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Little Roots

Meet the Ojiibikens, who gather every Sunday at Evergreen Brick Works to learn language, culture and food together. 

Ojiibikens pointing at the pond

Published on October 09, 2019

Ojibiikaan Indigenous Cultural Network is an Indigenous-led non-profit offering land, food and culture based programming in Toronto and the surrounding area. In Anishinaabemowin, Ojibiikaan means “root”. Much like roots, the organization is based on nourishing and anchoring people to their land and to each other.

Ojibiikaan runs a mobile child-focused program – Ojiibikens – where families with children between 0-6 reclaim and rebuild land-based skills through coming together for hands-on, outdoor learning. In Anishinaabemowin, Ojiibikens means “little root”.

Joanne Keeshig of Ojiibikens with rattle
Joanne Keeshig, Program Manager at Ojibiikaan Indigenous Cultural Network

Led by Joanne Keeshig, Ojiibikens brings together a community of Indigenous families every Sunday at Evergreen Brick Works, where children and adults inspire each other to learn language, culture and food together.

On a Sunday this month, we joined the Ojiibikens to share some of the incredible work being done within this community.

child leading a smudge

The morning begins with a smudge. Led by one of the children, sacred herbs are lit and the flames are reduced to a smoke. By waving over a person, this smoke heals.

child with instrument

Instruments are passed around to everyone in the room, meaning it’s time for songs. All songs are child-friendly and sung in Anishinaabemowin. Some of the little ones who have heard these songs before sing along.

Joanne drawing pictures of an old lady on a whiteboard

Joanne draws and sings a Rafi song, which she and another person in their community has rewritten in Anishinaabemowin. It is called Mdimooyenh, which roughly translates to “Old Lady”, but means much more than that.

kids and joanne looking and pointing at the pond

The little ones get all bundled up and we go on a walk. Here, everyone explores the living world around them and shares the names of the plants, animals and more in Anishinaabemowin.

Joanne holding rosehips in a rosebush

It’s a cool fall day and the roses have gone to fruit. No one in the group knew the name of the rose’s fruit, rosehip, in Anishinaabemowin – but Joanne found it on an app after our walk. Its name is ogin-iig.

Joanne pointing at a snake

An exciting critter crosses our paths. A ginebik slithers across the gravel trail. Joanne notices that it has been stepped on and explains to the little ones that this happens because humans can be rough with nature sometimes. 

Close up of a very small snail

Kids are great at finding the smallest things around us. One of the young boys starts noticing snails, smaller than a pea, on plants and rocks along the path. Everyone collectively tries to remember snail’s name in Anishinaabemowin. One of the parents remembers, it’s biimishodisii.

Joanne serving salmon

We head back from our walk and everyone is excited for a special treat. To end the morning, Evergreen’s Lead Gardener Isaac Crosby has left a big tray of delicious giigoonh that was cooked over an open fire. Joanne and the parents help the kids remember the name by mimicking a giigoonh swimming.

Interested in learning more about Ojiibikan, the Ojiibikens and how to participate in the program? Visit their website.