and storytelling traditions have much to offer our collective understanding of the world. The book includes at least two maps that document some of the first place names for one of Canada’s most beautiful regions. The stories in (the book) are based on a number of stories that Francis told his youngest children, and that they encouraged me to share with the world. It was their wish that these stories be told first in the native language and I have honoured that request in this book.

FP: What are your goals for Sounding Thunder?

BM: I wanted Sounding Thunder to be a book that would bring a deeper appreciation for the historic contributions and often unseen struggles of indigenous peoples in Canada. In creating a more common understanding amongst Canadians about the past experience of native peoples, we have a better chance of creating a future that is characterized by reconciliation and positive relationship.

FP: You live in Duluth, teaching at the University of Minnesota. Is it difficult to live and work far away from the land and waters of Georgian Bay and your home community?

BM: I feel very lucky to be where I am but the connection to home is undeniable and ever-present. When I was a young man, my great aunt took me to a special place on Georgian Bay—the Turtle rock—(close to the birthplace of Francis Pegahmagabow) and told me it was a marker that the Ojibwa Nation had used in their migration westward. That moment somewhat directed me to where I presently am, particularly with my interest in traditional Ojibwa ceremonial traditions. Lake Superior is a pretty special place, and its connection to Lake Huron is very real. This end of Ojibwa country, fortunately, has a sense of resonance and familiarity that makes home seem not so far away.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.

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