Naming of Aankoobjignikaang
by Christine Drake
Students who attended a youth camp in Pukaskwa National Park this summer have given a new Anishinabemowin name to a culturally significant site in the park. The new name is a meaningful reflection by the youth and evokes deep emotion, connecting past to present.
This summer students from Biigtigong Nishnaabeg attended a week-long youth camp in Pukaskwa National Park. Annual youth camps are held throughout the band’s traditional territory with the goal of reconnecting youth to the land, and learning directly from community leaders and Elders. This year’s camp, led by Chief Duncan Michano, was held in Pukaskwa National Park. Students visited several locations along Lake Superior’s coast, including a culturally significant site known as the fortress. This site contains the most significant example of ancient cobblestone structures found anywhere on the Great Lakes. The site is probably related to the use of Pukaskwa pits—which are most typically flat work areas, oval or circular depressions, or walled features. The site visited by the students this summer; however, is different from Pukaskwa pits as it contains extensive walls, multiple rooms, entryways and is on a relic cobble beach, away from the current shoreline. No one knows for sure what this site was used for, though some have suggested it was for extended habitation and ceremony. Due to the fragility and vulnerability of the structures to disturbance, as well as its cultural significance, the location is not publicized by Parks Canada, and visitors are not permitted to be there without prior permission and/or being accompanied by park staff.
While on site this summer, the students drummed and sang a song to honour their ancestors—something that has not happened in recent memory, according to Chief Michano: “The drumming and singing while we were there was such a moving experience, it brought tears to my eyes”. After visiting the site, the youth camp students decided it was important to give the site an Anishnaabe name, something Chief Michano later commented “it was on my mind while we were there, but students came up with the suggestion before I said anything”. The name they came up with is Aankoobjignikaang (pronounced An-koob-ej-ne-kong), translated to English as “place of (the) ancestors”; or “place in which (the) ancestors are present”; or “place in which (the) ancestors are in abundance”.
As part of the current Park Management Plan, Pukaskwa National Park recognizes the pivotal role of language in preserving culture and continues to integrate Anishinaabemowin into park programming and interpretive messages. Also, the naming of Aankoobjignikaang is particularly poignant this year as 2019 has been declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages in order to raise awareness of the crucial role that language plays as a repository for cultural identities, history and traditions, and memories.
Indigenous languages around the world are disappearing at alarming rates. Parks Canada is proud to adopt the name Aankoobjignikaang—it conveys a deep meaning that is very much appropriate for such a special place, and importantly, contributes to supporting Indigenous peoples’ cultural and linguistic rights.