The Way We Should Be Walking, told by Oogima Ikwi

But, you know, people are too ritualistic.

I said to a friend one day,

I said, “What happens if all the pipes were gone?

Creator just took all the pipes away?

No more eagles,

No more eagle feathers,

No staffs,

No pretty regalia,”

[an aside] What the hell is that anyway, regalia?

I don’t even know what that word means.

I’ll have to look it up someday.

“No pretty regalia,

No fans,

No breastplates,

No nothing.”

“Oh, God!” [in mock worried tone]

“Are we not Indian anymore, Maanii?” [laughing],1

“Where’s my identity lie?” you know.

And then, oh, I was sitting by the water one day,

And the water says,

And this was a teaching from the water I got,

But I’ve heard it from other people since, though,

You know,

Because at that time I was looking for an eagle feather,

And I was looking for that medicine,

And I was looking for that pretty regalia,

And I was like,

Oh help me get some buckskin so I can have a nice buckskin outfit,

And oh, me, me, me, me, me, me!”


I put my tobacco in the water and stirred it up like that

And the water took it and said,

“Hmm” [she laughs],

“We have a problem here” [she laughs more].

And so they told me,

“Well what would happen if everything went away?”


And I was sad.


I was thinking, “God, that would be a real drag!”


And the water said,


You are the pipe,

You are the drum,

You are the feather,

You are the buckskin,

You are the Earth,

You are all these things.


All these things are is a reminder,

A tool,”

You know.


“But there are many tools.

These mean nothing really.”


“Ooh!” [intake of breath]


God, don’t say that in a circle either!

[in a mock serious tone]


But they really do mean nothing [sincerely]



That spirit of that eagle

Isn’t limited to that feather,

Or we could never dream about ‘em.

That spirit of that pipe

Is not limited to that pipe

You know

Or else that pipe wouldn’t be able to talk to you from fifty miles away

You know


It’s the thing behind that.


My spirit is not limited to this body,


So we are all those things,


We don’t need those things


And someday we won’t have those things.


Mary: You believe that?


Oogima Ikwe: Yeah.

I believe someday we won’t have those things.

We won’t need ‘em.

We never needed them before.


[with passion]

So is the legend of how the pipe came to the people,

How the sweat lodge came to the people,

How the eagle feather fell to the people,

How the drum came to the people,


Because we had gotten away

From where we were over here,

As spiritual beings,

And needed reminders.


We needed to see something,

Because we had lost our faith.


So the drum had to come to us,

BOOM, BOOM, heartbeat of Mother Earth.

Now we can hear it again.


So the pipe came to us


That stone from that earth,

That balance with that wood,

That female,

Now we can see it,

We believe it,

We know what it does.


And so those eagle feathers came to us,

So they could remind us about what that eagle is there for,


And those warriors that died,

What did they fight for?


Well, we never needed these things.

They all came to us.

You know


The sweat lodge –

The people were sick.

We never used to be sick!

So we didn’t need any healing.

Any sweats.

But now we do,

So plink!

Creator brought that down for us.


And they’re all good things

Don’t get me wrong.

And they serve a good purpose,

But, we don’t need them.


If we were really walking in that way we’re supposed to be walking,

Or should be walking,

Or hopefully will get to that point again walking,

We won’t need those things,

‘Cause we’ll be those things.


  1. Maanii is the author’s name in Ojibwe.


Algonquian Spirit: Contemporary Translations of the Algonquian Literatures of North America (Native Literatures of the Americas), edited by Brian Swann



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