- Updated August 30, 2017
MISHI MIKINAAKOMINIS NIIGIWIN, Birth of the Great Turtle Island by Zhaawano Giizhik
The above pencil drawing, made by Zhaawano in 2011, tells the OJIBWE CREATION STORY of the world as we know it. He made the drawing in the X-ray Woodland art style of the Medicine Painters.
The drawing depicts a stylized image of MIKINAAK (the Great Snapping Turtle), or MISHIIKENH (the Mud Turtle), and what the turtle means to the Native Peoples of Turtle Island (North America).
Since he, after a devastating flood that swept Aki (the earth), served mankind by helping to recreate the earth, Mikinaak (or Mishiikenh) has a special place of mediation in the worlds of the natural and the supernatural. After he lent his back for creation, Nookomis Dibik-Giizis, grandmother moon, conferred on him special HEALING POWERS that have been held in reverence ever since!
“The first mother of the Anishinaabeg was once an AADIZOOKAAN, a supernatural being residing alone in the sky. Her name was GIIZHIG-OO-KWE, or Sky Woman. GICHI-MANIDOO, the Creator of Earth and Skies, pitying her loneliness, sent a male aadizookaan to Sky Woman to keep her company. ANIMIKII (Thunder), for that was his name, traveled to the sky lodge of GIIZHIG-OO-KWE and from the union that took place (rumor has it that Sky Woman showed her lover every hole and corner of the universe) were born the ANISH-I-NAAB-EG (a twin brother and sister), whom she planned to place on the back of a giant MIKINAAK (snapping turtle)."
“But first GIIZHIG-OO-KWE had to convince MIKINAAK to lend his back to the re-creation of the world, because at that time the world was inundated with water below her and most animals had been drowned in the Great Flood that had hit the first world. As Sky Woman noticed that a few animals had survived the flood she called to her aid the giant turtle. He came to the surface so that she could sit on his back and call others to her side. Maang (the loon), Amik (the beaver), Nigig (the otter), and Wajashk (the little muskrat) were among her assistants."
"That day, long ago, she spoke to the water animals as follows: 'I don't have all the powers of creation that GICHI-MANIDOO has. But I am a female spirit and I have a special gift. I have the power to recreate. I can recreate the world GICHI-MANIDOO created, but I can't do it by myself. I need your help. I need you to dive deep. I need you to bring me a handful of the original soil made by GICHI-MANIDOO. The soil will be the seed I use to recreate the Earth.''"
"All day long the water animals took turns trying to reach the soil covered by the great depth of water but to no avail. At the end of the day it was only Wajashk the little muskrat, not used to swimming in deep water, who had not given it a try. The brave little animal decided that with no one else available to help it was up to him to do the job. He took many deep breaths and dived down and down."
"As he finally came back to the surface Wajashk had clutched in his paw the soil from the bottom of the sea. Gratefully GIIZHIG-OO-KWE took the soil, dried it and breathed life into it, then rubbed it on the turtle's back. She rubbed the soil round and round and as she did so - some say aided by MA'IINGAN the wolf- an island took shape above the water. This is said to have occurred at MISHI-MIKINAAK-ONG, the present-day Mackinac Island in Lake Huron. GIIZHIG-OO-KWE continued to move over the new soil. She and the wolf walked in wider and wider circles; it took them 14 summers to complete the job! And so the Earth was recreated. Forever after the Anishinaabeg called the world MIKINAAK-O-MINIS, or Turtle Island.”
“Once the new island was complete, GIIZHIG-OO-KWE nurtured the twins to manhood and womanhood. and then, as her purpose and nature were finally fulfilled, she ascended back into the sky, where she changed her name in WEZAAWI-GIIZHIG-OO-KWE, Yellow Sky Woman, and became known as NOOKOMIS DIBIK-GIIZIS, Grandmother Moon. From here on, Nookomis Moon watched over her children by night; by day MISHOOMIS GIIZIS (the Sunfather) and OMIZAKAMIG-OO-KWE (the Earthmother) took care of them. And Nookomis’ existence, her gift of life, and the primacy of women are still remembered by the Anishinaabeg each time Dibik-giizis, the Night Sun shines on their precious island-home. “
Giiwenh: so the story goes.
No wonder the jaasakiidjig, the Mide-specialists often referred to as Shaking Tent Seers, and who claim to draw their spiritual healing power from the Thunder Beings, elected the turtle as their patron!
About the authors/artists:
Simone McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is an Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan). Simone, who feels a special kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba, descends from a long line of Midewiwin seers and healers and artists. Her artwork has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by art lovers from all over the world.