Friday, November 21, 2014

The Lansdowne Letters: Lessons in Ojibway

When my father 
arrived in Lansdowne House
to teach in the fall of 1960,
he began studying the Ojibway language
almost immediately.

Dad's School
Church of England Indian Day School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

He could not have had a better teacher
than Father Maurice Ouimet.

Father Ouimet was a French Canadian priest 
of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. 
He devoted a selfless thirty-seven years 
to working among the Indians of Lansdowne House.

Passionate about promoting literacy among the Indians,
Father Ouimet spent time teaching them
to write Ojibway in Syllabics.

Father Maurice Ouimet, OMI
with my father, Donald MacBeath
Fall, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Syllabics is a  Canadian Aboriginal writing system 
that uses symbols to represent consonant sounds.

An English missionary James Evans developed Syllabics 
when he worked among the Swampy Cree and Ojibwe 
in Northern Ontario and Manitoba in the 1830s and 1840s.

Father Ouimet gave weekly 
language lessons to my father,
mostly by writing Ojibway phonetically 
using the English alphabet,
but he also taught my father 
some of the Ojibway words using Syllabics.

 Myntne Nouise
Myrtle Louise
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue

All Rights Reserved

On Wednesday, September 28, 1960,
my father wrote:
I had another session with the Father 
in an effort to learn some more of the Ojibway language.  

I will be letting you know 
what words I learned in a few moments; 
but first, permit me 
a short dissertation on the language.  

The first thing you have to realize is 
that there is no alphabet in Ojibway.  
The language is written in Syllabics 
which is a form of hieroglyphics, 
and the words that I write to you 
are just the Indian sounds 
translated phonetically into English.  

It is an effort by the white man 
to try to fit his alphabet into a language 
that has no alphabet of its own.  

Another thing to remember 
is that all the English sounds 
aren’t present in Ojibway.  

For instance there are no “r” or “l” sounds, 
both sounds becoming n in Ojibway.  

Consequently, the name “Roland,” when translated, 
becomes Nonant, and “Roy” would be Noy.

  Noyan Stewant
Royal Stewart
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

However, the Indians are starting to use 
all the linguistic sounds of the white man.  
It is only when they try to write these sounds 
into Syllabics that they have trouble.  

Also “b” becomes p in Syllabics, 
“d” becomes t
and “f “becomes v.

My name translated into Syllabics becomes Tonant.  
Well, here are the new words:

Tipiki Kisis--------------moon (night sun)
Washekwon------------It is sunny.
Kimiwan-----------------It is raining, or it is rainy.
Sokipon------------------It is snowing.
Waiab--------------------cord or string (You can see that the
rainbow is literally cord of the sun.)
Mino Kishegaw--------It is a very nice day (or it is a nice day).
Matchi Kishegaw------It is a very bad day (stormy).
Wakaiganens-----------small or little house
Wakaiganish------------run down house, or poor house
Ikuesens-----------------girl (little woman)
Ikues----------------------woman or wife
Anishinabe--------------man (single)
Nabe----------------------man (married)
Nikosis-------------------my son
Kikosis-------------------your son
Notonis-------------------my daughter
Kitonis--------------------your daughter

Your name in syllabics, Sara, would be Sana
and yours, Mother, Myrtle that is, would be Myntne.

  Nouise with Nopenta Anne 
Finding Bertie and me apart is a challenge.
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Louise would be Nouise.  
Barbara would be Panapana.  
Roberta would be Nopenta.
Roy’s full name would be Noyan Stewant.  

Barbie’s full name is cute:  
Panapana Enna (Barbara Ella).

Panapana Enna 
Barbara Ella
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Below my signature, 
I am going to type two English words, 
then the same two in phonetic Ojibway, 
and then the same word in Syllabics.  
By the way, Ojibway translated 
into Syllabics
becomes Ojipway.

Bye now,
Love , 
Tonant (Don)

On Thursday, September 29, 1960,
my father added:
I didn’t forget Donnie 
when I was giving you all the names in Ojibway.

It is just that I figured 
that you could figure her name 
from my name and yours Sara; 
then I got thinking that 
the poor little dear might feel slighted 
if she didn’t see her name, which would be Sana Tonanta.

Sana Tonanta
Sara Donalda
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


We Five, Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
Grammie's Backyard, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


  1. You were all just so darn cute! The only word I recognized is "anishinaabe" because that's how the Ojibway/Swampy Cree people refer to themselves now -- Anishinaabe First Nation.

    1. Thanks, Debra! I think all kiddos are cute! I've been rereading Joseph Boyden's "Three Day Road," and I've just begun "Through Black Spruce", its sequel. The main characters are Cree from the Moosenee area, and they have some interaction from the Ojibwe group that we knew. They to refer to themselves as Anishinaabe. I've been looking at the Ojibwe language sites on line, and there is so much variation in spelling. It's quite fascinating. I always wanted to return to the North, but life had a different course for me. It's so much fun to be working with my dad's papers. Have a great weekend, Debra!

  2. Those N's sure get around, if one was ever confused with the language just add an n and hope for the best lol

    1. Just like that ~ you found the key to the language. Lots of NNNs! Have a great weekend, Pat!

  3. Hi Myntne Nouise, Its Panapana Enna, I remember Father Ouimet - what a wonderful man. I remember when he lead the snowmobile section of the torch run for the 1988 Winter Oympics I was up off the coach cheering with tears in my eyes even before they announced who he was - I hadn't seen him in almost 30 years but I recognized him immediately :) Loved the photos too - Hugs Barb

    1. Hey Panapana Enna! I'm so happy to know that you remember such a special person. Father Ouimet is mythic in my mind. He had a huge impact on me, and still does. I often touch the carved bird on driftwood that he gave me (made by an Indian in Lansdowne House). I love the photos too. Part of me misses those days when we were all kids together. In so many ways we had a wonderful childhood. I remember Father Ouimet taking you and me home from one of the movies he showed on Saturday nights. It was way, way below zero, and he didn't think that you and I should walk home across the ice ~ so he took us on his skidoo. I'll never for get the squeaky cold, the dark starry sky, the white ice, black spruce, and howling dogs, and the thrill of riding with Father Ouimet on his skidoo. Have a great weekend. I'm not at Parkway tonight ~ the E-P is under the weather. :( I thinks it's a movie night for me! I call you this weekend! Hugs back at you!

  4. Wow! Syllabics seems so difficult ! .. yet so Intriguing.. Cute pictures :)

    1. Thanks, Dawna! Syllabics does seem difficult, but it was very successful in the North. The Indians quickly became literate when they were able to write Ojibwe with symbols. I wish I had been older when I was in Lansdowne House because I would have enjoyed studying the language. Have a great weekend! I'll be catching up ~ again. It's that crazy, wonderful holiday time of year. Take care!

  5. Another amazing post! Lovely photos.

    1. Thank you, Linda! You're so kind! Have a happy, happy weekend. I'll be catching up on you blog (and probably laughing very hard) this weekend!

  6. Syllabics sounds interesting. I once learned the International Phonetic Alphabet for a linguistics class. I enjoyed it.


    1. I bet that was fascinating, Janie! I took a linguistics course years ago, but we didn't learn something useful like that. I do remember having fun writing a paper on Newfoundland English. We also learned how language was used to keep women in their place! Very 70s! My language became saltier after that course! Have a great weekend.

  7. Hello from Tipiki Kisis Dance Ranch. I am wishing you a weekend full of Kisis, not kon.

    1. Good morning, Terry, and what fun to see your comment! No kon please! Think of poor Buffalo and Upper State New York! Have a great weekend!

  8. How interesting to read about the language. The syllabics are fascinating. What fun to see the names for the kids. The camp I attended (in Algonquin Park had Indian tribe names for the different age groups. The youngest group were the Ojibways and the oldest group were the Cree!

    1. Hi Dreaming! Happy sunny Saturday morning to you. I would have enjoyed that camp. I did go to a wilderness Girl Guide Camp on Lake of the Woods near Kenora, Ontario that was fabulous. It was a small group of us (5 or 6), along with our leader, because one of the girls was getting her Pioneer Badge. I made all this furniture out of sticks and rope. We had a blast! Thanks for bringing up all those memories for me this morning!

  9. That first picture of you absolutely portrays the character that I have sensed and enjoyed since discovering your blog but I loved all the family photos. How neat to see your siblings and imagine the pleasure all of you took in reading your father's letters. Also, fascinating to understand (a little) of the difference between syllabics and Ojibway phonetic writing. Another thing that struck me was the easy friendship between your father and Father Ouimet. Two kindred spirits, I think. Thanks, Louise.. loved the post!

    1. Hi Carol! Thank you for your lovely comment. And forgive me for being so behind. Got a sick hubby, baking for Thanksgiving, and Christmas, etc. etc. I will be catching up. Father Ouimet and Dad were kindred spirits! Have a happy, happy weekend!

  10. Another wonderful post, Louise! And I love all the photos you've shared. How cute you all were.

    1. Thanks, Martha! I just love old family photos, and I'm sure you have many that you treasure too! Enjoy your week!

  11. This is so sweet, Louise! I get the feeling that your father had a sense of humour? And he realized that this 'language lesson' would get chuckles out of you kids!
    Loved the pic of you, Louise.......ready for anything!
    Another treasure was recorded and shared. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Jim! Dad had humor in spades! How to make a language lesson appealing ~ with your name of course. We still laugh over Panapana Enna! Poor Barb! And Dad was right, of course, Sana Tonanta's cute little nose would have been out of joint if he hadn't spelled her name out too! But you know how that is ~ You come from a large family too! Have a great week. I'm burning the midnight oil finishing up tomorrow's post ~ which you will not want to miss!

  12. That kid photo of you is the best! It shows the same spirited, happy gal that I know and admire today. And, by reading your blog about your dad's experiences while living at Lansdowne House, I am getting to know YOU better. Can't wait until your next post!

    1. Thank you for your sweet comment, Susan! You made my day! Have a happy week, my friend!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.