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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

Teachings from the Tree of Life, part 11: The Mirror

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Ode'imiini-giizis (Strawberry Moon)/Baashkaabigonii-giizis (Blooming Moon), June 14, 2022




Boozhoo, aaniin! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ninga-aawechige noongom giizhigad! "Hello my relatives, I greet you in a good way. Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge, a place of love and knowing. Let's share a teaching today!


We, as the Original Peoples of Mikinaakominis, the Great Turtle Island nowadays called America, really need to start looking at who we are. We need to create a visual as well as a mental and spiritual mirror for ourselves and we need to look hard at the reflection that we see in it. What do we see? Is it just us we see, or do we see our ancestors, the ones who came before us, in it as well? Does it just reflect our egos and demons and instant needs, or does it also reflect lessons that were passed on to us, through oral storytelling, through our manidoo-minjimendamowin, our blood memory -- valuable things that may have been lost and erased throughout our troubled history?


Inaabin zaaga’igan gawaakamig.
Gaawiin gii-waabandanziin
igiwe aazha gaapime ayaawaad.

“Look into the clear lake.
The image you see in the water is not yours.
What you see is the reflection of those who came before you.”*

When we look into the water, we must search for our ancestors who passed on to us a lesson about probably the most essential ingredient of life: love. Zaagi'idiwin, or Mutual Love, is the second Grandmother/Grandfather Teaching of the Anishinaabeg peoples. But why is it so essential and what does it mean, to love someone or something?

To be able to answer this question, let me first quote a good friend of mine, Michel Sutherland from Fort Albany, Nishnawbe-askiin Northeastern Ontario, who told me this the other day:

"I remember a time when at age 8 years old I hung around with my Grandmother. She asked if I knew what love was? My whole body said “No.” ...Our language contains root words. Undress the descriptions, put aside the prefix and suffix, and there it is. Say the word for love, “sakahewin”, say I love you, “Kesakihetin”, say I love my mother,” Nesakihow Negawe.” The word that is constant is “saki”, a seed that sprouts out of the earth. The root word is “sprout.” Our language grew out the earth’s environment, deep in and out wide. She sent me out, it took me a while and I found the sprouts. There I walked out, touched by so many definitions, expressions, meanings of “love” from many different sources. My root word from nature holds me and grounds me. Even when it is difficult, knowing that a powerful society changed the original meaning (slightly), it’s root and meaning of “Innino,” my Grandmother’s ancestral root word, her identity, her people’s lives, her grand children, the future generation, her teacher, her mother. My whole body says “yes,” my tear is water…. B’he."

I believe no one could have said it better than my friend from the woods of the far northeast, and for this reason I respectfully -- virtually -- offer him asemaa (tobacco).

To our ancestors, Love (saki, or zaagi) was meant to be an outward expression. But nowadays we have turned love into a self-centered act; it’s all about me and what I love... I love money, I love food, I love pleasure, et cetera. And we need it NOW. However, according to the second Grandfather teaching, we should return instead to the selfless, outward expression of love that our language teaches us, to give our love out to others, our relatives, all earth's and water's and sky's creatures.

Below we see a few examples in Anishinaabemowin, our language, of this outward expression of zaagi that my friend spoke about:

Zaagidenenaniwetaw: "stick out one's tongue at someone"

Zaagidin: "put someone out"

Zaagidoode: "crawl out"

But the notion of outwardness is probably the most beautifully expressed through the verbs 'zaagigi,' 'zaagibagaa,' and 'zaagijiwan': respectively, 'sprout, grow out,' 'leaves bud,' and 'flow out.' As if love were a tree shoot growing spontaneously out of the human heart-mind, or a river that flows toward its mouth, meandering through the countryside and blessing its banks with floods, leaving behind lakes and bringing fertility to the land...


The Mirror painting by Zhaawano Giizhik
Naanaagadawendamowin ("Introspection") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik



Ganawaabandizon zhawenigewining, awiyag. 

Gaawiin gidaa-zhawenimaasii awiya baamaa giishawenidizoyan. 

Onjida ji-nisidotaman aanind ningodwaaswi gagiikwewinan jibwaazhawenjigeyan. 

Gidaa-anokiitaan zhawenjigewin. 

Gidaa-baabiitoon zhawenjigewin. 

Zhawenjigwe mino-bimaadiziwin. 

Gaawiin wiikaa gidaa-wiimaashkaziin gizhewaadiziwin gaye. 

Gaawiin gigakendanziin gizhewaadiziwin zoongendaman. 

Gaawiin gigakendanziin gizhewaadiziwin gwayakwaadiziyan. 

Gizhewaadiziwin ayaa gwayakwendamowining weweni ji-nisidotaadizoyan gaye.

Inaadiziwin ji-nisidawinaman zhaagwaadiziwinan gaye gichi-apiitenidizoyan. 

Gizhewaadiziwin naawisin gagiikwewinan. 

Gaabizhiwaadizide’e gidizhibimiwidaasomin. 

"Look within yourself for Love. Love yourself, and then love others. 

You cannot love another until you first learn to love yourself. 

You must understand and live the other six Teachings before you can love. 

Love is worth working for. 

Love is worth waiting for. 

Love is the key to life. 

There is no shortcut to achieving the state of love 

You cannot know love unless you are courageous. 

You cannot know love unless you are honest. 

Love is based on the wisdom to understand one’s self and the humility to accept weaknesses as well as being proud of one’s strengths. 

Love has as its very core the other Teachings. 

The loving heart center of each true-hearted person lies within each of us."*



Ahaaw. Let me conclude with a statement by the late Dakota poet, actor, and recording artist John Trudell (1946-2015), who, in the last stage of his life here on aki said the following about facing our demons and our responsibilities and reclaiming our memory:

"I'm 70. I'm on my way out, and I don't have a problem with that, that's natural. But when I look at my descendants, our young people, I just kinda think we have to reclaim our memory. The genocide of civilization is there to erase that memory -- we don't remember we're human beings anymore. That's why there's all the false prides. That's why there's the drug use, the alcoholism. Those are symptoms of it. It's the genocide itself. It's denied itself. It's the genocide that's created these conditions. We've forgotten that we're human beings, and we're passing this diseased perception of reality amongst ourselves. We really need to look at who we are. It's not enough to say that 'I'm a traditionalist.' It's not enough to say 'I can speak the language.' It's not enough to say 'We're all about respect.' It's not enough anymore. We have to understand what we're saying. We have to understand tradition, culture, sharing, love. That's the way it was a long time ago. That was our way of life."

Ahaaw sa. Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom. Well, that is the end of the today's teaching. Thank you for listening to me. Giga-waabamin wayiiba giishpin manidoo inendang, I will see you again soon, if the Great Mystery wills it. Mino bimaadizin! Live well!


Illustrations (from top to bottom):

Waabandizowin ("The Mirror") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the New Fisher Star Creations website to view a wall print of the painting.

Naanaagadawendamowin ("Introspection") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik

* Source: Seven Sacred Teachings (Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewin) By Dr. Joseph Martin and David Bouchard.

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