• zhaawano

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."

- The Seventh Fire Prophecy

“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