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BSU professor celebrates Anishinaabe women

Vivian Delgado, right, assistant professor of Indigenous Studies at Bemidji State University, discusses global sustainability during a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon in honor of International Women’s Day. Pictured at left is Tessa Makadebinesiikwe Reed, assistant professor of Indian Studies, who spoke on Anishinaabe knowledge. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – An assistant professor at Bemidji State University introduced the community Wednesday to four Anishinaabe women working to recover Anishinaabe knowledge.

When tasked with presenting in honor of BSU’s International Women’s Day Celebration, Tessa Makadebinesiikwe Reed, assistant professor of Indian studies and member of the Animkii dooden (Thunder clan), said she first thought of her own culture and how the Anishinaabe people used birch bark to make everything it needed: their homes; transportation, as in canoes; and cooking implements. It even was used as a fire starter.

“It was very light, a renewable resource that we could find wherever we were traveling,” Reed said. “I think it’s ingenious, inspiring to me.”

Reed was one of four BSU professors who presented on a panel addressing “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

Reed’s speech, “Anishinaabekwe Inspiration: Cooking in Birch Bark Baskets,” highlighted four contemporary Anishinaabe women working to recover Anishinaabe knowledge.

The first, Brenda Child, is the author of “Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of the Community.”

Reed said the book discusses women’s role in the Anishinaabe culture and how areas with water are one of the few places where women had property rights. Women harvested rice from lakes and rivers and gathered saps from the woodlands.

“Within the Ojibwe culture, women are water-carriers because we have the ability to give birth,” Reed said, referencing the water, or amniotic fluid, needed within a woman to sustain an unborn child.

Wendy Makoons Geniusz is the author of “Our Knowledge Is Not Primitive: Decolonizing Botanical Anishinaabe Teachings.”

Reed said Geniusz discusses how the Ojibwe came to acquire knowledge through dreams, spirits and animals.

“Often times, when they are fasting, they are looking for animals to come talk to them about knowledge,” Reed said.

Reed further said Geniusz discusses how that knowledge is then shared within the culture, through songs, stories, oral teachings, apprenticeships, visions and dreams.

Leanna Betasamosake Simpson is a mother, storyteller and academic who has written “Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence, and a New Emergence.”

In one part of the book, Reed said, Simpson talks about the first, or original, man, who was the world’s first researcher and teacher.

“What I really love about her work … is that she talks about theorizing based on our traditional stories,” Reed said.

The last woman she highlighted was Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, who now is working to understand the Anishinaabe women’s role in the gathering of sap.

Reed said Sy is living that work, recreating the process and learning to gather sap and understand how it relates to the economy of the Anishinaabe people.

“One of the reasons she and I became friends is because she heard (a) story about my great grandmother who did that work,” Reed said.

Panelists celebrate women

BEMIDJI – In addition to Tessa Makadeineskiike Reed, three other Bemidji State professors addressed “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

Blanca Rivera, Ph.D., department chairwoman and associate professor of Languages and Ethnic Studies, spoke on “From Molecular ‘Gastronomy’ to Molecular Biology: Sor Juana and the Scientific Education of Women in Latin America.”

Vivian Delgado, Ph.D, assistant professor of Indigenous Studies, spoke on “Indigenous America and Global Sustainability.”

Carla Norris-Raynbird, Ph.D., with the Center for Environmental, Economics, Earth and Space Studies, spoke on “Working the Edges of Science and Technology: Considering the Limits.”

Following the panel, a two-hour event was held that discussed “Global Issues of Gender and Food.”

Both events were sponsored by BSU’s Women’s Studies/Gender Studies Program.