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What's Your Doodem, part 7: Indoodem, The Breast From Which I Draw

Ode’imini-giizis (Strawberry Moon) / Baashkaabigonii-giizis (Blooming Moon), June 5, 2023




Since time immemorial, the Anishinaabeg, the Nêhiyawak-Ininewak-Cree, the Haudenosaunee Peoples, and other Turtle Island First Nations have a unique system of government - called gidoodeminaanig in the Ojibwe language, which translates into "our blood relations," or "our clans." In Anishinaabe society, a person's odoodem is the same as that of their father; the members of the various Cree Nations and the Haudenosaunee Six Nations for instance, are related through their mothers.

Among the older generation of Anishinaabeg, speaking Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe/Odaawaa/Bodewadmi Anishinaabe language) is still a source of pride to some and represents a symbol of unity. When Anishinaabe people meet each other for the first time, they usually ask each other Gidaanishinaabem ina? – which means "Do you speak Anishinaabe?" And: Aaniin doodemiyan? or Gidoodoodem'ina? - What's your clan? Or: Awenen gidoodem? - Who is your clan? (To the Anishinaabe, clan is a living entity, hence the use of the interrogative pronoun awenen, or "who.") When Anishinaabeg can converse with each other in their language and know the other person's clan it's a source of pride knowing that their culture is strong.



The stem of the word oodem is -oode, signifying a blood-related kinship; the suffix -m indicates a possessive relationship. It is also possible that oodem comes from the same root as "doodam,” which means "to do," “to act,” or “to fulfill,” and "doodosh," meaning "breast." The literal meaning of the word (d)oodem, therefore, could be: "breast from which I draw," in other words: "that from which I draw my purpose, meaning, and being."

(D)oodem, in this definition, can be seen as Ode’, the center of spiritual identity. Ode’imaan means heart, the center of the body where the spirit dwells. The heart is seated in the chest and it is from the breast that the People draw meaning, purpose, and being. It is the center of the spiritual as well as social/societal entity of the Anishinaabeg - and as such indicating their individual and communal origins and direction in life. The clan system, the way the Anishinaabeg are organized socially, is the heart, spirit, and lifeblood of our society.

The Anishinaabeg had originally five to seven doodem groups, nowadays divided into at least sixty-five different doodemag; Haudenosaunee society has nine clans in total.

Each doodem, which is represented by a bird, a fish, a land animal, body parts of an animal, a tree, or a spirit that lives in the lakes or the sky, denotes a common (clan) ancestor. This ancestor, even if it has a terrestrial habitat, is believed to originate from the Sky world.

As they disclose norms and principles for bimaadiziwin, or living long and healthy lives, animals, as elder brothers of humans, represent the basic needs of human society. Each different animal or spirit being seeks to instill in clan members certain virtues to emulate and provides them with a set of life-long responsibilities to live up to - both individually and communally.

Although nowadays many individuals have lost track of their doodem membership, we see lately a revival of the traditional knowledge, especially among the younger generations, as a way to honor one's ancestors and family and tribal identity, and to find a sense of purpose and direction in life and society, and also a sense of place and direction in marriage.



There is no simple independent word for clan. A personal prefix goes with the dependent noun stem /=doodem-/ clan to make a full word:

= doodem- STEM FOR: clan, totem, blood relation.

indoodem my clan

gidoodem your clan

odoodeman his/her clan

odoodemim verb transitive bimaadizi:* s/he has him/her as his/her clan or fellow clan member.

(Reciprocal) odoodemindiwag verb bimaadizi intransitive:* they have the same clan.

Plural forms:


nindoodemag = my clans


nindoodeminaanig = our (but not your) clans

gidoodeminaanig = our (and your) clans

gidoodemiwaag = your clans



* Bimaadizi and bimaadad, two ways of being, often wrongly translated by language scholars as, respectively, “animate” and “inanimate." See: Teaching stories, part 12, The Cycle of Life by Zhaawano Giizhik.


"The Emergence of the Clans." See the website for details.

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