Sacred Fire. In Memorium. Basil H. Johnston 1929-2015


BasilJohnstonOjibwayCeremoniesAn authentic voice and prolific Anishinabek First Nation elder, author and storyteller, Basil H. Johnston, has passed. One of Canada’s most successful and widely read Aboriginal writers died on September 10,2015. Basil Johnston was born in 1929 on Parry Island, Wasauksing First Nation, Ontario.

“He was a long-time friend who I played hockey with,” says Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee. “He was a great story teller. Basil kept you captivated with his great oratory skills. He was also an excellent historian. This is a great loss.”

Johnston, a citizen of Chippewas of Nawash, has written 25 books in English – including Ojibway Heritage and Ojibway Ceremonies — and five in Anishinaabemowin.

He was honoured with the Anishinabek Nation Debwewin Citation for excellence in storytelling in 2012. He spent 25 years at the Ethnology Department of the Royal Ontario Museum with a focus on Anishinaabe heritage – particularly on recording language and mythology.

Over the years, Johnston had received many honours. He was a recipient of the 2013 Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award, Order of Ontario, the 2004 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Heritage and Spirituality and the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal. He received honourary doctorates from the University of Toronto, Laurentian University and Brandon University.

Basil Johnston earned a B.A. with Honours from Loyola College in Montreal, and completed a secondary school teaching certificate at the Ontario College of Education. He taught high school in North York, Ontario from 1962 to 1969, before taking a position in the Ethnology Department of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. He remained at the ROM until 1994, to initiate a Native approach to teaching at the museum, and to record and celebrate Ojibway (Anishinaabe) heritage, especially language and mythology. He has lectured at a number of universities, including the University of Saskatchewan and Trent University.

The following link is to The Anishinabe Creation Story by Basil Johnston.
BasilHJohnstonimageBasil Johnston was a highly respected writer, storyteller, language teacher, elder and scholar. His numerous short stories, essays, articles, and poems have appeared in several Aboriginal publications, as well as The Educational Courier,Canadian Fiction Magazine, and the University of Lethbridge’s literary journal, Whetstone, among others. Johnston’s first serious publishing relationship was with McClelland & Stewart (M&S), where he forged a long-lasting relationship with Anna Porter in 1975. Johnston published Ojibway Heritage (1976), Moose Meat & Wild Rice (1978), and Ojibway Ceremonies (1982) with M&S before moving on to publish with Key Porter Books in the mid-1980s. Key Porter published the most successful of Johnston’s works, Indian School Days (1988), which humorously and heartbreakingly recounts his time as a student at Indian residential school. His book on the Ojibwa spirits, The Manitous (1995), was also issued by Key Porter.

In the traditional ways of the Anishinabek people, hommage will be found in the sweet smells of Sacred Fire, Smudge, and evergreens, such as cedar (the tree of death) planted at the burial site.


‘In Anishinabek culture it is believed you enter the world through the eastern gateway and depart through the west. During the funeral ceremony a Midewin (shaman) or Elder may use sacred objects that are not to be touched by others as they have been purified in a deeply meaningful ceremony. Sacred Pipe, rattles, medicine bowls, drums, shells, feathers, feather fan, crystals, stones, healing clay, cloth, wooden sticks or arrows, wooden staff, tobacco pouches or small medicine bags of other herbs, materials such as corn pollen or corn meal, or fetishes (representations of healing powers). It is thought the Elder is “a hollow bone,” that the Creator uses as a conduit to the afterlife. The Drum is sacred; it is the heartbeat of the Earth Mother. Rattles “clear” energy and can draw in good spirits, dispel bad ones. Even missing soul pieces (life essence) lost through trauma may be “rattled” back in. Prayer songs may also be sung; these can be in any language. They have their own power. In all ceremonies, it is Creator that does the work. It is common practice for four days after the burial, family and community members keep a fire burning. During this time the souls travels to the Land of Souls. The “sweat lodge” or purification lodge uses heated stones (Grandfathers) to bring Creator’s fire into a small framed structure that is the Womb of the Earthly Mother, where water is poured on them, releasing wisdom and healing power through steam. The Vision Quest. Under an Elder’s guidance, a person will venture alone to a lonely place for fasting, visions and guidance that can last for one to four days and take a year for preparation. ‘ an excerpt from Spirit Houses by Back Roads Bill.

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  1. Very well written article. Basil H. Johnston was such a huge force. He will be surely missed. However, it was a celebration for his journey to his loved ones- to the ancestors who are certainly awaiting his arrival. We shall meet in the Land of Souls ..baa baa pii

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