Anna C. Gibbs, 72 of Red Lake

Anna C. Gibbs, whose Ojibwe Indian name was Waasabiikwe (Moonlight Shining on the Water Woman), passed away on Sunday, July 24, 2017, at the age of 72, after a tough battle with liver cancer. Gibbs was one of the Red Lake Reservation’s most impactful spiritual leaders.

She ran the medicine dance in her home community of Ponemah, officiated at countless wakes and funerals all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Ontario, gave many hundreds of people their Indian names, served as a spiritual advisor to three ceremonial drums in Cass Lake, and helped steward many in the native community around the region on quests for spiritual health and cultural knowledge.

Gibbs was instrumental in the growing Ojibwe language revitalization efforts in Minnesota and Wisconsin. She co-authored four Ojibwe language books, was a primary source of information on two major dictionary projects, and contributed to the Oshkaabewis Native Journal widely-read articles and stories such as “How to Talk to Your Baby in Indian.” She appeared on Minnesota Public Radio and was the featured voice on a couple of Ojibwe language video shorts developed by Wiigwaas Press. She inspired and volunteered at the Ojibwe language immersion program at Red Lake, Minnesota, named in her honor, “Waasabiik Ojibwemotaadiwin” and also at “Waadookodaading” in Lac Courte Oreilles, Wisconsin. She sang, taught, and mentored Ojibwe language and culture efforts until the last moments of her life. She was a cultural advisor to the University of Michigan and Penn State’s indigenous knowledge field program for the past several years. She was a primary feature in the Emmy-Award-winning documentary “First Speakers: Restoring the Ojibwe Language” and a central point of focus in the book “Warrior Nation: A History of the Red Lake Ojibwe,” winner of the Caroline Bancroft History Prize.

After the 2005 school shooting in Red Lake, Gibbs emerged as a critical community leader to shape healing efforts at Red Lake. She was the first woman from the reservation to officiate at the medicine dance and funerals, a true testament to the depth of her knowledge and respect at Red Lake and throughout Ojibwe country. In this role, she represented a degree of cultural change, but also served as one of the most prolific and successful preservers of tribal traditions. She followed a long line of famous spiritual leaders from Ponemah—Nodin Wind, Jr., Dan Raincloud, Leonard Hawk, and Thomas J. Stillday. Although often seen as one of the last great medicine lodge chiefs from Red Lake, she always prided herself on one of her most indelible contributions to the native community—the countless students of tribal traditions that she helped shape, mold, and prepare to carry on the legacy of healing, helping, and hope to which she dedicated her life.

Anna was born in Red Lake on December 17, 1944, to Helen and Henry Greenleaf. She grew up making maple sugar, gardening, and fishing. Her family kept horses, remnants of the once mighty herds that Red Lakers used to hunt buffalo in the Red River Valley prior to the treaty period. In high school she was known for walking on her hands. As a young woman she served as an Indian guide at Red Lake.

Anna is preceded in death by her parents, Helen and Henry Greenleaf, her siblings Dempsey, Irene, Frank, Warren, Paul, Francis, Violet, Sarah, and Rose, her husband Robert Gibbs, and one granddaughter, Amber Bowen, and beloved nieces and nephews Lucy Wilson, Judy Greenleaf, Warren Greenleaf, Jr. She is survived by her children Leslie (Renee) Gibbs, Anita (Raymond) Gibbs, and Roberta Gibbs Major, 8 grandchildren, 5 great-grandchildren, special friends and helpers Eunice Lightfeather, Candi Aubid, Winnie LaPrairie, Deb Gurneau, Alex Decoteau, Molly Washington, Kaitlyn Grenier, Gina Jourdain, Charles Grolla, many hundreds of namesakes, and thousands of friends and fellow lodge members. She is famous for her love of rummage sales and bargain shopping, hitchhiking, Juicy Fruit gum, popcorn, potato chips, long legends, Ojibwe music, powwows, and tribal ceremonies. She sometimes scolded, but always loved the multitudes of people she helped through every kind of Ojibwe ceremony, a life of service that catapulted her into the position of being one of the foremost spiritual leaders in Ojibwe country. She had a laugh so distinct and contagious that it will ripple through generations yet unborn. She did so much work and carried so much weight that Ojibwe country shudders at her passing; but her teachings and admonitions were strong enough to inculcate great resilience as her people carry those teachings and her memory forward.

Wake services for Anna Gibbs in the Indian custom, with Anton Treuer, Zac Mitteness, and Ben Bonga officiating, were held on July 26, 2017 at the Boys and Girls Club in Ponemah, Minnesota. A traditional song service took place the following evening, July 27, 2017, followed by funeral rites on Friday, July 28, 2017, with internment at the Gibbs and Greenleaf family burial site on Ponemah Point.

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