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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

Stories & Teachings From the Earth, part 14: We All Come From the Same Place

Updated: May 7

Namebine-giizis (Suckerfish Moon)/Zaagibagaa-giizis (Budding Moon) - May 3, 2024


"The Miigis Grandfathers From the Dawn Land," painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
"The Miigis Grandfathers From the Dawn Land," © 2022-2024 Zhaawano Giizhik



People sometimes ask me if the Cree and the Ojibweg are the same People. Or they ask me If the Cree belong to the Anishinaabeg Peoples. Or the other way around.

My answer, although not often that lengthy, basically goes along the lines of:

"The ancestors of the modern-day Ininewak (which is an endonym for "Cree") and Ojibweg (which is an exonym for Anishinaabeg), at one time in history, used to be one People (or, ar least, very closely related People) that lived in Gichigamiin (the Great Lakes area) up to what is now the area around Wînipâkw/Azhashkiiwaagami (Hudson Bay). They moved there by the end of the last Ice Age. At one point, a group of these People decided to move out East, in search of Waabanaki, the promised land in the place of sunrise.

But what was it that made them decide to leave their beautiful homeland?

One day, when this group lived in the area nowadays known as Baawiting ("Place of the Rapids"; present-day Sault Ste. Marie), a traveler returned to his community at the rapids and was welcomed as the Lost Son of the tribe. A council was convened and the Lost Son shared stories with his People about his wandering adventures to and from a land where the Sun rises every day. He related many stories, but there was one that particularly caught their attention. The traveler mentioned a gichi-gami, a great body of water - but not an ordinary one. It was an awiisagiwi gichigami: a sea filled with water that tasted like salt!

Of course, as it always goes when people hear things they cannot comprehend, the Lost Son was showered with scorn. As the people were roaring with laughter, Wenabozho, the beloved spirit-man and benefactor of all human beings, stepped into the circle and said to the Chief: “Bekaa! Wegonen wenji-baapiyan? Geget sa naa debwe awe inini!” (“Stop! Why are you laughing! He speaks the truth!”). Next, slowly turning to the audience present that day, he said: “I have seen this awiisagiwi gichigami in a dream!”

That, of course, changed everything, since the People knew that Wenabozho, despite his reputation as a prankster, would never lie about his dreams.

So, their curiosity fired, the People packed their belongings and started a great eastbound migration journey in search of Waabanaki, this faraway Land of Sunrise the Lost Son had told them about. After many winters and summers of traveling they finally reached the Promised Land at the northern shore of the Great Salt Sea. Impressed by the beauty that awaited them in this land of abundance they decided to stay…

So long did the People remain that most forgot their origin, and they began to refer to themselves as WAABANAKIIG, People of The Dawn Land.

Once there, on the borders of the Atlantic Ocean, these Waabanakiig developed into separate groups, called the Lenni Lenape, Abenakiig, and Mi'kmaq. For many years, these Waabanakii People lived a life undisturbed by strife, turmoil, or disagreement. But then, one day, six Midemiigis-gaa-niigaani-gikendangig (Cowry Shell Prophets) emerged from the Ocean (see image), and they established an intricate system of kinship based on odoodemag (clans or totems).

After sharing their message to eight gaa-niigaani-gikendangig (prophets), seven of these prophets called "Grandfathers" asked their mizhinawe (messenger) to see if he could find ways to improve the condition and wellbeing of the Waabanakiig People. The messenger  an otter who mastered the Waabanakii language began a quest that would lead him to an abinoojiinh (child), and after receiving approval from the Seven Grandfathers, the otter tutored the child in mino-bimaadiziwin (how to live a full and healthy life). Each of the Grandfathers then instructed the child with a principle, a guideline that honored one of the basic virtues intrinsic to mino-bimaadiziwin.

These Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewinan (Seven Sacred Teachings, or laws) would become the foundation of Midewiwin spiritual practice

Along with the new form of kinship and the above-mentioned set of moral values, the Cowry Shell Prophets left the Waabanakii People with seven niigaanaajimowinan (predictions) of what the future would bring, warning them of a time when a light-skinned race would arrive at the shores and bring death and destruction. If the People would not leave, the shadow of illness would befall on them, their once happy world befouled, and the waters would forever turn bitter by disrespect.

Until today, these predictions, which referred to seven different time periods called niizhwaaso-ishkoden (sevenfires), represent key spiritual teachings for Turtle Island, suggesting that the different colors and traditions of the human beings can come together on a basis of respect (culminating into the the Eight Fire).

It is generally understood that humanity is now evolving into Eko-nishwaaching, the era of the Eight Fire. The Eight Fire reflects back to the past, when humans were not yet divided and in distress but still lived in accordance to the laws of nature, moved as one, and shared a strong sense of belonging and group unity.

So, about two to three millennia ago, a large group of the Waabanakiig Nation decided to heed the warnings of the Prophets and they embarked on a journey back to their ancient homeland in the west; many Waabanakiig, however, decided to stay behind to protect the Eastern doorway of their Nation from the light-skinned race that had been prophesized to soon arrive at the shores of the Dawn Land. As the westbound journey was marked by seven fires, the migrants were told that a miigis (a radiant cowry shell appearing in the western sky) and an ajijaak (sandhill crane) would show them the way. Also, an Abenaki woman who dreamed of a powerful Thunderbird-related prophecy told the People about several mikinaako-minisensing (turtle-shaped islands) that would be encountered during the westward migration.

After receiving permission from their omishoomisimaag (“Grandfathers"; the Lenni-Lenape) to leave the Dawn Land and assurance from their oyoosimaag (“Fathers"; the Waabanakiinyag or Abenaki peoples) and their wiijiimiwaan (“brothers"; the Miijimaag or Mi'kmaq) of their safety in crossing other Nations' territories, a large group of Waabanakiig moved inland, away from the coast of the Salt Sea. This decision would initiate the biggest mass migration in the history of Turtle Island.

Along the migration, which would last approximately 1500 to 2500 years, small family groups or odoodemag (totem clans) stopped, set up permanent settlements with the societies centered around the Medicine Lodge that was the forerunner of the Midewiwin as we know it today and eventually became separate Nations. As they traveled deeper and deeper into unknown and often hostile territories in search of the prophesized turtle-shaped islands, these courageous Waabanaki migrants started to refer to themselves as Anishinaabeg again: “Spontaneous Beings," after an ancient creation story that located the origin of the Anishinaabeg in the sky...

Finally, after a journey that had lasted many lifetimes, these Anishinaabeg returned around 600 years ago  to their original homeland, central to which lay the beautiful land of rapids and waterfalls called "Baawitigong."

The ones who had heeded the warnings and and followed the Seven Fires prophecy toward the west were the ancestors of the modern-day Omàmiwininiwak (Algonquin), Ojibweg, Odaawaag, Bodewadmig (the latter three also called "Three Fire Anishinaabe"), Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree), etc. They considered, and still consider, the Lenni Lenapi from the dawn Land as their (cultural) grandfathers. Of course, when this group of re-migrants arrived in the promised land in the west, those who nowadays call themselves Ininewak (Cree), Mamaceqtaw (Menomini), Ozaakiiwaaki (Sauk), Meskwakihaki (Fox), etc. still lived in and around the Great Lakes area and Hudson Bay. They basically spoke the same language as the Anishinaabe newcomers, Which makes sense since in a distant past, before the ancestors of the Algonquin and the Three Fire Peoples left the Great Lakes area in search of Waabanaki, they already had been closely related.

The above, particularly the migration journeys of Anishinaabeg to the East and back West, is the official (Ojibwe-centric) history seen through a Midewiwin lens. Other Algonquian speaking nations have their own history, which is not necessarily the same as that of the Ojibweg. It is important to acknowledge that, when it comes to describing the history of the many Algonquian-speaking tribes that nowadays inhabit the Great Turtle Island called North America, there exist many threads with many different traditions.

Ininewak (Cree) history keepers will tell you that they are a much older (Algonquian speaking) people than the present-day Omàmiwininiwak and Three Fires Anishinaabeg. This is true. Same goes for the Nookezid (Nooke), Mamaceqtaw, Ozaakiiwaki, etc. They lived in Gichigamiin long before the re-migrants from Waabanaki arrived.

As for the term Anishinaabe: All people that speak the Algonquian language can be but not necessarily regarded as such. Even the Notameohmésêhese and Heévâhetaneo'o (respectively Northern and Southern Cheyenne), Inun-ina (Arapaho), Atsina (Gros Ventres), and Siksikaitsitapi (Blackfoot) from the south and northwest and the Inoka (Illinois), Kiwikapawa (Kickapoo), Myaamiaki (Miami), and Shawano (Shawnee) from the south and southeast can be included. Not to mention the Algonquian speaking Peoples from the east, such as Lenni Lenape, Abenaki, Mi'kmaq, and Wôpanâak (Wampanoag). In a cultural and linguistic sense they are all one People. According to their oral history, they all come from Ishpiming, the sky. The term "Anishinaabe" (Literally, "Spontaneous Beings," meaning "Those Who Are Born of Spirit") pertains to this celestial origin.

In conclusion, it is important to understand that names like Anishinaabe (plural: Anishinaabeg) and Ojibwe (plural: Ojibweg) are a result of globalization and do not necessarily reflect the identities of the People that existed in the pre-contact era; using these generic terms does not entirely do justice to all the individual threads that history has woven into the overall “tribal history" as we know it today. Today, “Anishinaabe" is often used as a modern umbrella term covering a vast multitude of different ancient cultural identities. However, before contact with the Europeans, when the People referred to themselves as Anishinaabeg they did not regard themselves as one Nation; they simply identified themselves as Anishinaabeg as in “human beings." Theirs was not actually a world of nations, but rather a world of bands, clans, villages, and human beings. Anishinaabe Aki, instead of an "empire" in an European of Asian sense, was a vast space loosely knit together by a myriad of cultural, economic, and political alliances and exchange networks. Instead of one cultural and political “tribal group" there existed many individual groups of Anishinaabeg that were, at the most, interrelated by (clan) ancestry or marriage. These many groups identified themselves as, for example: Baawitigowininiwag, Makadewaagamiwininiwag, Gichigamiwininiwag, Gichiziibiwininiwag, Noopiming-dazhi-ininiwag, Amikwaa, Marameg, Andaawe, Nigigwak, Nookezid, etcetera, etcetera."

To read in more detail about the migration journeys of the Three Fires Anishinaabeg, see: Stories From the Land of Crane and Turtle, part 1

To read more of the celestial origin of the Anishinaabeg Peoples, see: Our Clans Among the Stars.


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