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Johnny (Way-sa-quo-nabe) Smith

Johnny (Way-sa-quo-nabe) Smith

Anishinabe Ojibwa Instructor and Keeper of the Drum

Born: Red Lake, MN, United States
Heritage: Ojibwa

Young Publishers

Book: View Book PDF

Most of you know that this world we live in is rough out there. There are a lot of people who will hurt and harm you. You watch out for them. Stay away from alcohol and drugs. Do not join a gang. Don’t be lazy and just watch TV. Stay in school because without education you can’t get a job anywhere. The more education you have, the more earning power you have.

Johnny (Way-sa-quo-nabe) Smith

Anishinabe Ojibwa Instructor and Keeper of the Drum

My name is Johnny Smith. I’m a Red Lake Chippewa Indian from Red Lake, Minnesota. I graduated from high school when I was 23 years old. I had quit school and tried to get a job, but was too dumb, so I went back and got a diploma. I’ve gone to many different schools to learn a lot of different skills. I have learned to be an accountant, barber, teacher, draftsman, counselor and a business administrator. I learned the importance of education from my second grade teacher.

I speak the Chippewa language. There aren’t many people left who speak the Ojibwa language. I travel all over the United States and sing and dance at a lot of Pow Wows. I have learned much about all the different cultures and can understand many of their languages. No language is hard to learn if you put your mind into it.

My Ojibwa name is Way-sa-quo-nabe. It means Yellow Feather. We had a big naming ceremony. It was time to carry another name. My first name used to be Little Man. They brought out a horse and a rifle and brought gifts. They gave me this name and said now you carry this name. You have to carry on my ways and my teachings. I’ve tried my best to follow.

I got my name Johnny Smith when the government came in to count us up. They keep track of you if you are Indian. When they asked my name, I said Way-sa-quonabe. They could not say it or spell it so they gave me a name. I am named after my great grandfather, John Smith.

I went to a mission school. They taught their own religion. They expected us to talk in English. If we didn’t know the English word, they hit us. They would pull our hair. They were mean and cruel to us back then. We didn’t know their ways and rules and they beat that into us. They wanted to convert us into Christians. They called us pagans because they thought we had no spirit. They didn’t understand that we have a whole way of living.

My grandparents raised me. I had a better learning situation with my grand folks. I didn’t feel threatened and didn’t feel lost in the home of my grand folks. My uncles taught me how to cure people through Indian medicines. They taught me some songs. They taught me the old ways, the spiritual ways of the old people.

I live for singing and dance day after day, even though kids my age that were the same as me made fun of me when I was young. I didn’t care about that. I knew what I did was good because I felt it in here. I have been dancing and singing for 62 years. It has always been important to me to learn the honoring songs and the background and culture of the Ojibwa.

I am a teacher at Oh-Day-Aki School. I teach American Indian history and American Indian singing and dancing. I was talked into being a teacher even though I didn’t want to do it. I went back another year and then got my teaching license. The reason I stay there is all those little kids grew on me even though I could have other jobs and make more money. It is rewarding to watch young people and see them learn.

My spirituality works like this: when I go back home, I take my hand drum with me and go out in the woods and sing praising songs. I sing honor songs that praise our creators for what they give us. I honor people who do extraordinary things. A traditional life to me is just doing the things I learned. Being respectful of all things. Treating people kindly. Doing the things I learned that mean something to me in my heart.

Notation: Download PDF

I Am Proud To Be Ojibwe

Honoring Johnny (Way-sa-quo-nabe) Smith

I Am Proud To Be Ojibwe
Honoring Johnny Smith

Thank-you Great Spirit
For all you have given
To help us through

My name is Johnny Smith
From the Red Lake Band
First people of this land
Waysaquonabe Yellow Feather
Given on my Naming Day
Raised by my grandparents
I’m proud to be Ojibwe
They called us pagans
They thought we had no
Belief in the Great Spirit
In this world we call home
Sent my people to the mission
To learn their white man ways
We have our own traditions
I’m proud to be Ojibwe
I could not speak English
I flunked the second grade
Held me back until I learned
How to speak their English ways
My grandfather said, “You can talk
all day long and not say
a thing in the English language.”
I’m proud to be Ojibwe
Kids use to tease me
They called me Pow-Wow Smith
Ran me down
for speaking my language
I didn’t care about it

Time went on they started asking
Me how to say
Words in their native language
I’m proud to be Ojibwe
At sixteen became a pulp cutter
Swung an axe with both hands
Learned the old songs and dances
From the elders in my clan
Now I am a teacher
Living on a teacher’s wage
I like to help the children
I’m proud to be Ojibwe
Treat people kindly
Be respectful of all things
Gitche Manitou is happy
When he hears the people sing
Feed the drum and feed the people
At the Pow Wows I love to play
Songs for my people
I’m proud to be Ojibwe

Music by LARRY LONG. Words by LARRY LONG with Sherry Hebert’s 4th & 5th Grade Class of FAIR Downtown School. (Minneapolis, Minnesota.)

© Larry Long 2006 / BMI