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Love Stories from the Land of Many Lakes, part 12: "Return of the Drum Called Humble Spirit"

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

~~ How an Ojibwe boy named His Voice Reaches Far had a dream and returned honor, truth, and simplicity to the pow-wow grounds and restored peace between the Anishinaabeg and Dakota Peoples; and how, generations later, a Dakota woman called Yellow Star Woman brought love back into the heart of a young Ojibwe man called Sun Spirit ~~

Illustrated with artwork of Leland Bell, Carl Ray, Norval Morrisseau, Eddie Cobiness, Daphne Odjig, Cecil Youngfox, Isaac Bignell, Goyce Kakegamic, Moses Amik, Simone McLeod, Zhaawano Giizhik, and others.


Manoominike-giizis (Wild Rice Harvesting Moon), August 4, 2019


Drummers painting by Bebaminojmat

If the New People will remain strong in their quest the Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinaabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit."


“When I danced it was for a (spiritual) reason. There was no category or points…I would listen to my grandfather. I go back to those days when we enjoyed ourselves. We were just the common people, no titles, no positions. We were surviving, we didn’t know we were poor, we had a roof over our head, we had food and clothes. But today, everybody wants to be empowered and they go to extremes to find that empowerment. They have to be a better dancer, singer, better medicine man. It’s become a contest… For some reservations, the pow wow was a ceremony and a spiritual part of life. Now we have pow wow medicine men who know everything about everything. It’s kind of comical…They now have so many rules about a feather and about the drum, I wonder how they get into the arena with all the rules…The very definition of a pow-wow (used to be) a gathering of family and friends to celebrate, tell stories, eat food, meet new friends and carry on what they were taught…I am not saying one is right or one is wrong, but that’s the way it is. When I watch the dancers, I see them spinning, jumping, turning, and they aren’t even in rhythm with the beat. I will watch a dancer and wonder if they are doing it for the same reason we did. I wonder what his story is. I wonder what that means, why did they turn that way. Men and women dancing are telling their stories and that is getting kind of missed now.”

- Elder Richie Plass, former powwoww dancer from Wisconsin. Source: Indian Country Today.



Many strings of life ago, there lived in the center of Anishinaabe Aki, the land of the Ojibwe People, in a wiigiwaam on the shore of a bay at the head of Gichigami, the Great Lake, a boy who went by the name of Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi (His Voice Reaches Far). He shared the wiigiwaam with Mishoomis, his widowed grandfather. From his earliest youth Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, who belonged to nooke doodem, the Bear clan, was observed by his kinsmen to be introverted and pensive. He was well-known for his artistic nature and qualities and it escaped no one’s attention that he spent much time in far-away, remote places.

Ojibwe wiigiwaam by Zhaawano Giizhik
Anishinaabe wiigiwaam, pen-and-ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik

It was obvious that Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi loved his grandfather a great deal. He would gather misan (firewood) for omishoomisimaa, he brought him giigoonh (fish) from the bay and wazhashkwedowag (mushrooms) and ojiibikan (wild roots) from the forest and he helped him pick miinan (berries) and trap the waaboozoog (rabbits) that lived in the underbrushes. A good and dutiful grandchild he was! But he also had another side.

Even in infancy the boy had seemed different from other children his age; and as he grew older his character appeared more strange and more wonderful. Before he attained the age at which Anishinaabe children enter upon a period of puberty rites and fasting, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi spent much time in solitude and fasting. Some people even whispered that he was banaabe, a person belonging to the other-than-human-class, having the features and outer form of a human being but in reality possessing at least some qualities of manidoo (a spirit).

Bebaminojmat canvas Lake
Detail of an acrylic painting by Wikwemikong Anishinaabe painter Bebaminojmat (Leland Bell)

Geget sago, he was truly not a typical boy. His name, His Voice Reaches Far, wasn’t a reference to the loudness of his voice – in fact he was soft-spoken, almost timid. Gaawiin, the name attested to his seemingly ability to converse with every creature in the Universe. Geget igoo, truly, some people even said that he mastered every language known among men and spirits and that he knew what the bineshiinyag (birds) were saying in their songs! Even his grandfather believed that Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, had entrusted his grandson with the task to teach the People, particularly about the curative powers of plants and mino-bimaaadiziwin: how to live a good, long, and prosperous life. The boy seemed to possess tremendous abilities and strengths.

The reason Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi was so well-loved by his grandfather and the others, however, were not his gichi-mashkiki-gikendaasowin (great medicine knowledge) and his supposed supernatural powers, but how he used them; the Anishinaabeg loved him, not just for having great knowledge of the curative powers of the plants, but also for his kind character and his tireless efforts and inclination to help the little children, the poor, and the weak.

Whenever he could leave his grandfather's wigwam he would venture off - sometimes at night - to remote glades in the dense inland forest, or sit upon a high bluff overlooking the water of the vast lake. It was in such places that he sought meaning and self-discovery by addressing the spirits of the Universe and by regularly invoking his bawaaganag, or guardian spirits. He would often feel the urge to use red ochre to paint in the presence of the spirits his dreams and visions on the rocks and cliff walls that bordered the lake. He was such a skilled painter and his images had such deep spiritual meaning that Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi had become known as the artist of his People even before reaching the age of 15.


Carl Ray Rock Painter
Rock Painter, acrylic on canvas by the late Anishini Anishinaabe painter Carl Ray


As chance would have it, there lived an old man across the bay on an island who spoke a strange tongue that no one on the mainland was able to understand. The Anishinaabeg who lived on the mainland referred to him as Bwaan Inini, a man who belonged to the Roaster Nation, a tribe of brave people that lived across the big lake. Although this man, who was dewe'iganikewinini, a drum maker, lived a secluded life, from that solitude there came from time to time the sound of mitigwakik, a water drum, calling the Anishinaabeg on the mainland back to the simplicity and truth of the ways of all Native Peoples of the great Turtle Island. The drumming was usually accompanied by sacred chants, and the boy often listened in awe and in a state of near-hypnosis to the island man as his throaty and high-pitched voice carried prayers and petitions across the bay and the lake and beyond. These petitions were pushed on by the rhythmic pulse of his drum that, to the boy, resembled the thunder rolling through the sky, and the chants were sung in a language that could only be understood by him and the spirit beings that lived out there.

When one cold day in the Little Spirit Moon the boy, who had a very curious nature, asked his grandfather about the Bwaanag people who lived across the lake, the old man told his grandson a story that made a deep impression on him.

Ahaaw noozis, well my grandson, ningad aadizooke noongom, I will tell you now a sacred story. There once was a time when the Anishinaabeg and Bwaanag peoples were at constant war with each other. Ogichidaawiwinan (warrior societies) on both sides flourished and around the village camp fires the talk was always of war. The villages were becoming empty of men, and the women mourned and buried their husbands and sons. Soon, there were only women and small children left in the camps since the men and available youth were on the war path. War became such an inseparable part of their lives that most people forgot how the fighting had started and what it was they were fighting about.

Now, in one of the main villages of the Bwaanag situated across our big lake there lived oshki-ikwezens (a little girl), who was tired of war. She went into the lodges of the grandmothers and grandfathers and told them she was tired of all this talk of war, of burying her male relatives, and friends, she was tired of death and dying. She said to them: "There must something that our People could do to stop the wars?”

“You!” cried the grandmothers and grandfathers, “What do you now? You’re just oshki-ikwezens, a little girl!” After such rude behavior from the grandmothers and grandfathers the little girl decided she would go on a fast. She and her grandparents did all the preparations and she began her fast on the night of the full moon. She took nothing but a green blanket the color of the earth in spring and went out on the hill by herself, determined not to come back down until she received an answer.


For seven days, nothing happened. No visitors or visions came to her, and the little girl was getting hungrier and hungrier. With the moon full again, the little girl was close to death, and feeling abandoned and alone. As she lay on her earth blanket dying, the silver poplar tree spirits who guarded her caught the moonlight and reflected it back to the earth around her. It was like daylight out on the hillside, so the little girl watched the moon and prayed to the Great Mystery. Through her tears, it seemed to her she saw seven figures surrounding the bright ball in the sky that she recognized as Nookomis Wezaawigiizhig, or Grandmother moon. It looked as though the seven figures were gently carrying Grandmother from the sky toward Mother Earth! The little girl understood that the seven figures were aadizookaanag, or grandfathers. She reached her arms out to embrace the grandmother; with the final strength in her body she got up and took her green blanket and spread it on the ground so that the seven grandfathers could rest Nookomis Wezaawigiizhig on it.

The aadizookaanag sat with the little girl around her fire for four days and gave her the Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewinan, or "Seven Sacred Teachings." The Grandmother began to talk to the little girl telling her how to create a drum and the correct way to stretch the rawhide and lace it on. She told the little girl that the men were so busy waging war that they had forgotten how to connect with their hearts. If the little girl would give them the drum, they would once again connect with their hearts. She said that the drum is animate and has a spirit; when the little girl was finished making the drum she thought of how much it looked like Grandmother moon.

The little Bwaan girl took the finished drum to the Warriors lodge, were the men accepted the drum and began to use the drum and use their voices as medicine prayers. They started connecting with their hearts, and soon all thought of war left their minds. With her People still raiding the Anishinaabeg, the little girl decided to make another drum, but on the face of this drum the little girl painted one half red and the other half blue, and down the middle she painted a yellow strip. The little girl went and presented the Bwaanag ogichidaag (Dakota warriors) with this Vision Drum and demonstrated to them the proper custody of the drum and how they must bestow it upon their former enemies. Soon after the Bwaanag ogichidaag laid down their weapons and they too started to connect with their hearts. Peace came into the people's hearts...soon the people of both Nations hunted together, celebrated festivals together, derived their warmth from the same fire, and, in some cases, ate from the same bowl, yes even hung their garments together..."



"The oshki-ikwezens, this little girl of the story I related to you noozis,” the old man concluded, “is the mother of the Bwaani-dewe'iganike who lives on yonder island.”

The story about the Bwaan drum maker and his mother who as a little girl had received instructions from the sky spirits on how to make gichi-bwaani-omishoomisinaa-izhinamowin-dewe'igan, the "big Dakota Grandfather Vision drum" and how it came to the Anishinaabeg, aroused Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi’s curiosity and every night he would sit on top of his bluff protruding into the lake, listening in awe to the Grandfather Drum that sounded across the water. Then, after listening for a few hours to the hypnotizing sounds produced by the water drum, he would stand up and, pounding on his hand drum and in perfect synch with the rhythm of the Grandfather, he started to dance in circles. His steps emulated the sacred movements that the great hero Wenabozho, the Original Man, had made when he, in the beginning of times, after a great deluge that killed all life on land had been lowered to the newly-created Earth. Imaa na, indeed, the Great Mystery had sent Wenabozho to the new Earth in order to name all the plants and roots and herbs and animals and lakes and rivers and hills and valleys and owa! Wenabozho had fulfilled his mission in the most sacred of ways imaginable…


Eddie Cobiness Rain Dancer
Rain Dance, acrylic by the late Ojibwe painter Eddie Cobiness


Life went it course and Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi went about his daily tasks cheerfully and conscientiously; everything he did testified of a great generosity to his people, who lived in a village not far from where his grandfather’s wiigiwaam stood... At times the boy’s life was marked by retreat and isolation in the very depth of the woods and by ceremony. Some nights he would climb his bluff overlooking the lake where he would listen to the drumming and chanting that echoed across the water, and the boy danced beneath the silver light of the moon to the rhythm of the drum, which was soon dubbed “Humble Spirit” by Anishinaabeg and Bwaanag alike.

Around the time the boy was 14 years old, Gichi-dewe'igan-niimi'idiwin or the Drum Dance Ceremony, in which the Gichi-dewe'igan or Large Drum figured prominently, started to play an important role, not just in the boy’s life but in the lives and cultures of both tribes that lived on both sides of the lake. To both the Bwaanag and Anishinaabeg, the round shape of the Grandfather Drum that sat on the island symbolized the Universe and its steady beat represented the pulsing heart of the Earthmother. The drum ceremony that the Dakota Peoples three generations earlier had gifted to their neighbors and former enemies the Anishinaabeg thus became one of the centerpieces of the sacred ceremonies of the lodges among both tribes, and the boy observed from his bluff with a happy and grateful heart how more and more people from both sides of the lake canoed to the island, where they would meet and socialize and gather around the drum. The drum, whom was regarded as a living being and addressed to as gimishoo, our granfdather, stood on a specially prepared dance ground..Here, in an outdoor area surrounded by benches or low fencing, with openings on two sides, the Bwaanag and Anishinaabeg Peoples conducted their ceremonies and together they danced and sang to the mighty voice of the water drum.


It was a time for families and friends to meet; there were name-givings; and grandmothers talked about medicines they made and grandfathers would tell stories to the children by the campfire, and there were handgames at night. It was also a time for romance and many marriages came about, not just among members of the same tribe but also between men and women from both Nations.

The dances symbolized all relatives that live on, beneath, and above the earth. Each dance represented a being, like, for example, a relative from the animal world. If a dancer used a body part of an animal they knew that it came with a responsibility to ojichaag (the spirit essence) of the animal or bird in question. If one used, for instance, migizi miigwan, a feather of a bald eagle, it was never for show. The dancer knew the feather was sacred and manidoo (a spirit) in itself, and therefore only to be used with respect, integrity, and humility.

At first the old Bwaan drum maker hosted these intercultural celebrations – which were basically simple gatherings of family and friends, with homemade food, giveaways and unnamed dances - but hoowah! this task was gradually taken over by the communities of both Nations that lived on opposite sides of the lake. Dakota and Anishinaabe warriors would come to the island after they returned from the hunt or raids to tell about their feats through dance. Movement, color, and sounds, rather than words served to tell the stories of their hearts…



These social and ceremonial gatherings usually lasted four days. At the end of a four-day period the community that hosted the gathering acknowledged the drum and the dancers with the sharing of songs, clothing, artifacts, and food. It was a beautiful tradition. The people of both Nations were happy and in peace. The boy observed how large flocks of migiziwag (bald eagles) descended from the midday sun and soared over the waters of the bay and he knew the world was in harmony.

But then, one day in the Middle of the Summer Moon, something happened that would disrupt the peace and harmony that existed on the island and that would forever change the character of these jiingotamog and niimi’idiwinan, these ceremonial and social gatherings that each summer took place in the heart of ANISHINAABE AKI. The drum maker of the Bwaanag People, who lived into very old age, walked on to the spirit world! With his passing, the voice of the Humble Spirit fell silent and the People from both sides of the great lake stopped coming over to the island that for seven years had been a meeting place and the social and ceremonial center of those that lived near the edges of the Great Lake and its waterways. Gradually, the cement of the friendships that had arisen between the extended families of both Nations started to erode and not before long the fire of old feuds and animosities that had been buried in the sands of the dance ground on the island was ignited again. Ogichidaawiwinan on both sides started to flourish like in the old days and soon enough the talk around the village camp fires was of war and war only, and like in the old days the green earth colored red … everyone forgot how the fighting had started and what it was they were fighting about…

Carl Ray Spirit Journey
Spirit Journey, artwork by the late Anishinini Anishinaabe artist Carl Ray

In the middle of the reignited animosities and warfare between the Anishinaabeg and the Bwaanag, it was with astonishment and sorrow that Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, sitting on his high bluff overlooking the bay, observed how each day many canoes filled with strange men who seemed to come from the four cardinal directions visited the island. The strangers, who obviously belonged to other Nations than those of the Anishinaabeg and the Bwaanag, carried big kettle drums with them, and instead of the simple and modest attire and blankets that were commonplace among his own People, these people were dressed in fancy regalia, and the excessive quantity of their eagle feathers and bustles and clothes and bags and mocassins richly decorated with intricate, colorful beadwork nearly blinded his eyes; tayaa! he even spotted ikweg (women) among the canoists wearing eagle plumes! It was as if the strangers were drawn to the sound of a new drum that came from the island where once the old Bwaan drum maker had lived. The fervent pulse of this new drum resounded day and night across the bay, loud and uninterrupted. The mechanical rhythm of the paddling gave the boy the impression that the canoists, who unceasingly chanted in strange tongues, were hypnotized by the compelling sound of, what seemed to him, a huge drum that came from the island and it worried him greatly…

Daphne Odjig Shaking Tent
The Shaking Tent, artwork by the late Anishinaabe painter Daphne Odjig


But what worried the boy the most was that, among the large fleets that gathered – seemingly permanently - along the shore of the island, several gichi-jiimaanan (big canoes) were filled with strangers from tribes from the south (short and dark-skinned and some of the men wore a truly magic caleidoscope of ferociously looking face paint) and, tayaa! among them he spotted a handful of waabishkiiweg, strangers with pale eyes and hairy faces.

This troubled him greatly as he remembered stories his grandfather had told him about a race of men, which grandfather called gichi-mookomaanag, or Long Knives, whose ancestors came from a country beyond Waabanaki, the Dawn Land. These waabishkiiweg, or white men, brought with them warfare and also several deadly diseases for which even the men and women of the Midewiwin had no cure…One of these diseases, grandfather had told him, and which he considered the worst disease of all, was the spirit of nibaadiziwin, or greed, symbolized by zhooniyaa or silver - called “money” by the invaders.

Haw sa, yes, sometimes grandfather would call these invaders alternately "Makade-ginebigoog" and “Wiindigoowag,” black snakes and cannibalistic monsters – which were protagonists of many stories the Elders told children in winter evenings around the campfire. In the old days, these monsters from the Underworld and wandering ghosts from the cold north represented gluttony and the vices of greed and immoderation. Haw sa, the way grandfather saw it, the white men who came to their lands with anami’ewaatig (a cross) in one hand and zhooniyaa (money) in the other to steal the land and feed on the sacred forests and lakes and rivers, greedingly consuming the lifeblood of Anishinaabe-akiminaan, the land so sacred to its original inhabitants, were the true ginebigoog and wiindigoowag of their time...

Wiindigoo Encounters Black Robe Norval Morrisseau
Wiindigoo Encounters Black Robe, acrylic by the late Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau)

Now, as story has it, large families of men, women, and children from various southern tribes and, occasionally, pale-faced men from the east came to the once so peaceful island and permanent camps were set up. There was continuous dancing and chanting and day and night the sound of a big dance drum that Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi’s people started to call Gwiiwizhenzhish, or “Greedy Boy,’’ echoed across the bay. Contest dancing, individual achievement, eye-dazzling dance outfits, and the selling of large-quantity goods produced by the Long Knives replaced the once unnamed dances, the modest attire, and the friendly, small-scale bartering of hand-picked medicines and hand-crafted items of the old days.

The offering of prices and rewards in the form of zhooniyaa was introduced by the gichi-mookomaanag who had set up camp on the island and soon this new craze, like it were a wildfire, left the island and spread rapidly across the lands and the dance grounds of the Anishinaabeg and Dakota Peoples - and beyond…

" I keep saying it: A powwow is like dancing to your heartbeat with all your friends…Some of these (modern-day, commercialized) powwows are like three-ring circuses… some even sell such items as rubber eagles at craft booths. It's just another way of exploiting Natives - Jimmy Boy Dial, Lumbee powwow organizer.

To Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, the sound of Gwiiwizhenzhish that came from the island no longer reflected the heartbeat of the earth and the universe at large; no longer did the dances and the singing serve to tell the stories of his People’s hearts…No longer did the dancers follow the old protocols of their fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, the Elders, the ancestors… Instead, the modern voice of spectacle and ego that the Greedy Boy produced and that seemed to aim at impressing the eyes and ears of the crowd sounded louder than ever – enh, even louder than the war drums that stood in the villages of the warring Anishinaabeg and Bwaanag! To the boy’s dismay, maajikamig, alas! the frantic chants propelled forward by the loud voice of the Greedy Boy even drowned out the friendly, soft-spoken voices of the spirits and the ancestors who dwelled in the winds and the trees, in the waters and the coves and inlets of the bay, and in the bosom of mother earth herself. Haw sa, yes, the old principle of mino-bimaadiziwin, Living the Way of the Good Life, had lost its place in the center of the Sacred Circle...

Then, as he sat on his high bluff, pondering the new developments that covered his mood in a heavy blanket of anguish, the boy noticed to his horror that each night many warriors and a few waabishkiiweg (white men) assembled near the main lodge on the island. Shone upon by the light of the campfires and the moon and the witnessing glow of the stars the men smoked the pipe. The ogimaa (leader) of the expedition, which at first sight seemed to be a war party, gave a feast, explaining the proposed expedition and receiving the final pledge of the assembled men. Then, armed with torches made out of birchbark, the men filled a big fleet of canoes and, under cover of night and guided by the monotonous, hypnotic sound of the Greedy Boy, they steered their jiimaanan off into northwestern direction. The boy observed how some of the men sprinkled asemaa (tobacco) on the water of the bay for protection against the underwater spirits; this, combined with the flickering light from the torches that lightened up the paddlers’ faces and arms covered with streaks of white clay and paint black and red, lent a truly sinister atmosphere to the nightly scene…


But despite what one might think, the goal of the endeavor was not torch fishing - a popular method of fishing or catching loons among Anishinaabe-speaking Peoples, which means, using a torch made out of birch bark as bait... As the canoes drifted out of sight the boy realized that the party wasn’t a war party or a fishing expedition but instead a party of hunters! The goal of their expedition was Nibaad Misaabe, the Sleeping Giant, a spirit of stone who lay dormant in the waters of a large bay on the other side of the Great Lake and who guarded the large quantities of waabishki-zhooniyaa asiniiwaabik (silver ore) that lay burried on the bottom of the bay. The boy even suspected that the goal of their expedition was Miinoong ( “the beautiful place," present-day Isle Royal, Michigan), an island lying behind the Sleeping Giant, which he knew held deposits of the ozaawaabiko-zhooniya (copper) that his People regarded to be even more sacred than the silver ore!

Gichi-wiiyagaaj!’’ the boy shouted once the truth dawned on him, “Holy shit! Those jaamedjig, those paddlers over there who are obviously under the influence of Gichi-mookomaanag, the Long Knives that have their abode on yonder island, are giiyosewininiwag (hunters)! Not hunters for fish, or loon, but hunters fueled by greed for the sacred zhooniyaa and miskwaabik, the precious gifts of the water spirits that dwell the underworld of Gichigami. Geget sa, those jaamedjig are surely sent by waabishkiiweg, the white men, and definitely after the sacred ore that lies buried at places where our Medicine People since many generations go to pray, dream, and have visions!’’



That night, the boy slept fitfully. Just before the dawn star rose a bawaagan, or dream vistor, in the shape of ozaawi-makwa, a brown bear, visited him, who adressed the boy as noozis, my grandchild. The pelt of the bear was covered with miigisag, the sacred cowry shells he had often seen being used by Medicine People in Midewiwin healing ceremonies. To the boy’s surprise the bear spoke with the voice of omishoomisimaa, his grandfather!

"Bizindan noozis, pay attention my grandchild," grandfather spoke, "because the story that I am now going to relate to you is about you when you lived a long time ago; it is also about you in the present time, and about deeds that you will perform in the near future as a helper. You will perform these deeds in order to bring back much-needed healing into the hearts and minds of your People and also to restore peace on the lands that your People share with your historical neighbors, the Roaster Peoples, whose great-grandfathers gifted your great-grandfathers with Gichi-dewe'igan-niimi'idiwin, the Big Drum Dance Ceremony."

"In the beginning of times, GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery, made the MIDE MANIDOOG (Mide Spirits)," grandfather continued. "GICHI-MANIDOO first created two men, and two women; but they had no power of thought or reason. Then GICHI-MANIDOO made them rational beings. It took them in its hands so that they should multiply; it paired them, and from this sprung the ANISHINAABEG. When they were ANISHINAABEG (people) it placed them upon the earth, but it soon observed that they were subject to sickness, misery, and death, and that unless it provided them with the Sacred Medicine they would soon become extinct.

Now, it happened that between the position occupied by GICHI-MANIDOO and the earth were four lesser manidoog with whom GICHI-MANIDOO decided to commune, and to impart to them the mysteries by which the Anishinaabeg could be benefited. So GICHI-MANIDOO first spoke to one manidoo and told him all it had to say, who in turn communicated the same information to the next, and he in turn to next, who also communed with the next. They all met in council, and determined to call in the wendaanimag noodinoon (four wind manidoog). After consulting as to what would be best for the comfort and welfare of the Anishinaabeg, the wendaanimag noodinoon agreed to ask GICHI-MANIDOO to communicate the Mystery of the Sacred Medicine to the Anishinaabeg.

GICHI-MANIDOO then went to GIIZIS the Sun Spirit and asked him to descend to the earth and instruct the Anishinaabeg as had been decided upon by the council. GIIZIS, in the form of an Anishinaabe gwiiwizens (little Ojibwe boy), went to the earth and lived with an Anishinaabekwe (woman) who had a little boy of her own. This family went away in the autumn to hunt, and during the winter this woman’s son left for the Spirit World, or the Land of Souls. The parents were so much distressed that they decided to return to the village and bury the body there; so they made preparations to return, and as they traveled along, they would each evening erect several poles upon which the body was placed to prevent the wild beasts from devouring it. When the boy whose soul had crossed to the other side was thus hanging upon the poles, the adopted child—who was the Sun Spirit—would play about the camp and amuse himself, and finally told his adopted father he pitied him, and his mother, for their sorrow. The adopted son claimed he could make his brother return to the physical world, whereupon the parents expressed great surprise and desired to know how that could be accomplished.

The adopted boy then had the party hasten to the village, when he said, 'Get the women to make a wiigiwaam (lodge) of bark, put the boy in a covering of wiigwaas (birch bark) and place the body on the ground in the middle of the wiigiwaam.'

On the next morning after this had been done, the family and friends went into this lodge and seated themselves around the corpse. When they had all been sitting quietly for some time, they saw through the doorway the approach of a bear, which gradually came towards the wiigiwaam, entered it, and placed itself before the dead body and said, 'ho, ho, ho, ho,' when he passed around it towards the left side, with a trembling motion, and as he did so, the body began quivering, and the quivering increased as the bear continued until he had passed around four times, when the body came to life again and stood up. Then the bear called to the father, who was sitting in the distant right-hand corner of the wiigiwaam, and addressed to him the following words:

Noos gaawiin anishinaabewisii, ayaawiyaan manidoo ningwizis.

Bi-mayaa-miniik niiji-manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-gi-aawiyan.

Noose, zhigwa asemaa ji-atooyeg. E-mikondem mii eta

aabiding ji-gashkitood wenji-bimaadizid omaa agaawaa

bimaadizid mii omaa; niijii-manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-giiweyaan.

('My father is not a human. I, a son, am a Spirit. Just as - my fellow Spirit - you now are.

Father! Now, you shall put out tobacco. Recalling that he could do this only once in order to barely live here, thus he lived here; my fellow Spirit, so now, I must go home.')

After performing this amazing deed the little bear boy (for it was he who had revived the deceased son of his foster-parents) then remained among the Anishinaabeg and taught them the mysteries of the Midewiwin; and, after he had finished, he told his adopted father that as his mission had been fulfilled he was to return to his kindred manidoog, for the Anishinaabeg would have no need to fear sickness as they now possessed the Midewiwin which would enable them to live. He also said that his spirit could bring a body to life but once, and he would now return to GIIZIS (the sun), awaiting a time when the Anishinaabeg needed his presence again on aki, our mother the earth, to teach them how to return to mino-bimaadiziwin, the way of a good life, and show them the way to living a life according the respectful worldview that their acestors used to live... ”

“This boy, noozis,” grandfather spoke after a brief pause, “this boy who lived behind the Sun and came to aki to teach your People the practice of Healing, and who returned to the Sky World after his sacred work was done, is you. Your name will be from now on Oshkaabewis, the Helper. You will soon have an izhinamowin (dream vision) and with the power derived from it you will retrieve the Humble Spirit that disappeared when the loud voice of the Greedy Boy started to resound over the bay and the island and the lands surrounding the Great Lake; these very waters on whose borders your ancestors and those of the Bwaanag (Dakota Peoples) have lived for many generations.

Haw sa! Yes! The sun will disappear soon and the sky will turn dark and the waters of the Great Lake will be in great turmoil. As soon as this happens you will have this izhinamowin. During this powerful dream, noozis, the stone Giant and the underwater spirits of the lakes will reawaken and chase away the strangers who came from the east and the south and who brought the Greedy Boy to the island and the surrounding lands. After this, a gift will be presented to you from the depths of the Lake. Then, as soon as you wake up from this powerful dream, noozis, you will present this gift to your People...”

Enh, noozis,” yes my grandchild, grandfather concluded, “the sky will brighten up again and the angry spirits of the underworld will be appeased and the lake will restore its calmness again…Soon, the Humble Boy will, as if it were the Little Boy Drum that points the way to the Grandfather Drum in our Medicine Lodge, enlighten the sky...Then, the Humble Boy will, as if it were the Grandfather itself, make the darkness flee before him and teach the People to turn their backs to the clamor of today's greedy ways and return to the silent, respectful ways of your ancestors. There will be true spiritual communication again.

Soon, the Humble Boy will sound its healing voice again in the hearts of your Peoples and in the hearts of the Bwaanag Peoples.

The gatherings will be unifying and healing experiences again and, like it used to be in the old days, bring people of all Nations together in a joyous spirit and in celebration of life, and not in a celebration of material profit, self, and ego.

There will finally be healing at the big drum again, the petitions of the People will be answered again. Haw sa, the old values of Honor, Respect, Generosity, and Humility will be reintroduced on the dance grounds of both Nations.

The drums, which lately have not been treated according the respect they deserve and therefore have lost their vital spiritual essence, will be treated with the proper protocol again.

Enh geget noozis, the Healing Boy will sound again and the Nations of the Anishinaabeg and the Bwaanag will dance together again and peace will finally be restored on Anishinaabe Aki."


Legend of the Sleeping Giant birchbark painting Goyce Kakegamic
Legend of the Sleeping Giant, acrylic on birchbark by Goyce Kakegamic


The Bear Grandfather who had spoken to Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi in his sleep disappeared and the boy got up. The sun was up already and when the boy stepped outside the wiigiwaam he noticed his grandfather, who was tending the campfire. Slowly chewing on a piece of venison, a left-over from the day before, grandfather looked at the boy from across the fire, his friendly eyes twinkling. He said nothing, nor did Wenoodaagoziwid-webaashi. Behind grandfather the boy saw white crests on the waves of the otherwise placid bay. Gazing over the bay he also noticed that the fleet of canoes had returned from their nightly expedition to the silver and copper mines; there were campfires still burning on the island but no sign of the strangers. The whole camp seemed in deep silence. After he finished his meal grandfather lit his pipe and the boy, accustomed to the thoughtful ways of his grandfather, waited patiently. Then, when the old man had finished smoking, he spoke.

Mino-gigizheb noozis, it is a good morning grandson” he said with a little sly smile, eyes still twinkling, “I take it you had good night rest?” The boy smiled and the old man looked briefly at him with a pensive look in his eyes. Then, with his right arm outstretched, gesturing with his flat hand and pointing his chin in the direction of the bay, he spoke calmly “The spirit of the lake is moody today.” Then, after a brief pause, pointing his chin at the treeline behind the wiigiwaam, he said, “I think we’d best evacuate our waaginogaan (dome-shaped wigwam) and set up a nisawa’igan (tipi) further inland, up the hill beyond the trees over there.”

For the remainder of the day omishoomisimaa and his grandson kept themselves busy hauling madogaanaatigoon (tipi poles) as well as most of the utensils and ceremonial items they kept in the birchbark wiigiwaam, away from the dome-shaped lodge and up the hill. By the end of the afternoon they had set up camp on the hill, and omishoomisimaa spoke again.

Ambesa! Come! It is time… it is time for you to purify yourself and then go to the beach. Bring gigashkibidaagan (your ceremonial pouch) and gigashkibidaagan (your pipe bag), gizhiishiigwan (your ceremonial rattle), and your migizi manidoo dewe’igan (eagle spirit hand drum). Follow your bawaajigan (dream). Speak to Makadeshigan, the Black Bass who guards the Lake’s underworld and to Nibaad Misaabe, the Sleeping Giant who guards our sacred silver and copper. They will tell you what to do. Make sure to follow the instructions the spirits will give you. Do not be afraid, yet make sure you protect yourself against the rising tide. I will wait here for you to return. Be well noozis.”

Moses Amik Wind of Life Zhaawano Giizhik
Wind of Life, acrylic on canvas by the late Ojibwe painter Moses Amik


Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, who now went by the name of Oshkaabewis, did as he had been instructed by omishoomisinaan. First, he collected madoodoowasinan (stones) and built a fire and a make-shift madoodiswan (sweat lodge) with his grandfather’s help, and after he had purified himself he he unbound his opwaagan (pipe) from his buckskin casing and took asemaa out of his pouch, filled the pipe with it, lit it, and offered smoke and prayers to the spirits of the four directions, to the earth, and to the sky. As soon as the evening fell he sat himself down in the shadow of a giizhikaandag (cedar tree) whose roots were firmly planted in the rocky bottom of the beach, waiting. Then, a soon as darkness covered the bay in darkness, tayaa! he spotted six canoes departing from the island, manned by around thirty men from different tribes and a handful of waabishkiiweg (white men). These hunters for the zhooniyaa, carrying paddles and torches and tools, set sail in the direction of the stone manidoo called Nibaad-misaabe, the Sleeping Giant.

As soon as the expedition was out of sight, Oshkaabewis carefully took the claw and a tail feather of migizi (the bald eagle) and the pelt of amik (a beaver) – both of which were his spirit helpers - out of his medicine bag and laid them on the shiny beach pebbles in front of him. In order to invoke the spirits that lived beneath the lake’s surface - particularly the Great Horned Snakes and Lynx and the mermaids and mermen -, he then started to rattle his turtle-shell zhiishiigwan, meanwhile humming a sacred chant omoshoomisinaan had taught him:


Ji mino-inaadiziwinangen.

Nanaakinamowidaa maji-de’ewin

Zhaagoozhitamowidaa maji-doodamowin.

Gakina gegoon bimaadan

Gakina awiya bimaadisiwag.

This means:

"Fill our spirits with good So that our lives shall be upright.

Defend our hearts against evil

Help us prevail over evil.

Everything is alive

Everyone is alive."


Moses Amik Drummer
Eagle drummer, acrylic on canvas by the late Ojibwe painter Moses Amik

Next, he picked up his eagle drum and started to pound on it, chanting a sacred song on the top of his lungs in order to be heard above the rising turbulence of the restless lake. It was an ancient song of petition, a ritual appeal to appease the spirit of Makadeshigan, the Black Bass, Ogimaa-manidoo (Leading Spirit) of the Underworld of the Lake, who a long time ago had given the Anishinaabeg medicine and ritual protecting them against sickness.

Manidoowid dimiigami

Manidoowid bishagiishkibik

Manidoowid dibikadinik

Manidoowid giimoodiziwin.







Inenim niijiizhaakinaan

Ji niibidaashkaawawaad

Minjindim aazhook minjindim

Miziwe ayakawaagamigaak



Wii ditamowaad


“Spirit of the deep Spirit of the dark

Spirit of the night

Spirit of the hidden.


Stay far

From our sleep From our minds

From out hearts

From our spirits.

Let our spirits wander

From depth to depth

From breadth to breadth,

Inward and outward

Within their beings,

In quest for peace of mind.”



Then, as his grandfather had instructed, the boy directed a prayer song to Nibaad Misaabe, the Sleeping Giant who had his abode in the bay and who he knew was the petrified body of Wenabozho, the spirit hero of his People.

Gichi-amiing w’daa debweweshin nindewewiganim Aandi endanii’ek oo nibaad misaab?

Ayaawaanikamigaak giga onjimookiiwe

Aano manidoowiyin giga onjimookeewe.

“My drumming shall echo across the great lake

Where is it that you dwell, oh sleeping giant?

From the bosom of the earth you will emerge

You will come forth in a mystic manner.”

No sooner had the boy finished drumming and singing his song than the moon and the stars disappeared and the sky turned pitch-black, and the slashing tails of mishibizhiw and misgiginebigoog, the horned underwater lynx and snakes caused the water of the bay to churn into a seething foam. Howling winds whipped and whirled and the lake’s swells slammed against the rocky shores of the bay. A terrible flood struck the earth with such terrible anger and violence that the sky spirits responded with equal force. The sky grew dark with storm. The raging waters and a chorus of eerie, hight-pitched voices singing to him from the depths of the bay – which he suspected to be the voices of the treacherous nibiinaabekwewag (mermaids) - forced Oshkaabewis to collect his ceremonial items and make a run for the nearest bluff. There, safely sitting on its top, amid blasts of deafening thunder and searing flashes of lightning that scorched the beach below him, the boy, as had been foretold by his grandfather, had an izhinamowin (vision).

Norval Morriseau Magic Bear Zhaawano Giizhik blog
Magic Bear, acrylic on canvas by the laye Ojibwe painter Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau)


In his dream, a huge eagle came flying from the direction of Animikii Wazhiw (Thunderbird Mountain), flapping his wings and producing lightning flashes from his eyes.

The terrible thunderstorm and lightning pounded the land and caused the waters to withdraw and the horned underwater spirits to flee back to the bottom, and back into the caves and crevices of the bay and the lake behind it. The black sky opened up and the sun filled the hole in the sky with his bright yellow light, and from it an ozaawi-makwa (brown bear), its pelt painted red and covered with shiny miigisag (sea shells) the dazzling color of ozhaawshko-giizhig (a blue sky) descended and disappeared in the seething water of the lake. Next, before his astonished vision eye, out of the water rose a stone giant whom the boy immediately recognized to be Wenabozho, the legendary culture hero and beloved aadizookaan (story-maker) of his People. This solidified presence of this spiritual being, whom Oshkaabewis’s People referred to as the Nibaad Misaabe or Sleeping Giant, had been put there by Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, to guard the ancient deposits of the bay and to prevent any attempt by strangers to dig up the sacred silver and copper ore that lay burried there.

Moses Amik Nibaad Misaabe
Sleeping Giant, acrylic on canvas by the late Ojibwe painter Moses Amik

With giant steps the stone manidoo strode toward the beach that lay in front of the high bluff the boy sat on, and the boy noticed he carried a green bundle. The moment Wenabozho reached the shore the giant eagle hovered right above the boy, and the lightning that came out of his eyes blinded him…

When he recovered his eyesight, atayaa! he noticed that the Thunderbird had flown out of sight toward the north! The storm-surge from the lake had ceased as suddenly as it had begun and the sky became serene again…the stone giant had disappeared back into the lake and on the pebbles of the beach, right in front of the bluff the boy sat upon, he spotted a large blanket the color of the earth in spring spread out on the beach. On the blanket sat a big dance drum that, hoowah! looked very similar to the gichi-bwaani-omishoomisinaa-dewe'igan, the "big Dakota Grandfather drum" that the daughter of the deceased drum maker from the island had gifted to her People – and which they, in turn, had gifted to the Anishinaabeg Peoples! When he looked closer, the boy noticed that tayaa! an abstract design of the sun adorned the ogimaa-dewe’igan – which he instinctively knew to be the Humble Spirit whose return had been predicted by his grandfather…



As soon as he woke up from his dream the boy realized that it had been the Humble Spirit who came from the Sun and now sat in front of him and who, as if he were a shiny miigis shell, had made the darkness of the storm on the lake flee before him. Then, to his horror he saw in the dim morning light canoes washing ashore, and everywhere he looked he saw bodies of men drowned in the fierce storm that had lashed the bay that night. Only a handful of the dark-skinned hunters for the sacred zhooniyaa had survived the storm and they stumbled up and down the beach, obviously in a crazed state of mind.

Oshkaabewis ran to the ogimaa-dewe’igan with the sun design painted on it and carefully wrapped the drum in the green blanket, and after he climbed the bluff again and hid the drum in the bushes, he went back to the beach and took the survivors to his grandfather, who was waiting for his grandson, sitting in front of the madoodiswan. After Oshkaabewis had informed omishoomisinaan about his vision and instructed him where he could find the Humble Spirit, the old man took the dazed strangers from the south, who spoke tongues unintelligible to the two Anishinaabeg, into his lodge in order to heal them with his medicines.

So this is how the vision of the Ojibwe boy named Oshkaabewis helped returning the Humble Spirit Drum to the Anishinaabeg and Bwaanag People. Soon after he had his vision, the Humble Spirit found its way back to the island. Oshkaabewis, who had grown into a young man, spoke to his People who congegrated on the dance ground to celebrate the return of the Humble Spirit; he told them that people had been so busy dancing for zhooniyaa (money) and gichitwaawenindizowin (glory) that they had forgotten how to connect with their hearts. He explained that now the Humble Spirit found his way back to the dance ground, the People would once again connect with their hearts and that there would be a rekindling of the old flames of friendship with their former enemies.


Cecil Youngfox Drum Singer
Drum Singer, acrylic painting by the late Ojibwe painter Cecil Youngfox

Oshkaabewis reminded the people that the Dakota woman whose Vision, in the form of the ceremony of presentation of the Big Drum, had led to a peace offer to her People's most respected enemies the Ojibweg, has become a metaphor for seeking peace over war.

“That the story of the Drum Vision of the Bwaanikwe is still being passed on to next generations and that the mighty voice of gimishoomisinaan will soon be heard again far and loud at many gatherings all over Anishinaabe Aki, shows not only our People's ability to recognize spiritual power in other Nations, but it also demonstrates the spiritual power of ikwewag (women) to guide their life,” Oshkaabewis spoke.

Ogowe-anishinaabeg giwindamaagonaanig

ningo-naanaagadawendamowin, ningode’,



bekaanizid awiya odaa’aanjimokibidoosiin

anishinaabemowinan gaye gagiikwewinan,

giinawind gidaawimin.

“So let us remember that the return of the Humble Spirit to the dance ground teaches us about the original meaning of our dances, about how it was meant to be. Our community drum is a living entity that belongs to the People. Remember the literal meaning of the word Dewe'igan: ‘The instrument that makes the sound of the heart.’ The sound that a drum produces once its membrane is struck attunes the heartbeat of the People to the pulse of Aki, the land, our Mother. It is a direct connection of the heartbeat of Mother Earth to Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery.

Enh! The sound and shape of the dewe’igan, Ninindinawegaamanidog, My Relatives, represent the Circle of Life, and the wood and hide of which it is made symbolize the Sky and the Earth and all life that springs from it. The tree spirit that provides the wood for the drum body has been nourished by the soil and the water of the Earth, and as it grew tall and strong the tree pointed into the sky world, bringing it near to Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery. And because we know and understand that the pulsing sound of the drum reflects the sounds that can also be heard in the world around us, we are fully aware that sound is the core and essence of the ceremonial and ritual practice of our Medicine Lodges. Thus, a drum reminds us as People and as individuals of our dependence on nature and the spirit world and our oneness with the Great Mystery; consequently, it teaches us about important values like mino-bimaadiziwin (living a good and upright life) and mutual sharing with the natural world.

Therefore, the dancing and drumming, our gathering together to share songs, dances, clothing, food, and art, Nindinawemaaganidog, Anishinaabedog, my Relatives, my People, is about biinide’ewin: purity of the heart. It’s not not about zhooniyaa (money), bakinawin (contest), and mamazini-agwiwinan (fancy regalia). The central theme of our dances is not nibaadiziwin (greed). It’s maada’oonidiwin (sharing)!

It’s about pride in our culture and our history, and it’s about breaking down barriers and unifying with other Nations and about pride in the strength and spirit powers of Anishinaabekwewag, our women and women in general.

But above all, Nindinawemaaganidog, it is about dancing and singing and letting the spirit fly with the shaking of rattles and the beating of Gimishoomisinaan, Our Grandfather, the Humble Spirit, Our beloved Sacred Vision Drum...”



Enh goda, indeed! Anishinaabeg and Dakota Peoples started to return to the island and they celebrated their renewed friendship through dancing and drumming in a simple and modest fashion, banning the elements of show and contest, determined to keep at bay the spirit of money and ego. Like in the old days, hunters and warriors from both Nations congregated after they returned from the hunt or raids to tell about their feats. Simply dancing to the rhythm of the drum beat, rather than dazzling bwaanzhiiwi’onan (dance outfits) and enagindeg zhooniyaa (price money), served to tell the stories of their hearts… Gegaa-api! Finally, in the reassuring shadow of the Spirit of the Deep Sea Wenabozho who, after bringing the drum to the shore during the terrible storm, had returned to his stone shape and laid himself back to rest in the middle of the bay, the Humble Spirit sounded its healing voice again in the hearts of the Peoples that lived in the area…

Like Oshkaabewis’s grandfather had predicted, as soon as the drumming of the Humble Spirit started to echo across te waters of the bay, its pulsing sound reminded the Anishinaabeg and Dakota to return to the old guidelines called Seven Grandfathers. The gatherings on the island became unifying and healing experiences again and joy and simple pleasure found their way back into the hearts of the People…

Geget sago, now the law of adaandiwin (Commerce) was banned from the dance grounds and the old values of gitchitwaawin (Honor), manaadendamowin (Respect), gizhewaadiziwin (Generosity), and dabaadendiziwin (Humility) were restored, there was finally healing at the big drum again! Thanks to the powerful vision of the Ojibwe boy and the patient guidance of his grandfather, the big Grandfather drum, who lately had not been treated according the respect he deserved and therefore had lost his vital spiritual essence, was now treated with the proper respect and protocol again.

Haw sa, there was true spiritual communication again… from that day on, the Humble Spirit Drum sounded across the bay and beyond and for the first time in a long time, the Nations of Anishinaabeg and Bwaanag danced again celebrating life and being together. Peace and dignity were restored in Anishinaabe Aki and the ancient principle of mino-bimaadiziwin, Living the Way of the Good Life, was finally back in te center of the Sacred Circle. It was all good…


Goyce Kakegamic Drummer
Drumming, acrylic painting by Anishinini Anishinaabe painter Goyce Kakegamic


A great many winters later, one cold morning a beautiful green-eyed girl of mixed Ojibwe, Dakota, and Scottish ancestry, whose traditional name was Ozaawaa Anangikwe (Yellow Star Woman) and who belonged to Ma’iingan doodem (the Ojibwe wolf clan), stepped out of her log cabin. As she walked to her car she heard across the water of the bay the sound of a hand drum. The drumming, which came from the island not far from the bayshore, was accompanied by the most beautiful voice she had ever heard, and, although she didn’t know the meaning of the words, she imagined it to be a love song, sung especially for her.

“Giizhigong Debweweshin, nindewewiganim. Gaawiin bekaanizid

Giineta gibishiigenimin.

Gegoo kashkendigen

Gegoo mawiken


Winaagozi dibishkoo ozaawi anang

Wibesho wendaagozi dibishkoo ozaawi anang


The sound of the voice and the words and the melody of the song stayed with her all day! When she returned home from work that night, she asked her mother, with whom she shared the cabin, about it, and her mother told her a story.

“Many years ago, there lived where our house stands now, in a birchbark wigwam, an Ojibwe boy who went by the name of Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi. He shared the wigwam with his grandfather. From his earliest youth Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, who belonged to nooke doodem, the Bear clan, was observed by his People to be introverted and pensive. Like you, he possessed an artistic nature and it escaped no one’s attention that he spent much time in solitude and fasting. Even in infancy the boy had seemed different from other children his age; and as he grew older his character appeared more strange and more wonderful. Before he reached the age at which children in those days entered upon a period of puberty rites and fasting, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi spent much time in remote places. Some people even whispered that he was banaabe, a person belonging to the other-than-human-class, having the features and outer form of a human being but in reality possessing at least some qualities of manidoo. He was truly not a typical boy! His name, which means His Voice Reaches Far, wasn’t a reference to the loudness of his voice – in fact he was soft-spoken, almost timid. No, the name attested to his seemingly ability to converse with every creature in the Universe. Some people even said that he mastered every language known among men and spirits and that he knew what the birds were saying in their songs! Even his grandfather believed that the Creator had entrusted his grandson with the task to teach the People, particularly about the curative powers of plants and mino-bimaaadiziwin: how to live a good, long, and prosperous life.

Yes, this boy seemed to possess tremendous abilities and strengths! Whenever he could leave his grandfather's wigwam he would venture off - sometimes at night - to remote glades in the dense inland forest, or sit upon a high bluff overlooking the water of yonder bay. It was in such places that he sought meaning and self-discovery by addressing the grandfathers and by regularly invoking his guardian spirits. Like you love to spend time outdoors and paint images of what you see on canvas, Ozaawaa, this boy would often feel the urge to use red ochre to paint in the presence of the spirits his dreams and visions on the rocks and cliff walls that border our bay. His Voice Reaches Far was such a skilled painter and his images had such deep spiritual meaning that he had become known as the artist of his People even before reaching the age of 15!

As chance would have it, there lived an old man on yonder island who belonged to the Dakota, the tribe of your father. Although this man, who was a drum maker, lived a secluded life, from that solitude there came from time to time the sound of a water drum, calling the Anishinaabeg on the mainland back to the simplicity and truth of the ways of all Native Peoples of the great Turtle Island. The drumming was usually accompanied by sacred chants, and His Voice Reaches Far often listened in awe and in a state of near-hypnosis to the island man as his voice carried prayers and petitions across the bay and the lake and beyond. These petitions were pushed on by the rhythmic pulse of his drum that, to His Voice Reaches Far, resembled the thunder rolling through the sky, and the chants were sung in a language that could only be understood by him and the spirit beings that lived out there.

The old man on the island, Ozaawaa, was your great-great- grandfather! He was the father of a Dakota woman, a direct ancestor of yours, who when she was a young teenager had a vision that brought the powwow drum to the warring Dakota and Anishinaabe Peoples. This brought about a time of peace and brotherhood among both nations…

But then, one bad day, your great-great-grandfather left for the spirit world and the island became invaded by strange tribes from the south, who brought with them a different drum and the greedy ways of the white men. This marked the end of an era of peace and a life according to the laws of the Creator. The character of powwow changed drastically, kind of like what is happening now; white businessmen and even big oil companies bringing in the contests and prize money, bringing professional Native dancers in from many kilometers to the south, from the southern states of the US even. Powwow, instead of the spiritual gatherings Creator intended them to be, became the mega spectacles that we see again today…

The young man whose melancholic voice you heard this morning coming from the island, Ozaawaa, is a drum maker, like your great-great grandfather used to be, and like your great-great grandfather he lives in solitude on yonder island. He is handsome, has gray eyes, and his name is Giizis, which means Sun Spirit. People say he has a wounded heart and chooses to live in seclusion, spending his time on the island making drums and writing stories. He is a direct descendant of the Ojibwe boy named His Voice Reaches Far whom I just told you about and who lived in the wigwam where our house now stands.

It was this forebear, after his name changed into Oshkaabewis, the Helper, who as a young man had a powerful vision. He dreamt of a bear that lived behind the sun. The bear brought back your great-great grandfather’s powwow drum called Humble Spirit and Oshkaabewis explained to the People that it was time to reconnect their hearts with the drum and the old teachings and to bring back the values of honor, respect, generosity, and humility to the powwow dance grounds. Thus, the return of the Humble Boy marked an era of renewed peace between the Ojibwe and Dakota peoples...’’ Then, she added with a smile, “you, Ozaawaa, are the living proof of it…”

Comforting Song Bebabinojmat
Comforting Song, acrylic on canvas by Anishinaabe painter Bebaminojmat (Leland Bell).

Ozaawaa Anangikwe, after hearing the fascinating story about how Oshkaabewis had returned the Humble spirit drum to the powwow dance grounds of her ancestors, was captivated by the mysterious sound of the hand drum that had sounded from the direction of the island in the bay. She felt as if the voice of the lonesome young man had sung directly to her. And she could not help wondering if the young man living on the island were perhaps preparing to undergo a vision quest that would bring back the old values to the powwow grounds, just like his forebear His Voice Reaches Far had done many strings of life ago…

The following morning, as she again heard Giizis’s drumming and his melancholic voice echo across the bay, she asked her mother to step outside and listen to the song and translate the words for her. Her mother smiled as she translated the song for Ozaawaa Anangikwe:

“To the sky The sound of my drum echoes. I care for no one else I care only for you. Do not be sad Do not cry I am near Like a yellow star that I can see Like a yellow star that I can touch You.”

Upon hearing this, Ozaawaa Anangikwe, as she remembered a lesson her mother had once taught her, to always follow your heart and dreams and to walk your own road, decided that night to borrow her mother’s canoe and cross the lake to visit the young drum maker who was waiting for her…

Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw aadizookaan. And that is the end of the story. Thank you for listening today, for allowing me to relate to you this sacred story. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.

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