Like many native tribes, Ray grew up in a hunter-gatherer society. The reason “if” is used to describe the town of residence is because he grew up in a nomadic culture, not exactly attached to a town. They followed the game. Where the game was at during that time of year is where they found themselves. The main game that they hunted were beaver, goose, duck, muskrat, moose, and the occasional deer. Everything in their culture stems back to this way of living – living off the land. Every topic within their culture can be linked to this core – the land.
In addition to this, another part of their cultural foundation is their religious beliefs. Even though Ray has since become a Christian as an adult, this is how he grew up in the bush as a child separated from the rest of society. They are monotheistic in the sense that they attribute all of creation to one supreme being that they call, “The Great Creator.” For this reason, they attribute all of their food to The Great Creator. When they kill game, they thank The Great Creator for the kill. Their view of the afterlife is hunting. This is heaven to them. When one dies, they hold to the view that they go the “good hunting ground” where they can hunt with their relatives long passed on. With this, though, they are quite animistic in their actions and practice. They believe in good and evil spirits. When one gets sick they would attribute it to a curse being placed on the individual. When dealing with these curses they had people in their tribe who specialized in what he called, “second sight.” This is the ability to see the spirit world. This is equivalent to what we might call a shaman. It was their job to ward off these spirits. This person is determined for this role from the age of two. They are groomed to become this from childhood. In their eyes, though, they can see that this person has the ability of “second sight” from this age. It is because of this that they are chosen. Individually, though, they would leave most of the rituals to this individual. The only time the group of them would join in on a ritual was when they were low on food and needed to get an animal. All the hunters would gather around and fast for a good hunt; this was called a “vision quest.” Based upon this information, the Ojibwe tribe of Northern Ontario, traditionally is clearly animistic in their religious practice. They are fear-based in their worldview. The intertwining of these two aspects of their culture (living off the land and their animistic-monotheism, if I must give it a description) make up the brunt of what needs to be known concerning their culture. Due to this, multiple times in the remainder of this paper, these things will be referred to.
Their family unit will be looked at next. Due to their extensive hunting lifestyle, far out into the Canadian wilderness, they must rely heavily upon their family for survival. With this, though, they were a compassionate people. They understood the necessity to belong to a group. If they ever found a person who was left alone in the world, they would adopt that person into their family. The family was the smaller unity within the clan unity. The clan was then the smaller unity within the whole tribe. Their social structure is mainly based on the clan, even more so than their tribe. This is because the Ojibwe tribe is quite large. It stretches down into the Northern United States (Minnesota and Wisconsin). Within the Ojibwe tribe they have different dialects. Ray says that the Ojibwe language found in Minnesota, where I met him, is different than where he was raised. This makes the clan unit a tight nit group. Each clan has its own clan animal. Ray is a member of the wolf clan. This connection to an animal had no spiritual connection; it was due to their close connection to the land. Their culture is patriarchal; the men alone lead. Three things determined who were the highest respected people in the clan: men, age, and who was the best hunter. As a man matures he gains respect solely due to his older age. Yet, with this, if one was the master hunter, which was a prestigious position in the clan, they, too, were held in high esteem. With this, then, the most revered member in the clan was the master hunter who was also very old.
Each child was placed under an adult teacher to train them for the field of work they would do as an adult. Women would do the cleaning and cooking and men all the outdoor work. This outdoor work consisted mainly of hunting and everything that revolved around that end. For example, one could be a “star gazer.” This means that they are navigators. It is there job to navigate by land by day and stars by night. It is the job of the hunters to hunt and it is the job of the “star gazers” to keep the hunters from getting lost. Naturally, though, there is a crossover in these skills, but the responsibility was placed on individuals.
Another aspect of their family life is storytelling within their communication. They look at time as night and day. When it is light out, work – hunt. When it is dark out, sleep. The transition between day and night is brought about with storytelling. The clan would sit in a circle and the elders would tell stories as it got dark. This storytelling aspect of their culture made its way into their normal communication. People who know Ray say they know what ray is saying, but they don’t understand what he means. This is because he speaks in a much higher context than most westerners, who speak normally in a low context. I’m reminded of a story that gives an example of this. Ray and I went out to lunch with a few friends from school. It was my birthday and they took me out to eat. I was the only male there and I asked Ray if he could come along and “save me” from all these women. He agreed. One of the girls did not know Ray. She asked him about his childhood. In typical Raymond fashion, he said, “I was raised with the wolves and baptized in gunfire.” Her only response was, “Are you speaking to me in poetry, Ray?” Even though this is a comical story, if she had known more about his culture, it would have made more sense.
In their culture, they practiced polygamy. Typically, the gifted hunters had multiple wives. Men would go and give their daughters to men who were good hunters. They were seen as good providers. It is natural, then, that a man would want his daughter to be taken care of. With this, though, they would arrange marriages for their children even from a young age. Ray said that he was introduced to his future wife when he was eleven years old. For this arrangement to be legitimate, though, both the mother and the father must agree. Ray’s mother did not agree and the marriage was called off. He says that prior to his getting saved, he thought a curse of singleness was placed on him because, to this day, he has remained single, because he was not allowed by his mother to marry her. One can see the rationale behind why he thought this due to his prior animistic beliefs.
The next area of concern involves cross-cultural contact. It is established that hunting is vital to the Northern Ojibwe way of life. Due to this, their hunting grounds are kept secret from those who are outside. Trust is huge to their culture and one must earn it to be invited on a hunt. If an outsider is ever invited on a hunt, be extremely honored because that rarely happens – the revealing the location of the best hunting spots. Surprisingly, they, as a people, are quite culturally sensitive. Ray said that they understood that the times were changing and that it would be hard for them to be a part of the ever-changing world if they did not learn English. Due to this, Ray was sent to school as a child to learn English. This is where he learned English – in a western-style school away from his clan. He said that it was drilled into their minds from the “white-man” that if they did not make money they would not be successful in life. This was a foreign concept to him, though, for if they ever needed anything besides meat, which they acquired from their hunts, they would trade the animal skins for what they needed. This way of life made it unnecessary for them to use actual money; animal skins was their currency. This is how they traded with those outside their clan. Again, the gifted hunters were the ones who owned the most possessions in the clan.
Today, if one were to go up to Pickle Lake, Ontario, they would see spiritual darkness. Ray points out that, because many of the younger generation is not associated with their cultural background (hunting) they are idol, and because of this, have nothing to do. The men in their traditional culture spend many hours hunting. With the absence of hunting, they don’t spend as much time out in the bush. They go into town and many just sit there and get drunk. This is a common theme. Ray said that he never drank growing up because he was always out hunting. One never drinks while on the hunt. This is what the breakdown of their culture looks like – the men are idol and revert to drinking to fill the time.
When Ray came to America, he did not have any paper work. The people guessed his age by how he looked. When I met him, I asked him how old he was. He said, “They tell me I’m 40.” He had kept count of his age from the number given to him since his arrival. This is an example of what we find important compared to what their culture finds important. He does not really care how old he is. They based age upon birth order. If you were born prior to someone else, you have a higher standing in the clan then they do. Age is not important, birth order is.
Ray calls America, “Microwave society” because people don’t hunt for their food here and everything is instant gratification. Everyone is in a hurry. In his culture, time is not important to them like it is here. Yet, with this, Ray shows such cultural sensitivity because he is willing to change his name, speak a different language, and become an American. He was never late for class while we were fellow students in Minnesota. He conformed to the American way of life quite well. Having said this, though, when it came time for graduation, he did not want it. His thinking was that he did not need a piece of paper to tell him he learned the information. If he held a normal occupation here, it might be more of a problem, but he does not. He travels around the United States sharing his testimony with other Natives of how Jesus saved him. He works in rehabilitating Natives from alcoholism, and through that, shares the gospel.
He gets along with everyone and is extremely laid back. This leads to a confrontation free personality. The only real “problem” that might arise is his communication style. It takes time to get to know him. One must be patient and stick with talking to him, not giving up. Then they will begin to understand him better the more time they spend with him. One must ask many clarifying questions to get to the center of what he is meaning. The more time one spends with him, the less clarifying questions need to be asked. This was my experience with him, at least.
In conclusion, His culture is a hunter-gatherer culture that is fear-based. Because of this, the Ojibwe tribe of Northern Ontario is more animistic in their practice of their religion, yet, monotheistic in their idea of god, himself. Time revolves around the sun and not a wrist watch.