Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bozhoo Nijii

At one point in my life I decided that I would learn another language..the language I chose was Annishinaabeemowin..the language of the Annishinaabee (Ojibwe)Nation.

(Stormy Sunset on Rainy Lake)

It was a language I'd heard early in my life-growing up on Rainy Lake in NW Ontario..sometimes spoken by Native fisherman paddling thru the bay in front of our cabins..but more often mispoken on non-Native tongues speaking the Annishinaabee names of lakes and bays named long before their relatives had come to live in the Canadian wilderness.

(Little Falls,Gakaabikaansing, Atikokan Ontario by Patti Kryzanowski)

People often learn words of greeting first when studying a new language..hello. In Annishinaabee language this can be either Bozhoo
(bah zhoo)..similar to the French bon jour, or it can be ainiin (a knee) which is a little more formal and perhaps less common greeting. This word Ainiin..combined with the word "nijii" (nah zhee) which means friend..opened the door to a beautiful friendship for me.

My father's journey was changing and he had recently been hospitalized after living a rich life exploring the wonders of the Canadian wilderness. I went to ease this transition for both of my parents. En route, I beaded a small medicine bag, working in a rosette pattern from the inside out..adding circles like a stone does when thrown into a calm pond..I had no plan for this was merely something to pass the time.

As the nursing staff cared for my father, we were asked to leave the room. My mom and I entered a small patient sitting area, which could also be accessed by patients living in the extended care ward. One woman shared lunch with her disabled husband, while others visited with family members or friends. Alone in the corner was a beautiful little Gramma..alone but smiling happily. Mom said..let's join that little Gramma..she might enjoy some company.

We approached and I reached out my hand to shake hands with the woman, asking if we could join her..her warm smile said we could. Her reply was not in English, but in I spoke her words-words new to my tongue..ainiin nijii..her eyes sparkled and her smile engulfed the room. We spoke as much as we could..stored conversations came to life as her native tongue rolled freely from her lips, feeble attempts to understand and respond came from mine. All the while I translated for my mother. Doris, as I'd later learn her name, pulled my chair closer to her, and held my hand as we spoke..forgiving my misprounced words, correcting me with kindness. Laughter and smiles accompanied our words.

When it came time to go back to my father's room, Doris kissed my hands over and over, and held them close to her face. I told my mom-NOW I know why I beaded that is for her..and I told my mom I'd join them shortly, but that first I have a gift to give. I returned to the sun room and held the medicine bag out for my new friend. She took it gently, and then motioned for me to help her put it on. As I did, tears rolled down her beautiful old face. She held my hands against the side of her soft cheeks momentarily.

As I left the room, I told her giga-waabamin (see you later). She smiled and knodded her head. The woman who had been feeding her husband stepped in front of me at the door..she said..I heard you talking to her..she doesn't speak English you know so we can't talk to her, is she your Gramma..I responded that in Native culture all elders are your relatives and are to be treated with that level of respect..she said-so she's YOUR Gramma and I she is my Kokomis, then I turned and winked at Doris..the woman said..well you know NOBODY talks to her, nobody comes to visit her..and I said-well today someone came to visit her..and with that I walked by her.

Every day for the next two weeks, I found an excuse to visit Doris Whitefish..she held my hands, kissing them gently..and I called her Gokim which is another version of the word for grandmother.
If I picked blueberries I'd bring a bowl for my friend.
(blueberry photo by raceytay on etsy)

If I came during lunch, I'd stir her soup to cool it off. If I came in the evening, we'd pull a chair by the window and watch the sunset. Sometimes I'd bring my beading and we'd just sit together. She taught me new words..pointing to things in pictures and telling me what they were.
When it came time to leave Canada and return to Colorado, I was sad to leave my parents and Doris behind.. I explained the best I could that I would be back to see her the following summer.

(sweatlodge is artwork done by dkjart on etsy)

In the months that passed, I spoke her name in my sweat lodge prayers..asking that she was well and that she would know my heart was thinking of her.

For the next three summers I visited Doris each time I went home..I took a CD of powwow music for her..and I introduced my daughter to her..Doris motioned for Jaryl to dance when a fast powwow song came on..Jaryl obliged..fancy shawling with a tablecloth as her shawl..while staff and other patients watched..Doris smiling proudly and inviting them all to the end of that visit we all joined in a round dance..the dance of friends.

(Eagle shadow picture taken of my daughter by Peggy)

I will share more about my special friendship with my beloved Gokim and about all the gifts that learning a new language has brought please come back and I will say giga-waabamin..because in Native languages there are no words as harsh as goodbye.


  1. What a beautiful story, Patti! I felt like I was in the room with you and your Kokomis!

  2. Bah Zhoo Patti!I love your story and just adore reading your blog.each post touches my soul.thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory of Doris.have a great week.blessings michelle

  3. Oh wow - small, small world! I've been following your blog but didn't realize you were from the RR area (I'm currently surviving my 3rd winter in "The Fort" !)

    Such a lovely story - miigwetch for sharing it!

  4. fun is that!
    Both my parents grew up in FF..we had cabins forever by the 7 mile bridge-near where the Marina is. can still see our cabins that my dad and uncle built-they have blue roofs now..I LOVED that place..sigh..
    When we lived there at first, the road and Noden bridge had not been built.. We kept our boat on Kouchiching and we'd load up boat with all of us kids and supplies and head out for the was SO quiet you could hear a bottle of pop fizz when you opened it..only crazy people like our family went to their cabins in the Winter..

    If you go in the FF arena-you can see my dad's name/pic..ed kryzanowski

    let's have coffee when I come thru this summer!!

  5. This definitely calls for coffee when you're back in the area! It must be wonderful and yet odd to see the town transform so much over the years just through your visits back - I'm noticing it even now when I pop back to my small hometown in Southern Ontario. Have you seen the new library yet? It's lovely.

    I'll keep an eye out at the arena for your dad's name/pic next time I'm there!