Author James Vukelich Kaagebaabaw learning to live the good life through Ojibwe language and tradition


— Each and every one of us is connected to our family past and future through an unbroken chain, and our actions have consequences that reverberate up and down that chain for generations to come. This interconnectivity, that we are all intrinsically linked together, forms the foundation of

James Vukelich Kaagegaabaw's

philosophy of 'mino-bimaadiziwin' or living the good life.

"How can I live in a way that brings peace and balance to my relatives? How can I be kind to someone I know is coming seven generations from now," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw asked during his talk at the

Dassel History Center

on Oct. 24. "How can I live a holistic life, where my words (are aligned) with my actions?"

Vukelich Kaagegaabaw found the answers to those questions in what he calls the seven grandfather teachings. He explains those teachings, along with his journey learning and understanding the endangered Ojibwe language, in his new book, "The Seven Generations and the Seven Grandfather Teachings."

"A life of peace, a life of balance, a life without conflict," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said.

The Ojibwe language was a mystery to Vukelich Kaagegaabaw for his entire childhood, even though both his mother and grandmother were Ojibwe. Neither of them spoke the language for the simple reason they were never given the opportunity to learn it. Both women grew up in

government-run boarding schools

which took Native American children from their homes and families and forbade them from speaking their native tongue or practicing their traditions and faith.

"The mandate was to kill the Indian to save the man," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said.

It wasn't until Vukelich Kaagegaabaw was 26 and in college that he took his first Ojibwe language class. That class started one of the most personal and momentous journeys of his life.

"I remember taking that course and hearing the most fascinating story about myself that I had never been told," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said. "It was the beginning of the most exciting, philosophical, linguistic, spiritual, ethical journey I had been on."

He went all in on learning the Ojibwe language and the stories and traditions behind those words. In some cases, the root sounds of the words may date back thousands of years, before the end of the last ice age.

"They're using a sound that is 13,000 years old," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said. "It gives an idea of how old the language is, how old our relationship with the land through the language is."

During his studies, which included many opportunities to learn from Ojibwe elders and native speakers of the language, Vukelich Kaagegaabaw started to understand how the Ojibwe language, traditions, culture, spiritual and relationships are all intertwined.

It became his goal to not only help preserve and save the Ojibwe language through projects like the

Ojibwe Language Dictionary Project

and his social media series

'Ojibwe Word of the Day'

but to also share the life lessons he himself learned through his study.

He wants to help end the cycle of intergenerational trauma or change the blood memory of the Ojibwe people. Vukelich Kaagegaabaw believes the trauma his family members and ancestors went through is written in the blood that has been passed through the generations along with the language and traditions of the tribe.

"The moment you see that you may be feeling someone's pain that is not your own, that moment can be a catalyst for you," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said. "It can be the moment you choose not to pass this down to the next generation. It stops with me."

One way to pass on the good, including the strength, resilience and fortitude of the ancestors, is to live the mino-bimaadiziwin way — to get to that place of balance one needs to follow the Ojibwe sacred law.

"I call these the Seven Grandfather Teachings," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said.

The Seven Grandfather Teachings are truth (debwewin), humility (dabasendizowin), respect (manaaji'idiwin), love (zaagi'idiwin), courage (zoongide'ewin), honesty (gwayakwaadiziwin) and wisdom (nibwaakaawin). Each of these words, though, have many layers of meaning and require action of the person.

"It is a language that acts," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said of the Ojibwe language.

For example, respect or manaaji'idwin, is not only about treating others with respect, but the earth as well by only taking what you need and leaving the rest.

"From the Ojibwe perspective, they are going easy on each other," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said.

If you are able to live your life following these seven principles and use them as your guideposts as you go through life, Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said the decisions you make will be wise and intelligent.

"Every single one of your actions will be positively beneficial, not just for you but for someone coming seven generations from now," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said.

This is what it means to live the good life and, if more people live this way, perhaps the world would become a better place. The individual person needs to be willing to change before the systems that rule the world can be replaced with a better way.

"Seek out a good life," Vukelich Kaagegaabaw said. "We can definitely create the change, we can definitely be the change."