People & Culture

Languages of the land: Aimée Craft on mino-bimaadiziwin, the good life

 In the second part of the “Languages of the Land” digital series, the Anishinaabe-Métis academic, lawyer, artist and changemaker speaks to Canadian Geographic on understanding Anishinaabe concepts by speaking the language

  • Published Apr 07, 2024
  • Updated Apr 11
  • 690 words
  • 3 minutes
Aimée Craft speaks with CanGeo associate editor Abi Hayward at the Canadian launch of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. (Photo: still from video by Daniel Arian/Canadian Geographic)
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My name is Aimée Craft. I’m from Treaty One territory and the city of Winnipeg in Manitoba.  

On a word in Anishinaabemowin and why it’s meaningful

It’s difficult to choose one word! So, in the Anishinaabe language — which is verb-based and very complex… it’s very descriptive — the words are connected to each other and are generally focused around sentence speaking. But one concept that stands out in terms of Anishinaabe worldview and way of life is mino-bimaadiziwin. 

Bimaadiziwin is the word for “life.” And mino is a word for “good”. And so when we put those two together, it’s “a good life.” But what that actually means is a collective sense of well-being and looking out for one another, being in good relationship with each other and trying to ensure this, this collectivized sense of well-being that flows from doing things in an Anishinaabe way. So right at the center of the language, of the conceptualization, is that idea of life and having this collective good life. 

On mino-bimaadiziwin and “the good life” for everyone

And actually, you know, we add prefixes to words to, to make them possessive or, you know, they relate to the group. And, when it comes to that concept of mino-bimaadiziwin we can’t appropriate it to the individual, there is no prefix that tells us that it’s individual or collective. It is absolutely collective. So we actually drop that linguistically from the word, because it’s understood that my well-being is dependent on a collective well-being. So mino-bimaadiziwin exists as a concept in its entirety, as a collective concept.

“What better way to live than to be responsive to the places, and the languages from the land that you’re living on?”

On hopes for the International Decade of Indigenous languages

I think the decade offers an opportunity to revitalize, rematriate, learn, promulgate languages, disseminate them. And what I think that means is creating fluency amongst speakers and Indigenous people, but also having a recognition externally of what the languages are that belong to the territory itself. 

So: speaking Indigenous languages and understanding concepts that are so intimately related to the land is not reserved only to Indigenous people, but a responsibility of everyone who is living and working and being on territory. So when we think about places that name themselves, that give us their own name descriptively, then we can think about: what are our responsibilities to that —and bring everybody into that fold. 

My hope is that in ten years we’ll be celebrating Indigenous languages, celebrating an increase in fluent speakers, the retention of those languages, but also a sense of collective responsibility towards those languages and hearing those languages, Indigenous languages, in their places, spoken by everyone. 

On why this is doable

In Aotearoa [Maori: New Zealand], Maori language is spoken by Pākehā people [New Zealanders of European descent]. I know words in Maori because I’ve been there and everyone refers to those concepts. Like a waka is… you could say “canoe,” but everyone in Aotearoa actually refers to the waka by its Maori name. And so it becomes normalized. It becomes part of how we live day to day. And what better way to live than to be responsive to the places, and the languages from the land that you’re living on? 

It becomes normalized. It becomes part of the everyday, it becomes part of our minds and hopefully it becomes part of our spirit. Our heart, too. Speaking from the heart is a concept that’s known throughout the world. But speaking from the heart in Indigenous languages connects us in really important ways and connects us to the land and the waters.

Listen to Aimée talk about understanding Anishinaabe concepts by speaking the language with French subtitles here: Languages of the land: Aimée Craft

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