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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

Stories and Teachings from the Earth, part 2: Gift from the Great Sea Turtle

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Waabaagbagaa-giizis/Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 3, 2020


Boozhoo, aaniin, biindige! Hello and welcome to part 2 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 decided to sit down at my work bench and make a teaching bolo. Or rather, a bolo tie that tells a teaching story.


My European customers, who aren't too familiar with western wear, often ask me, what are bolo ties? This is basically what I tell them:

Native American bolo ties, also called bola ties, can be traced back to 19th-century Western slide necklaces and neckerchief slides. Bola is Spainish for "ball." A bolo tie is a cord fastened around the neck with an ornamental clasp, or slide, and worn as a necktie. Since the mid-20th century the bolo/bola tie we know of today, although still widely associated with Western cowboy wear, has been part of the silver and goldsmithing traditions of the Dineh (Navajo) and the Hopi, Zuni, and other Pueblo Nations from the Four Corners Area in the southern US. I'm taking it a step further by making use of the Hopi overlay and the Dineh stamping technique, combined with certain graphic design elements -- such as black-outlined imagery and flowing, calligraphic lines -- that mirror in form and spirit "Woodland style" - based on the oral and pictographic traditions of the Anishinaabeg Peoples that live in the northerly land of the North American Great Lakes.

Roy Thomas The Flood
"Recreation," acrylic on canvas by the late Anishini (Oji-Cree) painter Carl Ray


Although the massive quality and simplicity of the handstamped design of the silver-and-stone bolo tie of today's story is reminiscent of classic Dineh silverwork, its theme directly relates to Anishinaabe worldview. The bolo tells the story of Mikinaak (the Great Snapping Turtle), or Mishiikenh (the Mud Turtle), and what the turtle means to the Anishinaabeg Peoples of Turtle Island (North America).

Turtles, who to our Peoples embodies Aki, the Earth, are forever linked to the creation of Aki, and to the birth of the world as we know it. This creation came with true understanding of how we humans need to live in harmony.

Since Mikinaak, after a devastating flood that swept Aki (the earth), lent his back to assist in the Anishinaabe recreation of the world, he holds a very respected position in the spiritualism of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg. From of old turtle has a special place of mediation in the worlds of the natural and the supernatural. After he lent his back for creation, Nookomis Dibik-Giizis, grandmother moon, conferred on him special HEALING POWERS that have been held in reverence ever since!

“A long, long time ago disaster fell upon the world in the form of a great flood, which killed the plants and all land creatures, including mankind. The island that was created afterwards by Giizhigookwe (Sky Woman, a female spirit who resided in the skies) who, with the aid of Wazashk (muskrat) and Ma'íingan (wolf), made it grow on the back of Mikinaak along with new flora and fauna, is still being called Mikinaakominis, or TURTLE ISLAND by most Original Americans. It was also there, on the present-day Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, that Sky Woman gave birth to a brand new human race, in the form of a twin boy and a girl. They were the forebears of the ”Spontaneous Beings,” the ANISH-I-NAAB-EG. Sky Woman nurtured the twins to manhood and womanhood, after which she ascended back into the sky, where she became known as Grandmother Moon."

 Izhimikinaakaabinakwe Turtle Woman's Dream
Izhimikinaakaabinakwe ("Dream of Turtle Woman"), line art drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2010 Zhaawano Giizhik


The turtle also plays an important role in the official Midewiwin historiography of the legendary migration of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. Many moons ago, when the Anishinaabeg still lived in WAABANAKIING, the Dawn Land at the North Atlantic shores, an Anishinaabekwe (woman) had a dream -- some say given to her by a Thunderbird -- that she found herself standing on the back of a turtle in the water. The turtle's tail pointed in the direction of the rising sun and its head faced the the setting sun. According to this dream, several mikinaako-minisensing (turtle-shaped islands) would be encountered during a westward migration. This powerful dream was part of the niizhwaaso-ishkoden niigaanaajimowin (Midewewin prophecy of the Seven Fires) that led to the great migration to the area nowadays called Michigan and farther to the West, including seven stopping places. Baawiting, the Place of the Rapids on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, was the fifth stopping place in this legendary trek that lasted at least two thousand years.

The five birds that I depicted on top of the Turtle's head in the drawing symbolize the five Mystery Beings emerging from the Lake and the odoodemag (totems) that gathered at the rapids and falls of Baawiting to establish a stronger community; the miigis (sea shell) in the Turtle's neck represents the Prophecy of the Seven Fires that led the People to the west, and the flying Crane depicted inside the Turtle stands for the creation of the new settlement at Baawiting. The lines emanating from the Great Lakes depicted inside the Turtle symbolize the migration of Ojibwe Anishinaabeg colonists who, perhaps between the 14th and the 15th century, began to use Baawiting as a starting point to spread out even farther to the north, the west, and to the western and southern shores of Lake Superior. Here, they -- a northern branch following the miigis in the sky and a southern branch following the flight of a crane the Great Mystery had sent from the skies -- would meet in the Promised Land where food grows on the water, and create many new settlements that still exist today.

Carl Ray Shaking tent
"Miikkinuk," a depiction of Mikinaak, patron of the Shaking Tent, line art on paper by the late Miskwaabik Animikii.


Mikinaak, or Mishiikenh, teaches the Anishinaabeg healing and communication with the Mystery World. Although physically the slowest of all creatures, he/she symbolizes swiftness of the mind and is regarded as a master of communication (of thought). So powerful is turtle that the jiisakiiwininiwag, the Midewiwin specialists often referred to as Shaking Tent Seers, elected him as their patron. Click here to read more about this topic.

Wiinabozho and the Creation of the Path of Souls (Milky Way)
Wiinabozho and the Creation of the Path of Souls (Milky Way), digital painting by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2012-2020


Ahaaw, ningad-aadizooke. Now, I will tell you a sacred story …

"Feeling revived, his heart filled with confidence and longing to see his grandmother and tell her about his adventures, Wiinabozho, the Great Hare, steered his jimaan (canoe) across the Great Rattle Snake Lake and as soon as he had reached the northwestern shore, a mishi-mikinaak (big snapping turtle) crossed his path. It was obvious, judging from the expression on his ancient face that this grandfather turtle was sulking. “Boozhoo nimishoo! Hello grandfather!” Wiinabozho, who was still in hight spirits, said to the turtle, “you don’t look very happy to see me! What is the reason of your sadness?” “Aa, Mishaabooz (Great Hare),” said the gete-mikinaak (old turtle), who still looked as if somebody had rained on his parade, “it is all YOUR fault! The Great Mystery gifted you with powerful magic to give special powers and attributes to the animals and plants. Geget, indeed, when you helped creating aki (the earth) and called together all the birds and animals so as to give everyone their duty, you really outdid yourself. You told Amik the beaver to build dams, aamoog the bees to make honey and baapaaseg the woodpeckers to play forest music; and so it went until all bineshiinhyiig (birds) and awensiig (animals) and giigoonhyag (fish) had been given their duties. However, you forgot to give me anything, for when you gathered all bineshiinhyiig and awensiig and giigoonhyag, I was swimming far below the lake surface and could not hear! This happened long ago but since I am a turtle I never forget anything. But now it is too late, and I will be forever angry at the world, and with you in particular, for the wrong that was done to me. Baamaapii (Adieu).”

Without further ado, the old turtle grandfather sank beneath the surface of the lake to sulk some more. Wiinabozho, realizing the old turtle was truly very angry with him and fearing his stubborn and vindictive nature might cause problems, decided to make camp on the shore of the lake and see what would happen. For two days and nights nothing happened. Wiinabozho killed time by playing with his magic bow, and during the second night, as he was making his bow dance, he suddenly got an idea! “Since I like to play at night and the nights are so dark, and since I am a mighty creator, why don’t I brighten up the night with a few more stars?”  he said to himself. He decided to test the magic power of the bow. The moment he started to shoot arrows in the air, owa! new stars appeared in the night sky! He created 10 new stars! But Wiinabozho would not be Wiinabozho if he had thought that sufficed. Still not satisfied, he reached for an eleventh arrow… but then his heart sank, as he realized he was running out of arrows fast. “Tayaa” he said to himself, “now this is what you call a dilemma eh! The sky is still too dark for my taste, but how can I create more stars without sacrificing more arrows?”

On the morning of the third day something happened that Wiinabozho had already expected would happen; the gete-mikinaak, who was still angry for being left out by Wiinabozho when he assigned each animal a specific duty, upon seeing a passing jimaan, shot to the surface of the lake. With the force of a tidal wave he upset the canoe, and the surprised Anishinaabe inini was knocked overboard!

The poor man swam for his life to the shore and as Wiinabozho watched the turtle chase the Ojibwe he suddenly hit on a brilliant idea…he took the bow and one of the few remaining arrows out of the quiver, jumped into his canoe and quickly paddled into the direction of the turtle chasing the Anishinaabe and, when he was a few feet from the angry animal, he took a handful “anang-bingwiin” (stardust) that he kept in the magic medicine pouch that he carried around his neck and sprayed it on the water. Next, shouting on the top of lungs, hisht! Mikinaak!, he aimed at the turtle.

Gete-mikinaak, upon hearing Wiinabozho’s booming voice and seeing him aiming at him, quickly dove into the water and was narrowly missed by Wiinabozho’s arrow! As Wiinabozho had anticipated, the Old Turtle, as he was diving, flung his mighty tail up in the air, and in doing this, atayaa! a great fontain of water was created! The anang-bingwiin turned the spray of water that was shot high into the sky into millions of stars…

And thus jiibay-miikana, the path of souls (Milky way), was created…"

Source: Wiinabozho and the Magic Bow told by Zhaawano Giizhik (2018)



The oval shape of the bolo slide symbolizes the mikinaaki-dashwaa (back shield of Mikinaak the Turtle) and the new earth that was created a long time ago on Mikinaak’s back.

With the aid of self-made steel punches I stamped 13 polygonal shapes upon Mikinaak's shell back - of which the central one is covered by an oval turquouse cabochon setting. These refer to the ancient Anishinaabe knowledge about 13 lunar moon cycles that occur in each year. A turtle's shell has a pattern of thirteen scales which represent the 13 moons of the lunar calendar. The circle of small semi circle stamps that surround the edge of the slide, 23 in total, symbolize the sweat lodges of our People. The sweat lodge - or purification lodge - stands for the womb of Ogashinan or Grandmother Earth, and therefore for the ongoing cycle of birth and rebirth.

TURQUOISE is a stone that traditionally holds great spiritual significance among all Native peoples. The deep blue color of the ovally shaped turquoise cabochon I placed in the center of the bolo slide represents the Great Freshwater Sea of Lake Huron, where at the present site of Michilimakinak, Sky Woman with the aid of Muskrat created new land on the Turtle’s back.

The two ends and the silver tips of the leather lanyard represent two paths. The traditional Midewiwin people of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg, along with other Algonquin-speaking Nations, speak of TWO ROADS: a road to TECHNOLOGY and the road to the SPIRITUAL. The parallel strands of the cord are a reminder so we won’t forget that even though we might be a spiritual person, we still may not be walking on the right path.

The eight zigzag-formed silver ornaments that I made and constructed around the braided cord relate to spirit. The chevron ornaments symbolize the spirit of EIGHT CONSECUTIVE GENERATIONS of Anishinaabe People.

As we have seen in the above, the Anishinaabeg, who originally lived along the northern shores of the Atlantic, were at some point in history advised by Seven Grandfathers (prophets) -- who appeared from the ocean to teach them of the Mide way of life -- to leave their home country and expand westward. The migration path that resulted from this prophecy would be marked by SEVEN FIRES. To this day, the 600 years lasting migration of the Anishinaabeg is still known as niizhwaaso-ishkoden niigaanaajimowin, the Prophecy of the Seven Fires. However, I created eight chevron ornaments since there also exists an EIGHT FIRE, or eko-nishwaaching.

The eight fire, a term arising from the Mide teachings of the Seven Fires, is used here as a metaphor for the importance of a spiritual attitude to life, mutual respect for one another and a reciprocal exchange between all life forms, corporeal as well as incorporeal.

The numbers seven and eight, however, not only refer to the westward migration of the Anishinaabe People marked by fires, but also to the number of generations that has passed ever since, and the responsibility we have toward the next generations.

This universal teaching, which contains seven essential spiritual lessons to the world, stresses mino-bimaadiziwin: the importance of living a good and honest way of life with an open eye for other people and nature around us and – placed in a bigger context – the vision that all people and races must come together on the basis of shared dignity and mutual respect.

The numbers seven and eight remind us that the only way humankind can survive and save the planet from social and ecological destruction is by renouncing materialism and choosing a path that is truly spiritual. “Only then, if the people of all colors and faith choose the right path, a path of respect, wisdom and spirituality, will the Seventh fire light the Eight Fire, an eternal fire of peace, which will unfold an era of spiritual illumination.”

Only then, the Great Turtle's gift to mankind won't be in vain...


MISHI-MAKINAAK OMIIGIWEWIN (‘Gift From The Great Turtle’). Detail. The bolo tie consists of a 2,0472 x 3,1496 inch (52 x 80 mm) sterling silver slide featuring a handcut oval Kingman turquoise stone. A black braided leather cord with flat neckpiece and sterling silver cord ornaments and tips is fastened to the back of the slide. Click on image to view more details of the bolo tie.


>> Read part 3 in the series: Turtle and Bear, Guardians of the Shaking Tent.

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