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ELDER RECOGNITION: Lorraine Smith


If you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t guess our next elder to be over 60, but this proud Ojibwe woman has proven to have, thus far, long life span and good well-being. Over 90, to those of you who know Lorraine Smith, an accomplished school teacher who could explain her times and travels in more detail than I possibly could narrate, so without further adieu, the words of Wisdom from this interesting Elder…

 

LCO News: Tell us a bit about yourself.

 

Lorraine: I am an Ojibwe woman from the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. I am 90 years old and I want to say that being my age, I consider it a gift. I can’t help but being this age, I was born in 1933 in May and I lived my life here growing up on the reservation.

Being older, I don’t consider myself elderly, the term “elderly” does not connote a good thing for me, because in my mind “elderly” means that you have disabilities; can’t walk well or whatever, but I consider myself an elder.

My mother and dad were a wonderful example of having a great work ethic. They worked every day, and there were ten of us children in all, but there were two separate groups; the four oldest went away to high school and were gone basically the whole year. The six that were left were raised by our parents. We could see them work every day. Everybody in our family had a wonderful work ethic. I’m the only one left of the immediate family, but I have to say everybody in our family worked and we never complained about having a job or not.”

I lived most of my life in the city of Chicago and was a public school teacher. I was educated here, in fact at Kinnamon my first eight years, then Hayward and then went away to college and then taught school mainly in Chicago for thirty years. Then I retired in ‘93 and moved up here in 1995. Bought myself a home and have lived here ever since. I sometimes think of my years as an elder and I have read a book called “The Gift of The Earth” about an older woman in her 70’s, and I agree so much with everything she wrote. Do not regret your past decisions. Because by regretting, you waste so much time. You can’t go back and do anything about it anyway. So, look ahead, go forward, and realize that life is made up of decisions. Your decisions make up your life as you go along.

Now that I’m retired and I look back on my years as a teacher I had a wonderful school I taught at for 27 years. When I moved from here, I was with the Chicago Public School System. We were treated well, I had two wonderful principals in the school that I was in all that time. Now that I'm up here, it took a while for me to adjust, because I was used to living in Chicago where everything is at your fingertips. Up here, you’re very limited. Every time you want something, you have to go to your car. I don’t regret my life at all. I can see myself going down physically in some ways. I’m not the same person I was 25 years ago or whatever, but still, I’m well. I get around well, do everything by myself, so thank God for that.

 

LCO News:

 What are some fond memories you have growing up on the rez?

 

Lorraine: Some of my fondest memories have to do with family. My Mom and Dad were wonderful workers; they gave us good examples and they were strict like that. We weren’t allowed on the main road after dark so we had to stay in the yard. We lived right on “K”, right here. I remember when I was in 6th grade here at Kinnamon, in fact this very room. We had a Christmas Program for the parents. I got up and sang, I can still see myself standing there. I wasn’t a bit shy about singing. I had a nice voice at that time. I think the Pow Wow at Reserve was very beautiful. We had a lot of men wearing headdresses at the time, and they were, suffice to say, very beautiful.

 

LCO News: Who were your friends back in the day?

 

Lorraine: Well, the Trepania’s were our family friends. The Dennimie’s lived across from us on the main road. Richard and Jimmy were the two youngest ones that used to come out and play ball with us. And the Patricks, Betty Jane Patrick and Shirley Patrick were our friends because they live over here and we lived over here, (demonstrates with hand gestures), so we were not really close, but close enough. I remember “The Mailman” as he was known at the time, if we wanted the Patricks to know about getting together in the afternoon, we’d put a note in and the “Mailman” would drop it off, and he always did!

 

LCO News: Who inspired you most in your life?

 

Lorraine: I have to say my parents inspired me the most. Everything I did growing up was to please my parents. I remember working when I was 14, my mother would send me out to scrub the floor for Bob Anderson. They had that flame star, I would walk across the lake in the winter and then work for them until I was finished.

 

LCO News: What were your hobbies or sports that you participated in growing up?

 

Lorraine: I had hobbies of reading. I was an excellent reader in grammar school. We had a library shop back here and I would finish my work and raise my hand so I could go to the library. I did a lot of reading from fourth grade on. I still do. I was never much for sports. I was always afraid of getting hit with a baseball or a bat so I stayed away from those things.

 

LCO News: What is one thing you’ve learned over the years here at L.C.O.?

 

Lorraine: One thing I’ve noticed we need here on the reservation is more community spirit, for example, we haven’t had a membership meeting for some time now. That is going to keep the people together, trying to solve the common problems that we all share. So, I do feel that we should get together more often and maybe it’s hard because you have different generations living together. The older people tend to stay together as do the middle aged and so forth. The younger people don’t want anything to do with us. You can understand why, our interests are so different. They’re not interested in what we are. But that’s one thing I’ve learned here on the reservation over the years is that we need community life. We have to solve the problem of racism between Hayward and the Rez. I just go about my business when I’m in town, I very seldom even think of myself as a Native when I go to town, I'm just me.

We have our big Pow Wow in the summertime, Honor the Earth. There are a lot of people that come but I’m not sure how many people from Hayward would be willing to go to the Pow Wow, because they don’t feel friendly towards us. They stay away. I think the non-Native people from other cities don't look at races as they do in small towns. Small towns…I don’t know what they’re afraid of but there’s a fear. I don’t know what the fear is, I know I talked with my sister about that, she asked “What is it about us that non-Natives don’t like?” And we couldn’t figure it out. The only thing we could think about was in years past they wanted the land, and we have the land. Beyond that, I don’t know what it could be. I mean we're not ugly physically speaking. I know we’re not wealthy but there are non-Natives that are not wealthy either.

Well, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my life, fortunately, I was financially able to travel abroad. Went to certain countries in Europe, and I’ve traveled here to 19 of the United States. It’s very interesting to meet other people and see how they live, and their reaction to life in general. I think that’s a world awakening you have in yourself and your personality. I like to travel, I enjoy it a lot.”

 

LCO News: What advice would you have for the young ones of today

 

Lorraine: I would like to see the younger people on the reservation work very hard in school to get an education because through education is how we rise above poverty, rise above things that keep us down as a people. Education is the way out. I would just recommend that education keep them away from drugs and alcohol and things that would deter their livelihood. That would be my main advice. Try to live a clean life, no stealing or breaking into homes, that sort of thing. We should respect the people around us. Some young people on the reservation today can’t get a decent job because they’ve committed crimes. So, if they go to the city, they look at their record and won’t hire you if you’re a felon.


So, there you go, stay out of people's homes, get an education and have some respect for those around you. Words of advice from Lorraine. Almost sounds like something that should have been in the 10 Commandments, but words of wisdom nonetheless. May the generous insights into her life bring some small degree of inspiration in your life so that you may pursue your ultimate goals and live a long and prosperous life.

 

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