Renowned Anishnaabe historian, cultural leader, and author Basil H. Johnston passed away Sept. 8 at age 86.
Johnston’s ouevre started with volumes and cassettes about the Anishnaabe language in the 1980s, followed by a number of short-story collections, and later, more personal titles – including his residential-school memoir Indian School Days and a book for his developmentally challenged uncle, Crazy Dave. His 2010 picture book, The Gift of the Stars, was a part of Kegedonce Press’s Anishinaubaemowin series, serving as one of Johnston’s many educational books on First Nations culture. Five of his titles were bilingual or written completely in the Anishinaubae language, including 2007’s Anishinaubae Thesaurus, a cornerstone in Anishinaubae teaching and development. The Manitous, his 2001 masterwork published by Minnesota Historical Society Press, retells the central myths of the Anishnaabe people.
Johnston, a member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, was born on the Wasauksing First Nation in 1929 and raised at Cape Croker, Ontario. He spent more than 20 years in the Royal Ontario Museum’s Department of Ethnology, and was also a teacher and lecturer at high schools, colleges, and universities in multiple provinces. He earned honorary doctorates from Laurentian University and the University of Toronto
Johnston’s commendations include the 2004 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for heritage and spirituality, the Order of Ontario, the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and the 2013 Aboriginal Arts Award. He leaves two daughters, a son, and grandchildren.