Boozhoo. Ozhaashko Bines ndigo, Name ndoodem, Gojijiing ndoonji.
In Ojibwe, the above phrase translates to: "Hello, the spirits know me as Ozhaashko Bines. My clan is the Sturgeon clan, I am from Couchiching First Nation."
My name is Ozhaashko Bines, which is Ojibwe for "Blue Thunderbird."
But I haven't always gone by that name. When I was born, I was given the name Marc Morrisseau by my parents. Only that's not who I am.
In my culture, people are traditionally given a name at birth that the spirits who surround us know us by. This name is revealed to us by the local elders through ceremony.
I was known by my English name until 2019, when I was 22 years old. It was then that I had the privilege of attending a Sundance ceremony, where a local Indigenous elder revealed to me my true name: Ozhaashko Bines.
During this ceremony, the elder welcomed me into the lodge. It was here that he took a good, long look at me, as though he could see the spirits who surrounded me.
Then he spoke to me: “I only see one colour... Blue.”
The elders spoke amongst themselves a little longer, and the next words I heard were the name I would come to be known by ... Ozhaashko Bines. I immediately asked what that meant, and the elders told me: "You are Blue Thunderbird."
I’m thankful for finally being aware of my true name, but what bothers me is that I don’t fully understand what my name means.
I don't know what my name means because my family doesn't know. They don't know its meaning because it was stolen from us. Our language, our traditions, our culture, lost for generations due to colonization. It's something my people are still working to reclaim.
The shame of residential schools
People may not understand, and it might sound strange, but the reason I chose to change my name and began going by Ozhaashko is precisely because I don’t understand its meaning.
These teachings have not been passed down through my family, not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t know either. I have traced my family lineage back as far as my grandparents can remember, and yet, even they cannot recall a family member that has had an Indigenous name.
This is because of the Canadian Residential School System, a system designed to “kill the Indian in the child” and assimilate Indigenous Peoples into mainstream Euro-Canadian culture.
It was a system that my grandparents “survived,” but which took almost everything from them. I put "survived" in quotations because while they lived through it, the system was successful in killing a part of them that they can never get back.
While a small step, I believe that by adopting the name of Ozhaashko, I am one step closer to reclaiming an identity that I did not have the privilege of being surrounded by in my upbringing.
A crisis of identity
Young Indigenous Peoples today face an identity crisis. It's a crisis that includes not feeling connected to their culture, and it's a feeling that I feel is even more prevalent in urban centres.
I remember when I was still in school and having a conversation with a classmate of mine. We were in Ojibwe class, and she was complaining about having to learn the language and not having it be something taught to her growing up. She felt obligated. Even though it was the language of her ancestors, it was something she wasn't aware of growing up, and not something her family was interested in.
I empathized with her. I felt the same growing up. I wasn't very in touch with my culture. I would occasionally attend Pow Wows with my grandma. But I never knew the reasons why we did the things – the dancing, the singing – that we did.
But as I grow older, I've started to realize how important it is to be a part of these things, not only for myself, but for later generations.
I need to be a part of these traditions for one simple reason: my grandparents were not allowed to practice what they believe. They were forced to turn their back on their culture. They were stripped of their traditional Indigenous names, which were replaced by European names.
If I don't begin the process of reclaiming my Indigenous identity, it will be even harder – perhaps impossible – for future generations of my family to do so.
On the surface, there's nothing wrong with the name that my parents gave me. But the truth is, it's just not who I am.
Strength through diversity and inclusion
Growing up I didn't know my language. Call it a "success" of the residential school system and a success of the various laws that were put in place by the Canadian government to assimilate my people.
I write this from Fort Frances, Ontario, located in the Treaty Three Territory and the homeland of the Ojibwe people, my people, but I believe it's important for all Canadians to understand this journey.
I want Canadians to know that there is strength in diversity. I want Canada to be a place where everyone is welcome and where everyone is free to be who they choose to be.
I am proud to be reclaiming something stolen from my family. Something that was nearly lost to history. Something that many take for granted.
I am reclaiming my name.