When it comes to writing, there are some articles that take a while to develop, sometimes months, sometimes years, because there are pieces missing that you sense are missing, but you haven’t yet found them. Such is the case with today’s blog post.
In December 2020, I made a note about “Moms as social glue – keeping families together across space & time.” This is something I’ve seen in my family, particularly on my dad’s side. His mother, my Grandma Bea, was the social glue that kept everyone in the family informed and connected because she purposely maintained contact between her household (she and Grandpa Jens), and the households of my dad and his brothers and brother-in-law.
When Grandma died, which happened while I was in high school, my uncle Vernon became depressed. He attempted suicide once not too long after Grandma died and a year later succeeded in committing suicide.
Once Grandma was gone, the social glue holding the family together was also gone and it was difficult for us to stay in touch. We missed Vernon’s funeral because no one informed my dad about the date of the funeral.
Traditionally, mothers were expected to perform the emotional labor of the family. Lately, I’ve heard people, typically women, comment that they shouldn’t be expected to do the emotional labor for others. It’s a giant burden they don’t want to carry. While no one person within a family should be stuck doing all of the emotional labor for others, if everyone says, “I’m not doing that anymore,” and gives up on tending to the emotions of others, we’ll end up with a very sad society.
Perhaps our current distaste for doing emotional labor is because it is not seen as valuable to society in general. It’s a lot of work for little recognition.
A couple of weeks ago, the missing piece for this post dropped in my lap. I follow Ojibwe writer, professor, and language warrior Anton Treuer on social media. He shared a YouTube video called “Gichi-ayaag (Elders)” that I’ve watched four or five times now.
In the video, he shares the Ojibwe word for “elder woman”: mindimooye. It translates as “one who holds things together” and usually refers to the matriarch of a family.
Mindimooye – this exactly expresses the sentiment of mothers as social glue.
Anton explains that in Ojibwe culture, elders are treated with respect, unlike in general American society, where we do what we can to avoid aging because the elderly aren’t venerated. If you are tempted to object to this notion by saying that the elderly are respected, ask yourself what certain politicians were saying at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic about sacrificing the elderly to the disease so we could keep the economy going.
Unfortunately, the Ojibwe and other Native people have suffered tremendous losses of the elders in their communities from the pandemic. In a Minnesota Public Radio story, Treuer said, “We identified 25 fluent [Ojibwe] speakers in Mille Lacs, and about half a dozen of them died this year, most from COVID.” This is just one band.
The article continues:
““I think there’s a tendency among people who are not from a marginalized language community to think that the main value of a language is just that it’s like another pretty bird singing in the forest,” said Treuer.
“And that can make it easy to minimize the loss of language and culture, he said. But losing a single fluent speaker of a rare language can threaten the social and cultural fabric of a community, said Treuer — and it leaves the world a poorer place.”
We don’t have a single, elegant English word for people, mothers and others, that expresses their role as social glue or emotional laborers while also indicating respect for that role. Mindimooye does that.
I’m thankful to the Ojibwe elders and other language warriors like Anton Treuer for working so diligently to preserve the Ojibwe language. Their work and the work of language warriors in other Native cultures enriches us all.
Anton Treuer has been very active on YouTube lately, publishing a lot of videos on Ojibwe language, customs, cultural practices, and history. Check out his channel and subscribe.