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Giigidowag Mitigoog (The Trees Speak), part 2: Birth of the Bear Berry Tree

Updated: Feb 27, 2022

Waabaagbagaa-giizis / Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 8, 2021


Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Aabanaabandaa noongom. Gimikwenden ina?

"Hello and welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge, a place of love and knowing. Let's pause and look back today; take a look back in the past from which our People have emerged. Do you remember?"



A long time ago, there lived four brothers on the Great Turtle Island,¹ in the heart of what is now the land of the Spontaneous People.² Although they were known to possess human characteristics, the brothers, who were born in the sky, were regarded by the Spontaneous People as spirits of the Four Directions, which is no surprise since it was none other than the Spirit of the West who had sired them.

By the time this story takes place the eldest of these four spirit-brothers, who originally had his abode in the land where the Sun sinks behind the mountains, had settled in the westernmost part of the Great Freshwater Seas, in the Great Sea nowadays called Lake Superior.³ The second spirit-brother had his abode in a large freshwater sea located southeast of his elder brother’s house – the Large Lake, nowadays called Lake Michigan –, and in the great water to its right, in the Rattlesnake Sea, or Lake Huron as it is called nowadays, the third spirit-brother dwelled. The youngest of the four, in conclusion, who used to dwell the land of the dawn in the east, presently lived near the Big Sea River, in a beautiful wetland area that connected the houses of his three elder brothers. This place, which was an outlet of the Great Sea to the west, and bordered by vast forests of spruce, fir, pine, tamarack, aspen, balsam poplar, and birch, was abundant with singing waterfalls and free-flowing currents that housed large schools of perch, walleye, salmon, pike, bass, and other fish species.

Bolo tie featuring the crane circling above Baawiting.

Above image: a silver-and-turquoise bolo tie featuring the stylized image of a flying crane. The crane allegorizes the origin of Baawitigong (Place of the Rapids: present-day Sault Ste. Marie), the legendary gathering place for the five major totemic clans of the southeastern Ojibwe Anishinaabeg. Being the descendants of my ancestors, these people – whose official name is now The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians – still live in the region of Baawiting: a vast area known for its cascades and rapids in what is nowadays called Upper Michigan State. To see this representation of a flying crane is an intimate visit with the world of my ancestors, and I like to think that the rendering of this mysterious bird image into precious metal lays bare the heart and soul of my Baawiting heritage.


Above this magic place of rapids, waterfalls, and forests a big Sandhill crane could often be seen circling. Its far-reaching voice echoed a powerful prophecy of the great crane that, decades later, would be sent from the sky to lead the Spontaneous People all the way from the Great Salt Waters in the east to this place at the shores of the Big Sea River, in order for them to congregate and build a Lodge for all the clans. This giant Crane, whose name was Echo Maker, is still known and celebrated by the Spontaneous People as the founder of this new settlement at the place of the rapids and cascades; he, together with the four spirit brothers and a beautiful fruit-bearing tree, would become responsible for guarding it, and for providing and facilitating, in a balanced and peaceful way, the means necessary for food and shelter, ceremony, songs, and council.

But, as is so often the case with great and historic events, conflict and violence preceded the, in itself peaceful, founding of the new community by the shore of the Big Sea River. Prior to the arrival of the immigrants from the East, a violent clash of powers had erupted between the four spirit-brothers and a huge and very powerful creature, which had the physical appearance of, what we would nowadays call, a bear. This four-legged creature, which we will name The Giant, dwelled on a steep table mountain, west of the Place of Rapids. The mountain was located in the northern part of the Great Freshwater Sea, a little south of a stretch of water called Thunder Bay, which was not far from the abode of the eldest of the four brothers. This bearlike creature, which was widely known and feared for its aggressive nature, spent its days circling a stone nest that lay on top of the mountain. It was a Thunderbirds’ nest, and The Giant, who was intent on stealing and devouring the Thunderbirds’ eggs, circled the nest day and night, continuously growling and pawing at the air in order to prevent the parents to reach their offspring in the nest. So powerful was this creature that even the mighty Thunderbirds were no match for its belligerent nature!

Bear by Carl Ray
Sacred Bear, acrylic on canvas by the late Anishinini Anishinaabe painter Carl Ray.


When the oldest of the four brothers – his name was First-born Son – learned what was going on on top of the Thunderbird Mountain, he met with his siblings, telling them that, since Thunderbirds were their friends and allies, they should do something to help them. Hereupon the brothers decided to hunt down The Giant and kill him. But that was easier said than done! The eldest brother, being the strongest and boldest of the four, proposed to climb the Thunderbird mountain together and attack the bear from four sides. However, the second brother – his name was Second-born Son–, known far and wide for his vanity and for creating soft summer breezes as well as whirlwinds and even spring floods, uttered doubts as to whether such a bold approach would work. Needless to say that the true reason for his hesitation was that such a bloody endeavor would very likely stain his impeccably white deerskin outfit! The third brother, whose name was Spirit Rabbit,¹⁰ was an artist; although he, too, possessed magic powers that could influence the course of nature, he was the soft-hearted one of the four and, true to his romantic nature, he, too, hesitated. The youngest brother, known as the Great Trickster Hare¹¹ because of his ability to shapeshift, was the most clever and cunning of the four, and he devised a plan that his brothers – albeit it reluctantly – agreed with. He told his siblings that First-born Son’s plan to attack the bear on the Thunderbird Mountain would not work since he, too, had once tried to steal the Thunderbirds’ children from the big stone nest on top of the mountain, and, therefore, having barely escaped their wrath, suspected the Thunder Grandfathers would still be angry with him for committing this crime. They will certainly kill me on the spot as soon as I am within their eyesight! he added.

So, in order to make the plan to kill The Giant work, the Great Trickster Hare asked the Crane to join the meeting, which was held on a cliff overlooking the cascades near the Great Sea River. The Crane consented, and as soon as the big bird had perched on the hill where the four brothers congregated, his wings still outstretched, the Great Hare addressed him as follows: “It is a good day to kick someone’s butt, my dear brother, oh Great Echo Maker. The Evil Giant of the west is attacking your relatives the Thunderbirds and we owe it to ourselves that we stop him! Me and my three brothers want you to deliver a message to him.” After a brief glance at the big silver bird that stood in front of him, a quick smile playing on his lips, the Great Hare continued: “Tell that sorry excuse for a giant that I, the Mighty Trickster Hare, ruler of the land of Great Seas and far beyond, am not impressed by his so-called warlike reputation. Tell him that although he is nothing but an egg-stealing coward with the power of a small baby cub, I will wait for him on top of this ledge and dare him to test his feeble strength against my magic warrior skills. Tell that furry creature that while I, The Great Hare of the Northwoods, have challenged and used my warrior skills and magic powers many times to defeat many enemy warriors and monsters from the Underworld and from the cold north, he has done nothing except clumsily treading the earth, stumbling under his sagging bulk while helplessly roaring and clawing at the air. Tell him to hurry up though, since I truly have better things to do than whooping his hairy butt.”


Zhaawano Giizhik bear belt buckle
Sterling silver belt buckle designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik, set with turquoise and red coral.


The Crane, understanding the gravity of the situation, did as he was told, and spreading his mighty wings again, he took off in the direction of the mountain in the west – but not before the Great Hare had instructed him to sound a warning hoot as soon as the Giant had reached the hill he stood on waiting, and another one, as soon as he, the great Hare, had reached the north shore of the river.

As the Great Hare had expected, tayaa! not long after the crane had left to deliver his message, a thunderous noise came from the direction of the mountain in the west. The ear-deafening sound of heavy feet stamping the earth along with incessive roaring filled the air, and quickly the Great Hare, his heart racing, changed himself into a jackrabbit. The Giant, panting wildly and still roaring with anger, climbed the ridge the Great Hare stood on, and just moments before he could lash out at the little jackrabbit who stood there frozen, its tail trembling with fear, the crane, slowly circling above the scene, sent forth his echoing cry. The Giant, startled by the sudden noise coming from the sky, stopped dead in his tracks for a moment, which gave the Great Hare just enough time to rush off the hill into the direction of the river. He jumped into his canoe that lay there waiting for him, and because he had powers that went beyond human capacities it took him only a few blinks of an eye before he reached the opposite shore. After drawing his canoe up on the rocky north shore he quickly climbed on a high point of land that jutted into the river. On top of the point he sat down to rest a little. Then, taayaa! from the corner of his eye he saw a shadow of something big that made his heart skip a beat. The Giant, who proved to be an excellent swimmer, had reached the shore and there he stood on the beach, standing on all fours, tearing the Great Hare's canoe into pieces and tossing them in all four directions! Still roaring with anger, the monster then walked into the direction of the bluff the Great Hare sat on!

Just when the Great Hare imagined that he, like his canoe before him, would be torn into pieces and thrown in the rapids beneath him, the crane, still circling above the river, sounded its second warning hoot. What happened next occurred in the blink of an eye. From three sides – west, south, and east – a violent wave of water hit the Place of the Rapids, and the lower lying areas were completely flooded. It were the Great Hare’s siblings, using their magic powers, who had raced to his rescue! So devastating was the flood that no single creature except the fish and the birds, and a few land animals that were lucky enough to have reached higher terrain, survived. The Great Hare, as he stood safely on top of the high cliff overlooking the flooded river, oversaw the spectacle that unfolded in front of his eyes, and he was mighty pleased with his own cunningness. He was sure that, thanks to his clever plan, he and his brothers, with the help of the crane, had managed to drown The Giant!

Bear by Eddy Munroe
Acrylic on canvas by the late Anishinini/Woodland Cree painter Eddy Munroe.

But then, moowich! The giant beast had managed to climb on a boulder, and he was still breathing and moving his head and limbs around! As the Great Hare stood there scratching his long ears not knowing what to do, the First-born Son, the fearless warrior from the west, jumped into the water with a whoop. With determined strokes, his war club clenched tightly between his teeth, the eldest of the four spirit brothers swam toward the rock where The Giant sat on, and before the monster, still groggy, could react he split its skull with one mighty blow of his weapon. As The Giant’s skull cracked open its brains became the whitefish that inhabit the rapids to this day



The Coming of the Five Mystery Beings Emerging From the Lake
The Coming of the Five Mystery Beings Emerging From the Lake @ 2021, Zhaawano Giizhik.


Many moons ago, when the Anishinaabeg still lived in WAABANAKIING, the Dawn Land at the North Atlantic shores, an Anishinaabekwe (woman) had a dream - some say given to her by a Thunderbird - that she found herself standing on the back of a turtle in the water. The turtle's tail pointed in the direction of the rising sun and its head faced the the setting sun. This powerful dream was part of the niizhwaaso-ishkoden niigaanaajimowin (Midewewin prophecy of the Seven Fires) that led to the great migration to the area nowadays called Michigan and farther to the West, including seven stopping places. Baawiting, the Place of the Rapids on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was the fifth stopping place in this legendary trek that lasted at least two thousand years. The five figures in the canoe symbolize the five Mystery Beings emerging from Mishii'igan (the Grand Lake, nowadays Lake Michigan) and the odoodeman that gathered at the rapids and falls of Baawitigong (nowadays Sault Ste. Marie) to establish a stronger community; the flying Crane stands for the creation of the new settlement. Here, in the upper great Lakes region the Anishinaabeg discovered the fifth turtle-shaped island of the Seven Fires Prophecy that had been handed down to them by Midewiwin tradition. It was then that the era of the Third Fire began. In this new land, of which Baawiting (the area around Baawitigong) became the economical and political center, five spirits that emerged from the waters of Lake Michigan taught the new inhabitants of Michigan how they could formalize and extend a vast net of kinship that would forever cement the different groups together.

The image is a detail of a larger illustration shown elsewhere on this page and a powerful reminder for those who want to remember and a valuable learning tool for the youth and the future generations. The five original odoodeman (animal clans) that gathered at Baawitigong (Bear, Loon, Crane, Catfish, and Marten/Little Moose) hold a set of traditional responsibilities for the People. Each member regards himself or herself as member of a doodem first, then a community. Traditionally, clan membership includes certain colors, songs, and ceremonies, along with responsibilities that belong to the doodem in question.


As soon as the spirit brothers had returned to their respective homes the water level of the Great Sea River dropped. The deer, martens, squirrels, rabbits, and the other land animals that survived left the higher grounds to return to their habitat near the cascades and rapids, and daily life resumed its usual routines. Thanks to the siblings and the crane, the Thunderbirds were no longer held hostage by the giant bear creature; now their offspring was safe they could finally leave the mountain at the great Thunder Bay to bring blessings to the world as they had done in the past, by bringing fertility-bringing rain to the earth and driving off dangerous underground spirits of lakes and rivers. And thanks to the bravery of First-born Son who had killed The Giant Bear, the flashing of the tails of uncountable whitefish in clear waters and sparkling foam of the rapids became a normal sight in the area! What a beautiful sight that was! The world had truly become a better place!

Only a few decades after the killing of The Giant from Thunderbird Mountain, the prophecy of the Third Fire came to pass. The first groups of immigrants entered the area of the Grand Lake, nowadays called Lake Michigan) from the southeast, led by a Sandhill Crane that had be sent by the Great Spirit from the Sky to help finding the Spontaneous People a suitable spot to live. Five Mystery Beings had emerged from the waves of the lake, teaching the newcomers how they could formalize and extend a vast net of kinship. Hereupon the People formed five odoodeman (totemic clans): the Loon, the Little Moose/Marten, the Catfish, and the Bear. After having circled four times above the rapids the crane perched on a rocky hill – which was the same hill the four spirit brothers had held a council not long ago. The five clans gathered at his call, and soon a large town was founded, which the newcomers dubbed “Gathering Place of the Rapids.”¹² On a nearby island, which was named after the sugar of the maple trees that abounded it, another settlement was founded, and several other, smaller settlements rose up in the vicinity of the town.¹³ With the help of Great Hare, the youngest of the four spirit siblings, a Medicine Lodge ¹ was erected, and soon the sound of the Great Grandfather drum reverberated across the land and the waters. The Crane, because of his proven leadership, was chosen by the other four clans present as their spokesperson, and since that day he presides over all councils of the Spontaneous Peoples that dwell the Great Turtle Island.


As for the other three spirit siblings: First-born son, because of his courageous achievement, was chosen by the Great Spirit in the Sky to direct the west wind like his father had done before him; and although he lives far away in the country of the Setting Sun, once in a while he visits the Spontaneous People of the Great Gathering Place by the Rapids to teach them about the proper use of medicinal plants and ceremonies. And still, even today, he inspires our history keepers to follow the example of the ancestors who used birchbark scrolls and paintings and petroglyphs on rocks as mnemonic devices – by writing our history down on paper and digital form, and to orally share our migration story each time that we meet in the ceremonies of our Medicine Lodges. Second-born son, the spirit of zephyrs, gales, and whirlwinds found a new home on the southern shore of the Great Freshwater Sea to the west; he taught the People to listen to the wind and fostered in them a love of games and dances. Spirit Rabbit, the third brother, in conclusion, as he possessed the soul of a tormented artist, started to roam about the Great Turtle Island, but from time to time he would drop by the rapids to teach the People about music, and songs. And the Great Trickster Hare himself, the fourth brother, became loved for his foolish antics as well as his infinite wisdom, and for being the best friend the Spontaneous People could ever wish for. It is said that his petrified body now rests in the Great Thunder Bay, not far from the spot where this story began: the table mountain that is the resting place of the Thunderbirds in winter. ¹

Bebaminojmat mural
Maajiigawiz and the Teaching of the Bear Berry Tree ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik


Story has it that a few decades prior to the founding of the big town at the rapids, First-born Son, right after he had killed the Giant from Thunder Mountain, discovered that the bearlike monster carried around its shaggy neck a necklace made of sea shells, which he understood to be an important object for war for it represented the belligerent nature of the huge creature from the mountain. After dragging him to higher grounds he and his siblings cut out The Giant’s heart and buried it on top of the rocky hill overlooking the river. Next, they cut the Giant’s body into small pieces, scattered them to the four winds, and inaa! from its body parts emerged identical but smaller creatures. These creatures were the first bears! Although they sure had a moody temper, these bears were less war-like than had been their giant forebear!

Many winters went by. One autumn day First-born Son, the Spirit of the West, noticed to his amazement that, on top of the rocky hill where once the Great Sandhill Crane had landed, stood a beautiful shrubby tree!¹⁶ It had grown from underneath the ledge where he and his brothers had buried the Giant Bear's heart! Its bark was grayish and its autumn leaves were colored yellow, orange and purple. But the most enticing part of the tree was its crown which seemed to explode with a multitude of beautifully bright, orange-red berries! As First-born Son slowly walked around the tree, it started to speak to him.

“Father, I was born from the heart of the Great Bear that you slew in order to free the Thunderbirds of the Great Mountain to the west. By doing so, you created a safer world for the Spontaneous People that have settled at the rapids below. You and your brothers buried the heart of the bear beneath this rocky ledge overlooking the beautiful Place of the Rapids, which the crane chose as his final resting place and on which I stand now as a reminder of the great power of the Grandfather Bear that you slew several winters ago. Through him, my existence will become a symbol of the bravery and endurance of the People who came to the rapids. Soon you will know how to make use of me in order to help them.”



The next day the four spirit brothers lit three bonfires at the foot of the hill and called for a big meeting. The fires symbolyzed the arrival of the time of the Third Fire, a time of spirit of unity that would soon result in the forming of a historical confederacy called Three Fires.

Not only the chiefs and clan representatives from the town at the rapids showed up; representatives of the Spontaneous People from all over the Great Turtle Island heeded the brothers’ call as well.

One after another the attendees smoked the sacred pipe, blowing whiffs of smoke toward the four directions, the sky, and the earth, then passing the pipe to the next man. When the pipe returned to First-born Son he handed it to his brother Great Hare, who put it back into his bundle. It was decided that First-born Son, since he was the eldest of the four spirit brothers, was given the right to speak and express what was in his and his siblings’ hearts.


Waa-miigisagoo wampum
Maajiikawis (First-born Son) shares a teaching of the waa-miigisagoo (wampum) © 2021 Zhaawano Giizhik


True to his standing and tradition (after all, he was the Spirit of the West Wind!), he stood tall with arms outstretched, dressed in a crimson cloak and deerskin leggings, his thick, jet black hair braided in two tresses that nearly reached the ground. Holding the necklace of the treasured sea shells that he had taken long ago from the Giant Bear in both hands, he first addressed the principal peace leaders and warriors who sat in the first circle in front of the meeting ground, and as he did so he spoke the following words:

"Ambe! Behold the sacred necklace of wampum that I, a great many winters ago, wrested from the hands of the Chief of the Bear Nation! Listen carefully, for I will now relate to you a teaching! The pale hue of the white shells in the necklace are emblematic of Peace, while those of the darker hue will surely lead to Evil and to War. From now on, you as leaders and speakers in council, will wear sashes of the sacred seashell and use them as historical records. The symbols on the sashes will remind the speaker of everything that is important to the Spontaneous Peoples: your stories, ideas, beliefs, codes, rituals and the succession of events in your history, and everything that relates to your existence as human beings on the Earth. From now on, you as warriors and peacekeepers, will do Good to all inhabitants of the Earth and give and share all things with a liberal hand and a generous heart!"

After he had divided his collection of white and purple shells, which he took from his pouch, among the peacekeepers and war chiefs, he addressed the clan leaders of the People of the Rapids, who sat in the second circle behind the peace and warrior chiefs of the greater Nation. “Welcome relatives!” he shouted, “today, here at the foot of the hill overlooking the beautiful place of the rapids, I welcome the 5 principal clans, each led by the crane, the loon, the marten, the bear, and the catfish. I also welcome in our midst all other clans of our nation, among which those of the turtle, the eagle, and the deer are prominent.

My brother the Great Hare, to whom the Great Spirit of the Sky imparted the gift of communication between spirits, trees, plants, and human beings, has proved himself to be the principal teacher and best friend of the Spontaneous Peoples; it was he who lured the dangerous bear into a deadly trap so that our people can benefit again from the life-giving blessings of our winged allies, the Thunderbirds, and it was he who demonstrated the People of the rapids where, and how, to build a Medicine Lodge. My brothers Second-born Son and Spirit Rabbit, who also stand here beside me, brought you dance and songs. For this reason, my siblings and I shall always have a special place in the hearts and the ceremonies of all the Peoples of our Nation. As for the clans that are present here today, I want to stress the importance of the roles they play in supporting and perpetuating both the culture of the Spontaneous People and the diverse spiritual ceremonies gifted to them by my younger brothers, all of which have their own unique place within the great medicine circle of your Nation.”

After a brief pause First-born son continued his teaching: “Central in the great medicine circle are the clans of the crane and the turtle. Turtle represents Our Mother the Earth, who sustains all of us with constancy and generosity, and the water it lives in is responsible for plant life and growing things. Long ago, Turtle, as the head of the fish clans, emerged from the water with earth on its back, providing a living place for human beings and all creatures between sky and water. The turtle is the medium of communication of thought between time and beings of this world and those of another world and dimension of time.

The crane, who directed our People from the dawn Land of the salt Sea toward the rivers and streams and freshwater lakes that you now call your home, represents eloquence of leadership and direction. His mighty voice, which is unique and infrequent, commands respect. When crane speaks, all listen. The crane, therefore, is the spokesperson for the clans.


Logo of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Logo of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, featuring a flying sandhill crane carrying a branch of the mountain ash in its beak.


From the Great Spirit of the sky, the supernatural Thunderbirds and their representatives on a terrestrial level, the eagles, received the gifts of strong wings and keen sight, courage, and pre-knowledge. The sphere of these powerful winged beings is the sky, the mountains, and the heights. The Thunderbirds teach us the art of war while the eagle teaches us about the great virtue of love.

From the Great Spirit of the sky, the deer, representing the hoof clans, received the gift of grace. The Deer Clan will be known as the clan of gentle people. Your People will look up at the Deer Clan people as peaceful people who never indulge in using harsh words of any kind. They are the poets of the Nation.

Lastly, the bears, which originated from the body parts of the Giant Bear from the mountain in the west that my siblings and I dispersed in the four winds of the Universe, received the gifts of courage and strength. Since the bear originates from the most powerful creature that ever existed on earth, he or she is chosen as the leader of all animal life in creation and, in extension, as the leader of the Large Paws clan group on earth. Entrusted with the noble tasks of Defense and Healing and responsible for enforcing the laws of Truth and Bravery, bear will represent the most numerous and influential of all clans.

However, bears are not just formidable warriors, or expert defenders of the Nation! The terrestrial bear also represents all of the medicine powers in creation, and, since he or she protects the healing medicines and sacred rituals of medicine men and women, bear will become assigned as guardian of both the east door of your Medicine Lodges and your sweat lodges. Also, on a spiritual as well as on a day-to-day level, your People will learn to mirror themselves in bear’s yearly pattern of hibernation, isolation, and emerging with new life as soon as the winter ends. Thus, bears will be symbol of the spring season, of regeneration, and new life.

The terrestrial bears reflect the movements of the great bear who rules from his lodges in the night sky - the stars -, by digging for medicinal plants in the Earth in spring and summer; and also by finding a resting place in the earth's bosom when it is time to hibernate. Their claws dig medicine roots and they visit medicine people in their dreams and visions, passing on to them knowledge about how to use them for healing practices. Haw sa, like his cousin who dwells among the stars in the night sky, the earthly bear gives us many teachings. If you watch how the bear lives his life, you will learn many more teachings!”


Next, with a broad sweep of his left arm, First-born Son directed his audience’s attention to the beautiful berry-bearing tree that grew on top of the bluff overlooking the rapids and the town, right where a few decades earlier he and his siblings had buried the heart of the slain Giant Bear.

Inashke! Behold the tree on yonder hill that overlooks the rapids and cascades and guards the towns and villages that, several winters ago, were founded by the clans of crane, loon, bear, marten, and catfish! It grows on the sacred spot where me and my brothers buried the Giant Bear’s heart and where the Great Sandhill Crane landed to show your People where to settle! This tree is a grandfather that survives in high places where others cannot, and will therefore be a symbol for the strength, durability, and strong character of those who arrived here to colonize this area! In spring it has white spring flowers, which during fall season bring forth large clusters of flame-red, berry-like fruit loved by the bears and our winged relatives birds. The berries, which get sweeter with frost, ripen in late fall when most other natural food sources have diminished! They, as well as the leaves and bark will also be used for medicines, with which your medicine people will cure illnesses. The berries represent the hearts of the bears, and the heart of your Nation. You will call this grandfather “bear berry tree” and he, as will be the sandhill crane that you see circling high above the rapids, will be forever be honored and remembered by the Spontaneous People, as long as the rapids flow and give life to the plants, the bears, the whitefish, the birds, the deer, and the People…”


The Mountain Ash and the Midewigaan
The Mountain Ash, the Bear Grandfather, and the Midewiwin Lodge © 2021 Zhaawano Giizhik


After a dramatic pause which he used to look across the solemn faces of the chiefs, warriors, and clan leaders who sat in front of him, First-born Son gestured to a seasoned elder, a long-time spokesman of the crane clan of the People of the Rapids, inviting him to speak. Hereupon the old man stood up and standing tall, his arms stretched toward the sky, he bellowed in a loud voice that resembled the call of his totem animal, and which could be heard far and wide echoing across the rapids and far beyond: “Haw! We give thanks to our grandfathers who guide and protect us, the Crane and the Bear Berry Tree!” The collective shouts of “Hoowah!” and “Eya!” reverberated throughout the air and the men and women present that day stepped forward, and one by one they decorated the tree’s branches with tobacco ties and colorful symbols of their respective clans. After thanking First-born son and his three siblings for their service to the People, the crowd descended from the hill and walked back to town, their hearts and minds filled with good thoughts. There was food and presents were exchanged, and everyone danced deep into the night to the throb of the Grandfather Water Drum.

Geget, it was a good day for the People of the Rapids and for all Spontaneous People that dwelled on the Great Turtle Island...


Realizing that their task on earth had been fulfilled, the four brothers dispersed to the cardinal directions. First-born Son, who is still renown for his great warrior qualities and a well-respected teacher who taught the Anishinaabeg how to write on rocks (petroglyps), still resides in the west with his father, the West wind. Second-born Son, known for his ability of storytelling and the art of dancing, resides in the south and continues to teach to this day. He was gifted the hand drum from Grandmother Moon to win the hearts of the Anishinaabeg. Spirit Rabbit, the third son, went to live in the north from where he helps guide us back home. It is said that his forebears are the wolves, who are known to howl at Grandmother Moon asking her for forgiveness. As for the youngest of the four brothers, the Great Hare: he quite clearly became the most loved of the four, and is believed to reside in Thunder Bay as "The Sleeping Giant." It is believed that one day he will wake up and return...

Mii sa ekoozid. Nimiigwechiwendaan noongom ayaabanaabiyan. And that is the end of the story. Thank you for taking the time to look back today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.



¹ Turtle Island: North America. ^

² Spontaneous People: the Anishinaabeg, also called Ojibwe. The greater Nation of Anishinaabeg consists of the People of the Three Fires (Ojibweg, Odaawaag, and Bodéwadmik), the Misi-zaagiwininiwag (Mississauga), Omàmiwininiwak (Algonkin), Mamaceqtaw (Menominee), and others. ^

³ The Great Lakes (Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin / The Five Freshwater Seas):

· Ojibwewi-gichigami / Gichi-gami - Sea of the Ojibweg / Sea (Great Lake); Lake Superior

· Ininwewi-gichigami / Mishigami - Great Lake of the Illiniwak Peoples / Big Lake; Lake Michigan

· Naadowewi-gichigami / Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami - Rattlesnake Sea / Great Crosswaters Sea; Lake Huron

· Niigaani-gichigami - Chain of Lakes Sea; Lake Erie

· Gichi-zaaga’egan - Great Lake; Lake Ontario ^

Big Sea River: called Gichigami-ziibi in Ojibwemowin, the Anishinaabe language. Called St. Mary's River in English. This river defines the border of Ontario/Michigan that runs through present-day Sault Ste. Marie. ^

Ajijaak, the sandhill crane, sometimes decribed by its metaphorical name Baswenaazhi or "Echo Maker". Until today the sandhill crane spirit that was sent from the skies, holds a special place in the hearts and the stories of the Gichigamiwininiwag (the Ojibweg of the Great Lakes) in recognition of one of the defining moments in their history: the founding of Baawiting on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and after that the establishing of two more settlements much farther to the west. Baawiting, the fifth stopping place in the migration of the Anishinaabeg Peoples, was to be the political end economical center of Anishinaabe Aki, their new land in the west, and from its rapids the diaspora spread out to the borders and islands of Gichi-gami (Lake Superior), as far as Manidoo-miinis and Mooningwane-kaaning-minis, two islands located respectively at the far end of Gichi-gami and in a bay in the southwestern part of the lake. Here, in gaa-zaaga'eganikaag, the "land of many lakes," wild rice grew in the lakes and streams, fish and fur was plentiful and the soil was fit to grow large patches of corn and squash; here, in the promised land, the People found life better than it had been in the east. Thus the crane played a central role in the creation of the fifth, sixth, and seventh stopping place of the Anishinaabeg migrants. Crane served as a beacon for the Southern Ojibweg in their quest forgaa-zaaga'eganikag, the "land of many lakes" and he became the symbol of the fulfillment of a Prophecy that had been delivered to them when they still lived in the Dawn Land. ^

Gichi-makwa, the Great Bear. ^

Present-day Mount McKay, Ontario. The local Anishinaabeg call this mountain Animikii-wajiw, Thunder Mountain. See also: Teachings of the Eagle Feather, part 27: Spirit of the Thunder Mountain. ^

First-born Son: Maajiigawiz, the guardian of tradition and ceremonies, symbolized by makwa, the bear. Of the medicinal plants, giizhik (northern white cedar) is associated with him. He is the eldest brother to Wenabozho. ^

Second-born Son: Papiigawiz (literally: "Disowned Son"), patron of wind and dance. ^

¹⁰ Spirit Rabbit: Jiibayaabooz, patron of music and songs. ^ ¹¹ The Great Trickster Hare: Wenabozho, which literally means "Trembling Tail." He is also known by a variety of other names and spellings, including Wenaboozhoo, Wiinabozho, Nanabozho, Manabozho, Nanabush, and Wiisagejaak. Wenabozho is half man half manidoo (spirit), considered to be the source and embodiment of the lives of all sentient things, such as humans, animals, and plants. Every living thing on, beneath, and above the earth he gifted with a spirit and a soul, and to each he taught – through his magic powers or through his parabolic stories – the necessary tricks needed to outsmart and outwit their enemies. Not only did he impart to the Anishinaabeg the best remedies for treating illnesses, he, being an expert shape shifter himself, taught the animals how to disguise themselves so that they could survive. Although he often presents himself as a trickster and a mischievous fantasist, the Anishinaabeg regard Wenabozho first and foremost as an aadizookaan (spirit grandfather) possessing great wisdom in the prolonging of life. Wenabozho was, and still is, without doubt the best friend of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. ^

¹² The Gathering Place of the Rapids: Baawiting, the area around the present-day city of Sault Ste. Marie where my ancestors founded their legendary settlement. ^

¹³ By the end of the 18th century, the Baawitigowininiwag (People of the Place of the Rapids) had settled to the extent that there were major centers of population located at Baawiting /Baawitigong (respectively the falls and cascades of the river of St. Mary and of the present-day city of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan and Ontario), on Gichi-minis (Grand Island, near what is nowadays Munsing, Michigan), present-day Point Iroquois (Mashkinoozhekaaning /Bay Mills, Michigan), Ishkonigan-minis (Sugar Island, Michigan), Bootaagani-minising (Drummond Island, Michigan), and Gitigaani-ziibi (Garden River, Soo, Ontario). These historical sites still have settlements of Anishinaabeg People living on or nearby today. ^

¹ Medicine Lodge: Midewigaan, the Lodge of the Midewiwin. Midewiwin, which means literally ‘‘Society of Those Who Are in A Sacred, Or Unseen, State,’’ is a prestigious association of male and female healers and thinkers, respected keepers and protectors of the traditional Anishinaabe way of life and ceremonies that are many thousands of years old. The Midewiwin aims to pass on the Great Binding Law of the Great Mystery, and, in particular, to conserve the concept of mino-bimaadiziwin, a set of Seven Grandfather Teachings on human conduct and a spiritual way for living. Its principal focus is to recover and keep alive the seven mide-wiigwaasan (birch bark scrolls used for ritual purposes) and their sacred teachings which in recent history had been forced underground. These complex writings also include astronomy, mapping, information about the clan system and family lineage, and up to 1000-year-old migration routes. The symbols depicting historical events, songs, dreams, visions, and prophecies, called mazinaajimowin, were not only inscribed on mide-wiigwaasan, but have also been engraved or painted on cliff walls and rocks for many generations in the past, particularly in those mystic places near the coastline of Gichigami (Lake Superior) where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground, and the underwater meet. Source: Zhaawano Giizhik, Midewiwin and the Medicine Painters, Guardians of the Anishinaabe Way of Life. ^ ¹Nibaad Misaabe, the Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay, Ontario. See also: Reawakening of the Medicine People, part 2: Zhooniyaa, Precious Gift of the Underworld. ^

¹The Mountain Ash, a species of deciduous tree or shrub in the rose family, called makwiminaatig ("bear berry tree"; not to confused with kinnickinnick/bear berry) by the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg. Also called, depending on the dialect spoken and the species in question, makominaatig, makominagaawanzh, makominzh, and ajimak. Its symbol is depicted on the flag and logo of the present-day Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians of Michigan (see the image below). ^



Paintings and drawings by the late Carl Ray, the late Miskwaabik Animikii, the late Eddy Munroe, and myself. Also, a silver bolo tie designed and handcrafted by myself is shown.


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