• zhaawano

Teaching Stories, part 16: The Good Way of the Warrior

Updated: Jun 4

Odemiini-giizis (Strawberry Moon)/ Baashkaabigonii-giizis (Blooming Moon), June 2, 2021

Ma'iingan Nindoodem silver wolf paw belt buckle handcrafred by Zhaawano Giizhik

Wiindamaadiwin. Zhaawano-giizhik nindizinikaaz. Waabizheshi niin nindoodem. Niin mazinibii'igewinini. Ninaagadawendam. Niminisiinoow, zoongendamowin ogichidaa.

"Warning. My name is Southern White Cedar. My clan is Marten. I am an artist. I use my mind. I am a warrior, a warrior of the mind."

- Zhaawano Giizhik

Aaniin, boozhoo! Today's blog post is warriors. It's about wolves, bears, lynx, martens, sun dancers, water walkers, and ordinary people. And also about the jewelry making technique of overlay. The story features, among other things, two old Anishinaabe songs, a poem and two paintings by Simone McLeod, an early painting by the late Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau), a -- truly iconic -- canvas by the late Anishinini artist Carl Ray, and, in conclusion, a sterling silver belt buckle and bolo tie of my own making; all connected by a shared theme: ogichidaa mino-bimaadiziwin, the good way of the warrior. Today we will try to find an answer to a question that is asked often: what is the definition of a warrior, and: what does it take to become one? And: what do Ma'iingan the Wolf, Makwa the Bear, Bizhiw the Lynx, and Waabizheshi the Marten have to do with being a warrior? Let's start off by saying that, in traditional Anishinaabe society, a warrior status is something that a person should not lightly or vainly identify himself or herself with. Being an ogichidaa (literally: big- or brave-hearted person) is a status that must be earned and recognized.* It is not a badge of honor that one can give himself, but an honor that has to be bestowed by the People as a whole, by the gichi-aya'aag (Elders) or by the Mideg, the spiritual men and woman of the Midewiwin Lodge.

Wolf Paws


A person is always expected to learn and earn, and there is simply no more valid way to become an ogichidaa other than by following the example of Ma'iingan the Wolf -- who is known among our Peoples to model the virtue of Humility. Isn't it true that, when after the kill Ma'iingan waits for the other wolves to arrive at the scene and he bows his head in their presence, he doesn't do that out of fright but out of courtesy and out of consideration for the pack? So, like the Wolf, a true warrior lives and acts consciensciously and consistently always, without pomp and proclamation, showing courage, integrity, modesty, humility, kindness, and utter selflessness throughout his or her entire life.

MA'IINGAN NINDOODEM Ma'iingan nindoodem, ma'iingan nindoodem Naniizaanizi, naniizaanizi "The wolf is my totem, the wolf is my totem Dangerous is he, dangerous is he." Nimashki-akiim, nimashki-akiim Aapiji-manidoowan, aapiji-manidoowan Giinawaa, giinawind G’minisiinoowim, g’ minisiinoowim "My medicine, my medicine, Is very strong, is very strong. You, we, Warriors you, warriors we." - Fragments of an old Anishinaabe warrior song** ____________________________________________________________________________

Bear Paw bolo tie as a tribute to the Sun Dancers

Giizisoniimii-bimisewin (Flight Of The Sundancer), bear paw and eagle feather bolo tie with a 2.75 x 1.9 inch sterling silver slide set with turquoise and red coral; a black braided leather cord decorated with eighteen sterling silver eagle feathers; and sterling silver tips set with red coral, resembling the nails of an eagle claw. See the website for more details.


Heya~wya~whe~ H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! Heya~wya~whe~. H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

Manidoo-makwa, gaa-bi-naagozid Manidoo-makwa, bi-gizhaawenimishinaan! (Yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! Yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! Yes-yes-yes! Yes-yes-yes! Yes-yes-yes! Yes-yes-yes!

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

- Ojibwe Anishinaabe Ogichidaa (Warrior) Sundance song to the spirit of the Bear - performed by a singer of the Nakawe (Saulteaux) branch of the Ojibwe Nation.

Bear, acrylic painting by the late Anishinini Anishinaabe (Oji-Cree) Medicine Painter Carl Ray.


Now, let's take a close look at Makwa the Bear, who is the progenitor and representative of the most prominent and numerous of all four Anishinaabe ogichidaa doodemag (Ojibwe warrior clans). What better way than by telling an aadizookaan (traditional story)?

"Once upon a time there lived four brothers in the northern part of Gaa-zaaga'iganikaag, the Land of Many Lakes. They were born to E-bangishimog, the Ruler of the West, and a mortal woman named Wiininwaa, "To Nourish From The Breast." The names of these brothers were Maajiigawiz, Papiigawiz, Jiibayaabooz, and Wenabozho. Here, not far from Gichigami, the Great Lake nowadays called Superior, the brothers decided to hunt Gichi Makwa Ogimaa, the Great Magic Grizzly Bear Chief who lived in the Land Of The Setting Sun and who was widely known and feared for his aggressive nature. The eldest brother, whose name was Maajiigawiz which means "First-born Son", visited the Bear Nation and wrested from Gichi Makwa a necklace made of waa-miigisagoo (wampum), which he knew was an important object for war for it represented the belligerent nature of the huge bear creature. After Maajiigawiz had killed the bear ogimaa with one swing of his war club, he cut it into small pieces, scattered them to the four winds, and inaa! from Gichi Makwa's body parts emerged smaller makwag (bears), who were less war-like and menacing to the Anishinaabeg. Hereupon Maajiikawis divided the treasured waa-miigisagoo among all the ogimaag (leaders) and ogichidaag (warriors) of the Anishinaabe Peoples, and as he did so he spoke the following words: "Ambe! Behold the sacred Wampum that I wrested from the hands of the Chief of the Bear Nation! The shells of the pale hue of the Wampum are emblematic of Peace, while those of the darker hue will surely lead to Evil and to War. From now on, you as Anishinaabe ogimaag (leaders and speakers in council) will wear sashes of the sacred waa-miigisagoo and use them as waabamaabeeyag, historical records whose symbols remind the speaker of everything that is important to the Anishinaabeg Peoples: their stories, ideas, beliefs, codes, rituals and the succession of events in their history, and everything that relates to the People's existence on Aki (the Earth). From now on, you as Anishinaabe warriors, will do Good to the inhabitants of Aki and give and share all things with a liberal hand and a generous heart!" Maajiigawiz, because of his courageous and wise achievement, was hereupon chosen by GICHI-MANIDOO (the Great Mystery) to direct the west wind, and from then on he would be known by the name of Ningaabii'anong."***

BEAUTY WITHIN Sleep is the solace we wrap ourselves in so why then awaken with such a sore grin We look in the mirror seldom like what we see so stripped of the image of what we could once be Why be so forlorn though try look a bit deeper and see just what I see the beautiful sleeper If put down too much at your time of growing try then do what I do and take comfort knowing When born you are sweet by the grandfathers you're loved pay no more attention to when you were shoved Forced into those corners that kept you at bay so you would not fight back at the end of each day Stand tall now my dear for all those to see that you are a warrior being all you can be... - © Simone McLeod, March 11, 2014

Mishibizhiw Norval Morrisseau
Mashipishoo (Mishibizhiw), the Great Horned Underground Lynx, artwork on paper by Miskwaabik Animikii (1959).


As wolves, bears, lynx, and martens are endowed with certain characteristics and virtues, so do Wolf, Bear, Lynx, and Marten Clan members endeavor to emulate their characters; they see in these four animals certain warrior ideals to be sought -- such as Humility, Power, Strength, Perseverance, Mindfulness, and Guardianship -- and as they walk the Life Path they make the spirits of these animals part of themselves. In former times, warrior clan members of the Anishinaabeg produced numerous warriors, teachers, pipe bearers, and scouts.

Bizhiw, the Lynx, representing one of the four warrior clans of the Ojibweg, symbolizes the virtues of Resolution and Fortitude. Bizhiw, with his soft furry soles, is known to be very sensitive to the earth he walks on. To the Anishinaabeg, the tracks bizhiwag leave behind are therefore considered mino-mashkiki, or sacred medicine, as they remind us how we are to walk mino-bimaadiziwin miikana akiing, the good life road on Earth. Bizhiw bimikawaanan (lynx tracks) show us how to walk it in delicate balance and beauty with nature. The fierce and agile Lynx is also regarded as a great warrior-teacher and is associated with a larger family that inhabits high up in the night sky as well as in the undergrounds of earth, lakes, and rivers.

We call these spiritual beings Mishi-bizhiw, The Great Lynx.


Anang gii-piidagoojin.

Wiindaagawaateshkamaw noongom.

Gaagige wiindaanikeshkawaan

Dibishkoo aagawaateshimowin


Niwiikaan Bizhiw


Gichigamiin bawaagan


Ninga kikinowaatchitoon gindinaadiziwin


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.

Brother Lynx

Star Warrior

Guardian of the Geat Seas

I give you praise

I will imitate your nature

on earth.

- My personal song to Lynx

~~ A CODE FOR UPRIGHT LIVING ~~ Where can warriors be found? It is not easy to give an unequivocal answer to this question. Warriors can be found in countless different ways and circumstances. They can be found in all walks of life, not just in everyday places and daily stuff of life but also in unexpected or even remote places. In the old times, warriors were traditionally found in the rearguard as they were the defenders of the People. You don't have to be in the spotlights to be called a warrior. It is not just the exclusive preserve of those who stand in the front lines engaging themselves in armed or political combat. A warrior person does not per se spill the blood of other persons, but is rather someone who stands for an idea or principle or who defends the lives, values, and honor of his family or his community. Doctors are warriors because they battle illness; teachers are warriors because they battle lack of knowledge. Treaty lawyers and political and environmental activists dedicated to the inherent land rights, sovereignty, and First Nations self-government are warriors. A single parent raising his or her child or children in difficult circumstances, instilling in them a code for upright living, is a warrior. A person who defeated alcohol and drugs and has returned to the red road, the spiritual ways of his People, is a warrior. A Sun Dancer who fasts and dances from dusk till dawn sacrificing for the sake of those who need mental, spiritual, and physical healing is a warrior. Nurses, midwives, and social workers who distinguish themselves by offering vital help in disadvantaged rural areas or on remore reservations, they, too, are warriors. Everyone can be a warrior, and all he or she has to do is protect, and stand up for, the community or individuals or ideals. In brief: one becomes a warrior by doing what must be done to protect the environment and society and advance their cause -- even if it's on a modest scale or in the smallest of ways.

The love story of Marten and Sturgeon by Simone McLeod

Two artists meet under the light of the Fisher Star (Big Dipper). One, Waabizheshi or Marten who lives on the land, is a Warrior-artist, and the other, Na-me or Sturgeon who lives in the water of the lake, is a Teacher-artist. Marten walks at night, fierce and mindful, always running and looking for something. Sturgeon lives in the bottom, hidden within the depths of her mind, living a life of solitude. The Sturgeon is the science and medicine keeper of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. Click on the image to read the story of the unique friendship that once was between two kindred artists. Image: Akajigibiishin ("An Evening Reflection on the Lake"), acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod @2012 Simone McLeod.

~~ WARRIORS AND ARTISTS ~~ Personally, to me, being a warrior is about being modest, the willingness to share meaningful strories and fight uphill battles for the good of others, and, most of all, about knowing and understanding where we come from. This realization, I believe, defines our role in society; on a more personal level it might even be integral to deciding where it is that we, as individuals, want to go in life. I myself am waabizheshi doodem, a Marten Clan person, and I have heard that in the old days Martin clan members served as pipe bearers and message carriers for the ogimaag (chiefs). I am also told that nowadays martens are looked upon as fierce defenders of mino-bimaadiziwin, the Good Way of the Heart (Midewiwin) and of Anishinaabemowin, the beautiful language of the Ojibwe people. Sure, the virtues that the ancestors accredited to martens (they jump fearlessly into the black of night to defend values, to fight for change, for what is right) are things that I can try to emulate in everyday life, but I am also fully aware that this still doesn't earn me warrior recognition status, or make me an ogichidaa in the eyes of my People, or society as a whole. What I do know, however, is that I am among many artists who passionately and whole-heartedly chose to tell inspiring stories through works of art. Artists is who we are, it is our calling and it defines our spiritual outlook and, at the same time, our unique yet humble place in society: some as a painters and poets, or, like myself, as a storyteller-through-jewelry making. Regardless of the discipline that we pursue, telling teaching stories is what we do, and if we are lucky our writings and creations in paint, ink, stone, precious metal, and digital design touch and inspire in meaningful ways the hearts and minds of at least some of those who are out there. City people. Rural people. Reservation people. Those who follow the red road and those who do not, or not yet. The blessed and the drop-outs, the healthy and the disabled. Those who have houses and those who live on the streets. The fortunate and the not so fortunate, the young and the elderly, men, women and youngsters of every color and creed. The brave-hearted out there -- enh geget, even the not so brave-hearted...


Simone McLeod Protecting Mother Earth
Protecting Mother Earth, acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod ©2016 Simone McLeod

"Listen! Stop fighting, stop gossiping, stop being number one, stop all negativity and LISTEN, to the winds, trees, splashing waters, birds, animals and above all dreams, sit on mother earth for a while and just LISTEN. We are at the cusp of something great, the water walk finished but it did not end, it is only a beginning of something we have yet to experience...Our young are ready and watching and waiting for you all to put aside your petty, childish ways and include them in all that you do. You must be sovereign enough to say it is time. Time to be Anishinaabe.

Our Grand Chief said it so eloquently when we gathered at Madeline Island; he said: ‘this is not the end but the beginning of the lighting of the 8th fire’. Are we ready to say we are truly Anishinaabe? Ahaw Mi'iw."

- The late Nookomis Josephine Mandamin

Persons who constitute a very special category of warriors are, without a doubt, the Mother Earth Water Walkers from Gichigamiin Aki: the Great Lakes area, led by the late Thunder Bay-based Nookomis (Grandmother) Josephine Mandamin, Ojibwe Anishinaabe catfish clan (February 21, 1942 - February 22, 2019) and her successor, now 16 year old Autumn Peltier of Migizi doodem (the Ojibwe Anishinaabe Bald Eagle Clan). They are the strong-hearted defenders of nibi, the water. Nookomis Mandamin's work also continues through, among others, a group called Nibi Emosaawdamajig (Those Who Walk for the Water), lead by Bird Clan Elder, teacher, and author Shirley Williams and Midekwe (female Midewiwin community leader) and water activist Elizabeth Osawamick.

Reflecting on a prophecy by Three Fires Midewiwin Elder Edward Benton Binesi (Banai) that "by 2030 an ounce of water will cost the same as an ounce of gold," Josephine Mandamin, with a pail of the sacred copper filled with water in one hand and an eagle feather staff or a bear staff in the other, took on a sacred walk which will still be talked about by many generations to come. For the last 16 years Josephine earned high praise and deep respect by traversing on foot over 25,000 kilometers around each of the Great Lakes -- which is, mind you, equal to nearly half the earth's circumference. Ogimaa-Nibi-Ogichidaakwe (Chief Water Warrior Woman) Josephine is since then known all around the world as the “Water Walker.”

In 2003, she and her sister Melvina Flamand-Trudeau from Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation Reserve of Manitoulin Island initiated the Mother Earth Water Walk to pray for water’s health and promote awareness that Nibi and manoomin, its sacred grass (wild rice), need protection. After what first started out as an off-the-cuff suggestion made by one of Josephine’s friends during an informal women’s meeting in her living room, the Mother Earth Water Walk grandmothers started taking action to make the public aware of the importance of protecting nibi. Each walk is a prayer for life; for Nibi the water, for Mother Earth, for the trees, the animals, the birds, the insects, and for us, all the two-legged. By walking the perimeter of all five Gichigamiin, the Great Lakes, each year around spring time, the walkers raise awareness of the importance of preserving the water quality and quantity and helping people recognize that water is life. Of course, an important part of their message is to raise awareness about pollution, laws, and any issues that impact fresh water, such as the dangers of fracking and oil pipe lines. Between 2003 and 2019 the Mother Earth Water Walkers walked farther than the entire length of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and walked from all four coasts of North America...

Read the story of the Mother Earth Water Walkers: The Lake Is Singing My Song.

Hoowah, Ningookomisinaanig - Our Grandmothers.

Miigwech gida-igom ningookomisinaanig jiinaago gaa-iyaajig, noongom e-iyaajig miinawaa waabang ge-iyaajig...

I’iw nama’ewinan, maaba asemaa, miinawaa nindode’winaanin gida-bagidinimaagom.

Thank you for the Grandmothers of yesterday, today and tomorrow...

We offer our prayers, tobacco, and our hearts.


- A personal prayer song by the author for our elder Water Warrior Women

Giizisoniimii-bimisewin ("Flight Of The Sundancer"), detail. Bolo tie designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik; see the website for the symbolism and price and ordering details.

~~ A TRIBUTE IN SILVER AND STONE ~~ What is it that made me design the wolf paw buckle and bear paw bolo tie that you see on this page the way I did? As a jewelry maker I have always been intrigued with purity of design, always looking for unusual forms and artistic placement of stones -- although I realize this sometimes challenges the old, traditional Native feeling of symmetry in design. The sleek, asymmetrically shaped and slightly curved silver surfaces of the belt buckle and the bolo slide that you can see on this page, adorned with a hand-cut turquoise stone and pear-shaped cabochons of red coral, testify of my love of traditional elements combined with modern and minimalist design. Showing stylized wolf and bear paws made with the aid of the shadowbox technique, these sterling silver pieces are my personal tribute to the ogichidaag, or minisiinoong as warriors are sometimes called, of yesterday and today. In southern Anishinaabe societies the claws of Makwa (bear), Bizhiw (Lynx) and Ma’iingan (wolf) stand for perseverance and guardianship, as well as for strength, stamina, and courage. They are warrior symbols of great magic that may apply to ininiwag (men) and ikwewag (women) alike, even in our day.

~~ THE FABULOUS TECHNIQUE OF OVERLAY ~~ Overlay type of jewelry, a fabulous technique originated around 1940 in Arizona by silversmiths of the Hopi nation, is produced by soldering two pieces of silver (or one piece of silver and one piece of gold) together. The top piece contains a design element (see the bear paw ornament of the slide of above bolo tie) which is cut out of the metal. The bottom piece of metal is then oxidized to produce a contrasting background. Stamping, engraving, or stone setting (sometimes in combination with the shadowbox technique) is sometimes done to finish the desired design. The near-finished product is then filed, buffed and polished to produce a fine finish. Of course modern day Hopi silver and goldsmiths do not limit themselves to overlay (Charles Loloma for instance hardly used it) and it is done by many Native American artists other than the Hopi. With the aid of a small line embossing tool, Hopi jewelers typically texture the silver bottom sheet of an overlay piece to produce an additional contrasting effect (but also to camouflage any solder that the jeweler might have spilled while soldering). In order to distinguish my overlay from that of the Hopi, I like to keep the underlying, blackened silver perfectly smooth. Personally, I believe this doesn’t diminish the three-dimensional quality of my overlay jewelry one bit. However, if I feel texturing could enhance an overlay piece I’m working on, I use the technique of rocker engraving, a once popular method of decorating silver used by Eastern and Great Plains Native silversmiths -- such as the Mamaceqtaw, Kgoy-goo, and Neme-ne. Unlike the Hopi method of indenting a bottom sheet of overlay by means of a punch, the rocking-like motion of a graver, made to follow the shape of the design, cuts out tiny slivers of metal, producing a zig-zag line which can best be compared with herringbone prints left in the snow by a skier walking uphill.

~~ SHADOWBOX ~~ Shadowbox, introduced in the 1970’s by Dine' and Pueblo silversmiths from the Southwest, is a technique t ahtI also like to include in my overlay jewelry. In both the bolo tie and belt buckle designs that you see in today's blog story, the deep, blackened recesses that make up the contours of the stylized wolf and bear paws are highlighted by the bezels (stone settings) that I soldered in their interiors. These “shadow-boxes’’ create the illusion of “floating” bezels and at the same time accentuate the brilliantly blue color of the stones...

Giiwenh. That´s how far this blog story goes. Miigwech for reading and listening! Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see me again!

>Read the next episode in the Teaching Stories series: Finding Back the Road the Way to Wisdom.


*Eddie Benton-Benaise, The Ogichidaw - warrior, Exploring the meaning of ogichidaw today, Masinaigan, Spring 1998. ** Basil Johnston, Ojibway Ceremonies, University of Nebraska Press, p, 71. *** Story by Zhaawano loosely adapted from an aadizookaan (traditional story) told in the 19th century by Zhaawandazii and originally put in writing by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Source: Mentor L. Williams, Schoolcraft's Indian Legends, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 1991, pages 46-55. Jewelry and photography by ZhaawanArt Fisher Star Creations. Poem by Simone McLeod. Paintings by Carl Ray and Simone McLeod.

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