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Stories from the Land of Crane and Turtle, part 6: Manidoowigwisimaa and the Return of the Fire Spirit

Iskigamizige-giizis/Ziisibaakwadoke-giizis (Boiling Sap Moon/Sugar Making Moon; April 23, 2024)


Gaagiizongewin ("The Appeasement") painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Gaagiizongewin ("The Appeasement") ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik


Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ningad-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! (Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where there is love and legends and teaching stories are told. Let’s tell a sacred story today!)

his blog story is another episode, the sixth already, in a series named "Stories from the Land of Crane and Turtle." The series features illustrated teaching stories encompassing the unique worldview and cultural perspective of my ancestors, the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg of Turtle Island.



A long time ago, Manidoowigwisimaa (Son of Spirit) lived with his grandfather in a wiigiwaam on the shore of Gichigami, the big lake. Manidoowigwisimaa, who was born into Binesi Doodem (the Thunderbird Clan), was truly not a typical boy! It was commonly believed that manidoog (the spirits) had entrusted him with the task to help the little children, the poor, and the weak, and teach the People about mino-bimaadiziwin: How to live a good, long, and prosperous life.

Legend had it that Manidoowigwisimaa was sired by Animikii (The Spirit of Thunder) and born of anishinaabekwe (a woman); thus, being aabitaa-manidoo (half spirit) aabitaa-anishinaabe (half human), he was said to possess tremendous abilities and strengths – qualities that people nowadays would regard as extraordinary but back in the days, when magic was still part of everyday life, were accepted at face value and not thought to be very unusual at all…

There was truly not much that Manidoowigwisimaa could NOT do! He roamed freely with the spirits of the land, the sky, and the waters. He was gifted with the ability of aanzinaago’idizowin (transformation) so that he could obtain medicines and knowledge from the animals and the spirit world; this enabled him to cure the sick and protect his People against evil from outside. He could shapeshift at will into virtually any creature and form, including a rabbit or a bear, a tree stump, a rainbow, or a rock! But, despite his limitless powers, Manidoowigwisimaa acknowledged that there was one person he was greatly indebted to, and not a day went by that he wasn’t reminded that this person’s knowledge and wisdom exceeded his own. He was, therefore, never so immodest, or confident that he dared to embark himself on adventures without first consulting omishoomisan (his grandfather), whom he respected very much. A good and dutiful boy he was!

Years passed. Manidoowigwisimaa loved his grandfather a great deal. He would gather misan (firewood) for omishoomisan, he brought him adikameg (whitefish) from the lake and wazhashkwedowag (mushrooms) and ojiibikan (wild roots) from the land. He helped grandfather pick miinan (blueberries) and waaboozoominan (blackberries) and trap the waaboozoog (rabbits) that lived in the underbrush. He even poled Grandpa in his jiimaan (canoe) in manoominike-giizis, the season when the wild rice is ripe! A good and dutiful grandchild he was! But he also had another side. In fact, he had many sides.



Odaapin Giizis A'awe Binesi-Binesi-waabanoowinini  "Thunderbird Dawn Man Captures the Sun"  painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Odaapin Giizis A'awe Binesi-waabanoowinini ("Thunderbird Dawn Man Captures the Sun" ) ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik


Finally, Manidoowigwisimaa had grown into a young adult. One morning, as they were standing in front of the wiigiwaam facing the lake, Omishoomisimaa pointed his chin toward the south and said to Manidoowigwisimaa: “Andodan Nigwise! Listen my son! (because that was how he usually addressed his grandson), the Anishinaabeg who live in the village beyond yonder dunes live in poverty and sickness. The sun hasn’t shone for two summers and winters in a row and the everlasting winter that keeps the land and the lakes in its grip has taken a severe toll. Many hunters have frozen to death and starvation has plunged the elders, the women, and the children who stayed behind in misery and despair. I need you to go on a trip to a wajiw (mountain) in the cold country where our northern relatives, the Campfire People dwell. ¹ Story has it that an animikii-aya’aa (thunder sorcerer) lives there. It is said he lives inside that mountain with his seven daughters. It is said that this maji-aya’aa is a very selfish medicine man as he has used his maji-mashkiki (bad medicine) to capture the sun and tied him to the mountain. He keeps a piece of the sun hidden in the bosom of the mountain, in the form of a molten substance known as waazakoone anamaabik (“it glows beneath rocks”). But it is even worse than that! Along with this waazakoone anamaabik this man has embezzled a midemiigis, a sacred seashell, a powerful medicine that comes from the Ocean and therefore symbolizes life to our People. It is this medicine, once retrieved, that could save the lives of the starving Anishinaabeg. Ambe, well now! Go and bring it home so that the Anishinaabeg can live again.”

Before he went back into the wiigiwaam, Grandfather looked his grandson one more time in the eye and added: “Aaniin igo, betag! Be careful though! Keep an eye out for the anaamibiig aya'aa (undewater creature) called mishi-ogimaa-bizhiw (Chief of the Horned Underwater Spirits). This one is nowadays in a foul mood and, unlike his underlings, doesn’t rest, not even in the cold season.” ² 

Nodding, Manidoowigwisimaa put on his aagimag (snowshoes) and, bidding his grandfather giga-waabamin-nagaaj (“I shall see you again”), started walking into the northern direction. First, yet unhindered by Mishibijiw, the Guardian Spirit of Gichigami, he crossed the ice-covered lake. So determined was he, his mind fixed on the journey that lay ahead of him and knowing that every step he made brought him closer to his sacred goal, he did not notice the ominous shadow that followed him underneath the ice…


Manidoowigwisimaa Makadekewin ("Son-of-Spirit's Quest") painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Manidoowigwisimaa Makadekewin ("Son-of-Spirit's Quest") ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik


On the first night a full moon rose above the frozen lake. Manidoowigwisimaa lay to rest. Tired after a long day of walking, he fell asleep. A dream came to him. In the dream, he was pensively drifting across the center of the earth, in search of the gift of fire. Suddenly he found himself in a jiimaan (canoe) crossing the surface of the great lake, which, to his surprise, had no ice on it! As he was paddling along, pondering which direction to head in next, his jiimaan nearly capsized by a whirlpool, created by the mishi-ogimaa-bizhiw, lashing his long copper tail. Quickly Manidoowigwisimaa, his jiimaan rocking on the sudden waves, set his paddle aside. Even though his vessel was in danger of capsizing, he took a handful of asemaa from his tobacco pouch and sprinkled it on the water in front of the hissing creature to appease it. As the tobacco floated away, he chanted, acknowledging the frightening phenomenon he witnessed before his very eyes:

Anang gii-piidagoojin. 

Wiindaagawaateshkamaw noongom. 

Gaagige wiindaanikeshkawaan 

Dibishkoo aagawaateshimowin 


Gibaabaayiaan Bizhiw 


Gichigamiin bawaagan 


Asemaa giwiikaanisimikonaan. 


(“A star fell through the sky toward me.

He now covers me with his shadow.

Always following

Like a shadow

Rising to the Lake's surface.

Our Grandfather, the Lynx

Star Warrior

Guardian of the Great Seas

I give you praise.

Tobacco makes us allies.”)

 "Aaniin Anishinaabe!" Niin Mishi-ogimaa-bizhiw," the moody cat growled. "I see your light, human being. I am the Chief of the Great Underwater Lynx tribe. I am the chief guardian of the Jiibay-ziibi (“River of Souls”; Milky Way) in the night sky and Gichigami (the Big Lake; Lake Superior) on earth. It is me who grants the souls of the deceased passage so they can reach their destination in the land of waakwi and to the human beings on earth so they can move around the lake unhindered. It is me who provides human beings with the sacred copper so they can trade, and the fish so they can eat." After a brief pause, which he used to emphasize the dramatic nature of his words, he added, "Grandfather Makadeshigan, the Black Bass, who as you know is the patron of the Underworld, sent me from the depth of the waters underneath the earth to guard you on your path."

The water spirit disappeared as quickly as it had emerged, and the lake became tranquil again. Manidoowigwisimaa, puzzled by the sudden encounter and the enigmatic words of the frightening underwater creature, heard laughter in the distance, and as he moved closer, he perceived a slender, fast-moving object on the surface of the Great Lake to the west, and then in all four directions; and then, within the blink of an eye, the directions were brought together in what appeared to be a madoodiswan (purification, or sweat lodge) in the center of the Earth. It was in this sacred place, where sky, water, and land come together, that Manidoowigwisimaa saw a waabakig manidoo (white-otter sprit). ³


Understanding and appreciating the magic phenomenon he witnessed before his very eyes, Manidoowigwisimaa addressed the cheerful otter with nisayeh (“my elder brother”). The bawaagan (guardian spirit animal) told Manidoowigwisimaa that he had been ordained to guide him along the way and see to it that in both realms no harm would come to him. He also informed him that a migizi (bald eagle) would watch him from high above and show him the way to his destination by means of his feathers. “Pay attention to feathers lying on the ground, Manidoowigwisimaa,” the otter said. The feathers are signs that point the way, so you will know which direction to head in.”


Thus, Manidoowigwisimaa and his shadows (the horned underwater being and the bald eagle who followed him during the day and the protective otter spirit who appeared to him at night) crossed many plains and hills and valleys and rivers and inland lakes. Like the otter had told him in his dream, eagle feathers on the ground showed him which way to go. Then, after days and weeks of walking, a vast plain with rocks and heaps of stone emerged in Manidoowigwisimaa’s eyes. This is where he encountered the Campfire People, the friendly Nation of the North Country Grandmother had told him about, and who welcomed him in their camp.

After a solid meal and a good rest, Manidoowigwisimaa asked his hosts if they were familiar with the sorcerer and his two daughters Omishoomisan (his grandfather) had told him about. The old chief of the Campfire People, although he did not directly respond to Wenabozho’s question, warned him to be cautious since the area to their west was hostile and haunted by evil powers. Pretty soon Manidoowigwisimaa found out the chief’s warning was not entirely without reason! Heading north by northwest – following the eagle feathers and still accompanied by his friend the otter and trailed by his enemy, the mishi-bizhiw - the eerie landscape that he encountered seemed to him immersed in an ominous, petrified stillness as if time had ceased! Manidoowigwisimaa, sensing bad medicine in the air, was sure he was very close to his destination now!

After he had walked another day Manidoowigwisimaa sought out a shelter where he could shield against the polar wind and rest. As soon as he had closed his eyes, however, the waabakig manidoo, the white otter spirit that had presented himself as his guardian spirit, appeared again, as if from out of nowhere. “Baapiniziwaagan Manidoowigwisimaa!” the otter said, “beware Manidoowigwisimaa! Soon you will encounter danger on the road. To protect you from this danger you would best have your asemaa (tobacco) at hand and use the makwajiibik (bear medicine) in your medicine pouch to paint your face with bear symbols. Make sure you apply it in a thick layer!” Manidoowigwisimaa, who was very tired after walking in the snow and crossing mountains, rivers, and lakes all day, said “Enh geget, niijiikiwenh, okay my friend, consider it done!” He fell back asleep…


Mishi-makwa-manidoo Giiwedinong ("The Great Bear Spirit of the North") painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Mishi-makwa-manidoo Giiwedinong ("The Great Bear Spirit of the North") ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik



The next morning Manidoowigwisimaa did as he was told and went on his way again. Then, just west of a large inlet of a saltwater sea, an eagle feather landed in front of his snowshoes, pointing at a huge mountain range that loomed in the distance. There, on the frozen neyaashi (peninsula) where only bears and caribou could survive, he saw towering high above a multitude of lesser mountains a gich-wajiw (large mountain). Just when he wondered why its high summit wasn’t covered with snow like the other mountains, he noticed a reddish glow coming from behind it. Manidoowigwisimaa immediately sensed that this grim-looking gichi-wajiw must be the abode of the maji-aya’aa and his daughters! And the glow behind the mountain had to be from the sun who was snared by the maji-aya’aa! “It is inside this gichi-wajiw where the maji-aya’aa keeps hidden the medicine nookomis told me about!” he said to himself as he took off his aagimag.” I must go inside the mountain to fetch me some of that medicine! Next, I shall climb the summit of the mountain and free the sun from his trap...”

But then, oonyooy! suddenly, a huge shadow cast over the stilled landscape made Manidoowigwisimaa stop in his tracks. A huge, scary-looking creature draped in a pelt the color of fresh snow and adorned with a multitude of miigisensag (small seashells) blocked Manidoowigwisimaa’s path! The monster stood towering over the startled Manidoowigwisimaa, growling frightfully, and his nostrils blew a stream of heavy breath across his painted face. Manidoowigwisimaa understood now why the waabakig manidoo had told him to apply thick layers of bear root medicine on his face! However, realizing the creature that towered over him was no ordinary bear, he bowed his head and respectfully spoke to the creature, addressing him as nimishoo ("my grandfather"). Calmly he took a handful of asemaa (tobacco) from his pouch, after which, he, asemaa in hand, explained to the bear spirit with a clear and unwavering voice that he came in peace and did mean no harm. As soon as he had handed the bear the gift of tobacco and related to him the purpose of his quest, the Makwa Manidoo explained to him that he, in the appearance of a waabi-makwa, a polar bear, was a spirit whose role it was to guard Giiwedinong-mekwamiikaag, the cold and icy land of the North. He furthermore explained that the mountain Manidoowigwisimaa was about to enter was a midewigaan (Spirit Lodge) and that it was his task to guard it.

Then the bear spirit spoke:


“Nindinawendaagan, noozis, bizindoshin.

My relative, my grandchild, listen to what I have to say.

Since we of the bear nation came from the sun high above

To teach anishinaabeg (humans) to live in harmony with aki, the Mother Earth,

And since it was us bears who from the bowels of aki,

Pushed the Tree of Life through the layers of the four worlds, and then through a vast body of water,

And delivered the gift of life, including the sacred miigisag,

And brought it to this here island the shape of a turtle,

Since you, Manidoowigwisimaa, are manidoo-gwiiwizens, a boy being possessing manidoowiwin, the character of spirit,

And our people and your people are inawendaaganag (related)

And peacefully cohabit the same world since time immemorial,

Since bear people possess the skill of hibernation

And arise again when spring comes,

Thus, embodying death of the old life

And resurrection into the new life,

Since we guide your medicine people in your travels

Between the upper, middle, and lower worlds,

Since it us who preside over the medicine plants

And hereby gave your healers

The power to enter the dream world

The power to guide your visions

In order to obtain, through mishiginebig, the great horned serpent,

Powerful medicine to cure the sick of body and mind;

Because of all this, noozis

I’ve come to understand that

Your people honor us by calling us

Anishninaabeg (humans) and address us

As nimishoo (my grandfather) or nooko (my grandmother)

And by incarnating us in your aadizookaanan (stories) and midewii'iwewinan (rituals),

And by making us the leading doodem of your people

Entrusting us with the noble tasks of Defense and Healing,

And by appointing us as guardians

Of the east doorway of your Medicine Lodges,

And as protectors of the healing medicines

And sacred rituals of your medicine men and women,

And by tying bright-colored cloth and ribbons

To the trees in the forests and on the mountains,

And by making food and asemaa offerings

As gifts in our honor.

I’ve also come to understand, noozis, that

Throughout the ages and generations

Your people have danced and sung mystic songs

To invite the spring and heal the sick,

To ensure abundant plant foods,

And to guard yourselves against your enemies.

Haw dash bizindoshin Manidoowigwisimaa

Now listen to me Manidoowigwisimaa!

Since the bear people are the progenitors of anishinaabeg

And long ago even had a human form,

I therefore will not fight you

Nor will I use bad medicine on you.

I will grant you safe passage instead

And bless you with these sacred shells.”


Hereupon the Bear Spirit gifted Manidoowigwisimaa with a few handfuls of miigisensag from her pelt, which he knew symbolized the sun and long life and the virtue of selflessness. After he had thanked the bear and traded the glossy shells with more asemaa from his medicine pouch, he walked the last stretch to the foot of the spirit lodge mountain. Still impressed by the encounter with the terrifying but friendly bear spirit, Manidoowigwisimaa looked over his shoulder one last time, and he saw to his astonishment that the makwa manidoo was nowhere to be seen! Then, squinting his eyes, he perceived from a great distance a small figure in brilliant garments walking toward the South; when he looked closer hoowah! he realized this person was the gete-ogimaa (old chief) of the Campfire people, draped in a snow-white blanket richly decorated with miigisensag! Manidoowigwisimaa, being a shapeshifter himself, smiled...

And indeed, he was! As soon as the ogimaa of the Campfire People was out of sight, Manidoowigwisimaa took off his aagimag and said to himself: “Wenji, well, since I need to be a being with enough strength and spirit power to be able to penetrate a mountain, this is the way I shall look. I will that I become a makade-makwa (black bear).” And so, it happened.


Makwa climbs into the mountain painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Gaagiizongewin ("The Appeasement") -detail©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik


Without much further ado, Manidoowigwisimaa pushed his bear snout through the rock and burrowed a tunnel, all the way into the bosom of the mountain/spirit lodge. “Aakaa,” Manidoowigwisimaa said to himself as he pushed deeper into the dark and gloomy womb of the gichi-wajiw, “what an ungodly place is this!” Suddenly red glow attracted his attention. Walking on his hind legs toward the glow he heard the giggling of young women.

Quickly Manidoowigwisimaa transformed himself into a waabooz (snowshoe hare) and hopped toward the sound. There they were, seven women with extremely long, raven black hair, there bodies surrounded by a visible jiibaaman (a luminous energy field). He willed those women to come find him and endeared by the cuteness of his appearance, take him to their father, the maji-aya’aa. And so it happened. Indeed, the sisters noticed Manidoowigwisimaa but they, instead of showing signs of endearment, grabbed him by the ears, thinking he would be a tasty meal. They dragged poor Manidoowigwisimaa into their cave, whose floor consisted of a natural cavity, which reminded Manidoowigwisimaa of a bird nest. It was lined with numerous twigs and the bones of underwater cats, beavers, fish, snakes, and frogs, and everywhere he looked he saw ozhaawashko-waawanogekwag (blue eggshells). Instead of a fire pit, the center of the cavity had a small bowl-shaped indentation filled with a glowing liquid. The women placed Manidoowigwisimaa near the strange-looking liquid in order for him, as they called it, “dry.” Manidoowigwisimaa suspected the substance, which to him looked like molten rock, was the waazakoone anamaabik Grandfather had told him about! The heat that came off this substance was so intense that his fur curled up and changed from snow white to dark brown! He realized the women intended on roasting him alive...Yet, as Manidoowigwisimaa had hoped, the loud giggling of his daughters alarmed the maji-aya'aa, who came to investigate what they were up to. Like his daughters, a mysterious blue glow surrounded him. His garments were decorated with the bones of snakes and frogs and even mishi-bizhikiwag, and his nose and hands reminded Manidoowigwisimaa of the beak and talons of a Binesi - a large bird of prey! “Betag! Beware!” the glowing figure roared. “Have you not heard of the trickster who goes by the name of Wenabozho Perhaps this sorry excuse for a rabbit with his scorched hide is him. I suspect he came here in disguise to steal the medicine shell that I carry around my neck. Sha naa, he may even be after the fire of the Sun whom I snared! You would better kill him.”When he heard the command the maji-aya’aa roared at his daughters, Manidoowigwisimaa knew that he, like Wenabozho himself would have done, needed to act fast. Quickly transforming himself back into his human form, he took his war club from his belt and, screaming with a loud yell “WENABOZHO!" clubbed the maji-aya’aa and his seven daughters on the head, after which they fell insensible. Next, he cut the cord around the maji-aya’aa’s neck and put the mide-miigis in his medicine bag. Realizing the boiling rock in the hole in the cave floor was too hot to handle for him, he decided to leave it behind and only take the seashell with him. And thus, he ran through the tunnel he had dug on the way in and leaped out of the mountain, determined to free the sun from his trap...


Ogidiskaabiiginan Giizis, A'aw Nanapaajinikesii ("Fieldmouse Releases the Sun") painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Ogidiskaabiiginan Giizis, A'aw Nanapaajinikesii ("Fieldmouse Releases the Sun") ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik



Panting, Manidoowigwisimaa climbed the mountain until he reached the summit and there, he saw the Sun, all tangled up inside a gigantic spiderweb. Observing how the sun danced frantically to break free from the web that was guarded by seven asabikeshiinhyag, he shouted: “I came to rescue you, dedenaan (my grandfather).”

Quickly Manidoowigwisimaa shapeshifted himself into a waabiganoojiiyens (little mouse). As if he were Zhagaabewishi, he climbed up the snare wire as close as possible to the sun. The sun's heat was enormous, made all the worse by his anger at being trapped by the spiders, but Manidoowigwisimaa, whose fur, already scorched by the heat he had been exposed to in the cave, turned black, used his sharp teeth to chew the cord, meanwhile using his medicine on the spiders that tried to stop him. Manidoowigwisimaa's medicine was too powerful for them, and they hastily disappeared in a portal of stars that shone above the mountain. Manidoowigwisimaa kept gnawing, and finally the snare broke. The sun, relieved, danced up in the sky with fire beneath his feet, but not before he gifted Manidoowigwisimaa with a small piece of his sun power. Manidoowigwisimaa put the treasure in his medicine pouch that he carried around his neck (and which already held the Mide-miigis he had taken from the gichi-aya'aa inside the mountain). His task fulfilled, he then changed himself into his old human form and descended the mountain.

As soon as he arrived at the foot of the gichi-wajiw, Manidoowigwisimaa, fatigued by his exercise on the mountain summit, fell asleep. It was then, when the sun was at his summit, that the waabakig manidoo, the white otter spirit that had presented himself as his guardian spirit, appeared for the third time, again as if from out of nowhere. “Baapiniziwaagan Manidoowigwisim!” the otter said, “beware Manidoowigwisimaa! Soon you will encounter more danger. To protect you from this danger you would best have your asemaa (tobacco) ready and paint your face with the symbol of a Thunderbird who comes flying through the smoke hole of a Medicine lodge. Make sure you apply the paint in a thick layer! Next, take out your zhiishiigwan (rattle) and shake it in the direction of the four winds!”


Gaagiizongewin ("The Appeasement") ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik
"Then flames burst from it, soon followed by a stream of hot rock fragments and hissing gases. 'Iyoo! It must be the wrath of the mountain spirit!' Manidoowigwisimaa exclaimed."



Manidoowigwisimaa woke up from his dream and did as the otter spirit had told him to do. He painted his face with the sacred symbols, then shook his rattle in all directions, chanting a Thunderbird song that he had received in a previous dream. Then something happened that made his hairs stood on end! The sun, who a few moments ago perched high in the sky bathing the landscape in a blinding white, suddenly turned black! A great column of smoke rose from the gichi-wajiw’s summit. Then flames burst from it, soon followed by a stream of hot rock fragments and hissing gases. “Iyoo! It must be the wrath of the mountain spirit!” Manidoowigwisimaa exclaimed. “The asin-onde that the mountain spews across the land is the same boiling substance that I saw in the Thunderman’s cave!”The sky became scorched with such torrid heat that Manidoowigwisimaa had no choice but to run toward the sea inlet. Worried that the glowing asin-onde would catch up on him before he reached the water of the bay, Manidoowigwisimaa unstrapped his aagimag and left them behind. No longer had he use for them now that the heat melted the snow under his feet! Fire was in the sky, and everywhere he looked bird flocks flew into all directions and land animals fled to safety. Manidoowigwisimaa began running away from the fire-spewing gichi-wajiw toward the inlet where the mish-bizhiw still prowled beneath the surface , only to find that tayaa! the water’s surface had thawed! Resourceful as always, he thereupon asked the amikwag (beavers) in the area to construct a dam thick enough to slow down the boiling river that was on his heels. Quickly Manidoowigwisimaa, the expert canoe builder that he was, sought out small groves of as-yet-unscorched giizhik (cedar), zhingob (spruce), and wiigwaas (birch), and with incredible speed he fabricated a jiimaan (canoe). Next, he carved a piece of driftwood he found on the beach into a paddle. Then, oonyooy! just when the river of asin-onde broke through the dam, Manidoowigwisimaa pushed his jiimaan into the water. After thanking his friends, the beavers who in the meantime had sought shelter in the water of the bay, Manidoowigwisimaa steered his jiimaan away from the doomed land, which by then had been covered in a thick blanket of ash. Moose and deer who had fled into the bay with nostrils wide open and panic in their eyes surrounded his canoe! As soon as he knew he was safe from the raging torrent of molten stone, he halted the canoe and looked back at the mountain, which still spouted rocks and smoke across the peninsula. Remembering the instructions the otter had given him in his dream, he sprinkled a handful of asemaa (tobacco) on the water and chanted a sacred song:

Oo! Mashkawiningwiiganan.

Daga bizaan aadizookanag.

Daga bizindan aadizookanag.

Wegonen manepwaand? 

Wegonen waa bagidinigesig? 

Asemaa bizaande-eshkaage.

Asemaa giwiikaanisimikonaan 

Asemaa waaseyaakaage.


Oo! Apegish abiidaabang.

Oo! Apegish abiidaabang.


(Oh! Mighty Wings 

Oh! You who come sounding.

  Please be quiet Grandfathers!

Please listen Grandfathers!


Who dares without tobacco?

Who dares without offering?


Tobacco brings peace.

Tobacco makes us friends.

Tobacco will clear the mist.


Oh! May daylight soon reappear. Oh! May daylight soon reappear.”)

Then he took out his asinii-opwaagan (stone pipe) and lit him. Watched by mishi-ogimaaa-bizhiw (who, still unnoticed by him, swam beneath his canoe), he prayed to the angry spirit of the gichi-wajiw. Believe it or not, oonyooy! as soon as he finished his song, he saw a large animikii-binesi (thunderbird) coming out of the mountain’s crater, followed by seven smaller binesiwag. The spirit birds spread their wings and flew away. The sound of flapping wings accompanied by a distant thunder, slowly filling the sky, soon faded away into the southern direction. As soon as the thunderbirds were out of sight the mountain returned to his previous calm!

As Manidoowigwisimaa was marveling at the unusual scene that enveloped before his eyes, the sun's rays started to peek through thick clouds of ash. The sky turned back to gray to blue, and peace returned to the land. The prowling mishi-bizhiw, who got scared off by the flapping wings of the thunderbirds, hastily disappeared under the surface, never to be seen again... Only a gray blanket of waabijii-asin (basalt) covering the peninsula testified of the disaster that had taken place only moments ago.

Manidoowigwisimaa, wondering if it all had really happened or could it have just been a dream? steered his canoe due south, then east, travelling across land and along a myriad of inland waterways. Soon Manidoowigwisimaa was reunited with his grandfather who had been standing on the shore of the lake, eagerly waiting for his grandson to return.


Omishoomisimaa Adizooke ("Grandfather Telling Stories") Painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Omishoomisimaa Adizooke ("Grandfather Telling Stories") ©2024 Zhaawano Giizhik


Content that the Sun was freed and provided light and warmth to the Anishinaabeg again and satisfied to have had succeeded in getting possession of some of the Sun’s medicine that had been hidden in the bowels of the Earth, Manidoowigwisimaa sat with Grandfather at the fire in his lodge. Grandfather closed his eyes and started to speak. “You know, nigwise” he said “now that you have done what I asked you to do, it is important that you go over to the village of my People and use the miigis shell that you secured from the maji-aya’aa of the Big Fire Mountain in the North country to heal them of their sicknesses. But before you go, I want to share with you a story about wendinigeng ishkode: The origin of fire.”Grandfather opened his eyes and looked at his grandson who sat across the fire, listening. Gesturing toward the fire, he said: ”Ganawaabandan iwe ishkode. Bapakine iwe ishkode. Look at that fire. It is giving off sparks.” He smiled, then continued: “As you know, our word for fire is ishkode. When you break down the word you get ishk-ode’, which means so much as ‘first spark of the heart.’ Do you know why ishkode is related to the heart?” Manidoowigwisimaa pondered Omishoomisan’s question for a while, then responded: “I know that fire is one of our natural elements and comes from the sky as well as from the earth. You taught me that fire, ishkode, is a central element in our izhitwaawin, our beliefs and our outlook on life. Ishkode is the force of the creation of the Earth, reflected in the Earth’s molten core. Waazakoone anamaabik, the molten rock that I saw in the medicine man’s cave inside the big fire mountain in the north, taught me what this ishkode looks like. It wasn’t until I fled the maji-aya’yaa’s wrath that I understood that this maji-aya’aa and his two daughters were Thunderbirds disguised as human beings. Furthermore, the northern lights in the night sky, like you taught me, are reflections of jiibayag niimi’idiwag, the souls of our ancestors that dance in the sky and illuminate the jiibay-miikana (path of souls) as they travel to the land of the deceased. So, the experience that I had with the Thunderbirds in the mountain cave as well as what I know about the campfires of the dancing grandfathers up above, have taught me that the concept of fire is also related to the sky.” Looking his grandfather in the eye he concluded:

“I understand now that the first spark of fire originated both in the depths of the earth and among the stars in the sky.” “Enh geget gi-debwe nigwise, (Yes, you speak the truth my son)” Grandfather said, impressed by Manidoowigwisimaa’s deep comprehension of the phenomena that exist behind and beyond the natural world. “The world as we know it, when it was still an empty space void of anything, started with a sound, and a spark of fire. “Ishkode is indeed the heart of the Earth, and at the same time the first spark of life that originated in the skies. The spark of life is from star fire that moves into our spirit souls when we die. We call this phenomenon miziweshkode: The fire of faraway stars.


While we walk the face of this earth, we, as People, use fire to keep ourselves warm and cook our food. This is why fire is always a central and vital element of our ceremonies – just like nibi (water), which has the power to extinguish fire - and why the heart and the blood of our Nation are symbolized by fire. Then, when our time on earth is fulfilled our soul-spirits travel to the west, toward the Thunderbird Path, also called the Path or River of Souls, comprised of flaming gaseous stars and star dust and guided by the campfires of the ancestors who went before us. When this happens, when we leave this world and head west toward the thunderbird Path, a sacred energy is released from our bodies. The very moment we die, when that spark of life invades our soul when we leave this world, testifies of the ultimate relationship of fire to creation.”

After a brief pause, omishoomisan added: “Thus, the gichitwaa-ishkode, the sacred fire, appears as a central element that begins with the creation of the Earth, becomes the heart of the Nation, and lights the way when we return home.” Omishoomisan coughed, and asked Manidoowigwisimaa to fetch her a cup of nibi (water). Nodding at the water she said: For there to be life, there has to be water. For things on earth to grow, there has to be sunlight. It is this duality of core elements that exist in nature, like water and fire, earth and sky, moon and sun, and female and male as well as naawe-nangweyaabe -- an identity that is "in the middle" -- that makes Creation work the way it does. Nibi is associated with our mother the Earth and our grandmother the Moon, whereas ishkode comes from our Grandfather the Sun. Both natural and spiritual energies, which are reflected in our rituals and ceremonies, are interconnected as they cannot exist without each other. The most important objects that we use in our Medicine Lodges are therefore mitigwakik (the water drum) and miigis (a seashell). The mitigwakik comes from the sun and is filled with the sacred nibi, and the seashell, which brings us warmth and light by reflecting the rays of the sun, originates from the water of the Ocean, thus symbolizing the Gift of Life."After she took a sip of her water, Grandfather continued: “Ahaw! Let's go back to the topic of ishkode! If you would return to the northern land of mountains in a few moons from now, you would be surprised at what you would find there. When you left, the land was covered with a thick blanket of ash, giving you the impression of a barren land where nothing will ever grow again. But you know ningwise, you could not be farther from the truth. You would be surprised at what the fire that came from the mountain does, once the mountain is silent again. The ishkode that the angry Thunderbirds spew from their mountain abodes causes a wide torrent of asin-onde to cover the land. This asin-onde, this raging river of molten rock, creates not only death and decay, but also new life! The landscape marked by fire, then covered by a blanket of ash makes the soil fertile, and new vegetation will spring from it in the blink of an eye. This is why ‘ishkode’ and ‘asin-onde’ are related, almost intertwined existences. Ishkode, this ancient spirit, here long before humans, is therefore a cleanser and fertilizer of the land and air. Without ishkode, there would be no growth and no decay; without ishkode there would be no cycle of Creation." Omishoomisan was silent for a while, then nodded, and concluded by saying: The miziweshkode, the cosmic fire, lives not only out there, in our human world on earth and in the star world where our ancestors dwell, but inside our human breast and heart as well. All we must do is recognize this fire that burns inside of us and do something good with it. Ahaw! Ishkode, that first spark of the heart, is an almighty and omnipresent force that appears throughout the cycle of Life.”


Grandfather was silent for a moment. He put apaagozigan (kinnikinnick) in his pipe and lit it. He blew puffs of smoke and watched as they dispersed through the air, then continued: “There are three kinds of fire. First, there is Anishinaabe-ishkode, the fire that burns in our hearts as a People. Then, there is the fire we have in our campgrounds that we use to cook our foods with and smoke our hides with. And then there is Binesi ishkode, the Thunderbird fire. Binesi has a particular job in looking after the world, and so do you, my son. Binesi has the power to scourge and cleanse, and so have you. The fire that came from eshkodewadinaagin (volcanoes) helped the first life on earth to flourish. Binesi, when he notices a mountain trembles with negative energy, will release this energy through fire and ash which in turn fertilizes the soil, and new life arises. When binesi flies about and notices the forests become overgrown, old, and scrubby he will fly overhead and shoot out fire and scorch the land; when everything is burned out a new life arises.”


Grandfather took a few puffs from his pipe, then leaned forward to Manidoowigwisimaa and said in a voice: You, my son, have this Binesi Ishkode. Since you were sired by a Thunderer and as such are a first-born in the Thunderbird clan, you must realize that you have the power to start a fire, any fire, like the Thunderbird who started the fire for the madoodiswan, the Sweat Lodge that we use to purify ourselves before we go into ceremony. When a long time ago the Animikiig descended to the earth, they made the fire, and that is where the Anishinaabeg first got it from. Thunders caused trees to burn. Binesi Clan people used to have the ishkode the Thunders possessed, and they were fully in control of it. Since they, too, had the ability to start fire, they kept the ishkode burning and heated themselves by this ishkode. So, when the Animikiig came to earth all the subclans that lived approached the Thunderbird Clan one by one. They would say, " Indoogimaam,  my chief, we have come for your ishkode. We come to borrow from you." Then the Thunderbird Clan would let these subclans take fire home. Before they knew of fire, the Anishinaabeg used to eat their food raw. But now, the Anishinaabeg could finally eat cooked food, and they lived well.”


Grandfather paused for another moment, then continued, his eyes fixed on his grandson’s face: “Indeed, ishkode is the sacred possession of Binesi, the Thunderbird Clan. The ishkode is the means by which sacrifice and petitions are sent to the manidoog (spirits). This makes the ishkode especially sacred, and those who own it have a spiritual power that is truly unrivaled. The ishkode is located in naawakamig: The bosom and center of the earth. The center is the place of control where all the cardinal points converge. Whoever controls the center, therefore, controls the cardinal points, and thus, gakina gegoo: Everything in the waawiyebii'igan (circle) and everything in waawiyekamig (the universe).”


Grandfather smiled and concluded: “You, my son, went to naawakamig, the center of the earth. Next, you went to the ishkode-wajiw and reached its top. It is only when you have reached the top, that you really begin to climb. Now you must put the medicines that you brought back to benificial use.”


Manidoowigwisimaa, who respected omishoomisan a great deal and had listened to his teaching carefully and intently, nodded. “Enh, nimishoo,” he said, unwrapping the midemiigis that he kept in his medicine pouch. "I will now go to the village and use the medicine that I brought from the North Country to help the poor Anishinaabeg to become healthy and strong again.”

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

Mino bimaadizin! Live well! Migwechewendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!



¹ "Campfire People": The name the plant beings and animals, according to tradition, gave the Dena’ina: Ancestors of the Kahtnuht’ana tribe, meaning “People of the Kenai River,”who live across the Alaskan Kenai Peninsula and beyond. ^ 


² Mishibizhiw, a powerful spirit that lives beneath the surface of the lake, is believed to sleep during the winter moons. In pre-contact times Mishibizhiw, or Anaamakamig Bizhiw, or in its shortened form Nambizhiw (literally: Underworld Lynx), was regarded as a spirit of the night, the underground, and also of the sky. Nambizhiw supplied plants with their medicinal power that came from the depths of the earth, thus enabling the healing work of herbalists. However, in the past few centuries, probably in the course of the 19th century, this image started to change. Nambizhiw, or Mishi-bizhiw, shifted its subterranean existence to the realm of the under-lakes. By mid 20th century, in Anishinaabe conception, the Great Underground Lynx and the Great Underwater Fish/Snake had merged, with the name Mishibizhiw sometimes coming to cover the aspects of both. Nowadays, the Ojibweg, Odaawaag, and Bodewadmik as well as the Ininewak see "Nambizhiw," the Great Underground Lynx of the Night, as an anaamibiig aya'aa (underwater creature) - a variant on the ancient Mishiginebig. 

Nambizhiwag, or Mishibizhiwag, are now traditionally held to be the most powerful of all water creatures, including the fish and Underwater Snakes. Mishibizhiw, in modern Anishinaabe tradition, controls access to the land animals as well as all the fish and other creatures within the waters, and can withhold them from anishinaabeg (humans) on impulse. Mishibizhiwag are also said to move between different bodies of water through zhiibaayaag (hidden underground passageways), to emerge when one least expects them.

Modern tradition dictates that the Nambizhiwag/Mishibizhiwag live in opposition to Animiki Binesiwag (Thunderbird Grandfathers), who live on nearby Animikii Ajiw (Thunderbird Mountain, called McKay by Canadians) and are seen as the most powerful of all aadizookaanag that dwell in the sky. They are regarded as an opposing yet complementary force to the Thunderbirds, and both aadizookanag are engaged in eternal conflict. No matter how scary and potentially dangerous mishibizhiwag are to our Peoples, we love and respect them greatly because they provide us with protection and medicine and secure successful hunts and an abundance of food.

Today, Nambizhiw, or Mishibizhiw as he is called nowadays, is known among our Peoples for guarding the vast amounts of zhooniyaa (silver) and ozaawaabiko-zhooniyaa (copper, literally: brown silver) in Gichigami, Lake Superior. Native peoples mined silver and copper ore long before the arrival of Mooniyaag (Europeans) to Gichigamiin. Later, during the 17th century, missionaries arrived in the Great Lakes Region. By that time, swiping copper from the region was extremely taboo and forbidden by the Ojibweg. It was even worse to take it from Mishibizhiw's home, Mishibikwadin-minis (Michipicoten Island); this was considered to be stealing from the Great Underground Lynx himself.

Like most other aadizookanag and manidoog (spirits), Mishibizhiw has the power to very abruptly shapeshift into various animal forms and into natural phenomena like, for instance, sudden strong winds, or fog, or whirlpools. Many aadizookanan (sacred stories) of the Ojibweg describe Mishibizhiw, whose stylized representations are to be found on rock paintings and petroglyphs in hidden places throughout the Great Lakes area, as a metaphorical interpretation of a giigoonh, or fish being – and as such closely related to sturgeons and trout-, as well as a prominent aadizookaan, or patron, of healing and knowledge of medicinal herbs. Mishibizhiwag have often been associated with drowning and floods and evil medicine as well as with good medicine, and healing. Mishibizhiw is also said to aid those who seek to cross dangerous water, provided that a suitable offer is made.

From of old, some Midewayaanag (Medicine bundles) are being made of snake skin - a spiritual reference to mishiginebig and mishibizhiw. Mishibizhiw is also one of the guardians of the Midewigaan, the Midewiwin lodge. And to this day, the term "Mishipeshu" is used as a family name, showing that the great horned lynx that lives beneath the earth is seen as having beneficial powers and good medicine... ^ 

³ Nigig, the otter. From of old, nigig has been portrayed as a hunter and warrior/strategist. To this day, his characteristics, like his playfulness, craftiness, adaptability, industriousness, and his adventurous and autonomous nature, are still core aspects of the teachings and the leadership of the Midewiwin Lodge. Otter symbolizes new life, and all of life is seen as an extension of Otter’s magical power. Just as the Anishinaabeg have drawn from time immemorial on the resources of both land and water to survive, so too the Otter, being one of their most important mediators between the physical world and the spirit world, lives in both environments, and the Anishinaabeg as a whole, and Otter clan people in particular, have always tried to emulate his talent for moving through both worlds with ease, playfulness, and humor.

But first and foremost, Nigig is respected and revered for having brought the Anishinaabeg the Gift of Medicine and the sacred water drum whose pulsating sound reaches far and corresponds with the voices and the heartbeat of the cosmos. Because of his habit of rising to the surface at night and then plunging under again, Nigig is symbolically linked with the moon, and thus also associated with several rites of initiation. Because of this, the Mideg (Mide People) keep their Mide-miigisaag (sacred Cowry shells) in a Nigig-midewiyaan: a bag of otter skin. ^ 

Bear medicine: The Anishinaabeg know at least three kinds of plants/roots that bear the name of "bear." The Ojibwe word for osha root is makwajiibik; the carrion flower, which is a climbing plant having small white flowers with an odor of carrion, is called makojiibik in our language. Both mean "bear root." The ancient use of such medicine was to paint bodies before battle, and to treat gunshot wounds, arrow wounds, internal bleeding, and accidental amputations. Bizikiwashk and makwajiibik body paint provided ogichidaag (warriors) with spiritual protection from bullet wounds. Waabanoowiwin ritualists use bizikiwashk and makwajiibik as the spiritual medicines that enabled them to handle glowing embers, reach their hands into boiling water and hot oil. ^ 

Neyaashi: Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska. Large mountain: Mount Redoubt, Alaska. ^ 

Jiibaaman: aura. A colored emanation enclosing a human body or any animal or object. ^ 

Wenabozho, half man half manidoo, who is also known by a variety of other names and spellings, including Wenaboozhoo, Wiinabozho, Nanabozho, ManabozhoNanabush, and Wiisagejaak. Wenabozho is considered to be the source and embodiment of the lives of all sentient things, such as humans, animals, and plants. Every living thing on, beneath, and above the earth he gifted with a spirit and a soul, and to each he taught – through his magic powers or through his parabolic stories - the necessary tricks needed to outsmart and outwit their enemies. Not only did he impart to the Anishinaabeg the best remedies for treating illnesses, he, being an expert shape shifter himself, taught the animals how to disguise themselves so that they could survive. Thus, the Anishinaabeg, although he often presents himself as a trickster and a mischievous fantasist, regard Wenabozho first and foremost as a manidoo possessing great wisdom in the prolonging of life. ^ 

Zhagaabewish, also known as Zhagabishin or Tshakapesh: A recklessly daring figure who overcame Mishi-naabe, the Huge Being and once set a snare in the trail of the sun and caught it. Zhagaabewish is the hero behind the creation of the World, who, as a role model, teaches that with sheer courage, hard work and perseverance, one can always overcome difficulties. ^ 

A portal of stars: The Bagonegiizhig, or "Hole in the Sky." Called the Pleiades on Western star charts, Bagonegiizhig is a star cluster in the greater constellation of Taurus. This is the Hole in the Sky through which Giizhigookwe (Sky Woman) (or, according to a very old tradition, Asikibaashi, Spider Woman) lowered the first anishinaabeg (humans) to the Earth. It is through the same Hole in the Sky that the jiibayag (soul-spirits) of deceased humans ascend and travel toward their final destination in the Jiibay-miikana (Milky Way). Two important ceremonies are related to Bagonegiizhig: the madoodiswan, or sweat lodge purification ceremony, and the jiisaakaan, or shaking tent ceremony. See also: Ojibwe Star Map. ^ 


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