Saginaw Chippewa community honors, thanks tribal military veterans at feast

One of the most-used words in the Saginaw Chippewa’s Ojibwe language is “meegwetch,” meaning thank you.

During a feast Friday evening with military veteran tribal members, “meegwetch” was used to thank veterans; both those who prepared the meal and those honoring the veterans with applause.

“They all took their vows and signed that piece of paper to give their lives for this country,” said George Martin, a tribal member and Korean War veteran. “We fought for this Mother Earth that you’re walking on … Mother Earth of the United States.”

About 80 people attended the event at Elijah Elk Cultural Center Ceremonial Building, 7957 E. Remus Road, sponsored by the Seventh Generation program. The veterans were honored and given a shield with a turtle meticulously drawn in the center.

Before a line formed for the feast, a traditional drum song was performed from the corner of the room. Centuries-old vocal notes were sung in passionate bursts, metered by the echoing thud of the leather drum.

Seventh Generation Program Interim Director Ben Hinmon also honored the men and women who participated in the Oct. 12 repatriation ceremony for 120 ancient remains that were held at the University of Michigan.

Participants of the ceremony were given a star on a certificate of appreciation, meant to be worn on the lapel of their jackets and shirts. Hinmon said the idea of how to honor them was adopted from Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement. Banks wore five of the stars in a circle on his lapel. He told Hinmon that it’s an example of his living a five-star Ojibwe life.

“Our creator brings some of us back (from war) to make sure the children and the women are taken care of,” Martin said. “The creator did not put us down here to beat our women or children.”

Hinmon helped form the tribe’s men’s society, a gathering of men who discuss the issues within the tribe and take action against the negative currents in their tribe. Hinmon mentioned the number of tribal youth who have died in the past year, including 13 young men from September 2011 to 2012. The idea of the men’s society, Hinmon said, was to give the youth a sense of belonging.

“I have a whole box of these things because that’s how many men and women were involved in this,” Hinmon said, regarding the lapel stars.

Hinmon said about 70 men are involved with the men’s society.

“There’s some beautiful work happening in our community,” Hinmon said.

Martin said the spirit of their songs and prayers connect to humanity. He added, “there’s things we always say at the end of a song, a prayer and the end of a meal” that translates to “to all our relatives.”

Then he concluded his speech with “meegwetch.”


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