Holding Our World Together:
Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community

by Brenda J. Child

Viking, 2012. ISBN 978-0-670-02324-0.
Reviewed by Shawn LaTorre
Posted on 05/03/2012

Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Cultural/Gender Focus; Nonfiction: American Women in Their Cultural/Historical Context

A captivating historical presentation of the Ojibwe women in communities that settled the Great Lakes area of the United States, this book by Ms. Child is a chronicle of change and survival. She chronicles family and physical changes in geography from early settlements, to fur trading, to reservations, culminating with urban migration. An important view for women's studies, this collection of research demonstrates how the Ojibwe women, with children in tow, took charge of the wild rice economy, became interpreters and wives of fur traders, and entered into industrial occupations even as their tribal ways were diminishing. The women "inhabited a world in which the earth was gendered female, and they played powerful roles as healers. They organized labor within their community and held property rights over water, making decisions and controlling an essential part of the seasonal economy."

Ms. Child presents an easy to read historical perspective that highlights the Ojibwe's perseverance and struggle for cultural survival from the 1800's, to present day urban migration. This tribal community, like many others, found itself victimized by treaties never honored, pushed onto reservations of dwindling sizes, and taxed unfairly as other "predators" wished them gone. The author presents the data and historical documents to back up her claims.

"Even the earliest Ojibwe women who married European fur traders worked to maintain the relationships... and 'remained consonant with indigenous behavioral standards,' because their children, extended family, and community depended on the ability of traders to procure goods and services and affirm alliances with indigenous people of the Great Lakes region." (p.49) Tribal and religious practices held steady up to a point and then melded with, or became disrupted by, Christianity over time.

Taking the reader through the chronology, Ms. Child exposes a critical truth: the cultivation of wild rice within the waters of the Great Lakes became a political issue requiring licensing. During the Great Depression, a "steady stream of whites" was noted entering the wild rice beds.

"They have been greedy and paid no attention to the natural laws regarding the plants reproduction. As a result, many of the better wild rice beds have been ruined by whites gathering the crop in an immature state." (p.115)

The clash of cultures is something Ms. Child notes carefully, calling upon research and notes by professionals as well as first person accounts.

The author includes the necessary data and documentation for her historical presentation. She remains objective, even as the truths of change and mistreatment of the Ojibwe emerge clearly for the reader. Her mission is well accomplished through it all; she beautifully illustrates and documents for all time the importance of Ojibwe women in the economic and social survival of the tribe, many of whose members continue to live in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan today.

Brenda J. Child is a member of the Red Lake Ojibwe Nation as well as an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. She has written another book, entitled Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940.

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