Is the Big Lake Really Called ‘Gitche Gumee?’
Many people, thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” poem (1855), have heard of Gitche Gumee, the shining Big-Sea-Water. This spelling was learned, it is said, from Henry Schoolcraft, who worked with the Ojibway people at the time Longfellow wrote the poem.
Today in Ojibway language class, thanks to dialectic differences, you are more likely to see gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water,” but just about always refers to Lake Superior.
The 1878 dictionary of Father Frederic Baraga, the first one written for the Ojibway language, says Lake Superior is Otchipwe-kitchi-gami - the sea of the Ojibway people. The “i” at the end of gami would be more like the “i” in it than a long “e” sound.
With respect to all of dialects of the complex Ojibway language, we have chosen Kitchi-Gami to title this special page that each issue will take a snapshot of our sweetwater inland sea.