Guelph resident Rene Meshake is an Anishinaabe elder, a visual and performing artist, author, storyteller and recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal. You will often see him smiling as he is walking around town.
But for much of his life he had few reasons to smile. In his early and formative years, he describes himself as lost, lonely and looking for meaning.
Rene was born in 1948 near the town of Geraldton in Northern Ontario. When he was three both his parents were sent to the Indian Hospital Tuberculosis Sanitarium and Rene went to live with his Nookamis (grandmother). She taught him valuable live lessons and he remembers her with an inordinate love, even today.
Unfortunately when he was 10 he was sent to the McIntosh Indian Residential School. Many of us are now aware of the austere, rigid and soul-destroying life that many young Indigenous children were forced to live. He stayed there until he was 17.
Injichaag means "my soul" in Ojibway and in this beautiful book, with the help of his editor, Kim Anderson, Rene has indeed allowed us a glimpse of his soul.
Anderson, a professor at the University of Guelph and of Cree/Metis heritage says in her introduction, “Like other works of Indigenous literature, it defies easy categorization as it engages Anishinaabe philosophy, history, linguistics, literary theory, theology/spiritual knowledge – much of it wrapped up in a good dose of teachings from Nookomis.”
Even the format is hard to categorize in English. The book is divided into seven different sections each corresponding to a time period in his life. Within these broader time frames there are wonderful little gems of either poetry or prose which are given Ojibway titles with English translations. These are reminiscences of his life and teachings and are enhanced throughout with Rene’s art which is both ethereal and grounded.
Rene uses the phrase word bundles in his book because there are so many Ojibway words and phrases. Try as I might, I could not find a definition that I was satisfied with.
I saw Rene last week and I asked him for a definition, which he readily gave me: “A word bundle is a beading together of verbs, nouns, to create a visual image of a world view.”
Yes this immediately resonated with me. I would highly suggest reading this beautiful bundle of words and images. Never have I understood more how important language is to the life of a culture. Thank you Rene for this gift to the wider community.