Every year the First Peoples Fund hands out cash awards to Native American artists. There are two winners from Minnesota this year. One of them is 44-year-old Elizabeth Jaakola, a member of the Fond du Lac band of Ojibwe.
That’s Jaakola, above, in a photo taken by MPR’s Derek Montgomery, on Tuesday at the Fond du Lac Community College. She’s smudging herself with sage, sweetgrass and copal or incense before a rehearsal.
She’s being recognized for, among other things, organizing the Oshkii Giizhik Singers, a women’s vocal and hand drum group on the Fond du Lac reservation. Jaakola created the ensemble six years ago.
There’s a long tradition of Ojibwe women singing, but not for performance or in public.
Jaakola says white settlement pushed the public profile of Ojibwe women further into the background as a way of protecting them since they were viewed as tribal life givers, the bearers of children.
Jaakola has a foot in at least two cultures. She’s a classically trained musican with musical tastes that range from opera to jazz and the blues.
However, she traces her values to the Ojibwe culture on the Fond du Lac reservation where she was born and raised.
Jaakola says keeping a lid on one’s ego, or staying humble, is important among the Ojibwe. It’s more important, she says, to put the interests of family and community ahead of one’s own.
By the way, the other First Peoples Fund award winner from Minnesota is Bemidji sculptor Duane Goodwin.
You can hear the Oshkii Giizhik Singers perform this evening at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis, or you can listen to my story on the Ojibwe group today as part of All Things Considered.