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Kegg, Maude (1904–1996)

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Maude Kegg at Mille Lacs

Maude Kegg at Mille Lacs, undated. Photo by Monroe P. Killy.

In 1904, along Portage Lake, in a birch-bark-and-cattail wigwam, a baby named Naawakamigookwe (Middle of the Earth Woman, also called Maude) was born to Agwadaashiins (Nancy Pine) and Gwayoonh (Charles Mitchell). She took her first breath in the traditional Ojibwe home of her family. It was the beginning of a life guided by cultural traditions, continuous adaptation to a fast-changing world, and an inherent skill for interpreting her people’s culture and history.

The exact date of Maude’s birth is unknown because her family did not measure time according to the Western European calendar system. Later in life, she chose August 26 for a birthday because she recalled her family saying that she was born during the wild rice harvest. When her mother died, while she was still an infant, her grandmother became an important caregiver and teacher.

The Mitchell family, like other Ojibwe people in the early twentieth century, were adapting to a changing world. During the winter, they lived in a farmhouse northwest of Mille Lacs. By 1911 Maude was attending school in a one-room schoolhouse, which she enjoyed. Although she was the only Native American in her school, she never experienced bullying from the other children. Along with most of her classmates, she completed school through the eighth grade. Unlike her classmates, however, she continued to receive an Indigenous education from her community and family.

Although Maude spent each winter (biboon) living in a farmhouse and attending a school, she spent the rest of the year following the traditional Ojibwe seasonal cycles. In the spring (Ziigwan), she and her family moved to a sugar bush camp along Misi-zaaga'igan (Grand Lake, or Mille Lacs). There, they harvested sap from maple trees and processed it into maple sugar. They also returned to their farmhouse to plant gardens and harvest berries along the Gichi-ziibi (Mississippi River).

In the summer (Niibin), Maude learned how to prepare fish caught from the lake, and to maintain the gardens that provided both food and medicine. When the fall season (Dagwaagin) arrived, her family moved to the relatively small Rice Lake, which was filled with manoomin, or wild rice. Maude learned to set up the ricing camp by making birch bark homes and creating areas for parching, threshing, and winnowing the wild rice.

Maude experienced common childhood illnesses like chicken pox, measles, and mumps, but she always recovered. There were no Western-medicine doctors in her area. Ojibwe medicine men treated her and others in the community using the traditional, sacred medicine practiced during the ceremonies of the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society. Maude later remembered that although the medicine men treated Native people with frequent success, those same treatments rarely worked on the white people in the area.

Midewiwin became an important part of Maude’s life, and in 1917, she met Martin Kegg, another Mille Lacs Band member, at a Midewiwin ceremony. She married him in 1920 in a traditional Ojibwe ceremony; two years later, the couple had a Christian church wedding.

In the 1920s, Maude traveled with the owners of the Mille Lacs Indian Trading Post to various Ojibwe communities, including Leech Lake and White Earth, to help them buy craft items and serve as a translator. By 1930, she moved to Vineland Bay on Mille Lacs, where she started selling bead chains, moccasins, and other work to the trading post. As an artist, Maude is widely known for her traditional beadwork, rugs, and basswood-fiber dolls.

In 1929 the owners of the trading post opened an on-site museum. Maude aided in the construction of the museum’s main attraction, the Four Seasons Room. She began working as a tour guide, interpreting her people’s culture and history for visitors. When the owners of the trading post and museum donated their collections to the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) in 1959, Maude continued her cultural interpretation as a MNHS employee. Outside of this work, she and her husband and children continued the traditional labor of the Ojibwe seasonal cycles.

In the 1970s, Maude became concerned that Ojibwe people were forgetting their history and culture. Inspired to make a change, she set out on a mission to lift her memories from her mind and record them on paper. She enlisted the help of scholarly writers and produced several books: When I Was A Little Girl (1976), At The End of the Trail (1978), What My Grandmother Told Me (1983), and Portage Lake (1991).

On January 6, 1996, Maude Kegg took her last breath and joined her ancestors.

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Buffalohead, Priscilla, and W. Roger Buffalohead. Against the Tide of American History: The Story of the Mille Lacs Anishinabe. Cass Lake, MN: Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, 1985.

Kegg, Maude, with John D. Nichols. Gabekanaansing = At the End of the Trail: Memories of Chippewa Childhood in Minnesota With Texts in Ojibwe and English. Thunder Bay, OT: John Nichols, 1978.

——— . Portage Lake: Memories of an Ojibwe Childhood. Edmonton, AL: University of Alberta Press, 1991.

“Maude Kegg.” National Heritage Fellowships, 1990: 7–9. Available at the Minnesota History Center library as E99.C6 K456 1990.

Ode, Kim. “An Art in Search of Heirs: Elder’s Steady Hands Create Intricate Beadwork Pattern of Ojibwa Life.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 11, 1990.

OH 35
Mille Lacs Indian Trading Post Oral History Project
Interview with Maude Kegg, 1991
Description: Maude Kegg discusses her childhood and time working at the Mille Lacs Trading Post.
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display?irn=11127394

Phillips, Mary. “Ojibwe Lore Preserved.” St. Cloud Daily Times, March 7, 1988.

Related Images

Maude Kegg at Mille Lacs
Maude Kegg at Mille Lacs
Maude Kegg at Mille Lacs
Maude Kegg at Mille Lacs
Maude Kegg working with wiigob (basswood)
Maude Kegg working with wiigob (basswood)
Maude Kegg and family at Mille Lacs
Maude Kegg and family at Mille Lacs
Maude Kegg (center) and family boiling maple sap
Maude Kegg (center) and family boiling maple sap
Maude and Martin Kegg harvesting basswood bark
Maude and Martin Kegg harvesting basswood bark
Basswood doll made by Maude Kegg
Basswood doll made by Maude Kegg
Necklace made by Maude Kegg
Necklace made by Maude Kegg
Maude Kegg and four generations of her descendants
Maude Kegg and four generations of her descendants

Turning Point

In the 1930s, Maude Kegg moves to Vineland Bay on Mille Lacs, where she will engage in cultural preservation and education of Ojibwe traditions for the remainder of her life.

Chronology

Fall 1904

Maude Mitchell is born in a traditional Ojibwe wigwam. Her parents name her Naawakamigookwe, meaning Centered Upon the Ground Woman.

1910s

Maude attends school in the winter months. She finishes at eighth grade but continues to learn about traditional Ojibwe lifeways from her family and community.

1922

Maude meets Martin Kegg through the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society) and marries him in a traditional Ojibwe ceremony.

1924

Maude and her husband have a Catholic wedding.

1930s

Maude moves to Vineland Bay on Mille Lacs. She sells her crafts and art to the Mille Lacs Trading Post and began working at the museum attached to the trading post, where she interpreted Ojibwe history and culture to the public.

1959

The owners of the Mille Lacs Trading Post and Museum donate their collections and property to the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). Maude continues to interpret her people’s history and culture as an MNHS employee.

1970s

With the help of scholarly writers, Maude produces two books: When I Was A Little Girl and At the End of the Trail.

1983

Maude publishes another book: What My Grandmother Told Me.

1986

Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich declares August 26 to be “Maude Kegg Day” in honor of her contributions to the state.

1990

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awards Maude a National Heritage Fellowship.

1991

Maude publishes her final book, Portage Lake. It concludes her mission to put her memories on paper with the intent of helping her people learn and continue Ojibwe traditions.

1996

Maude dies on January 6.