The Good Life: A Blanket for Food Rights, Traditional Ways, and Living a Good Life

The Good Life: A Blanket for Food Rights, Traditional Ways, and Living a Good Life

Living the Good Life

For the Anishinaabe, “the good life” is a phrase steeped in history and importance. Although the US government violated promise after promise to Native people throughout the centuries, the language in the government’s 1854 agreement with some of the Anishinaabe people specifically ensures their right to “the good life”—a promise that Anishinaabe people today are fighting to keep. 

The good life—what Anishinaabe know as mino bimaadiziiwin—are the practices and traditions that keep them connected with the land and each other in healthy, sustainable, and traditional ways. “I’m doing the work to make sure that myself and my family can live what we Anishinaabe people know as mino bimaadiziiwin—the good life,” shares Inspired Natives Artist Sarah Agaton Howes (Anishinaabe / Ojibwe). “Because my grandparents and great grandparents were taken to Christian-run boarding schools, they were not allowed to engage with or learn these ways, while also falsely being taught our way of life was illegal. This generation—my generation—is working to reconnect with our traditional way of life. I’m purposely reengaging with this good life.”

A historic photo of four Anishinaabe people standing around a pole-frame cooking lift and a pot of wild riceSarah's  family cooking wild rice in the early 1900s

“I’m proud to be part of this generation of doers,” says Sarah. “We’re bringing our people’s traditions with us into the twenty-first century, while making sure our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to practice their culture.” Many of these traditions center around food—from harvesting and fishing to cooking and eating, and to protecting the environment that allows these wild foods to thrive.

A collage of images featuring Sarah's family harvesting wild rice in a canoe on a lake in MinnesotaSarah's family harvesting wild rice on a lake in Minnesota

With her children, family, and community, Sarah regularly incorporates “good life” practices into her day. “We harvest wild rice and traditional foods such as berries and medicines, have our sugarbush where we tap and boil maple syrup, and fish in many ways from ice to the open water,” says Sarah. “In addition to this, our family works hard to revitalize our language, games, cultural arts, and stories. I am so proud to be able to raise my two children within this good life.”

A collage of images of Sarah's children practicing traditional skills, such as archery, berry picking, and rice toastingThe children of Sarah's family practicing traditional ways, including archery, berry picking, and rice toasting


The Good Life Gold Label Throw Blanket

Our Good Life Gold Label Throw Blanket shares this story of good life. On a lake of navy blue accented in shades of brighter blue and white, our Good Life Blanket features traditional symbols mingled with modern design in a blanket that shares a love of water, a call to defend food sovereignty rights and traditions, and a message of love for our planet. 

An Ojibwe woman walking away from the camera wearing the blue and white Good Life BlanketThe Good Life Gold Label Throw Blanket, photographed by Nedahness Greene (Ojibwe)

At the center of the blanket is a canoe—“one of the oldest and most versatile forms of transportation,” says Sarah, and an object “central to the traditions of the Anishinaabe.” In Minnesota, where Sarah lives, she and her family use canoes for recreation as well as gathering food. Wild rice, which is an iconic staple of Ojibwe cuisine, is harvested by canoe. Paddling out into lakes and waterways, harvesters use wooden sticks to gently “knock” the ripe rice grains into the canoe. On shore, the rice is sifted into bags for the harvesters to take home and turn into food.

Two women in jingle dress regalia stand in a green field holding a blue and white wool blanket.
The Good Life Gold Label Throw Blanket features traditional Ojibwe florals on a diamond background. Wild rice, fishing spears, salmon, and a central canoe complete the design. Photographed by Nedahness Greene (Ojibwe)

Swimming in from the sides of the blanket are walleye, a freshwater fish that is an important part of Anishinaabe diet. Fished by Ojibwe people since time immemorial, traditional spear fishing practices have in recent years been “met with violent, adamant opposition,” Sarah shares. 

Crossing our blanket is the shape of a traditional spark, used to harvest. Although this traditional fishing method is protected by the 1854 agreement and has been upheld by modern courts, this centuries’ old-tradition “continues to be met with dangerous opposition. Sarah says. “When our traditional fishing practices were violently protested in the 1980s, the case made it all the way to the supreme court where tribes' right to this good life was affirmed. Despite the ruling, tribal harvesters are routinely attacked at boat landings while exercising their rights.”  

A man sits on the prow of a canoe at dusk. A full moon is seen over his shoulder on the left side of the image, while black hills rise around him.Sarah's family on the lake at night, spearfishing walleye

A black and white photo of protesters in 1989. They are protesting the rights guaranteed to Anishinaabe people to practice their traditional ways of fishing and harvesting. A photo taken by Sarah from a book detailing the Wisconsin treaty fishing protests in 1989. This violent, racist rhetoric that was prevalent during the protests in the 80s is still leveled at Indigenous people practicing their rights today.

Even in the face of opposition, Native traditions endure: many Anishinaabe people continue to harvest and fish in their traditional ways. The Good Life Blanket also pays homage to the traditional spear fishing practices that continue today. This striking design weaves geometric spears into its pattern: a beautiful example of a harvesting tool created with care and passed down from generation to generation. 

“For the Anishinaabe people, when we signed our treaty in 1854, the language specifically says that we reserve our right to our good life,” says Sarah. “That means we kept our right to food sovereignty. We kept our water rights. We kept the fundamental right to go out on the land, to feed our families with the bounty Mother Earth shares with her children. We kept the right to use our canoes, to be surrounded by wild rice, to celebrate the water, and protect our place in this beautiful gift that is the world.”  

A smiling woman, Sarah Agaton Howes, looks at the camera while wearing her jingle dress regaliaSarah Agaton Howes (Anishinaabe / Ojibwe) wearing regalia and living her good life

“The critical piece of treaty rights for non-Native people to understand is that it is a two-sided agreement between governments,” explains Sarah. “When our tribe ceded land to the US government, it was under the condition that we retained these certain rights on that land. If both parties do not hold up their end of the bargain, it is void. This goes for the benefits enjoyed by both parties, meaning: land.” Sarah points out.

The Good Life Gold Label Throw Blanket celebrates that special connection we have to the earth and our sacred duty to protect her if we are to continue living the good life. It deals with issues of food sovereignty, human rights, and the inborn desire each of us has to teach our children about their culture and heritage in an authentic way.  

A woman in regalia stands facing the camera. Her black hair is in braids, and she is wrapped in a blue and white Good Life Blanket

This blanket is a permanent design in our Gold Label collection—a line of wool textiles made right here in our Seattle studio. 

Further Reading: