My name is Nio Gishic Goo Ikwe aka Maryellen Baker. I am Lynx Clan, and was born and raised on the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) reservation. As the founder of Abiinooji Aki Cultural Healing Center, I wanted to share the story of how Abiinooji Aki came to be and also share our current projects.
In 1979, I sobered up after many years of drinking and using drugs. I was asked to work as the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Alcohol and Drug Abuse (AODA) counselor/ therapist. During those days, there were no traditional Native American mental health services available in Indian Country. After 5 years, I received my AODA State Certification. I continued working for the LCO Tribe until 1992.
Around 1985, I was still working for in AODA for the tribe and I had a dream about an A-frame log home on a plot of land. I saw a sweatlodge that was sitting further back behind the house. Native women were sitting around the lodge singing, laughing, doing beadwork, and children were happily playing with each other. Then I saw this shiny raised path that led to the log house. I stepped on that path and started walking towards the house. As I came closer to the log house, I saw women who represented the three remaining sacred colors (Yellow, Black, & White). They were crying and wailing, and pleading with me to help them. I turned to the Native (Red) women around the sweatlodge and said, “You women, help your sisters over here” and I woke up.
In my earlier years, I learned my paternal Grandmother Boodoon (Rose Baker) owned 10 acres of land. When she passed away, my father, his three brothers and one sister were heirs to her 10 acres.
In 1948, my father was killed which left me, my mother and my brothers as heirs to his share of the 10 acres. I was heir to one 1/8th of 1/5th of those ten acres. Years passed and I noticed that my brothers, aunt, uncles, and cousins didn’t seem to want their land. No one expressed interest in doing anything with the land.
For many years, I kept an eye on the land. More time passed, and still there was no family interest in the property; so I approached them and asked if I could buy their interest. Over time, they all sold me their shares. I did not realize what I was in for when it came to the process of purchasing and changing the deed.
From the very beginning, the purchasing process was painfully drawn out, tedious, and time-consuming for all individuals involved. I had to work with each family member and through several Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) offices.
My mother passed during those later years. When it came to my 6 brothers and me, we each had 1/7th interest of 1/5th of 10 acreage. Some of my relatives had a lesser amount. Each and every time I bought an interest that BIA ritual was staring right at me. On and on it went for many years. I have a lot of deeds!
In 1982, we introduced the first Anishinaabe Way Conference. I began to hold retreats and gatherings on the back 3 acres of the land. We held four retreats a year: The Anishinaabe Way, The Anishinaabe Way Youth Conference, Healing the Healers, Grieving, and the Women’s Gathering. We received many requests to hold special groups/retreats for Cultural and Spiritual Teachings, and there were those who requested specific ceremonies, like Naming and Healing ceremonies.
The Abiinooji Aki grounds later became known throughout all the Tribes as the LCO Cultural Healing Center. For many years we held retreats, workshops and ceremonies; and we’ve helped many people from all walks of life, and from all around the world.
By the spring of 1991, I had a sweat lodge, teaching lodge and fire lodge built behind where the future A-Frame house was to stand. I continued to put on the Anishinaabe Way Conferences.
In 1992, I hired a log builder and began to build my dream A-frame house. I moved into the house during the fall of 1993. That’s another whole new story, but in the end it turned out to be a great time. For the last 10 years we’ve opened the Cultural Healing Center to the homeless and anyone wishing to change their lifestyle to a healthier positive way of life.
We’ve taken on another task of breathing life into another dream of healing women to enable them to stand up for water. The dream of bringing these women together to heal came to me about 8 years ago. In it, I was to gather 5,000 women together to talk for the water, clean water. In the dream I was to help women with traditional information on water, provide an avenue for healing, and teach about advocacy and standing up for water. It’s been a tremendous task and a great spiritual journey for me. I’ve learned so much about the spirit of the water and her amazing power of giving and sustaining life. I want to share what I’ve learned with all who’ll listen.
The dream manifested into the Women and Water Coming Together for Clean Water Symposium. Today, we have a core group of 8 individuals who’ve dedicated their time and energy to the dream, and are determined to make this dream a reality.
I say to each reader:
We need it to live, but I’m finding out that water is the last thing on most people’s mind today. There are so many other distractions and things that are wrong on all levels. Every month, there are marches for this and for that; Black Lives Matter, marches against police brutality, Women’s marches were held across the nation for Our Lives and the #MeToo movement – which is not just about the president but also a chance for women to join a cultural upheaval around sexual abuse issues, and even our youth have raised their voices and marched in support of stricter gun control. Changing weather patterns continue to worsen and cause negative ripple effects that stretch across Mother Earth. When will we wake up and realize we can’t live without water, clean water? When you’re walking down the street, are you holding a plastic bottle of Nestle water? How much did it cost you?
Miigwech for listening and thinking about what I’ve shared.
Nio gishic goo Ikwe, (Woman of four skies)