The Last Wild Indian

By | June 30, 2011

Recently my mate Lety’s Ojibwe language teacher Makoons, along with her husband Errol, stopped by to visit.

“Thirty years ago,” I told Errol, “I wanted to make a wiigwaasi jiiman [an old-time birch-bark canoe]. Someone told me about an old Ojibwe man named George McGeshick, who lived only forty miles away, near Iron River, and knew how to make birchbark canoes.”

“That was my grandpa,” said Errol.

Errol told us stories about his grandfather. McGeshick would not put his name in any tribal role, and he lived much of his life away from the reservation. He was the last wild Indian—a traditionalist, fluent speaker, and accomplished craftsman who kept the flame of the Old Way burning amidst the onslaught of boarding schools, government regulation, racism, alcohol, and extreme poverty.

Several years ago Lety had another language teacher, Robert McGeshick, who Errol said was his cousin. It then dawned on me that the George McGeshik of my past was the same George McGeshik who passed over two years ago. Robert had asked Lety to attend George’s passing over ceremony, which was conducted in the traditional way by taking out the west window of the house and passing his body out through the opening. Keewaydinoquay, one of my Elders who has also passed over, explained it as westing. The Path of Life runs from east to west and the spirits of those who have gone before us dwell in the west, the realm of wisdom and guidance.

Just before George passed away, Lety took Maani Assinewe, our Elder from the Sagamok Reserve in Canada, to see him. At first Maani and George had trouble understanding each other, because they spoke different dialects. On top of that, George, who found himself isolated in a care facility so removed from the life he lived, had largely given up on this realm. However, the stimulation of a native speaker—there were only a couple left in his band—brought him to life. They started to understand each other and carried on a lively conversation about the old days, as Maani lived traditionally like George did when she was young.

I never did get to learn canoe-making from George, I told Errol. The closest I got was finding a traditional tool maker to forge the crooked knives and awls I would need. I carefully wrapped them in oiled cloth and stored them in the rafters of my earth lodge.

The mere knowledge of George McGeshik’s existence was more a gift than any canoe-making instruction could have been. From my earliest childhood, I felt like I was the last wild Indian, and here was someone over twice my age who still lived in the woods and practiced traditional ways. I rose from the pit of hopelessness, charged with the strength to keep going.


2 Comments

eric sharp on July 30, 2011 at 1:38 pm.

Do you have any other information on The Last Wild Indian? Please send to First People, Last Word
P.O.Box 7
Brule WI 54820

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Tamarack on August 3, 2011 at 9:02 pm.

There is considerably more to the story, almost all of which I find as intriguing as the vignette I posted. I would prefer sharing it in person, as would the family. You’re welcome to stop by and we can explore possibilities. Please contact me in advance of your coming (tamarack@teachingdrum.org or 715-546-2944) and I’ll give you directions.

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