Author Spotlight for June: Bomgiizhik Isaac Murdoch

Bomgiizhik Isaac Murdoch is a man of many roles and many talents. He is from the Nimkii Aazhibikoong First Nation and is Ojibwe of the Fish Clan. He is an artist, storyteller, singer-songwriter, activist, author, public speaker, and knowledge keeper. He currently lives in the forest at Nimkii Aazhibikoong, an Indigenous community that focuses on Indigenous language, art, and land-based activities. He was blessed with the ability to grow up in a traditional setting, living by hunting and gathering on the land.

Many of the stories he tells become sources for his artworks, which have become recognized worldwide—most notably his Thunderbird Woman and Water is Life paintings. Murdoch dedicates earnings from selling his artwork and his books to the Onaman Collective, an arts initiative that supports youth language and culture learning.

Kegedonce Press has published the first two books of Murdoch’s Ojibwe History Series, collections of Ojibwe stories. The Trail of Nenaboozhoo and Other Creation Stories (2019) has several of its chapters translated into Anishinaabemowin. Its beautiful colour illustrations are by Murdoch and renowned Michif artist Christi Belcourt. The second book, Serpents and Other Spiritual Beings (2022) is fully bilingual, with translations by Patricia BigGeorge and more of Murdoch’s stunning pictograph-style illustrations. In the books’ pages, the Anishinaabemowin and English are carefully lined up on facing pages to assist with language learning.

The stories of Murdoch’s Ojibwe History Series were, like the language itself, originally orally transmitted. Those published in his books are transcribed from recordings of his oral storytelling. The books carefully preserve the style and cadence of the storyteller’s voice. Murdoch himself learned the stories by oral transmission, from Elders passing on their knowledge. But it wasn’t a simple process. Murdoch explains what it means to be a traditional story-keeper:

“As a storyteller, a lot of the stories, they’re earned. They’re not given to you freely. So you have to I guess show mature behaviour, you have to follow the red path, you have to be able to demonstrate integrity and respect amongst your people. And often times a payment is made for the story. So a gift would be made for that knowledge. When you’re fasting and when you’re attending ceremonies and those types of things, then you’re proving yourself to be able to carry those stories for the people. So that’s all part of understanding the story. I also have to feast the stories as well all the time. The stories are nourished by feast plates, by putting food in the fire for them. So that they’re able to be strong and that they have the strength and endurance to be able to continue to help our people for so long. So we feast them, and we nourish the stories and all of the spirits that we talk about in the stories so that they’re able to continue to help our people through this challenging time. We need them more than ever.”

Murdoch points out that, to many Ojibwe, the stories of The Trail of Nenaboozhoo and Other Creation Stories and Serpents and Other Spiritual Beings are historical in the same way scripture is historical to believers of other faiths. And, just as importantly, the stories themselves are a vital aspect of Ojibwe history—their transmission, their preservation, the sharing of them among the people. This is why Murdoch’s book series is called The Ojibwe History Series. Volumes 1 and 2 are only the beginning: Murdoch has plans for several more books to come.

Read more about Bomgiizhik Isaac Murdoch’s books in the following articles:

Review of The Trail of Nenaboozhoo

All Lit Up feature article of The Trail of Nenaboozhoo

Review of Serpents and Other Spiritual Beings

Open Book feature article of Serpents and Other Spiritual Beings

All Lit Up feature article of Serpents and Other Spiritual Beings

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