Reciprocity in gift giving…..

Someone asked me how I felt about gift giving and if such a thing existed and occurred among Neshnabek. This was my answer to them….

Node mingaswenen…..

These Neshnabék people who lived long ago understood something about the nature of giving and receiving gifts that has been forgotten in this modern world of commerce and silver and gold economics. 

Consider a gift given to you.  Something extravagant, perhaps a pricy birthday gift.  It would make you feel great, special, bring a great big smile to your face…until that person’s birthday came around.  Do you give an equally extravagant gift?  Can you afford to?  Would it make you feel bad if you couldn’t?

The idea that a gift is freely given is somewhat of a myth.  Gifts are given to strengthen bonds of friendship, family, and community.  If these gifts are given only one way, how is that bond strengthened?  No, gifts were meant to be EXCHANGED, gifts were meant to be RECIPROCATED.

The Spirit of Life has given us many gifts.  Life, this world in which we enjoy our Life, and all of the Spiritual Gifts that enhance our Life and pave the way back home to our Real Life.  So it is that our Creator is creating a relationship with us.  The Spirit has given us our Free Will and does not command our loyalty; instead, Creator gives us the choice of having a relationship with him/her.  It is through these Gifts that The Spirit offers us the opportunity of a relationship.  To continue that relationship, it behooves us to RECIPROCATE THE GIFT!!

Among the Neshnabék, it is still customary to give a gift to someone when they enter your home for the first time.  I have seen my husband do this many times, and I myself received a gift from my husband’s mother upon entering her home.  I had brought a gift for her, and we exchanged gifts, but I didn’t know at the time that I was participating in a ceremony of welcome and acceptance.  What is often forgotten is that a welcome gift received is supposed to be reciprocated, it is supposed to be exchanged.  Within a reasonable amount of time you are supposed to give a gift in exchange for the one you were given.  To not do so is an insult to the giver, a rejection of their hospitality and offer of friendship.  For the giver to request a gift in exchange is an insult as well.  Many a misunderstanding has occurred because the gift EXCHANGE was overlooked, and today, such gift giving is completely overlooked by some people.

This is the nature of Neshnabék giving:  A man approached another man at a powwow.  After exchanging pleasantries, the first man told the second man how much he admired his belt.  The second man smiled, thanked the man, and took off the belt right there on the spot and handed it to the man.  The first man was not taken aback, he simply smiled, thanked the man, and took the expensive cowboy hat off his head and handed it to the second man, who smiled and thanked the first man.  THAT is giving.

Consider this…You cannot out-give Mamogosnan.  It is said among the ones who know,  What you give in the name of the Pipe will come back to you four times.

So how does one give to the Spirit?  By giving to the people, especially to those through whom the gifts flow.

Spiritual Gifts are Gifts from the Spirit.  A Name, A Language, A Teaching, A Song, A Doctoring, A Sweat, A Prayer, all are gifts of the Spirit.  When the Spirit gives these to a person, he/she waits to see if the gift is accepted and reciprocated.  He/she waits to be told Thank You. 

For years there have been rumors among the young ones that the “Medicine People” of the Nations do not “Charge” for doctoring.  And this has been taken to mean that doctoring and other spiritual ceremonies are free.  This has been a tragic misconception that has prevented many a person from receiving the full realization of the Gifts of the Spirit.  When the Spirit gives a gift, especially the gift of Mno Bmadzewen – Life and Good Health, he/she waits to see if his/her Gift is accepted, respected, and appreciated.  If the gift is not exchanged, the full blessing of the original gift may not come to pass.  The Spirit waits for the exchange, and then returns the exchange by four times.


If a medicine person had to ask for the gift that was supposed to be given, it was considered an insult all the way around.  And that’s why even today, many Spiritual Leaders will not ask for gifts, but will simply let it go rather than insult themselves, the person requesting the ceremony, and the Spirit Him/Herself.  Others will disguise the request for a gift as a “Charge”, perhaps charging for a Language Lesson, a Book or Manual, or a Speaking Engagement, in order to protect the people from insulting themselves and the Spirit by giving nothing.

Historically, it was the misinterpretation of Neshnabék culture by certain missionaries that resulted in this misconception.  Catholic Jesuits in particular, were under a vow of Poverty, and were in direct competition with the Spiritual Leadership for the souls of the Neshnabék.  They knew that in order to win the hearts, minds, and souls of the people, they had to discredit the Spiritual Leadership in any way possible.  One way they did this was to attack the custom of giving a feast and presenting the Spiritual Leader with gifts in exchange for spiritual gifts given.  They asserted that they prayed and asked for nothing in return except their attendance in church, as their vow of poverty prevented them from accepting such extravagance.  They asserted that these “medicine men” had no business accepting gifts or any other remuneration for the work that they do.  (That which they preached was in contrast to the custom of Papal Indulgences, the custom of purchasing, yes, with MONEY, the passage of a relative from Purgatory into Heaven.) 

Interesting reading, those Jesuit Relations, the record of the conversion of many Neshnabek nations.  They speak of being attacked and burned as witches for spreading smallpox, shortly after the Catholics had terrorized Europe with witch burnings of Jews and midwives.  What goes around comes around, eh?  Yet another example of the reciprocity of the relationship between Spirit and Man, what we do in the name of our “God” will come back to us, no matter what we call him/her or how we worship him/her.

Why a physical gift?  Why not just say “Migwech” and be done?  Consider…

“If one gives things and returns them, it is because one is giving and returning “respects” – we still say “courtesies.”  Yet is also because by giving one is giving oneself, and if one gives oneself, it is because one “owes” oneself – one’s person and one’s goods – to others.”  Marcel Mauss (translated by WD Halls), The Gift:  The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, 1950.

In other words, the things that we give are imbued with a spirit, both of HE/SHE that made it initially, and he/she the human who refashioned it into a gift.  Thus when we give a gift, we are giving a piece of ourselves, and that little piece of ourselves follows that gift wherever it goes.  And that is why the Neshnabék rarely refused a gift, for to refuse a piece of someone else is a serious insult. 

What is an appropriate gift?  Séma?  The old time séma, yes.  The séma that took a YEAR to collect the appropriate ingredients and combine them in the traditional way, with the songs and prayers.  The séma that represented a YEAR’s worth of work.  Back then, Séma meant a lot more than a $3 bag of tobacco from the local smoke shop.

These days, séma is available for purchase, and there’s nothing wrong with purchasing a bag of tobacco to give to an elder in exchange for a Spiritual Gift, such as a Name, a Language Lesson, a Spiritual Teaching, Doctoring, Vision Questing, or any other Ceremony.  However, the spirit of that tobacco needs to be augmented to reflect the changing world in which we live.

A long time ago, a person could exchange séma for other resources.  Not so these days.  My husband has never been able to purchase groceries or a gallon of gas with a tobacco tie. Gifts should be meaningful and useful, for long ago, everything was useful, even the most splendidly decorated blanket was still a blanket and used as a blanket.  Food, medicines, blankets, cooking and hunting items, clothing, even raw materials like hides, gourds, flint, or shketagen were used as gifts. 

For those among you who think that to give money to an Elder for a Spiritual Gift is an insult, you couldn’t be further from the truth.  In this modern economic system, money is a substitute for the traditional gifts that would have been given long ago.  It is appropriate to give money as an augmentation to the traditional gifts that you give an Elder, because that money represents resources:  food, fuel, clothing; the same things that would have been given long ago. 

Those old ones who knew, who wanted the Nation to be strong, knew that a healthy nation took care of its Elders and Spiritual Leadership.  They knew the Source of the Power of these Leaders was not human, but divine.  The Spirit works through his/her servants, he/she uses them, as Grandpa Fools Crow so eloquently stated, as “A Hollow Bone.”  By saying thank you through the giving of a feast and gifts, the gift was given back so it could be reciprocated again.  In this way, the Gifts of the Spirit were continually flowing to the people, and the people were continually reciprocating to the Spirit.  There was a cycle, a circle, a RELATIONSHIP. 

It was that RELATIONSHIP that kept the people strong.  It is that same RELATIONSHIP that could exist today among the people, if they would only recognize the source of their Spiritual Gifts, including Life, Language, and Culture, and reciprocate appropriately.

Iw enajmoyan

Nin se Neaseno.

An old interview of my mother

Taken by Dolores Perrot

March 23, 2007

Gégo nanmeshiken                              Don’t blame me

Cho she ngi zhechkéyansi i                I didn’t do that

March 26, 2007

Bnewi o kwé kchemokman égi wiché’wa         A long time ago a woman married a white man

Mbishkik                                             Place where there is a lot of water (Marshfield)

Mami                                                   Soon (n)

Gaga                                                    Soon (s)

Kénep shote byan                               Come here quickly

March 27, 2007

Binakchegé                                          To Clean

Niskbejgé                                            To make a mess

Ggi binakton édayan                           I cleaned my house (I cleaned where I live)

Kénep gda byan shote éwi binchegéyen édayan        You should come over here quickly and clean up where I live

Msenaksegnen                                     Moving pictures – her word for Cartoons

Wabnotakchegen                                TV (something noisy you look at)

Bkweshgen                                         Bread or flour

March 29, 2007

Wibdén                                               Mouth full of teeth

Nibdén                                                My teeth (my mouth full of teeth)

Nibet                                                   One tooth

Ndon                                                   My mouth

Zegnenwagen                                      Tongue

Ndep                                                   My head

Nin je o                                               It’s mine

Gdep                                                   Your head

Gin je o                                               It’s yours

Ni je na i gdep ngom?                         How is your head today?

Mémagzedé                                         Big Foot (name for old neighbor of hers)

Wéchgshatek                                       Where the hot weather comes from

Wéchksenyak                                      Where the cold weather comes from

Ksenyaniyek                                       Northern Potawatomi (people who live in the cold)

Wapshkankwet                                   White Cloud (her mother’s name)

Mskwankwet                                      Red Cloud

Bébamsekwe                                       Traveling woman

Kchegno                                              Big Eagle

March 30, 2007

Énkwankot                                          It is cloudy

Tkanmet                                              The wind is making it feel chilly

Ksenya                                                            Cold

Tkiyamget                                           It’s cool (something)

Tkiyamget i shapkezken                     The stove is cool

Wezowen                                            Heater, wood heater

Wjandéwen                                         Cooking Stove

Shkapke’en                                         Lock

Meskedé                                              It’s expensive

April 1, 2007

Mshkomnokmek                                 Early spring, first day of spring

April 2, 2007

Cho wi kewabma nijansen                  She doesn’t watch her kids

Cho wi kiékma nijansen                      She doesn’t teach her kids right

Zhonya égi msenemak                        She borrowed money from me

Ngi we’a zhonya                                 I loaned her money

Ngi nsenema anet zhonya                   I loaned her some money

Mteno pené kyébadzik                        They are only always naughty

April 3, 2007

Zibyéngen                                           Washtub

Gwi zibyéngé                                      I will do the laundry

Zhoshkwékegen                                  Iron

Nwi zhoshkwé’an                               I am going to iron

Jegodé                                                 Skirt

Mejgodé                                              Long dress

Mejgodéyen                                        Long dresses

Biskewagen                                         Coat

Bbebgoyan                                          Man’s shirt

Ni pi je i nbiskewagen                                    Where is your shirt?

Ni pi je ni nmkeznen                           Where are your shoes?

Mekdasen                                            Leggings like they used to wear

Zibyéngen i gbiskewagen                   Wash your shirt/clothes

April 4, 2007 

Mégwa she nde bmades                      I’m still living

Gibatashen o dabyan                          That car got stuck

Éshcegéwat                                         What they are doing

Nbadwéwéges                                    You are making too much noise

Gi bbonimget shote                            It snowed here

Ksenyamget                                        It’s cold

Neshnabé ne gi?                                  Are they Indians?
Gégo gwi gishton                                Don’t or I’ll spank you

April 5, 2007

Cho she apje wenseson

Éjedweshen (person)                           Upside down (person)

Jedwesen (object)                                Upside down (object)

Jedwesen ode dopwen                        Table is upside down

Jedwesen ode jibtebwen                     Chair is upside down

Jedweshen o gigyago                          Girl is upside down

Kiwades                                              Lonely

Gego Kiwadzeken                              Don’t be lonely

April 6, 2007

Nde penmo                                          I depend on him

Nde penmontak                                   He depends on me

Nde pendmondon                               I depend on you

Nde penmondowak                             I depend on him

April 8, 2007

Tkeykaboyak mbish                            Cool Water

Gshatebotek mbish                              Hot Water

Naden i tkeykaboyak mbish                Bring me some cool water

April 9, 2007

Nde shtotum?                                      Cough

Ngi wnendan i                                     I forgot it

Gego nendemoken                              Don’t forget

Gego nendemoken émbiwéyen           Don’t forget to water (reference use the bathroom)

Niézanya                                             It’s dangerous (sounds like lasagna)

Wéneshkan                                          I get up

Bsegwin                                              Rise Up

Waben                                                 It’s morning

Ngi gteine zheshen                              I got _____________

Shabnegen                                           Needle

Moshwagen                                         Scissors

Sebab                                                  Rope

Pe’égwason                                         Patch it up

Ni pe’egwas i waboyan                      I will patch up that blanket

Wabaksikwe                                        (Name)

April 10, 2007

Éngemot                                              She is singing

Pkwakik                                              Mountain

Kwédakik                                           Hill

April 11, 2007

Ngiwzheton                                        I put it together/I made it

Ngiwzheton nmechgodé                     I put my dress together/I made my dress

Ngiwzheton i waboyan                       I put that blanket together/I made that blanket

Ngi mnoston                                       I fixed it, I assembled it

Ngi mnoston wa je wjandayan           I fixed it/assembled it what I will be cooking on

April 12, 2007 

Mkwom                                               Ice

Wewnezi                                             (Name), beautiful water

April 13, 2007

Éankenotwet                                       An interpreter

Yankenotweshen                                You come explain it to me

Nagech                                                Soon

Mami she byan                                   Come back early

Nagech she byan                                 Don’t be gone long

Nomye                                                Not very long ago

Nomye wi byéwak                              Not long ago he came

Nomek                                                In a little while

Nomek she gchikas                             In a little while you can play

Nomek she ge kewabem o Gasknezos            Watch Whisper for a little while

Nin washmo                                        I’m going to rest

Byéwashmon                                      Come and rest

Jibdeben éwashmoyan                        Sit down and rest

Bokto                                                  Pear

Mechgodé                                           Dress

April 16, 2007

Bama                                                   Wait

Bwitshen                                             Wait for me

Babwichkén                                        Wait

April 17, 2007 

Ni gishkshkwa ode                             I will cut this

Ni gishkshkwa ode mshimen              I will cut this apple

April 19, 2007 

Ik she she anwe

Yabyétze o nemosh                             That dog is lazy

Yagwatze                                            Crazy

Segdebé                                              Curly Top

Génozi                                                 Tall (man’s name)

Génozet                                               The tall one/He/she is tall

Gish’kakwéwgemgok                         Lumber Camp (where they cut that wood)

Gi nizhokmago émikchéwiyan o gigabéyek  — They helped me when I worked those boys

Gego k’kezoken                                  Don’t hide

Ék’kezot ode gigyago                         This girl is hiding

Kyébadze ode gigyagos                      This little girl is mischievous

April 23, 2007

Zaskokwanpenyék                              Fried potatoes (French fries)

Penyek gi zaskokwanak                      Potatoes that were fried

Bkwéshgen zaskokwadé                     Frybread

Nodoyé                                               Always getting mad

Nodoyé ode Gasknezos                      Little Whisper is always getting mad

Gégo, gwi wépodon!                          Don’t, or I’ll spank you!

April 25, 2007

Wi nisé                                                She will fall

Gwi nisa                                              You will fall

Gi nisé                                                 She fell

Gego maziken                                     Don’t climb around

Gego kwedaziken                               Don’t climb (like stairs or trees)

April 26, 2007 

Bneksegnek                                        Hominy

Mdamennabo                                      corn soup

April 27, 2007 

Ni nana o neaseno                               I’m going after Neaseno

Ni nana o kiwekemokwe                    I’m going after Ruthiye

Wegni nedwendemen                         

Nsodebegenek                                     3:00

Mdatso shech nyannen                        15

Ngotosek                                             1000

Zisbakwet                                           Sugar

Washpek                                             Something sweet

Démenen                                             Strawberries

Mkedémnek                                        Blackberries

Mkedéneni                                          Black man

Mshimen                                             Apple

Mshimenek                                          Apples

Mshimenek gwi mwak                       You will eat apples

Bshewkwen                                        Cows

Gokoshek                                            pigs

Enemokwe                                          a name

Kchegno                                              another name

Ojmin                                                  oatmeal

Kwenago                                             yesterday woman (a name)

Penabo                                                Potato soup

Penyek                                                potatoes

Penyek ne gwi mwak?                        You want to eat some potatoes?

Penabo ne gwi mijen?                         You want to eat some potato soup?

Penyek ne gwi giswa                          You gonna cook potatoes?

Mdamnabo                                          corn soup

Ngi mdagway

May 3, 2007 

Gizhgokwe                                          a name

Wédajwen                                           another name

Neaseno                                              something windy (a name)

Gizhgeni                                              a name, morning star, older form

Mabis                                                  a name, gathers water, diminished one

Ni pi je éshyayen                                Where are you going

Ni je pi wa zhyayen                            When are you going

Ni jo pi yawik ga byayen?                  What time was it when you came?

Penojek                                               kids

Ni pi je gi penojek ezhyawat?             Where are those kids going?

Win ndo wabem o wawjanek             Go look for a cook

Gishpen gwa zhyan boskwabnen…..   or I will roll you down the hill

Bodewadmi emawjedit                      

May 4, 2007

Yayeno                                                laugh

Zhomigwé                                           smile

Aishogishek/Edwegishek                    Both sides of the sky

Zhawne’en                                          South wind (woman’s name)

Zhabwas                                              See right through it (woman’s name)

Enobi                                                   a name, brings water

Egawni                                                a name, stands certainly

May 7, 2007

Medagwendan ewi wisnewat              They like to go out to eat

Nkiwades                                            I’m lonely

Kchetetbesé                                        The big wheel

Zhonya                                                money

Wishkpeno                                          She’s sweet

Gasknezos wishkpeno                         Little Whisper is sweet

May 8, 2007

Nagech she byan                                 Don’t be gone long/come back soon (S)

Mami she byan                                   Don’t be gone long/come back soon (N)

Nagech – Southern, Mami – Northern

Gmesé mbéwak                                   Your big sister is sleeping

Gshimé                                                Little sister

Emijyek ngom nake wabek

Eating Vocabulary

Wisne                                      Eat

Gimodanjegé                            Eat something secretly VAI

Gimodanjegé                            Eat something stealthily VAI

Dangam                                   Eat a bit of something, Sample it VTA

Gidanwé                                  Eat all of someone’s food  VAI

Gidamo                                   Eat all of someone (VTA) like a whole bird

Gidan                                      Eat all of something VTI

Geshéba wisnewen                   Breakfast

Geshéba wisne                         Eat Breakfast

Niba wisnewen                        Evening Food

Niba wisne                               Eat at nite

Nagozhi wisnewen                   Dinner

Nagozhi wisne                         Eat Dinner

Dépseni                                   Eat enough/Make someone eat enough VAI

(da) de mijen                            Eat enough of something VTI

Gijagnegé                                 Eat everything up VAI

Adopo                                     Eat from something VAI

Nawkwé wisnewen                  Lunch

Nawkwé wisne                         Eat Lunch VAI

Mowa                                      Eat somebody (VTA)

Gidamo                                   Eat Somebody up VTA

Bedanjegé                                Eat Slowly  VAI

Inanjegé                                   Eat someone VAI

Dananjegé                                Eat s.p.  VAI

Mijen                                       Eat something

Ge geshéba mijen                     Eat something for Breakfast VTI

Nawkwé mijen                         Eat something for lunch  VTI

Nagozhi mijen                          Eat something for supper VTI

Jagan                                       Eat something up

Mno wanjegé                           Eat well VAI

Abanjegé                                 Eat something using something VAI

Widopangé                              Eat with others VAI

Widopa mijen                          Eat with others VAI

Mijnen jigamjegé                      Eat with fingers VAI

Widopam                                 Eat with somebody VTA

Majimwisne                             Begin to eat (VAI)

Wéwébwisne                           Start to eat (VAI)

Shema                                     Give something to somebody to eat VTA
Ashemangé                              Give to eat (VAI)

Newebdan wisnewen                Search for something to eat (VAI)

Mijem                                      Something Eatable

Aptadbeket mijem                    Midnight snack J