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Stories and Teachings from the Earth, Part 5: Round Dance of the Sky Bear People

Updated: Feb 15

Onaabdin-giizis (Snowcrust Moon), March 8, 2021

Updated: Makwa-giizis (Bear Moon), February 12, 2024

Giizhigomakwawininiwag Waagishimon ("Round Dance of the Sky Bear People")  pendant by Zhaawano Giizhik

Boozhoo, aaniin, biindige! Hello and welcome to part 5 of my new blog series titled "Stories and Teachings from the Earth."

Zhaawano-giizhik nindanishinaabewinikaazowin. Waabizheshi niin indoodem. Niin wawezhi'owininini miinawaa mazinibii'igewinini. Nindayaadizooked.

My name is Zhaawano Giizhik, my clan is Marten. I'm a jewelry maker and graphic artist, working in the Native Woodland art tradition. I am a storyteller at heart.

Throughout the years, I have managed to create a fairly big jewelry collection. To me the pieces are living beings. I call them talking pieces. They talk, I listen. They speak of many stories and all I have to do is write them down.

Today I will tell you the story of a teaching necklace that I made a while ago, titled Giizhigomakwawininiwag Waagishimon ("Round Dance of the Sky Bear People") as well as two graphic works I recently made - titled Giizhig Nenaandawi'iwed ("Sky Healer") and Awi-ganawaabamaadaanig A'aw Makwa Ishpiming miinawaa A'aw Makwa Ogidakamig ("Let's Go Watch the Bear Above and the Bear Below"). All three works of art tell the story of the bear, a teacher who comes from the bosom of the earth but also lives in the sky.


Giizhig Nenaandawi'iwed ("Sky Healer")  painting by Zhaawano Giizhik



Anishinaabeg gete-ayaa’ag, our ancestors, who felt blessed daily to live at night under a blanket of countless ananoog (stars), knew that as it was above, it was below; what is in giizhigong – the Sky World – is mirrored below, on agidakamig, – the Earth. This understanding reflects the deep-felt connection that we, as Native People, have with miziwekamig (everything that exists in the cosmos).

Today, we will talk about the bears. Ah yes, the bears! To the Anishinaabeg, makwag, as we call them, are icons of ziigwan, the spring season. We have always mirrored ourselves in Makwa's yearly pattern of hibernation, isolation, and emerging with new life as soon as the winter ends. This is why still today our initiation rituals, puberty rites, and ceremonies follow his cyclic pattern and invoke the bear's power of renewal. With regard to herb medicine, Makwa is considered by our healers as ogimaa (leader) of all animals; if a person dreams of Makwa he or she is chosen by the bear to be expert in the use of medicine made from plants and berries for curing illness.

To us, Anishinaabeg (humans) and makwag (bears) are nearly-identical; this is demonstrated in many of our aadizokaanan (sacred tales) about humans transforming into bears and vice versa.

Countless tales, ceremonies, songs, and depictions on birchbark and other items involve bears as “contraries,” embodiments of the paradoxical nature of life, and as bush doctors and healers who transform and renew life and thus randomly shapeshift into humans and vice versa. In many occasions bear is addressed as “Anishinaabe”: a human being.

It is safe to say that bears are not just important figures in our aadizookewin (storytelling) and manidookewinan (ceremonies); makwa captures ojichaag (the “soul” or “essence”) of our spiritual Lodges, and of the Anishinaabeg as a whole.


Awi-ganawaabamaadaanig A'aw Makwa Ishpiming miinawaa A'aw Makwa Ogidakamig ("Let's Go Watch the Bear Above and the Bear Below") painting by Zhaawano Giizhik


Traditionally, the life cycle of the terrestial bears reflects and parallels the seasonal rotation of the great sky bear – in the form of cluster of seven stars – around Giiwedanang (the Returning Home Star, or North Star). What happens in the Sky World – phenomenons that are expressed in the sacred star stories told to the young – foretell (and thus complement) events that will take place on the Earth.

The bear that dwells in the sky cares for the earth from its giizhiig wiigimaanan (sky lodges) and the earthly bears reflect the movements of their cousin in the sky by digging for medicinal plants in the Earth in spring and summer; and also by finding a resting place in the earth's bosom when it is time to hibernate. Yet vice versa, the Earth Bears also care for the sky! Since the first humans (a twin) came from the sky, earthly bears by extension still care for and look after their descendants, the Anishinaabeg …

Ever since the days of old, the Anishinaabe Peoples have dreamed of Makwa the bear as offering to give medicines for the healing of man. To this day, Makwa is considered by mashkikikwewag and mashkikiwininiwag (female and male herb specialists) as ogimaa (leader) of all animals. When a person dreams of Makwa he/she knows he/she is chosen by the bear to be expert in the use of medicine made from plants and berries for curing illness.


Giizhigomakwawininiwag Waagishimon ("Round Dance of the Sky Bear People"): blue titanium choker necklace with a 14K gold pendant and tube fastening. The pendant is set with a free-form "bear fetish" turquoise and a brilliant-cut blue sapphire. Designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the neck wear menu to view details.



The above-shown elegant ladies' necklace – the sleek minimalistic design of the pendant being reminiscent of the Native American “bear fetish” style of the Southwest – is inspired by a dream I once had – about ancestor-like figures dressed in bear hides dancing in the sky around Giizis, the sun. The following morning I sat at my workbench and rendered my dream into precious metal and stone.

The circular shape of the blue titanium choker necklace symbolizes the circular motion around the sun of the dancing bear people of the dream; the gold eagle feather attached to the gold and turquoise “bear fetish” pendant, its tip adorned by a sparkling blue sapphire, represents manidoo-waabiwin (seeing in a spirit way) and, in particular, inaabandamowin (the dreaming state of consciousness).

Giizhigomakwawininiwag Waagishimon ("Round Dance of the Sky Bear People")  detail of bear fetish pendant

Heya~wya~whe~ H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! Heya~wya~whe~. H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! Manidoo-makwa, gaa-bi-naagozid Manidoo-makwa, bi-gizhaawenimishinaan!

(Yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! Yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! Yes-yes-yes! Yes-yes-yes! Yes-yes-yes! Yes-yes-yes!

Spirit Bear appears here. Spirit Bear! Come, have zeal for us!)

- Ojibwe Anishinaabe Ogichidaa (Warrior) Sundance song to the spirit of the Bear


Ahaaw sa. Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom. Ok, that is the end of the today's story. Thank you for listening to me. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon! Mino bimaadizin! Live well! Migwechewendan makwag miinawaa akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for the Bears and for everything alive!

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