Governor General’s Literary Awards
“Eli Baxter’s indelible memoir, Aki-wayn-zih, takes readers deep into Anishinaabay culture, language and history to reveal a rich and complex world, while showing how the link between language and land is crucial for survival and growth. At a time when he worries that the fires of Indigenous languages are going out, his simple and beautiful book, written across languages, cultures, and generations, radiates a radical kind of hope.”
—Peer assessment committee: Will Aitken, Madhur Anand and Jenna Butler
Members of Eli Baxter’s generation are the last of the hunting and gathering societies living on Turtle Island. They are also among the last fluent speakers of the Anishinaabay language known as Anishinaabaymowin.
Aki-wayn-zih is a story about the land and its spiritual relationship with the Anishinaabayg, from the beginning of their life on Miss-koh-tay-sih Minis (Turtle Island) to the present day. Baxter writes about Anishinaabay life before European contact, his childhood memories of trapping, hunting, and fishing with his family on traditional lands in Treaty 9 territory, and his personal experience surviving the residential school system. Examining how Anishinaabay Kih-kayn-daa-soh-win (knowledge) is an elemental concept embedded in the Anishinaabay language, Aki-wayn-zih explores history, science, math, education, philosophy, law, and spiritual teachings, outlining the cultural significance of language to Anishinaabay identity. Recounting traditional Ojibway legends in their original language, fables in which moral virtues double as survival techniques, and detailed guidelines for expertly trapping or ensnaring animals, Baxter reveals how the residential school system shaped him as an individual, transformed his family, and forever disrupted his reserve community and those like it.
Through spiritual teachings, historical accounts, and autobiographical anecdotes, Aki-wayn-zih offers a new form of storytelling from the Anishinaabay point of view.
Eli Baxter is a teacher, an Anishinaabay Knowledge Keeper, an elder, a published author, a fluent Ojibway language speaker, and a residential school survivor. After earning a degree and teaching certificate from Lakehead University, he taught for seven years in Whitedog, Ontario, then going on to teach the Ojibway language for 20 years on the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. He also built the Anishinaabay Language and Culture course at Western University, which he taught for 17 years. In 2018, he translated and voiced colonial poems into Ojibway for Franco-Canadian visual artist Kapwani Kiwanga’s installation, Clearing, at Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant in Brantford, Ontario. A married man and a father to two grown daughters, Eli Baxter lives in London, Ontario.
Photo courtesy of Eli Baxter
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