Zhibaii waassaychigan nindinaab agwaching.
Gokookoo’oo migwanag ogidj’ waassaychiganaatig dush mitashkossiw.
Migizi nin waabama mitashkossiw kashkibiday biminakwaan.
Wanashkid migwan nin manaysin.
DNR gaween oganabaynjigaymin.
I’ve had such a vision.
Through the window I look outside.
Owl feathers on the window frame and on the grass.
I see an eagle on the grass; he is tied up in rope.
Eagle, he is dead.
I want a tail feather.
The DNR, they won’t allow it.
I’ve had such a vision,
and I am sad.
* * *
I awoke from this very dream feeling troubled. The owl feathers covering the sill had something to do with my mother. The eagle outside, even in the context of the dream, represented the spirit of my Anishinaabe ethnicity, and it was bound. It was dead. I had the intense urge to avail myself of the opportunity to collect the eagle's tail feathers, especially because it was just lying there for the taking, but I hadn't earned the right to possess them and it filled me with a profound sadness. In the dream, I thought of the DNR and sort of put the blame for my inability to hold the eagle feathers on them, on the laws of White people, but I'm both Anishinaabe and Finnish (mostly). I'm Indian and I'm White. The conflict between the paradigms of different people exists within me.
Now, the language...
When I awoke, I felt strongly that this poem needed to be written in the Ojibwe language. I don't speak Ojibwemowin (the language), though I know a few isolated phrases. I first wrote down the dream in English, and then translated it into Ojibwemowin with a bilingual dictionary compiled by the "snowshoe priest," Frederic Baraga. As I translated though, I had to alter the original English version to suit phrases and contexts that I could find in the Baraga dictionary. I'm sure my Ojibwe words and syntax are awkward and off. What exists here is really a cross-cultural exchange, most likely far from exact in meaning, but yet an attempt. I hope the basic idea comes across.
First published in I Was Indian: An Anthology of Native Literature, Vol. 1