This article was written by Benjamin R. Grignon, our 2021 NWO Visiting Scholar Award recipient. Grignon is working on his Doctorate of Education in First Nations Education at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and is focusing on integrating the stories of his people to educate his students. His study was titled "John Olof Viking and Johan Baner: Documenting early Indigenous Oral Traditions in Upper Michigan."
Pōsōh! Benjamin Grignon eneq a͞eswīhsiyan. Ka͞eyas Mamāceqtawak eneq nēc-
pemātesēwak. I have been on a research journey that began with a visit to the Kitch-iti-
ki-pi Spring near Manistique, Michigan. The place is spiritual and I knew that my people,
the Menominee (Menomini), must have stories, songs, and language around this
magical place in our traditional homelands. I was intrigued and started looking for
anything I could find about this spring in the published Menominee ethnologies written
with no luck. During an online book search, I happened to come across a pamphlet
called Medicine-Water, Mashkiq’kiu-Ne’Pish written by Johan Baner, who was given the
name “Inaq’tek Atanoq’ken” ("The wise Raven that sings the legends and myths" by an
“Arapaho-Menomini prophet” named Mianisee (Little Owl). I knew that there must be
archival material somewhere and my research led me first to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan and then to the archive at Augustana. Some inquiry
e-mails to Ms. Lisa Huntsha led me to applying for the Dagmar & Nils William Olsson
Visiting Scholar Award.
After hearing the news that I was awarded this visiting scholarship, I had big
expectations for my visit to the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center in July of 2021. I was in search of connections to oral histories shared with John Olof Viking and Johan Baner by my people. In the John Olof Viking papers, I found a complete
unpublished manuscript by Johan Baner titled Mianisee. This find was extremely
exciting. It was a look into who Mianisee was and how these men from Sweden learned how to communicate with him in the late 1800s-early 1900s. I was fascinated by how well these men understood our language and were able to transcribe these tales into English and Swedish while maintaining the Menominee, Anishinaabe, and other Great Lakes tribal languages.
Looking through the letters from Johan Baner to John Olof Viking would have
been impossible for me without the translation application suggested by the head of
genealogical services, Jill Seaholm. I was nervous at first reading the letters written in
Swedish. I decided to carefully scan through the letters looking for Menominee words,
which were surprisingly abundant! I was expecting talk between these Swedish scholars
about Menominee legends and language, but what I found was they adopted our
language into their vocabulary. They greeted each other in the same way the men of my
people still do today, refering to each other as “ne’at” (my brother)! They even use the
correct form of the word when referring directly to another person.
Returning home caused me to think deeply about the convergence of cultures. I
am going to look closely at our language in the future to see if there might be Swedish
influence, especially in materials collected among my people in Upper Michigan. The
next step in my research will be to share the stories collected by Baner and Viking with
my elders and our tribal knowledge keepers. I will connect with one of our eldest elders
to talk about her mother and grandmother who walked from the Upper Michigan area to
our current reservation after our Menominee Reservation was established. Will she
remember hearing the stories of Kitch-iti-ki-pi when she was young? I will also journey
to the Bentley Historical Library after it opens back up to researchers outside of the
University of Michigan (current COVID restrictions)
I want to say wa͞ewa͞enen to Jill and Lisa for hosting me and making me feel
welcome at the Swenson Center. Wa͞ewa͞enen to the people of Rock Island who were gracious and friendly. And wa͞ewa͞enen to Dag Blanck and the Swenson Center
Advisory Committee for seeing the value in this research. Eneq.