One man’s story of growing up in the hunting and gathering society of the Ojibways and surviving the residential school system, woven together with traditional legends in their original language. Members of Eli Baxter’s generation are the last of the hunting and gathering societies living on Turtle Island. They are also among the last fluent speakers of the Anishinaabay language known as Anishinaabaymowin. Aki-wayn-zih is a story about the land and its spiritual relationship with the Anishinaabayg, from the beginning of their life on Miss-koh-tay-sih Minis (Turtle Island) to the present day. Baxter writes about Anishinaabay life before European contact, his childhood memories of trapping, hunting, and fishing with his family on traditional lands in Treaty 9 territory, and his personal experience surviving the residential school system. Examining how Anishinaabay Kih-kayn-daa-soh-win (knowledge) is an elemental concept embedded in the Anishinaabay language, Aki-wayn-zih explores history, science, math, education, philosophy, law, and spiritual teachings, outlining the cultural significance of language to Anishinaabay identity. Recounting traditional Ojibway legends in their original language, fables in which moral virtues double as survival techniques, and detailed guidelines for expertly trapping or ensnaring animals, Baxter reveals how the residential school system shaped him as an individual, transformed his family, and forever disrupted his reserve community and those like it. Through spiritual teachings, historical accounts, and autobiographical anecdotes, Aki-wayn-zih offers a new form of storytelling from the Anishinaabay point of view.
2022 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.