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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

The Way of the Heartbeat, part 12: Maskawiziiwin and the Power of Forgiveness

Updated: May 15, 2023

Namebine-giizis (Suckerfish Moon) / Zaagibagaa-giizis (Budding Moon) - May 7, 2023


Forgiveness, painting by Woodland artist Zhaawano Giizhik


"The reason why these issues aren't spoken about in greater and greater detail is, it's really hard to talk about bad things your parents did to you — and so it stays hidden in the household...Yet I have to forgive my parents. Because if I don't forgive them, I'm gonna carry resentment in my soul that will affect how I relate with my children, or I'm gonna have resentment in my soul that will further damage me. There's an odd thing about living in an abusive environment — you love your abusive parents no matter what, even though they've abused you, treated you poorly. It's hard-wired into us."*

"Studies have found that trauma experienced by one generation is often passed down to the next until the cycle is broken. Trauma in parents is associated with higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety and mood disorders in their kids. There’s emerging research that suggests your environment and behaviour can even cause changes to the way your genes work, meaning that trauma can alter a person’s DNA and children can inherit its effects."**

Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong.

Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where there is love and learning.

Today I will share with you a musing about a topic that, since I have seen and sensed the devastating effects of the intergenerational trauma stemming from the Boarding/Residential School era, lies close to my heart. The key to breaking the cycle of grief and trauma of the Turtle Island holocaust is not something that the outside world, or dominant society at large, can be expected to hand over to us; it has to be done from inside out. The healing has to come from us, and us alone. We have the perspective and means for that; all we must do is find the key.

The key lies in, what's called in Ojibwemowin, our language; mikawiwin (pronounce: mih-k-AH-wih-win).


Two more words come into mind: the Ojibwe noun mashkawiziiwin, and, along with it, the verb bagidenim.

Mashkawiziiwin (pronounce: mashk-ah-wih-ZEE-win) means Inner Strength, or the Power Within. This word is from the verb mashkawizi, which means "have strength, or power," and related to the word mashkiki, which means "power from the earth (medicine)."

Bagidenim (pronounce: bah-Gid-eh-nim) means several things: Release someone from one's mind, to complete mourning for someone, and to bury someone. When you break down the verb you get:

/bagid-/ = put down, allow, offer, release; /-enim/ = act by thought on someone. Bagidenim is also used in its more metaphorical sense: "To forgive." Another word for "forgive" is webinamaw, which literally means: "To remove something for someone."


Detail of the painting "Forgiveness" by Woodland Art painter Zhaawano Giizhik

Detail of the painting "Forgiveness." The crouching child depicted inside the moon's orb represents the younger generation, the grand and great grandchildren of the Turtle Island holocaust survivors. The midewayaan (medicine pouch) hanging from the tree branch symbolizes healing through ceremony and psychological healing; the six dots painted on the pouch represent six of the seven sacred teachings that lie at the base of our (Indigenous) belief system, namely:

The seventh, and most important, teaching, is Zaagi'idiwin (pronounce: ZAAH-gih-EE-dih-win): The teaching of Love. Haw sa, the teaching of Love can be found in the core of all teachings! The dot representing this teaching, in order to stress its importance, is deliberately painted outside the medicine pouch, in the form of the moon. The child crouching inside the moon is an ultimate expression of Love, since it is our children and grandchildren who are potential victims of a system that, if we do not raise them with genuine love and positive and healthy values, will leave them with the same toxic burden that our generation is dealing with. Love, and only love, can break the cycle and help them become healthy grown-ups who no longer have to crouch down; a new generation that walks tall and can take on the future without emotional, psychological, and physical damage, and thus builds the foundations for more healthy generations.


= The Strength to Forgive =

Mashkawiziiwin means that I have the strength to forgive.
The strength to forgive my parents, to forgive my ancestors.
Mashkawiziiwin means that I release my parents from the feeling that they have failed me.
Mashkawiziiwin means that I release my children from the need to bring pride to me so that they may walk their own path. 
Mashkawiziiwin means that I release my partner from the obligation to complete myself. I do not lack anything, I learn with all beings, all the time.

Nimashkawizii means " I stand in my own strength." Nimbagidenimaa means "I release, I forgive."

I therefore thank my grandparents and ancestors who have gathered so that I can breathe life today. I release them from past failures and unfulfilled desires, aware that they have done their very best to resolve their situations within the consciousness they had at that moment. I honor you, I love you, and I recognize you.

I therefore am transparent before your eyes, so they see that I do not hide or owe anything other than being true to myself and to my very existence as I walk with the wisdom of the heart, I am aware that I fulfill my life purpose, free from visible and invisible family loyalties that might disturb my peace and balance.

I stand in my own strength.

I therefore renounce the role of savior, of being one who unites or fulfills the expectations of others.

Learning through, and only through, ZHAWENINDIWIN, or LOVE, I acknowledge and honor my essence and my way of expressing myself, even though I know that not everyone will understand me.

I stand in my own strength.

I understand myself because I alone have lived and experienced my history; I understand myself because I know myself, I know who I am, what I feel, what I do and why I do it.

I respect and approve of myself.
I honor the spirit of freedom that lives in me and in you.

We are free.***

Ahaaw sa. Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom. Gigiveda-waabamin wayiiba, Mino bimaadizin!

Well, that is the end of today's story. Thank you for listening to me today. I hope to see you again soon! Live well!


* Taken from Breaking the Cycle by Mike Rudyk.

*** Loosely translated from an ancient teaching dealing with forgiveness, affection, detachment, and, ultimately, liberation. The teaching, or "blessing," was originally expressed in Nahuatl, a language spoken in Mexico.


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