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Stories & Teachings from the Earth, part 13: Wenabozho and the Teaching of the Thunder Mountain Loon

Ode’imini-giizis (Strawberry Moon) / Baashkaabigonii-giizis (Blooming Moon), June 15, 2023


 


 

THE GREAT FLOOD


Many strings of lives ago, the star people sent Wenabozho, the Great Hare, son of the West Wind, spouse of the Morning Star, and grandson of the Moon, to earth on a mission.

A great flood had inundated the land, which became unhabitable; only the fish, the water animals, and a few tall trees survived. All the land animals, most of the earth's vegetation, and the first species of man perished. There was only water as far as the eye could see! A spirit named Giizhigookwe, however, decided to create a new land, and while still in her sky abode she miraculously gave birth to a twins. The twins, a boy and a girl, are the forebears of the present human race!


After lowering the newborns onto the back shield of a huge snapping turtle, Giizgigookwe, with the aid of Muskrat and Wolf, created a vast island. Next, with the aid of a bear and a dog, the fish and the birds, and the beaver and the doe, she nurtured the twins to maturity, and in the process of doing so she gifted the new Turtle Island with a new flora and fauna; sustainable resources that helped them and their offspring to survive and thrive.

Now, with her purpose fulfilled, Giizhigookwe ascended back into the Sky. Soon after that, the star people sent Wenabozho to the newly created world to make everything beautiful and sacred the way it had been before it was flooded. Once there, standing on the south shore of a Great Lake that stretched as far as the eye could see, Wenabozho figured a high mountain summit would be the ideal spot to start his sacred project. After packing belongings, he steered his wiigwaasi-jiimaan (birchbark canoe) across the lake, in the direction of a table mountain that penetrated the clouds, and that he suspected to stand in a faraway place in the northwest.


Turtle swam up to Wenabozho's canoe, asking “Wenabozho giin ina? Is that you Wenabozho?”Enh, niin Wenabozho!” yes, I am Wenabozho!” the latter replied. “Nishin, good!” said Turtle, and she started to speak in the quiet and thoughtful manner that can be expected from an ancient grandmother: "Aaniin! I see your light! Mikinaak niin indizhinikaaz, my name is Mikinaak! As you will know, the literal meaning of my name is "Making a Spiritual Pathway." I was sent by Sky Woman to lend my shield to recreate the world and to aid you in making it into a safe and lasting place for the human beings to live in. I have provided the humans with soil under their feet and, as I am a messenger that travels in between all layers of the cosmos, with guidance in their spiritual journeys through time and space."

THE SNAPPING TURTLE


By midday he had reached the center of the lake, that magic place where the Sky and the waters meet. He decided to rest and, as he sat in his jiimaan watching the sun who had now reached his summit, he chanted a sacred song. Next, he carefully took out his opwaagan from his pipe sack and filled it with asemaa (tobacco). As he blew out puffs of smoke and blessed the four directions, the Sky above him, and the water beneath him, he noticed from the corner of his eye an ancient being emerging from the surface of the lake. It was Mikinaak, the Snapping Turtle!

Turtle swam up to Wenabozho's canoe, asking “Wenabozho giin ina? Is that you Wenabozho?”[1]Enh, niin Wenabozho!” yes, I am Wenabozho!” the latter replied. “Nishin, good!” said Turtle, and she started to speak in the quiet and thoughtful manner that can be expected from an ancient grandmother: "Aaniin! I see your light! Mikinaak niin indizhinikaaz, my name is Mikinaak! As you will know, the literal meaning of my name is "Making a Spiritual Pathway." I was sent by Sky Woman to lend my shield to recreate the world and to aid you in making it into a safe and lasting place for the human beings to live in. I have provided the humans with soil under their feet and, as I am a messenger that travels in between all layers of the cosmos, with guidance in their spiritual journeys through time and space."


Pensively, Wenabozho directed the stem of his pipe toward a steep cliff wall that rose out of the water before him. He noticed its summit was covered in an ominous mist. With a shock he realized he had reached the mountain of his destination! Suddenly, a thunderous sound followed by the sound of flapping wings disturbed the peace. This time the noise didn't come from the sky! It sounded as if it came from the interior of the mountain! Then, tayaa! out of the dark rock in front of Wenanozho emerged a huge loon. Towering over the startled Wenanozho, the bird spread its immense wings, the gust of wind it generated making his jiimaan rock. Cocky in appearance, proudly sporting its plumage resembling the night sky dotted with a million white stars, the wampum-breasted bird introduced itself with a loud and dramatic voice, which, to Wenabozho, indicated that it had assumed a high rank among its feathered peers...


THE UNDERWATER LYNX


As Wenanozho reflected on the words of the old and wise turtle, Mizhibizhiw, the horned Lynx, emerged from the lake's surface and approached the canoe, slashing his tail that shone with copper scales reflecting the bright sunlight. Quickly Wenanozho, his canoe rocking on the sudden waves, took a handful of asemaa from his tobacco pouch and sprinkled it on the water in front of the hissing creature to appease it. "Aaniin Wenabozh!" the moody cat growled. "I am Mishibizhiw, the guardian of the Great Lake, which provides passage to the human beings so they can move around, the sacred copper that they can harvest so they can trade, and food 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 to show the humans the way in the dream world, which brings them medicine so they can heal themselves in times of physical and spiritual need."


THE SANDHILL CRANE


The cat disappeared as quick as it had emerged, and the lake became tranquil again. Suddenly, a big shadow obscured the midday sun. It was Ajijaak, the sandhill crane! Six times his mighty voice sounded, echoing in between the steep cliff walls that surrounded Wenabozho."Aaniin Wenabozh!" the impressive bird stated with great authority," I am Ajijaak, the Sandhill Crane and I was sent from above to teach mankind the virtues of leadership and direction. I will head their clans [2] and be their spokesperson in their communication with the outside world, and it will be like this for as long as I have a voice to raise and wings to fly. Naahaaw niijiikiwenh, mii‘iw! Well my friend, I have spoken!”


“Although the human race now has a land to live on, water to fish in, the ability to dream and cure illnesses and conduct ceremonies, there is still one thing missing. Although they are conscious beings with powers of thought and action, they still lack an essential way to express themselves. They lack speech ability as a way of communication!”

THE LOON FROM THUNDER MOUNTAIN


The mighty bird flew out of sight and the air became tranquil again. Wenanozho nodded, and, softly chanting, he continued steering his jiimaan westward. After a few hours paddling along the northern shoreline, he entered a bay. He rested again. Pensively, he directed the stem of his pipe toward a steep cliff wall that rose out of the water before him. He noticed its summit was covered in an ominous mist. With a shock he realized he had reached the mountain of his destination! Suddenly, a thunderous sound followed by the sound of flapping wings disturbed the peace. This time the noise didn't come from the sky! It sounded as if it came from the interior of the mountain! Then, tayaa! out of the dark rock in front of Wenabozho emerged a huge loon. Towering over the startled Wenanozho, the bird spread its immense wings, the gust of wind it generated making his jiimaan rock. Cocky in appearance, proudly sporting its plumage resembling the night sky dotted with a million white stars, the wampum-breasted bird let out a wild cry that made Wenabozho's hair stand on end. Next, the bird introduced itself with a loud and dramatic voice, which, to Wenanozho, indicated that it had assumed a high rank among its feathered peers.


"Aaniin Wenabozh!" the loon said." I am Baswewe,[3] the chief of the Loon Nation. As you will know my name refers to the Thunder Beings from the sky, who sent me down to live in this rock that sits on the border of sky, earth, and water! My relatives the loons dwell in the nebulous area between the material and spirit world, but since they are built to swim, they rely on water more than they do on the land. Since water is a symbol for dreams and multiple levels of consciousness, we, the loons, teach humans to follow their intuition and help them channel their hopes, dreams, and wishes. But most importantly, we carry an important message for humanity. Although the human race now has a land to live on, water to fish in, the ability to dream and cure illnesses and conduct ceremonies, there is still one thing missing. Although they are conscious beings with powers of thought and action, they still lack an essential way to express themselves. They lack speech ability as a way of communication!"


Wenabozho, who was clearly in a philosophical mood that day, reflected briefly on the words of the noisy bird, then nodded. The loon, despite its boisterous ways, made sense! After all, notwithstanding its vanity and rather pretentious verbosity, the bird was clearly an important spirit messenger sent by the Thunderbirds themselves! The human beings were indeed able to make sound, but their tongues could not yet produce words. “How much easier their lives will be once they can converse among each other, other than through simple hand gestures and by uttering primitive sounds,” he thought by himself. “How much better their existence would be, how much more intelligible their world, if they were to master the power of speech! Being able to speak and knowing their language will help people to connect with their inner beings as well as with other peoples and life forms, and to examine and acknowledge and learn different ways of living and spiritual practices. Being able to describe in words what they see will help them learn their place in creation by contrasting the new things they see with what they have always known…”


E’nanaweg mii maanda weweni enanaamtamiing gidanawewinaa miinawaa jiiskii zhiyaawin mii dash owi zhinoomaagewin, ezhi ginowaabdamiing gaataakimik, mii owi enji gichipiitendaagwag, zheshegan miinawaa wiizenhs dewe'igan pii jiiskiiying...
("Sound are the core and essence of our language and our ceremonial practice, and therefore, of izhinamowin, our outlook on life. Our language tells us who we are as a People, but it is the sounds that we produce that lay at the very base of our inaadiziwin and izhinamowin, our culture and worldview. This is why the rattles and water drums are so important in our ceremonies…”)

THE TEACHING


Realizing that this was where he came in, he nodded again. "Geget sa go! I will climb the Thunder Mountain and look around me in all directions and start inventorizing everything that exists in nature, all inhabitants of the earth on the ground, under the ground, in the air, and under the waters," he said to himself. “Next, I will descend the mountain and walk the entire land that stretches to the north, the east, the south, and the west, and approach every living being — mountains, rivers, lakes, meadows, plants, flowers, trees, and animals — that I encounter during my journey, and I will ask them for their names. Once I have collected all those names I will go to the humans and visit their villages, campgrounds, and community houses. I will teach them how to speak and I will reveal to them the names, and with them the inner nature and the outer nature, of everything in creation. Once they are able to speak and call everything by their name, they can precisely designate what they see and freely express their thoughts and ideas and dreams and prayers among one another and toward the spirits."


Giiwenh, so it was done. After he had returned from his long journey throughout the land, Wenabozho went to the villages of the People to invite them to congregate in a meeting place at the southern border of the Great Lake, not far from where he had started his journey toward the Thunder Mountain. As soon as everyone had gathered, he taught them the language. He not just taught them to speak, but also explained the principle of language, which, he told them, evolves around madwewechigewin, the producing of sounds.


Wenabozho continued by relating to the Anishinaabeg that he was sent to earth to name everything in existence. Thus, through him, being a messenger of the spirits, he explained, to enable him to do so he had to bring into existence a sacred language. He had to invent language first before he could even start naming all living things and beings of Creation! And now there was this sacred language, Wenabozho explained, it was time to teach it to the People. This sacred language, he added, was called Anishinaabemowin!

He explained to the People the meaning of nisidotan: Recognizing and comprehending by sound. “In learning the language, never underestimate the power of madwewe, sound-making,” he said.

E’nanaweg mii maanda weweni enanaamtamiing gidanawewinaa miinawaa jiiskii zhiyaawin mii dash owi zhinoomaagewin, ezhi ginowaabdamiing gaataakimik, mii owi enji gichipiitendaagwag, zheshegan miinawaa wiizenhs dewe'igan pii jiiskiiying. Sounds are the core and essence of our language and our ceremonial practice, and therefore, of izhinamowin, our outlook on life. Our language tells us who we are as a People, but it is the sounds that we produce that lay at the very base of our inaadiziwin and izhinamowin, our culture and worldview. This is why the rattles and water drums are so important in our ceremonies…”[4]


Wenabozho continued by relating to the Anishinaabeg that he was sent to earth to name everything in existence. Thus, through him, being a messenger of the spirits, he explained, to enable him to do so he had to bring into existence a sacred language. He had to invent language first before he could even start naming all living things and beings of Creation! And now this sacred language had been brought into existence, Wenabozho explained, it was time to teach it to the People. This sacred language, he added, was called Anishinaabemowin!


"Why is this sacred language called Anishinaabemowin? Anishinaabemowin, aaniin dash wenji-izhinikaazod? Why is it named so? "The People asked him.[5]


Wenabozho replied by saying that in a spiritual context, the word Anishinaabemowin was a reference to the creation story of how Giizhigookwe, the Sky Woman, gave birth to their ancestors and lowered them onto the shield of the Great Sea Turtle.

To make it easier for them to understand this notion, Wenabozho broke down the word for his audience. "’Anishinaabeg’ means 'Beings Created Spontaneously,' referring to the two forebears of the Anishinaabeg, a twin born out of air instead of solid materials” he explained. "-mo" refers to "expression through speech" and “-win” refers to the life energy that flows through us and causes us to express ourselves by speech.”


Oonh! Oonh! A sea of gasps and whispers rose and went through the audience that had gathered that day. They were very grateful to Wenabozho for gifting them with words they could now use to describe the world around them, and for giving them their sacred language so they could communicate among themselves and with the spirits. They could finally call themselves Anishinaabeg…


At last, grown old and weary from his sacred task to reconstruct and beautify the earth, Wenabozho made a jiimaan from the rainbow and from the stars and left Turtle Island to join his family in the night sky. When last seen his jiimaan was headed toward the Land of the Setting Sun…On clear summer nights, Wenabozho can be seen in the southeastern sky at the end of the Path of Souls, shooting an arrow at the Great Underwater Lynx constellation…

WENABOZHO'S LAST JOURNEY


And Wenabozho? He kept roaming the land, and everywhere he went he was greeted warmly by the Anishinaabeg. The reason he was so well-loved, however, were not only his supernatural powers, but, first and foremost, how he used them. The Anishinaabeg loved him, not just for introducing the language and for naming the plants and the animals and the landscape, but also for bringing medicine to cure the sick and, finally, for his tireless efforts and inclination to help little children, the poor, and the weak. That, and his role as securer of the right for the Anishinaabe people to hunt and fish and as artist who showed the Anishinaabeg how to paint their dreams and visions on the rocks — not to mention bringing them fire so they could stay warm — are among the many, many things that made him the most beloved character in our aadizookaanan (sacred stories)…


At last, grown old and weary from his sacred task to reconstruct and beautify the earth, Wenabozho made a canoe from the rainbow and from the stars and left Turtle Island to join his family in the night sky. When last seen his jiimaan was headed toward the Land of the Setting Sun…And on clear summer nights, Wenabozho can be seen in the southeastern sky at the end of the Path of Souls,[6] shooting an arrow at the Great Underwater Lynx constellation…[7]


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


Illustration: "Wenabozho and the Teaching of the Thunder Mountain Loon." ©2023 Zhaawano Giizhik


 

NOTES:


[1] Wenabozho giin ina? Is that you Wenabozho?” became, through time, “Boozhoo!”— which is still our greeting to one another today. ^ [2] The Anishinaabeg have an intricate system of kinship based on gidoodeminaaning ("our clans, or animal totems"), in which each totem represents a core branch of knowledge and responsibility essential to the individual as well as to society as a whole.

Today, six general odoodemag compose this framework. The Crane and the Loon are the chiefs and spokespersons, responsible for over-seeing and leading the People and for, respectively, external and internal communication. The Fish are the scholars and thinkers and are responsible for solving disputes between the Crane and the Loon clans. The Bear are both defenders and medicine gatherers. The Martens are defenders and strategists as well as providers. The Moose are the craftsmen and artists of the Nation. See also: Zhaawano Giizhik, What’s Your Doodem, part 1. ^

[3] Baswewe: “Echo.” ^

[4] Read: Zhaawano Giizhik, Sound of the Mide Drum. ^ [5] Anishinaabeg and Ojibweg are used interchangeably by our People. The term Anishinaabemowin refers specifically to the language spoken by the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg, or Ojibweg. The term Ojibwemowin is used interchangeably with Anishinaabemowin.

Anishinaabemowin is pronounced, Ah-nih-shin-naa-PAY (or PEH) -moh-WIN. Ojibwemowin is pronounced Oh-jib-WAY (or WEH)-moh-WIN. ^

[6] The Path of Souls, or “Jiibay-miikana,” is how the Anishinaabeg call the Milky Way. ^

[7] Mishibizhiw Gaa-ditibaanowe’, the Great Lynx constellation, is called Leo and Hydra by their Latin and Greek names. ^



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