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Sounding Thunder: The Stories of Francis Pegahmagabow

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Brian D. McInnes, Professor, Department of Education, University of Minnesota Duluth 

Francis Pegahmagabow (1889–1952), a member of the Ojibwe nation, was born in Shawanaga, Ontario. Enlisting at the onset of the First World War, he became the most decorated Canadian Indigenous soldier for bravery and the most accomplished sniper in North American military history. After the war, Pegahmagabow settled in Wasauksing, Ontario. He served his community as both chief and councillor and belonged to the Brotherhood of Canadian Indians, an early national Indigenous political organization. Francis proudly served a term as Supreme Chief of the National Indian Government, retiring from office in 1950. (From University of Manitoba Press)

Sounding Thunder largely emerged from research I did as a university student back in the 1990s. I was interested in the connection between storytelling and land-based life-experience, and the Elders I visited were quite generous in helping me understand the history of the community. I worked closely with two of Francis Pegahmagabow’s children, Duncan and Marie, who took the opportunity to share with me many of their father’s stories and experiences. I had always hoped to write some kind of book specifically about Francis but this possibility evaded me after the recordings were lost during a series of moves. This material remained lost for well over decade. When these recordings finally resurfaced, I felt the impetus to do something now, while I had the opportunity.

Sounding Thunder is based on a number of stories that Duncan and Marie told me about their father’s life. I transcribed many of the key narratives, and translated them into English. There was quite a variety of different stories, including traditional legends, teachings, war recollections, and even a love story. However, without the proper historical, cultural, political and social context, the narratives seemed disconnected and incomplete. The notes I wrote contextualizing each of these stories eventually become the various chapters that constitute Sounding Thunder.

Writing Sounding Thunder was an extraordinary experience that helped me fulfill my great aunt’s and uncle’s wishes to more broadly share their father’s story. By the time I wrote the book, virtually everyone featured in its pages had long passed on. It is a significant tribute to some great people, and an important way to more broadly share some of Francis’s stories, teachings and perspectives. I think my favorite part of both the research and the writing process was how encouraging and helpful everyone was. The encouragement, love and kindness shown to me was a continuing testament to the values that the Ojibwe Anishinaabe people have always tried to live by. My grandmother, Priscilla Pegahmagabow, was extremely helpful to me throughout the project, gently correcting any errors in language or historical facts. Being able to read to her from the newly-released book shortly before she passed away is something I will always cherish.

My hope is that Sounding Thunder will help herald in a new genre of mainstream Canadian literature that puts Indigenous languages and cultural perspectives first. In this important moment of reflection, as we consider what the last 150 years have meant for Native peoples in the country, it is clear that new paradigms are necessary if Indigenous languages, cultures, and perhaps even identities, are to thrive or even survive. Sounding Thunder shares some important thoughts on pre-Confederation history, place names and prophecy. It reminds us of some of the important contributions that Indigenous people such as Francis Pegahmagabow have made to Canadian life and the dehumanizing policies and restrictions that were placed on their lives. Sounding Thunder, and works like it, can bring the voices of Indigenous Canadians forward into the present, when we may all be finally ready to listen.

Brian D. McInnes is a faculty member in the Department of Education at the University of Minnesota Duluth. A member of the Wasauksing First Nation, McInnes is a great-grandson of Francis Pegahmagabow.

 

 

 

 

 

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