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John C. Courchene was born in Sagkeeng First Nation in 1914, where he attended the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School. Courchene’s time in the residential school was short; his brothers, “Joejay” and Louis, took John out school so he could help them cut wood in the bush. While this helped John make a lifetime commitment to hard work, it also resulted in John being “illiterate” in the European sense of the word. In the ways of the forest and his native language, Anishanabemowin, however, John was far from illiterate. Sagkeeng Legends is a testament to John’s cultural literacy and a monument in the face of eroding Indigenous language and culture caused by centuries of colonization.
Originally recorded by John’s wife, Josephine Courchene, in the early 1980s and reprinted here in both English and Anishanabemowin by Craig Fontaine, the stories in Sagkeeng Legends represent two pebbles where a mountain of knowledge once stood. Nonetheless, this book is an important act of preserving and reintroducing Indigenous language and culture to a new generation.