In Night Flying Woman, Ignatia Broker recounts the life of her great-great-grandmother, Night Flying Woman, from her naming ceremony to her role as elder and teacher. Night Flying Woman, also named Oona, was born in the mid-nineteenth century and lived through one of the most culturally disruptive periods of time in Native American history. In 1851, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act which created the Indian reservation system and moved tribes off of their land, opening up large areas of land to white settlers. Soon the Ojibway, who led a life dictated by the seasons, in harmony with the land and animals, would be cut off from the lakes where they fished and harvested wild rice, the sugar bush where they harvested sap for maple syrup, and the forests where they trapped rabbits and hunted deer. In the foreword, Patricia Fairbanks Molin quotes from a history of the White Earth Reservation, as lumber companies desired to strip the forests, “It seemed absurd (to them) that less than 2,000 people should occupy 800,000 acres of land of so great value both for agriculture and for standing pine.”
The result was the mutilation of the White Earth Reservation. Land that was held cooperatively by the tribe was allotted to individual members. Sold off or diminished in size through succeeding treaties, the area occupied by the Ojibway became only a fraction of the original.
Oona’s family adapted to the practices taught by the white settlers. Many of the Ojibway men worked for the lumber companies and the women learned to farm and raise animals. But Oona was taught to hold on to the old ways as well.
“. . . you must remember all the good our people have known and taught,” her grandparents said, “Compare it to what you are now learning. Do not be ashamed of the good that we have taught and do not be ashamed of the good to be learned. Our way of life is changing, and there is much we must accept. But let it be only the good. And we must always remember the old ways. We must pass them on to our children and grandchildren . . .”
I read Night Flying Woman after reading Staci Drouillard’s Walking the Old Road and Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman. This trifecta of books left me feeling ashamed of this part of our American history, yet in awe of the spirit and resilience of the Anishinaabe people. If you are interested in Native American history, I recommend reading these companion books for a deeper experience.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. My author interviews and reviews are also featured on WTIP, Grand Marais, MN https://www.wtip.org/superior-reads-0