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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Teaching Stories, part 21

"The Spirit of Humility"

- Updated: September 17, 2018


Gagwedwewin / Bawaagan (The Invocation / Spirit Helper) sterling silver belt buckle created by Zhaawano Giizhik


Boozhooaaniin, hello,

This blog story is the 21th already in a series titled "Teaching Stories."

The series features my jewelry and works of art, occasionally along with images of paintings by kindred artists. The stories thematically connect the jewelry and artwork displayed with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe People.

Today's story features a set of wedding rings and a sterling silver belt buckle, both made by hand in my studio. Feel free to visit my website to view details of the belt buckle and the ring set - which is shown below.



The gold wedding rings feature a free-form interpretation of the age-old Ojibwe design of the Midewiwin Life Road, with a stylized wolf paw on the insides; the silver belt buckle features a hunter who seeks strength from the wolf who is his guardian spirit. Both pieces, made with the aid of the overlay technique, remind us that there is wisdom in walking the road of Life with a humble spirit and a grateful heart.


Wiidosendiwag Ojibwe style wedding bands by Zhaawano


The capricious, smooth-flowing outline drawing designs of the wedding rings, styled after the rock art-inspired imagery founded by the Canadian Woodland School, combine a highly stylized Midewiwin Life Road with the sign of the Wolf, in the form of a paw. This wolf paw, visible in the ring interiors, is introduced as a symbol of humility in the context of the story that I share with you today. 

The wedding rings are part of a theme series titled Bimaadiziwig! Bimaadiziwig! Bimaadiziwig! (Live! Live! Live!)

It is widely understood that like the wolves, Ojibwe Anishinaabe communities throughout the centuries have struggled for survival. This means that the health and survival of the People are undeniably and inseperably linked to that of the wolf. The design of these rings symbolize the fact that the paths of the Wolf and the People have always run parallel to each other.

The wedding rings, which I titled Wiidosendiwag (They Walk with Each Other) are 0.315 inch (8 mm) wide and consist of an exterior of white gold and an interior of yellow gold. The designs of both interiors and exteriors of the rings – a sheet of white gold and a sheet of yellow gold - were cut out with the aid of a jeweler’s saw, after which both sheets have been soldered together and shaped into a ring by hammering it around a ring mandrel. 

The cut out design of the rings’ exteriors is a capricious path surrounded by “energy speckles” and characterized by seven tangents, or “side roads.” The design symbolizes the Life Road – which can either be seen as a path with seven sharp bends or a path consisting of four hills representing the age sta.ges of human life. It is a sacred diagram originally engraved in midewiigwaasag (sacred birch bark scrolls) and ceremonially kept within the caches of the age-old Ojibwe Spiritual and Medicinal Society (or Lodge) called Midewiwin. Throughout the ages, Midewiwin has been, and still is, the most prominent keeper of the rituals, songs, science, and migratory traditions of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.

Midewiwin Path Of Life

Symbolically, for a Mide, a member of the Medicine Lodge, to depart from mino-miikana bimaadiziwin, the true path of life, and not return is equivalent to death. But since digression has rarely a permanent character, he or she is expected to withdraw annually in vigil and prayer, to ask the aadizoogaanag (supernatural grandfathers, spirit helpers) for guidance, and to review their life to determine if they are still on the true path.*


Wisdom consists in being humble

More and more as each morning we step outside of our homes, we are bombarded with aggressive visual imagery and loud mechanical noises and... But wait a minute... let's just stop for a minute and pay attention... maybe today the sight of the rising sun is trying to teach us something.... Through all of his awesome silence and majestic brilliance...his golden rays touching the plants, the spider webs, the tops of trees and hills and mountains and buildings, the waves on the water, the hearts of the birds singing melodic morning songs...Gimishoomisinaan Giizis, our Grandfather the Sun shows us that there is a higher power out there that enables us to see, breathe, feel, hear, smell, have thoughts, have dreams, and speak... he reminds us that we should be humbled surrounded and driven by all this manidoo.


To express thankfulness to this great manidoo, this GICHI-MANIDOO that we observe through and in the Sun and all of Creation, and through the realization and acceptance that all beings are equal and of same value, is to capture the true spirit of HUMILITY.

Our ancestors knew that if there is one creature who walks the face of the earth who truly understands the principle of humbleness, this virtue of humility, it is Ma’iingan, the Wolf. As they observed how wolf did not live for himself but for the pack he was part of, being the kind of hunter that would never take the food until it could be shared, they looked upon him as a Grandfather and a Teacher of this valuable lesson. So, it is Ma’iingan’s lack of arrogance and respect for the pack that are lessons to us all to be humble and unselfish and to have respect for the community (and our parents and Elders) that bred and raised us.

When we walk the trail of life, learning hard lessons along the way, maturing through hardship and experience, let’s not forget the lessons that Grandfather Sun and Grandfather Wolf taught our ancestors; simple but wise guidelines that are still here today for us to live by.

Walk quietly, not boisterously, walk with an open mind and a humbled heart! Accept that you are just one small part of the whole and always express deference and gratitude to the sunrise and the Great Mystery and your community and to the Elders who sustained and helped to shape it. And always act like the wolf, who shows altruism in the hunt and bows his head in the presence of other wolves…

Giiwenh. That´s how far this blog story goes. Miigwech for reading and listening!

Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see me again!

* Source: Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, University of Nebraska Press, First Bison Book printing 1990, p. 86.


Zhaawano Giizhik at Agawa Rock

About the author/artist and his inspiration

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. For this he calls on his manidoo-minjimandamowin, or 'Spirit Memory'; which means he tries to remember the knowledge and the lessons of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.

To Zhaawano's ancestors the MAZINAAJIMOWIN or ‘pictorial spirit writings’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos that they felt they were an integral part of.

Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many, many  generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the lake's coastlines where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.
The way Zhaawano understands it, it is in these sacred places invisible to the ordinary, waking eye that his design and storyteller's inspiration originate from.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reawakening of the Medicine People, Part 3

Simone McLeod Protecting Mother Earth painting


A Tribute to the Medicine Warriors of our time


This blog story is part 3 in a series titled "Reawakening Of The Medicine People." Today's blog story is a tribute to the women warriors of our time who dedicate their lives and sacrifice for the water.

In our Anishinaabe tradition, one is a warrior by doing what must be done to protect the environment and society and advance their cause - even if it's on a modest scale or in the smallest of ways.

Warriors can be found in countless different ways and circumstances. They can be found in all walks of life, not just in everyday places and daily stuff of life but also in unexpected or even remote places. In the old times, warriors were traditionally found in the rearguard as they were the defenders of the People. You don't have to be in the spotlights to be called a warrior. It is not just the exclusive preserve of those who stand in the front lines engaging themselves in armed or political combat. A warrior person does not per se spill the blood of other persons, but is rather someone who stands for an idea or principle or who defends the lives, values, and honor of his family or his community.

Simone McLeod Protecting Mother Earth
36 x 48 inch canvas Protecting Mother Earth by Simone McLeod, 2016. Click on image to visit Simone's website.

DOCTORS are warriors because they battle illness; TEACHERS are warriors because they battle lack of knowledge. TREATY LAWYERS and POLITICAL and ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS dedicated to the inherent land rights, sovereignty, and First Nations self-government are warriors. A SINGLE PARENT raising his or her child or children in difficult circumstances, instilling in them a code for upright living, is a warrior. A PERSON WHO DEFEATED ALCOHOL AND DRUGS and has returned to the red road, the spiritual ways of his People, is a warrior. A SUNDANCER who fasts and dances from dusk till dawn sacrificing for the sake of those who need mental, spiritual, and physical healing is a warrior. NURSES, MIDWIVES, and SOCIAL WORKERS who distinguish themselves by offering vital help in disadvantaged rural areas or on remote reservations, they, too, are warriors. EVERYONE can be a warrior, and all he or she has to do is protect, and stand up for, the community or individuals or ideals.*

I believe that, since water represents life, it is the Water Walkers, the women who are the keepers of Gichi-Nibi, the sacred water circle, and those grandmothers who are responsible for reviving and maintaining the ancient Mide water song of the Anishinaabeg Peoples of Turtle Island, all those countles Anishinaabekweg who earn high praise and deep respect for traversing on foot many thousands of miles around each of the Great Lakes and beyond, - I believe all these women are the true warriors of our time. They are NIBI-MIDE-OGICHIDAAKWEG, Medicine Warriors for the Spirit of the Water.

Giiwenh. So the story goes. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to me today.  

Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon!

To read my background story about the Water Medicine Warrior Women of our time, see Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 1.

More stories from the Reawakening of the Medicine People series: 

Reawakening, part 1
Reawakening, part 2 

* Source: The Good way of the Warrior

Aki-egwaniizid miinawaa Zhaawano Giizhik/Wenoondaagoziwid Webaashi


About the authors/artists

Simone McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is a ᓇᐦᑲᐌ (Nakawē Anishinaabe) painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation, SaskatchewanShe belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) of her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba. Simone 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.

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawiting (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.