Stories and Teachings from the Earth, part 1: The Rocks That Sing
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
~~ A Tribute to the ᐊᓯᓐ (Grandfather Rocks) of the Earth ~~
Manoominike-giizis (Ricing Moon), August 11, 2020
ASINIIG NEGAMOWAAD (THE ROCKS THAT SING)
Biskaakonenjigewag shkode biinji-gidinendamowininaanin
Biskaakonenjigewag shkode biinji-gichaaginaanig.
(“I hear sounds echoing
From the earth
Inside my heart
Igniting a fire within our minds
Igniting a fire within our souls
Today I crawl inside
The grandfather stones are red hot
The temperature rises
Together we go back
To the beginning.")
- My song to asin, the spirit of ᐊᓯᓐ (the grandfather rock)
Some have said they could go into the earth and sit there singing
Some have said they would go up into trees
Standing stone people were the ones who sent them there
Sitting high up in the trees
Trees grown from the sacred roots where they were one day
Sitting inside the earth and singing with those stones
- From: Native Quotes and Writings
Boozhoo, aaniin, Today's blog story is the first in a brand new series, titled "Stories and Teachings from the Earth." The story, an akinomaage, or teaching from the earth, is dedicated to all those friends of mine who are sun dancers and hearth tenders and whose daily lives and artistry are all about "going back to earth" – and who tirelessly travel around Turtle Island to attend ceremonies that draw from the ancestral prophecies.
The story is woven around a yellow and red gold overlay pendant and a ring of rose gold, both made by hand at my jeweler’s workbench. The story is also accompanied by a painting done by the late Randy Trudeau – titled “Sweat Lodge” – and a black and white ink drawing by me – titled “Wenabozho and the Singing Rock”–, as well as by acrylics on canvas by Simone McLeod, the late Miskwaabik Animikii, and my dear friend, the late Moses Amik -- respectively titled "Sleeping Medicine People, "Magic Bear," and "Sleeping Giant" -- and a digitized version of a black-and-white pen drawing, titled “Shadow Spirits,” which you see here below.
~~ A VISION OF REAWAKENING ~~ The theme of the teaching story that I tell today is inspired by an ancient wisdom. The Anishinaabe word akinomaage is central to this theme. My ancestors had a saying: Ashkaakamigokwe nindakinoo'amaagewikwe, nanda-gikendan akinomaagewin. Loosely translated: “The earth is our teacher and we must learn from her.” It means that we, as Anishinaabeg, obtain knowledge, and draw lessons and laws, from our environments. Education obtained from the earth is a part of our everyday life. It is said that our books are the rocks and mountains and hills. It is also said that our teachers are the rivers and lakes, the trees and roots, the sun, the moon, and the stars. "Aki" means earth, "nomaage" is to take directions from it. So "Akinomaage" is a sense from learning from the earth and from the land.
Let me first tell you about two dreams, or rather, visions, of four mysterious Medicine People with tattood faces, wrapped in blankets of fog, sitting silently in the dim dawn light of a perfectly soundless Universe.¹ In the first vision the eyes of these blanket people are closed at first, but in the second vision they open gradually, looking around them intelligently. Curious and alert, they seem to perceive and admire the sight of brightly colored flowers and the sound of playing children that surround them (see below image, painted by Simone McLeod).
The way I see it, both visions evoke memories of the Seventh Fire Prophecy that was given to our ancestors many hundreds of generations ago; this was when the Anishinaabeg Peoples still lived in the Land of Dawn on the northern Atlantic coasts of Turtle Island (North America). This prophecy, which had been delivered by a Miigis (Shell) Being that emerged from the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, revealed that in the time of the Seventh Fire the People would live in a world dominated by a white-skinned race. Then a New People would emerge, who would decide to retrace their steps to the Teachings of the Dawn Land and ask their Elders to guide them into finding back mino misko-miikana, the good red road. “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…”
Today, according to some Elders, Anishinaabe people are in the Seventh Fire and major changes on the Earth are to occur soon. Other Elders tell us that the era of the Seventh Fire has already come to pass and another Fire arising from the teachings of the Seven Fires prophecy has been lit. This Eight Fire Teaching is said to apply to all Peoples in contact with the Anishinaabeg, and it suggests that if enough people — of all colors and faiths — turn from materialism and instead choose a path of respect, wisdom and spirituality, environmental and social catastrophe can be avoided, and an era of spiritual illumination will dawn. The visions teaches us that there are “Sleeping Medicine People," not only to be found in nature -- disguised in many forms and shapes --- either as natural phenomena or grandfather rocks and other mystical landmarks scattered throughout the landscape; they can also be found in our peoples that make up our Native communities -- of all different Nations, all over Turtle Island. These medicine people just need to reawaken what they have always had inside them. What this vision teaches us is that although the People are losing many of their elders, they are not being left alone. The old ways have not died.
NIBAAD MISAABE, the Sleeping Giant, an awe-inspiring rock formation that juts out on Lake Superior and forms the body of water that is Thunder Bay, Ontario. It is probably the most famous of the Medicine People that figure in our sacred stories. Legend has it that Nibaad Misaabe is our beloved hero Wenabozho turned to stone two centuries ago; it is believed to be a punishment by Gichi-manidoo, the Great Spirit of the Universe, because it was upset by the People's departing from the original instructions that the Seven Grandfathers handed over to us when we still lived in the Dawn Land. And still Wenabozho is waiting to be brought back to life from his stone slumber once we, individually and as a People, return to the Seven Teachings and to mino-bimaadiziwin, the way of a good life. The artist, the late Moses Amik, painted Wiinabozho in its current stone state, surrounded by its dancing spirit -- which is a reference to the notion that everything that sleeps reawakens one day. The painting, therefore, carries a positive message of overcoming the past and healing by embracing our sacred stories and teachings.
We are living in a time when many of our Medicine People are sleeping and now reawakening… The old ways live inside of us deeply rooted and will never be forgotten. We just need to go and find our ceremonies again. We must respond to the yearnings in our hearts to seek out that part of us. It is like the prophecies of the Seven Fires, reminding us that the only way humankind can survive and save the planet is by choosing a straight and truly spiritual path. The eyes of the Medicine People in the first vision are invisible, still closed, as they have barely woken up, and they appear to be shedding tears - representing the tears of our ancestors who have endured many hardships under the hands of the Europeans, of the Midewiwin Lodge that has been prosecuted for many generations and had to go underground to survive and be able to conduct their ceremonies, and of today's generation that is under great social strain. In the second vision their eyes are already slightly open, reflecting the first light of dawn.
~~ A PRAYER TO THE SPIRIT OF DAWN ~~
According to traditional Anishinaabe belief Aki, our world, consists of an underworld, a middle world, and the sky world. As I see it, it is this ancient cosmic representation that thematically connects the visions that are central to today's story with the artwork and the jewelry that serve as illustrations.
The praying man in the pen drawing is an Anishinaabe man performing his morning prayer, standing tall and facing the rising sun with arms held high. This man carries up prayers and petitions to the spirit of Waaban (Dawn) and to the grandfathers of the spirit world. He symbolizes the connection between the underworld, the middle world (the earth), and the sky world. He stands tall and strong on the soil and the rocks of the earth as if he were a Sundance azaadi (poplar) tree, with its roots reaching deep down into the earth and its branches reaching high toward the sun in the sky.
It is around this azaadi that the giizisoniimig (sundancers) of our Nations sing and sacrifice each spring and summer to be reborn again and for the sake of all those out there who need healing, mentally and spiritually as well as physically. The notion behind this is that we have to dance and sacrifice and die a little inside in order to be reborn and rise again as a stronger and wiser version of ourselves...
The Anishinaabe inini with his arms held high is a digital drawing, a revised version of a pen-and-ink drawing that I made in my early teens. In this particular digital version, the praying inini is watched by two figures in the foreground with mysterious facial paint standing in the shadows of a distant past – one could easily imagine that their abode is beneath the earth, or inside the rocks, that this man is standing on. These two shadow people, an ookomisan (grandmother) and an omishoomisan (grandfather), are guardian spirits of ancestors, forebears of the blanket people that figure in the above mentioned visions. Of course, the image of the praying man standing in the bright morning light watched by the shadow people that live in the rocks is a direct reference to the vision of the Medicine People who awaken spiritually.
~~ ᐊᓯᓐ GRANDFATHERS IN THE BOSOM OF THE EARTH ~~
Subsequently, the solid 14K rose gold ladies’ ring (see the above image) symbolizes the earth that the praying Anishinaabe inini is standing on.
The bold design and organic shape of the gold ring are reminiscent of asiniig (ᐊᓯᓐrock spirits, or grandfathers) that have their abode in the ground beneath the makizinan (moccasins) of the man that we see in the black-and-white drawing. The ring design shows an array of stylized forms of pebbles and smaller stones (the underside of the ring shank) that gradually increase in size, appearing as boulders and rocks at the top. This testifies of our ancient belief that the physical landscape
is an inseparable part of a spirit-filled landscape. The stylized rocks and boulders refer to our deeply felt understanding that asiniig, the grandfather ᐊᓯᓐ rocks and boulders, as well as aazhibikoon and wajiin, the cliffs and the hills and mountains that house these stones, are animated by manidoo, or spirit. It should come as no surprise, then, that in the eyes of our ancestors, stones and boulders and rocks were recognized on as embodiments of manidoo more than just about any other physical object or geographic feature in nature. The ᐊᓯᓐ rocks, in addition, were directly associated with water, mainly in the form of springs and underwater rivers - as well as with the rapids and water falls, creeks, channels, river bends, and watersheds, which were also seen to have a close spiritual relationship with the rocks and rock formations surrounding the lakes.
Rocks, in short, are seen as ᐊᓯᓐ grandfathers; animate beings with memories and stories to share with those of us who are gifted enough to hear the ancestral voices. The rocks in the ring design symbolize Mother Earth’s backbone, this strong foundation left for us by our ancestors to build on. They symbolize both ancient knowledge -- a return to the beginning -- and a solid foundation on which the future and hope and ambitions of our Peoples are built.
The oval openings in the ring suggest a transfusion of this ancient knowledge, and of cosmic energy and spirit powers and ancestral memories, from the bosom of the earth through the rocks and boulders to the very earth on which we walk. I call these rocks asiniig negamowaad, “rocks that sing.”
Asiniig Negamowaad, "The Rocks That Sing," handmade 14K rose gold ring. Click here to view details.
~~ STONES OF A SWEATLODGE ~~
The color of the rose gold symbolizes the stones that are used to create hot steam in a madoodison; also called madoodoo'igan, and madoodoowigamig (literally: "sweat lodge").
Omishoomis-asiniig gizhaabikiziwag, gizhaabate, maamawi wiigigiiwemin. ‘‘The grandfather stones are red hot, the temperature rises, and together we go back to the beginning." - The principle of the Sweat Lodge ceremony.
Madoodoowasiniig (the stones of a sweat lodge) play a central role in our madoodison ceremony. The spirits are awakened in the stones by heating them in a sacred fire until red-hot. The water and sacred herbs that are poured on the grandfather stones and the steam that is caused by this ritual act are meant to purify those who enter the semi-underground structure, allowing each of the participants to ‘‘go back to the beginning" and to emerge reborn (see the below image, an acrylic on canvas by the late Anishinaabe painter Randy Trudeau).
One could say, therefore, that the ring does not just symbolize ᐊᓯᓐ asiniig, or rocks – or sweat lodge stones; in a way, the design of the stones with openings in them are what my Anishinaabe ancestors called gikinoo'amaagewaabikoog (orkinomagewapkong): “rocks that teach.” Much Anishinaabe history and philosophy has been related through the teaching rocks as they tell of stories of great deeds and feats and provide spiritual assistance to medicine people and youngsters who come there to pray and to have visions. They can be found by the thousands, more often than not in remote places – hidden deeply in the woods and near the big lakes and inland lakes that dot our homelands --, and often only accessible by canoe. The deep crevices that in many of these places conceal these teaching rocks are believed to lead to the spirit world.
In the case of the ring, it isn’t the mazinaajimowin or “spirit writings” on the rocks (carvings in and paintings on rocks and cliff walls) that teach. It’s the openings in the stones that do that, that tell today’s story. The stones and rocks of the earth – and the underground trickle of water that often runs beneath them -- sing songs to us through the openings, thus enabling nimaamaa-aki, the spirit that lives deep down in the earth, to flow freely through us -- and, through us, through the entire Universe. Symbolically, the songs these rocks sing speak to us; they feed us, the earth, and all life on it.
No story or teaching is wrong or right, but all live on when it is told... it inhales, when a story or teaching is listened to it exhales, and when it is passed on its blood flows, not always visible but it is always there, just like the water flows underneath the earth’s surface and the ᐊᓯᓐ rocks.
- The principle of aawechigan (storytelling).
~~ WENABOZHO AND THE SINGING ROCK OF MISHIBIKWADINAANG ~~
Now, I will tell an aawechigan (parable).
Once upon a time a medicine man lived among the Gichi Gamiin Anishinaabeg.² He was born near Animbiigoo-zaaga'igan, a remote lake that lies north of Anishinaabewi-gichigami.³ This man, whose name was Miskwaabik Animikii (“Copper Thunderbird”), was widely known for his artistic gift, in the form of mazjinaajimowin (magic paintings on animal hides and rocks and cliff walls). People whispered that Miskwaabik Animikii, besides a storyteller and an artist, was a manao, a type of curer who obtained his medicine from memegwesiwag; child-sized and hairy people with a large head who live in the rocks and, besides being extremely shy, can do magnificent things whenever they wish, such as modifying the aspect of a lake by blowing gales and creating large tides. The medicine men of the Anishinaabeg and Ininewak who go to the cliff walls bordering the lakes to pray know that the Memegwesiwag hear the petitions made to the rock. These little people transmit the medicine person’s prayers to the Spirit of Thunder and other manidoog, but only in exchange of biindaakoojigewin (offering of asemaa, the sacred tobacco).
Now it happened – as it often goes in our stories - that Wenabozho, besides being a great friend and benefactor of the Anishinaabeg, was also a very jealous inini-manidoo (man-spirit). Although Wenabozho had formidable magic powers himself – rumor has it he inherited his powers from his father, the West Wind -, he became very jealous of the Thunder spirit powers of this artist and medicine man from Animbiigoo-zaaga'igan.
One night as he sat in front of the wiigiwaam that he shared with Ookomisan (his maternal grandmother), Wenabozho, who plotted to steal Miskwaabik Animikii ’s memegwesi-medicine, dreamed of a large round black stone whose top was lined with a grove of cedar and willow trees and whose steep walls had magic paintings on it. In his vision, he saw that the stone sat in a bay and he imagined it would give him access to Miskwaabik Animikii’s powers. A bear appeared in his dream, and it told him to follow his tracks. The bear told him its tracks could be found on the edge of the shore north of the shore Wenabozho and his grandmother lived on. The tracks would lead Wenabozho to this black stone.
On the morning of the following day, Wenabozho steered his wiigwaasi-jimaan (birchbark canoe) across the great lake in northern direction. His Grandmother was still asleep and unaware of her grandson’s nefarious scheme. After four days of travelling, hoowah! his eyes beheld a truly beautiful scenery. The sight of a beautiful bay enchanted his very eyes. Volcanic rocks and scarlike slopes alternated with pretty beaches of colored sand, isolated caves, and countless coves and caverns. Ookomisan had told many stories of this northerly land, which he knew to be filled with many mysterious beings and lessons and songs and teaching stories that magically and rhythmically had been washing ashore since the beginning of times.⁴
When Wenabozho drew his canoe ashore he saw the bear paw imprints in the sand that he had dreamt of! The tracks pointed to the rock that he had seen earlier from the corner of his eye, and which sat in the middle of an inlet. The shores of the inlet were lined by groves of pine trees, which, to Wiinabozho, indicated the presence of bagwajiwininiwag (another class of Little People, who live in the forests) and, therefore, the presence of great Thunder Medicine.⁵ Wenabozho decided that the rock had to be the painted stone he had seen in his dream!
It happened to be a warm spring day, and the water of the bay was as placid as a mirror, and a soft breeze rustled gently through the spiky needles of the pine trees surrounding the water. Nothing indicated that the Mishibizhiw, that Wenabozho knew lurked somewhere close beneath the water surface, was awake.⁶
Wenabozho, being the reckless manidoo that he was, jumped in his jiimaan and steered it into the inlet. He drew as near as he could toward the black rock – he ears filled with the sound of a drum that seemed to came from deep inside it - and that was when he noticed on the rock’s surface the huge painting of red ocher that he had seen in his dream! His heart skipped a beat! “Hoowah!” he said to himself as he looked at the strange image, ”that medicine man called Copper Thunderbird sure possesses gichi-mashkiki (great Medicine)! I must have that mashkiki for myself!” Then, suddenly, tayaa! coming from his left, Wenabozho heard an onimous sound that resembled the angry, hissing sound of a wounded mountain lion, and suddenly his jiimaan started to rock on waves created by the slashing of a long spirally tail covered by copper scales that shot out of the water like an eel and sped through the air at alarming speeds…it was Mishibizhiw, the horned reptile that guarded the waters of the bay, angry at the intrusion of the brazen Wenabozho!
Wenabozho, whose canoe nearly capsized in the flood that ensued, managed to draw his gashkibidaagan (tobacco pouch) that was attached to his belt, and with trembling fingers, his heart racing, he reached for a few handfuls of asemaa (tobacco) in order to pacify the raging cat that now swam underneath his canoe. Mii go gichi-wiiyagaaj, but alas, he was too agitated to get the job done! The waves, that rolled and surged against the rocks and cliffs with a noise like thunder, carried him further and further away from the painted rock that was now - although it was still broad daylight - covered by pitch-black darkness!
Now, as he was struggling to keep his canoe from capsizing, Wenabozho managed to pull out his bawaagan (peace pipe) from his gashkibidaagan (pipe bag) that he had taken along on his quest. He forgot all about the lessons of Ookomisan, who had taught him to use the sacred pipe in a good way only, never for selfish purposes! With both hands he held the bawaagan in plain view for the purpose of allaying the raging anger of the underwater cat. But then, tayaa! he suddenly heard above the terrible roar of the storm a sinister sound resembling the whine of a flock of aaboojishtigwaanesiinhyag (dragonflies)! To his right, he observed a small asinii-jiimaan (canoe of stone) bearing several little hairy people no taller than wiinabozho-bikwakoon (meadow lilies). “Hoowah!” Wenabozho said to himself, “there is definitely a whole lot of powerful mashkiki going on around here! Those furry little creatures must be the memegwesiwag, the bank-dwelling dwarfs that I have been looking for! They will surely lead me to the Thunder medicine of the great manao called Copper Thunderbird!”
Although they were in possession of stone paddles, tayaa! the little peoples’ asinii-jiimaan moved alone, as if powered by some external force! Each passenger carried a stone pipe, and it was their childlike voices that Wenabozho had heard above the raging storm. They chanted in unison:
We will stir the waters
Until one remembers.
Oo! Apegish ginopowaahingoban.
Oo! Apegish zagaswaahingoban.
Oh! How I wish for the taste of tobacco.
Oh! How I wish for the smell of tobacco.
Giinawind asinii-opwaaganinaanind dizhiigwag.
Giinawind bawaaganinaanind dizhiigwag.
Our stone pipes are cold and empty.
Our ceremonial pipes are cold and empty.
Tobacco cleanses our hearts.
Tobacco cleanses our minds.
Tobacco brings peace.
Upon hearing the song of the little people in the stone canoe, Wenabozho quickly put his bawaagan back into the pipe sack. Then he reached again for the gashkibidaagan (tobacco pouch) that he kept on the bottom of his canoe that was still rocking frantically on the waves. This time he managed to throw a few handfuls of the asemaa in the waves. As the tobacco floated away, Wenabozho chanted:
Tobacco is my friend.
Tobacco is our friend.
Tobacco makes us friends.
Hereupon the little people in the stone canoe gathered Wenabozho’s asemaa from the waves and filled their asinii-opwaaganag (stone pipes). Before Wenabozho could blink twice, the storm subsided! The bay became calm and undisturbed by any ripples. Then, as if by magic, the stone canoe with the little people in it glided away toward the steep rock with the painting on it. The canoe disappeared into an opening, which closed behind them, without a sound and faster than it took Wenabozho to blink a third time. Again he heard the sound of a drum that seemed to come from inside the rock!
Since he, despite his cleverness, could also be very foolish, Wenabozho, still determined to steal the Thunder medicine that he figured to be inside the rock, decided to follow the memegwesiwag into their abode. With powerful strokes he paddled toward the rock with the mysterious painting on it; to him the painting looked like a spirit with outstretched arms. He imagined he saw in the face of this spirit an oval opening which he took to be its mouth, and through it he heard (or thougt he heard) the memegwesiwag singing, even above the beat of the drum that came from inside the rock:
Nigikinoo’amaage-wigamgonginaan gaye. Nimashkikinaan mashkawizimagad.
Gikinoowaaji-bii’igaade asiniing. Biindige Wenabozh,
Nindinwewinaninaan gigakinoowizhigoog. Our stone canoe Is like the speed of lightning. The pictured ᐊᓯᓐ rock at Michipicoten Bay Is our stone dwelling and our teaching lodge.
Our medicine is potent.
Our medicine is powerful.
It is written in stone. Come in Wenabozho,
The sound of the drum will guide you.
Our voices will guide you.
Of course, Wenabozho, in his eagerness to steal the great spirit power of the medicine man named Copper Thunderbird, did not realize that the drumming and the singing voices of the little people that he heard coming from the painted rock were in reality the thumping and sloshing sound of the waves against the rock along with the music created by the underground stream trickling beneath it. As he looked up, the spirit’s mouth seemed to open up even a bit wider! Shanaa, Wenabozho muttered, folks do not call me Jiibayaabooz (Spirit Hare) for nothing! Quickly he changed himself into a misaabooz (jackrabbit) and without thinking twice he jumped out of the canoe, straight through the hole shouting “Aieeeeeeeee!” Mii go ay ay ay, but alas, since the hole was merely an optical dilusion, his nose bumped hard against the hard vulcanic rock and his lip got stuck in a crack! And as if this wasn’t bad enough, while he leaped his tail whipped upward and got caught on the branch of one of the trees that grew out of the rock wall. As he was projected back into his canoe, his nose bleeding, he noticed to his horror that the sharp stone had cut his upper lip in two and, even worse, that the tip of his tail was missing!
Poor Wenabozho! Never before in his life had had he been so humiliated! As he paddled his canoe back to the shore, he started to laugh! He said, Waahowaa! We’re going to have some mashkawi-animikii-mashkiki (powerful thunder medicine) today! Ishte! Gaawiin ningodano Wenabozh – Aha! I don’t think so Wenabozho! From now on, we best call that rock Daashkabgag,"Rock that splits open!" And Obaasidoon, "He Who Has a Split Lip" will definitely be a fitting name for me! Or better yet, Ogiishkaanowe, "He Who Has a Cut Tail"! Then he laughed even louder. Ay ay ay! Nibagandiz! I am so stupid! What will Grandmother say! Oonyooy! What will Grandmother say!
Believe it or not, but ever since Wenabozho’s disastrous quest for the powerful Thunder medicine at the Singing Rock in Michipicoten Bay,⁴ hares had split lips! And the reason why willows, to this day, have tails, or catkins, on them in the spring, is that Wenabozho left a part of his tail in the cluster of trees that grew out of the rock!
And until today, the Elders of the Anishinaabeg - particularly those who know how to read the rock paintings and carvings -, when they share teachings or tell their grandchildren stories, never explain everything; they reveal just enough to make their listeners realize it is better not to want to take shortcuts to wisdom and knowledge. The idea behind this is that one has to live up to the old teachings before one is able to fully carry the wisdom the stories and the rocks contain. “Be not like Wenabozho, who was jealous of others and much too lazy and to greedy in his ways! Gego wiikaa anooj-igo doodawaaken asemaa: never abuse tobacco," they use to say.
And: "NEVER use the sacred pipe to ask for things that you are not entitled to… NEVER pray just for your own selfish reasons!”
Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw Wenabozho aawechigan. And that is the end of the story. Thank you for listening to me today, for allowing me to relate to you this Wenabozho tale. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.
Mino bimaadizin! Live well! Migwechewendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!
² Gichi Gamiin Anishinaabeg: the Ojibweg that live in the vicinity of the North American Great Lakes.
³ Anishinaabewi-gichigami: The Great Sea of the Anishinaabeg: Lake Superior.
⁴ This place, which is close to Wawa, Ontario, is named Mishibikwadinaang (At the Grand Hill; nowadays called Michipicoten). The Anishinaabeg of the area have been living seasonally on the dunes at the beach at the mouth of Mishibikwadinaang Ziibii (Michipicoten river) for at least three thousand years. Driftwood Beach, about 1/2 mile long, consists of clean granular sands made up of quartz, feldspars, and ferromagnesium minerals. The beach is separated by ancient volcanic rocks projecting into the bay. Its bluffs and curving ridges rise gently from the shore, formed by the force of strong southwesterly winds blowing across the waters of Gichigami (Lake Superior). Michipicoten First Nation today is a vibrant Ojibwe Anishinaabe community with approximately 1,020 members building on socio-economic independence and with a strong sense of community and cultural identity. The name mishibikwadinaang/michipicoten is a reference to the steep bluffs, grandfather rocks that dwell on the south side of the bay.
⁵ It is a well-known fact among Medicine People that Thunderbirds love to blast pine trees, which produces fire; the incense and the smoke of the burning pine transports their prayers to the Bagwajiwininiwag, Little People who live in the forest.
This race of magical beings that live in the forest are sometimes refered to as Bagwajiwi-Anishinaabeg: "Anishinaabeg of the Wilderness." Bagwajininiwag, literally means "Wilderness Men." They should not be confused with other little magical beings that are also called "Little People" like the Apa'iinsag, Memengwesiwag, Baa-iinsiwag, Mizabigamag, or Bagwaagamig. It would be easy to confuse them, or simply bunch them all up together as "Little People," as they are all magical beings that are little, and live in the forest. It is a common belief that the Bagwajiwi-Anishinaabeg live in little wiigiwaaman (wigwams) made of grass or bark, travel in little birch bark canoes, and are often seen in very isolated areas of our forest. Many people who claimed to have seen Bagwajiwininiwag also state that they have pale faces, are sometimes seen wearing cloaks or hooded garments, and are about knee-high. They also do not speak Anishinaabemowin, but often communicate through mental telepathy or through dreams and almost always disappear just as fast as they have been seen. It is also common belief that those who had encounters with them were chosen for some spiritual reason that would almost certainly bring hunting luck or medicine back to the People.
⁶ Mishibizhiw, the Great Underwater Lynx, is known among our Peoples for guarding the vast amounts of copper and silver in Gichigami, Lake Superior. Native peoples mined copper long before the arrival of Anishinaabeg and Europeans to Gichigamiin (the Great Lakes Region). During the 17th century European missionaries arrived. By that time, swiping the sacred metal from the region was extremely taboo and forbidden by the Anishinaabeg, who had already arrived in the Great Lakes area from the eastern "Dawn Lands" to colonize the area. It was even worse to take the copper from Mishibizhiw's home, Michipicoten Island; this was considered to be stealing from Mishibizhiw himself. When I was in the Michipicoten and Thunder Bay areas in the summer of 2015 I sensed Mishibizhiw's presence everywhere I went.