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Cross Cultural Experience: Footprints of our Ancestors with Professor Dierdre Keenan & Ojibwe Elder & Artist Ed Gray
This college course took place May 13 – 16. A four day immersion into the Life-Way of the Annishinaabeg. Below is an article written by Professor Keenan regarding this course:
When Carroll University instituted a cross-cultural experience (CCE) requirement for all students as part of its general education program, I immediately thought of the Calumet Art Center and Ed Gray. As a professor of English and American Indian Studies, I knew the life-changing experience students could encounter if I planned a CCE course with Ed Gray, a life-long artist and, perhaps less known, an Ojibwe elder, whose grandmother had first connected him to traditional teachings that have inspired his work in clay and copper for over sixty years, as well as his knowledge, wisdom and values.
It took a bit convincing the CCE approval committee that my proposed course, “Footprints of Our Ancestors: A Four Day Immersion into the Lifeway of the Anishinaabe,” constituted a genuine cross-cultural experience.
The committee did not know Ed Gray, did not know the magical way Ed blends art, traditional teachings, cultural, nature, and journeys of self-identity into a seamless physical, intellectual, and spiritual experience. The detailed itinerary I proposed based on Ed Gray’s ideas and my recollections of courses I had previously taken with him could not fully capture the cross-cultural experience I knew students would discover when we travelled from Waukesha, Wisconsin to the Calumet, on May 13th, 2013. The course itinerary, despite its detail, could not capture the wide world Ed Gray gathers together at the Calumet Art Center, the community of Calumet and Upper Peninsula residents drawn to this place of creativity and joy.
This was one of first things that struck the students: the continuous flow of visitors stopping by the Calumet Art Center, not just for classes in art and music, but those who volunteer to insure its hospitality, or others who stop by to visit with Ed Gray before or after their day’s work, who come in to see the artwork, or listen to the woman who plays the plays the pipe organ in the newly renovated second story performance hall, sunlight pouring through its stain glass windows. Students suddenly felt a part of the CAC community, recipients and contributors to its lifeblood.
“Footprints of Our Ancestors: A Four Day Immersion into the Lifeway of the Anishinaabe” packed the students’ brief course with planned and spontaneous activities. Each day began and ended with “talking circles,” a traditional way of honoring each person’s insights and voice. Each day included drumming circles, the XXX rhythm created by many who have never before held a traditional hand-drum. We made clay pinch-pots and beads, and students created their autobiographies etched in personal symbols in the life-tracks of clay shields to be smoke fired. We visited Ed Gray’s home and fire circle to make copper bowls, as the Anishinaabeg have done for more than four thousand years, of copper they mined throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula long before the arrival of European settlers. We gathered stones and drift woods along Gratiot and Badger beach to embellish the talking sticks we made back at the Calumet Art Center. They wove friendships among themselves and the many others who visited the CAC as we made dream catchers.
The students had read about the importance of the Upper Peninsula and its place in the Anishinaabeg’s Great Migration and sacred stories, and they kept their own multimedia journals of their experience. Many recorded Ed Gray’s profound and subtle teachings slipped into his art lessons: “Stones are so important; they are like encyclopedias,” he noted as they dressed their talking sticks. Every student expressed sheer amazement and immeasurable growth in their experience at the Calumet Art Center and class with Ed Gray. But they have their own words for that, words they recorded on a computer we left open throughout our last day. Here are a few. Read more on the CAC website:
“Meeting Jikiwe has been such an honor and a privilege. He taught me to slow down and listen to the world around me, he taught me to have a greater appreciation for everything in my life, but mostly he taught me that perfection is not what mainstream culture defines; everything is perfect because everything turns out the way it is meant to be. I will never forget Jikiwe and all of his knowledge. I will treasure the memories always.” Amanda
“This has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life. From the beginning, I chose to participate in this cross cultural experience because the activities and the description interested me; however, it became much more than a graduation requirement. I am leaving with so many life lessons and memories that I will cherish my entire life. It was amazing being welcomed into the Anishinaabeg way of life and taking part in many of their traditions and rituals. I took on a different perspective of life, and I am walking away a more appreciative and well-rounded person.” Kailey
“This trip has been amazing. I cannot even describe how many lessons I have learned while being in Calumet for only five days. It has been such an honor to be able to listen and learn from Jikiwe and learn about all of the Ojibwa tribe traditions and history. It was great to be able to get away from everyday life and really reconnect with nature. Being able to create such beautiful artwork with my own hands has been such a pleasure. I will definitely remember everything I have learned and will apply all of the lessons I learned to my life back home.” Breann
“To write what we have all been through this past week in words does not seem to do it justice. Coming into this experience Dr. Keenan told us that it “will change our lives forever.” I was not aware at the time how exactly this would occur, but as the days have progressed I cannot imagine my life without ever hearing the stories of the Anishinaabeg, without listening to Jikiwe’s teachings, without seeing this beautiful part of our country. This experience has forever changed me as a person and I could not imagine not taking part in it and I will cherish use everything I have been taught this week for the rest of my life.” Ally
“At the beginning of the trip, I did not know exactly what to expect. I knew I would have fun but what I didn’t realize was the affect it will have on the rest of my life. I have been in the Upper Peninsula and on Lake Superior and I have always found it a peaceful and enchanting place. Being able to stay in this beautiful place is something to be thankful for, but the teachings of Jikiwe and the powerful stories of the Anishinaabeg have changed my perspective on this land. I have and will be forever grateful for this chance I had to meet Jikiwe and his daughter Teri. Their hospitality and friendship have been incredible. My new cross cultural knowledge of the Anishinaabeg culture will continue to hold a special place in my heart.” Emily
Being in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been a life changing experience. I am grateful that I was able to see and hear the gorgeous, soothing waves of Lake Superior and collect smooth, beautiful stones from the shore. This trip has not only allowed me to expand with knowledge, but “I have also grown as an individual. I feel more connected to nature and respect the world around me. Ed and Teri opened up their hearts and taught us about their culture and gave us life lessons that I will apply to my everyday life. Now that I have more knowledge about the Anishinaabeg, I have a deep respect for them and their meaning of life. I plan to continue some of the traditions that they taught us and using them in my family. I greatly appreciate all that I have received from Ed and Teri and look forward to applying it in my life. I will forever remember this adventure.”
“What a journey! Being immersed in a culture that is thousands of years old and right in our backyards was incredible. Jikiwe and Terri taught me so much more than I had anticipated learning on this trip. Dr. Keenan combined academics with a spirited cultural immersion that was unique and provided a link between head and heart. Jikiwe re-infused me with a passion for the arts; all the while, coaching us in Ojibwe cultural values that can be carried to our own lives. I also left with a comradeship with my fellow Carroll classmates that will last in my memory for ages to come.” Monica
“Although our immersion into the Anishinaabe culture lasted only five days, I feel that I have truly learned lessons that I will carry with me forever. Jikiwe and the other Ojibwe elders have passed on to each of us at least a part of their lifetime’s worth of wisdom and knowledge, teaching us to listen to nature and ourselves, to always be open to new experiences, and to trust in our own hands and our hearts.” Maddie Simon
“Throughout the past five days, I have learned an amazing amount of knowledge about the Anishinaabe culture, the amazing artwork within the Calumet Art Center, the Ojibwe people, and myself. It has opened up a new world for me and the way I look and appreciate things. I will go home with great wisdom about the earth that I did not have before thanks to Jikiwe and the other elders that entered throughout our journey. I am very grateful for this incredible opportunity that was given to me to stay here with Jikiwe and his family here in Calumet, MI. My goals and expectations were more than accomplished, and this experience will forever be in my mind and in my heart.” Bridgette Darton
The Calumet Art Center, Ed Gray, the Board members and many friends of the CAC made this immeasurable education and life experience possible. A new group of Carroll University students will again journey next May into a cross-cultural experience they will not be able to imagine.