Nation-Based Sovereign-Based Government

LLL: “Bread Before Books or Books Before Bread” by Basil Johnston

January 11, 2020

The title to this blog comes from Basil Johnston. He was an Anishinaabe writer, speaker, philosopher, and storyteller (and much more). Life Long Learning will continue to use Basil as reference for Anishinaabe knowledge and education as his work was (is) astounding.

Way back in 1970, a year after the White Paper of 1969, Indigenous scholar Waubageshig edited a book titled, The Only Good Indian. Within that book, was a piece by Basil Johnston that had the above title: “Bread Before Books or Books Before Bread.” An important question to be asked for First Nations then, and now.

Johnston ponders whether First Nations, on an individual level, should focus on education or financial independence first; hence, his question of books before bread or bread before books? An easy answer would be to focus on both, especially given the date of this piece, but it’s still an important question to ask when it comes to education.

Johnston writes “The power to heal and the capacity to use that power resides in the will and intelligence of those who wish to heal….confidence [is] produced by achievements there[after] will develop a pride…From this will emerge independence. When this occurs, economic emancipation will have arrived…” (pp.134). It seems to be that Johnston was advocating education (or training) come first which in turn can result in (economic/financial) independence–at an individual level.

A current saying has been “buffalo is the new education.” Buffalo sustained many First Nations who occupied the plains territories. It fed, clothed, and sustained them but first they had to acquire that buffalo.

What do you think–bread before books, or books before bread? And should this message be shared with First Nations youth?

Source: “Bread Before Books or Books Before Bread” by Basil Johnston in Waubageshig’s, The Only Good Indian (1970), New Press, pp.126-141.

Last modified: January 13, 2020

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