Born on Hudson Bay’s west coast in 1934, Elder Louis Peninshish gained an appreciation early on for the traditional stories of the Omushkego Cree peoples.
His childhood was spent by his mother’s side, as she performed the tasks that allowed their family of 10 to live off the land. She would share stories with him passed down over generations that celebrate the culture, spiritual practices, beliefs and history of the Omushkegowak.
Elder Peninshish’s love of their holistic way of life would survive the pain of four years at Ste. Anne Residential School in Fort Albany, beginning at age five. His life experiences, both the joys and the sorrows, shaped his journey and pushed him to continue his pursuit to preserve and celebrate the stories of his people.
As a young adult, he took on various jobs in neighbouring communities and encountered a growing number of Elders who enabled him to record even more stories. In 1955, he worked on the Winisk radar station, and later as a line cutter, surveyor’s assistant, winter tractor operator, carpenter’s helper, and section man for CN Rail. He has also served as band councillor and chief in Winisk, and in 1970 began work as a translator and consultant.
All the while, Elder Peninshish has remained a fierce protector of a culture steeped in oral tradition, dedicating more than five decades to the collection, narration and recording of more than 340 hours of Cree legends and traditional teachings. He has brought the history of his people to audiences across Canada, the United States and overseas, sharing these teachings in Cree and English at storytelling festivals and universities.
With a light heart and a quick wit, he brings to life the wisdom of his ancestors for the world to hear and learn from. A living archive, Elder Peninshish has published two books, The Spirit Lives in The Mind: Omushkego Stories, Lives, and Dreams and Telling our Stories: Omushkego Legends & Histories from Hudson Bay. He also narrates all stories recorded on the website, ourvoices.ca.
His expertise as a cultural historian is well-established and highly sought by government officials, curators, scholars and students across various disciplines. He has informed decisions on everything from educational funding to environmental legislation and economic development.
The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, to Mr. Louis Peninshish, a treasure to the Omushkego peoples and to all Canadians.
Elder J. Louis Peninshish (Bird)