Basil Johnston


Basil Johnston, Anishnaabe writer, storyteller, language teacher and scholar, was born on the Parry Island Indian Reserves in Ontario, Canada, in 1929. He attended elementary school at the Cape Croker Indian Reserve school until the age of 10, after which he attended St. Peter Claver's Indian Residential School in Spanish, Ontario. He left school for a time before finishing the ninth grade, but soon learned that it would be difficult to support himself without further education. In the meantime, St. Peter Claver's had gained a new Father Superior who reorganized the school as Garnier Residential School for Indian Boys to deliver a secondary school education, instead of as a trade school. In 1950 Johnston graduated valedictorian from Garnier and then attended Loyola College in Montreal where he graduated with honors, earning a B.A. in 1954. An account of his school years can be read in Indian School Days.

Book Cover From 1955 through 1961 Basil Johnston was employed by the Toronto Board of Trade. He received his Secondary School Teaching Certificate from the Ontario College of Education in 1962, and took a position teaching history at the Earl Haig Secondary School in North York until 1969. He then joined the Ethnology Department of the Royal Ontario Museum where he worked for the next 25 years with a mandate to record and celebrate Ojibway (Anishinaabe) heritage, especially language and mythology. His writings began appearing in print in 1970. The first essay, "Bread Before Books or Books Before Bread," which appeared in The Only Good Indian: Essays by Canadian Indians, recounts events contributing to the deterioration of the Native American culture. For the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs Johnston wrote the Ojibway Language Course Outline and the Ojibway Language Lexicon in 1978. Basil is a fluent speaker, scholar, and teacher of the Anishnaabe language who writes in both English and Anishnaabe. He is often sought as a translator, perhaps because his translations display a sensitivity to both the Ojibway and English languages. Since the key to understanding culture is language, to provide this key, Basil Johnston has developed audio programs on cassette and CD.

book cover Back in 1968 a grade 5 student, after studying Indians in-depth for five weeks, asked Basil Johnston, a visitor to the school, "Is that all there is to Indians, Sir?" Since that time Basil has written 15 books in English and 5 in Ojibway to show that there is much more to North American Indian life than social organization, hunting and fishing, food preparation, clothing, dwellings and transportation. In addition he has written numerous articles that have been published in newspapers, anthologies and periodicals. In 1978 he developed the script for the film, "The Man, the Snake and the Fox", still available from the National Film Board of Canada. Basil travels extensively throughout Canada and the U.S. to speak about the Ojibway culture and language. He often visits Canadian and U.S. Ojibway reserves and reservations and schools where he continues to pass down the stories, customs, and history of the Ojibway people in the Ojibway oral tradition.

Writing available online

Excerpt from the Introduction to Honour Earth Mother


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For his work in preserving Ojibway language and culture, he has received the Order of Ontario and Honourary Doctorates from the University of Toronto and Laurentian University. Basil has also received the 2004 Aboriginal Achievement Award for Heritage and Spirituality

A short biography from the Internet Public Library's Native American Author's Project is available.

logo This website has become an Associate site. When a book is available through, we will provide a direct link to their listing for the book, allowing you to place an order at that time. You may move back and forth between the site and this site, maintaining the integrity of your order.

Books by Basil Johnston or containing his work

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Honour Earth Mother, Kegedonce Press. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Crazy Dave, Minnesota Historical Society. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway, Minnesota Historical Society. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Mermaids and Medicine Women: Native Myths and Legends, Royal Ontario Museum. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Dancing With a Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality, Rupert Ross, Introduction by Basil Johnston, Butterworth-Heinemann. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Tales the Elders Told: Ojibway Legends, Shirley Cheechoo (Illustrator), Royal Ontario Museum. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
The Bear-Walker and Other Stories, Royal Ontario Museum. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
The Star-Man: And Other Tales, Royal Ontario Museum. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Tales of the Anishinaubaek, Royal Ontario Museum. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Ojibway Heritage, Univ of Nebraska Pr. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Ojibway Ceremonies, Brompton Books. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Ojibway Tales, Univ of Nebraska Pr. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Moosemeat and Wild Rice, McClelland & Stewart. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
By Canoe and Moccasin Some Native Place Names of the Great Lakes, Whetung Ojibwa Crafts. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
Indian School Days, Firefly Books Ltd. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
How the birds got their colours = Gah w'indinimowaut binaesheehnyuk w'idinauziwin-wauh, Kids Can Press. [Buy from Amazon Canada]

Language Courses       icon

Ojibway language course outline for beginners, Indian and Inuit Affairs Program.
Ojibway language lexicon for beginners, Indian and Inuit Affairs Program.

Anthologies       icon

Canada: Discovering Our Heritage,
with David Smith, Chris Andreae, Ann MacKenzie, & E. Mitchner, Ginn Pr. [Buy from Amazon Canada]
The Only Good Indian: Essays by Canadian Indians, Waubageshig (Editor), New Press.

In Association with

This is an "official" site in that this page was constructed with the assistance and active collaboration of the author, Basil Johnston. The website "author" is Karen M. Strom

© 2004 Basil Johnston and Karen Strom.

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