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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Love Stories from the Land of Many Lakes, part 19: Yellow Star Woman's Dream Vision

Yellow Star Woman's Dream Vision

Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon), December 1, 2022

Updated: Iskigamizige-giizis (Boiling Sap Moon), April 2, 2023

Nookomis Dibewagendamowin (Moon's Reflection) Woodland art painting by Zhaawano Giizhik


A magic dream vision tale about love and separation. Two beings , living apart, one from the earth and the other from the sky. Shone upon by the light of the Universe, their sacred union reflected by the glow of the stars above, their love is distant yet remains strong...


Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ningad-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where there is love and learning. Let’s tell a zaagi'idiwin aadizookaan (sacred love story) today!

This blog tale is another episode, the 19th already in a series named “Love Stories from the Land of Many Lakes.” The series features love tales and teaching stories that encompass the unique worldview and cultural perspective of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.


Part 1: The First Dream


 The story I will tell you today is a semi autobiographic narrative, braided with strands of traditional Ojibwe story elements and personal dream vision experience, about a starry-eyed woman from Bkejwanong,² the Land Where the Waters Divide. Her name is Ozaawi'anang (Yellow Star).

Once upon a time Ozaawi'anang, lying on the top of a bluff,  had a vision-dream. In this vision-dream it was night. She stood erect, holding a copper pail. Inside was a great gift: mide waaboo, the sacred water. Ozaawi'anang stood there all night, singing prayers for nibi, the spirit of the water. Then she directed her gaze to waawiyezi-dibik-giizis, the full moon, who shone straight above her. The moon was so big and full that she could touch it! In the moon, she saw a reflection of a snapping turtle with thirteen moons on its back and of herself, paddling a wiigwaasi-jiimaan (birchbark canoe) across the great galaxy.

The canoe took her westward across the great sky, and after a long journey - that to her seemed to last only a few eye-blinks - it hovered above a large bay, called Animikii-wiikwedong, the Bay of the Thunder. Slowly her canoe was lowered until it touched water.

As she crossed the bay, she saw a large body of stone emerge from the moonlit waves. It was the body of a giant manidoo (spirit) who once lived among the stars, and who had lain dormant in the bay for many winters and summers. His name was Nibaad Misaabe (Sleeping Giant). Their eyes met and a fire was lit in their hearts. It was love at first sight…

Since Ozaawi'anang now lived in the sky, she and the Giant only met for a short period of time. Although their times together were brief, her beauty touched him in unspeakable ways; words fall short to express what this stone manidoo felt for her! Only the moon and the stars high above understood the depth of the love that lived in their hearts and the scope of the feelings that these two beings harbored for each other. Only he moon and the stars saw how hard it was for them to be separated by time and distance. As she was a star born on the earth and he a star being that had been changed into rock, they complemented each other in more than one way. They were stars in each other's eyes, bonded together, yet it felt sometimes as if beyond each other's grasp...

At last, knowing that her home was in the sky, Ozaawi'anang bade her lover giga-waabamin miinawaa (“I will see you again”) and, ascending back to her celestial abode and with tears in her eyes, she sang a sacred song of parting:³

Dibishkoo biidaanakwag, wiingii abi-ezhaa

Dibishkoo waabaanakwag, aabiji-maajaa.

Ningashkendam wiingaa abi-izhaad

Nimgashkendam wiingaa ago-maajaad.

Ningii magawig

ningaa abi naanig ina?

Wiinaagozi dibishkoo anang

Wiiwaasa wendaagozi dibishkoo anang.

("Like a cloud has he come and gone

Like a cloud drifted away forever.

Sad am I since he came

Sad am I since he's gone.

Now he has found my love

Will he return for my love?

Like a star in my eyes

Like a star beyond my grasp, my love.")

Although, sadly, the relationship between the two lovers did not last on aki, the earth, now the tale of Ozaawi'anang and the Sleeping Giant lives on forever among anangoog, the stars high above…

Giiwenh. So goes the tale about the love that the stone giant of the Deep Sea called Gichigami (Lake Superior) felt for a beautiful woman who came from far and touched his heart before she returned to her home in the sky goes the song sung by this brave woman who felt sad because she and her lover lived far apart...


Sky Woman's Vision Woodland Art painting by Zhaawano Giizhik


Part 2: The Second Dream


Nine moons later but at the same time many, many strings of lives in the past, Ozaawi'anang had another dream vision. This was in the era of Dawn when the earth was still young. In this dream she lived in the sky. It was there where she conceived two children, a twin brother and sister. Although evil tongues said it was a Thunderbird who had impregnated her, she was pretty sure the Sleeping Giant himself was their father! She put the babies, carefully wrapped in bundles, in her sky canoe and just as she was about to lower it to the Bay of Thunder to find their father and tell him the news, she saw to her horror that the world below her was inundated with water. The earth had been entirely flooded! Even the Stone Giant had disappeared beneath the lake’s surface! A Thunderbird hovered over the bay, casting down lightning and creating thunder by flapping its gigantic wings. The waves beneath her were roaring, the wind howling, and the lightning was flashing in every direction. The horrendous head of the Great Underwater Sprit emerged from the waves and its tail covered with copper scales slashed around as in a frenzy! Ozaawi'anang’s canoe was rocking back and forth violently. In her struggle to keep her canoe from capsizing she offered tobacco to the waters. Then she sang a magic song.

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Jiigewe’am naawij, nagawawin jiimaan,

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Bimaawadaaso wiijiiw giigoonh,

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Megwe digowag, megwa anwaatin ge

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Nindasemaake, heya-wya-whe.

Asemaa binidee-eshkaage.

Asemaa biininenamishkaage.

Asemaa bizaande-eshkaage.

Nagamowin nibi nagamon,

Wiikwedong nagamawin nagamon,

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!



("Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

 Paddling along in my canoe,

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Traveling along with the fishes,

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Among the waves, in calm waters too

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Offering tobacco, heya-wya-whe.

Tobacco cleanses hearts.

Tobacco cleanses minds.

Tobacco brings peace.

Singing my water song,

At the bay singing my song,

Heya-way-whe- H’ya-whe-yawhe-yaw!

Heya-wya-whe. ")


The moment her clear voice stopped sounding above the rage of the storm, the great black shadow that was the Thunderbird disappeared to the west. The Underwater Cat, appeased by Ozaawi'anang’s tobacco offering, dove back under and the surface of the flooded bay regained its calm. The moon and the stars cast their peaceful light on the waves, and the world, covered by a thick blanket of water, was silent again…

Ozaawi'anang looked around her to see if there was any life moving about. Then she noticed that to the southeast a giant turtle floated on the water surface. Only a few land animals had managed to find refuge on its back! Looking for a haven where she could nourish and raise the twins she had brought along from her abode in the sky, she steered her canoe toward the turtle shell. This is where she met Maang (the loon), Amik (the beaver), Nigig (the otter), and Wajashk (the little muskrat), who told her that they were the only survivors. All the other animals had been drowned!
That day, long ago,
Ozaawi'anang spoke to her new friends as follows: “My relatives! I don't have all the powers of creation. But I am a female spirit and I have a special gift. I have the power to recreate. I can recreate the world, 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 soil of the original land. The soil will be the seed I use to recreate the Earth.”
And so it happened. All day long the 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 Wazhashk 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, Wazhashk had clutched in his paw the soil from the bottom of the flooded land. Gratefully
Ozaawi'anang, still dreaming, 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, an island took shape above the water. Ozaawi'anang continued to move over the new soil. She walked in wider and wider circles; it took her 14 summers to complete the job! And so, the New Earth was created.


Woodland Art painting Bear Spirit Meets the Twin Halfway the Cedar Tree


Once the new island was complete and a new flora and fauna had emerged, Ozaawi'anang put on her yellow jingle dress and danced upward, through the hole in the sky toward to the moon, who, as she still shone high up in the night sky, had witnessed the recreation of the land. Suddenly, without a sound, a tall giizhikaatig (cedar tree) grew out of the soil beneath her and its tip pushed swiftly through the sky layers. Keeping the bundles safely in her arms she  descended, still dancing, through the hole in the sky onto the newly-formed island,  and as she carefully positioned the twins on a bed of eagle feathers resting on the giizhik aniibiishan (cedar foliage) of a branch that grew halfway out of the tree she noticed how a makade-noozhe-makwa (black female bear) travelled through all four layers of the earth and, once she had reached the surface, started to climb the tree!  Quickly the bear climbed into her direction! As soon as she had reached the tree branch, she picked up the bundles and, holding them tenderly in her paws, she descended and lowered them to the ground! 

Dancing, she chanted a sacred song:







From up above I come, leaving footprints in the sky.

Mystic-like I come forth!

From the hollow of the earth you emerged, leaving footprints in the soil.

Mystic-like you come forth!

Watched from above by Ozaawi'anang the bear spirit nurtured the twins to manhood and womanhood. She also built the first Medicine Lodge that was ever erected on Turtle Island, and it was in this Lodge where, many generations later, Wiininwaa ("Nourish From the Breast") would be born. She would become the mother of Wenabozho, the beloved Elder Brother and benefactor of the descendants of Ozaawi'anang's children! 

Once Ozaawi'anang knew that her children (whom she named Anishinaabeg, “Beings Born from Spirit”) were mature enough to stand on their own legs, she bade them giga-waabamin miinawaa (“I will see you again”) and descended back into the bay and paddled her canoe in northwestern direction where she had last seen the Sleeping Giant. As soon as she reached the bay of Thunder, she saw to her relief that her old-time lover cast his huge shadow across the water like he had done before the flood had hit the land. Once again, they lay together, united, even though if it was only for a moment...


Wiindigoo Creating the Ice Poles Woodland art painting

"Straight through the void of space from the stars the Wiindigoo came, moving through the earth to stabilize the tumbling, holding the Earth's poles constant. From that day on the Wiindigoog were gifted the gift of ice for holding the actual poles of the earth! This event marked the creation of biboon (winter) and the beginning of the Anishinaabe calendar, and from that moment on the cycle of the seasons started at the full moon when the sucker fish spawn..."
Image: "Wiindigoo and the Creation of the Ice Poles" © 2023 Zhaawano Giizhik


Still dreaming, Ozaawi'anang had visions of many sacred things and events. Her dream was as vast as anangokwaan (the galaxy) and the visions she had were as numerous as the stars that filled it.  She saw how the bear, added by Animoosh, the dog, looked after the twins, nurturing them throughout their infant years.  She saw how Elder Brother Wenabozho, the first two-legged being that walked the new earth teamed up with his brother Ma'iingan the wolf. Together, they walked the Earth naming all  the other creatures on the planet. Then, as she started to dream backward in time, she saw to her horror how the earth shifted, bringing chaos to the world, and how the Wiindigoog (Cannibal Spirits of Winter) volunteered to bring back order. Straight through the void of space from the stars they came, moving through the earth to stabilize the tumbling, holding the Earth's poles constant. She witnessed how they were gifted the gift of ice for holding the actual poles of the earth! This event marked the creation of biboon (winter) and the beginning of the Anishinaabe calendar, and from that moment on the cycle of the seasons started at the full moon when the sucker fish spawn...

Fatigued from all these impressions, but reassured the world that she had helped to revive had regained its balance, Ozaawi'anang closed her eyes. After a long slumber - which transported her into another time frame - a light from the east drew her attention! Looking into the direction of the light she saw how six Mystery Beings emerged from the water of the Ocean, bringing the Anishinaabeg the Seven Teachings along with a vast system of clanship - which exists until today! - and she saw how Elder Brother Wenabozho gave the Anishinaabeg the gift of fire and of Medicine - teaching them  chants and medicines and rituals for warding off sickness and death - and how he taught them to build Medicine Lodges. Next, she saw how the Grandfather water drum was lowered from the Madoodiswan (Sweat Lodge constellation) and gifted to the People and how a bear spirit descended from the Sun to bring the People the Little Boy Water Drum! She witnessed, in yet another frame of time, how three old men came together to light a fire, thus establishing a political and spiritual bond of brotherhood between Anishinaabe tribes - a sacred alliance that is upheld and honored up until this day! Then, hoowah! she even saw how, in yet another era, beneath her, in the Bay of Thunder, Elder Brother Wenabozho turned to stone overnight! With fire stirring in her heart and loins, she visited him again to make love to him before she returned to the star world....haw sa, In her dream, she saw many, many sacred things and events. Things and events that even nowadays are being reminisced on through the aadizookaanan, the sacred stories that the Elder Persons tell the young during long winter nights...

Next, after witnessing all those many sacred things and events, Ozaawi'anang, still dreaming,, knowing her purpose and nature were finally fulfilled, ascended back through the hole in the sky. She had been dreaming for such a long time that she had turned from a young woman into Nookomis, a grandmother! This is when she changed her name in Wezaawi Giizhigookwe, Yellow Sky Woman....From then on, she watched over her children, the Anishinaabeg, by night; by day the Sun and the Earthmother took care of them...


Part 3: The Reflection

Ozaawi'anang woke up, finding herself on top of the bluff overlooking the Land where the Waters Divide. She smiled, understanding that what had happened in it actually happened a great many strings of lives ago, when the earth was still young…Closing her eyes she reminisced on her sacred union with the Sleeping Giant in the faraway Bay of Thunder...She looked up at the moon grandmother in the night sky, and she saw a reflection of many faces on her silver surface. They were the faces of her People, the Anishinaabeh…Life is good, she thought by herself. She smiled again.

Even today, thanks to Ozaawi'anang’s dream vision, Grandmother Moon’s existence, her gift of life, and the primacy of women are still remembered by our People each time Dibik-giizis, the Night Sun shines on our precious island-home…

Ahaaw, miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Well, thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon...



¹ The story is loosely based on 
The Amazing Legend of Yellow Star and the Sleeping Giant by Zhaawano Giizhik.

² Bkejwanong, present-day Walpole Island, Southeastern Ontario

³ Source: Basil Johnston, Ojibway Ceremonies, pp 85, 86. McClelland & Stewart, 28 Jan 2011.

 Wiindigoo, a cannibal winter monster from the North, does not only live in the below-world; old Anishinaabe star stories relate of a celestial being with the same name that lies in ambush along the Jiibay-miikana (Milky Way) to snatch those unprepared for the celestial journey. Wiindigoo, which is part of the Gaa-biboonikaan (Bringer of Winter, Orion) winter constellation, is called alpha Orionis, or Betelgeuse, on Western star maps. Click here for more reading.

 The full moon in the month of January.


From top to bottom:

Nookomis Dibewagendamowin ("Moon's Reflection") - © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. The painting is orderable as a wall photo print: See the webshop

Giizhigookwe Izhinamowin ("Sky Woman's Vision") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the website to order a canvas print of the painting.

"Spirit Bear Meets the Twind Halfway the Cedar Tree" © 2023 Zhaawano Giizhik

Wiindigoo and the Creation of the Ice Poles" © 2023 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the website to order a canvas print of the painting.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Teachings from the Tree of Life, part 13: Living the Mashkikiikewin Life


"Living the Mashkikiikewin Life"


Ojibwe Midewiwiin


Boozhoo, aaniin! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ninga-aawechige miinawaa noongom giizhigad!

Hello my relatives, I greet you in a good way. Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge, a place of love and knowing. Let's share another teaching today!


Apane mino-bimaadizin miinawaa dibaamenimon. Gego ani-izhaakegon Wiindigoo endaad. "Always live well and be moderate in what you do. Don’t go where the Wiindigoo lives!" - Anishinaabe proverb


Let's talk about food today. Food, and medicine, that is generously given us by our mother, the Earth. Too often mankind mistakes prosperity for profit and does not respect the rules of a fair relationship with our mother anymore.

So, let's talk about the topic of today's story:, "living the Mashkikiikewin life. " But first, let's define what "living the Wiindigoo life" is.

Modern Anishinaabeg (Natives) have at least four Wiindigoowag, or sins. They are: sugar, unhealthy fat, synthetics and... convenience. Although at first glance seemingly an exaggeration, I believe there is much truth in that statement.

What's a Wiindigoo you might wonder? “Betag!” our ancestors used to tell their children and grandchildren, “Gaagige weweni onji ashwaabam wiindigoo! Aabanaabin bezhigo bimose’an ingoji! Be careful! Beware of the Winter Cannibal! Always look out for him!"


Wiindigoo and the Bear Healer art print


So there it is. A Wiindigoo is the Cannibal, the hideous Ogre who lives in the North. and regularly invaded the lands, the minds, and the souls of our ancestors in order to devour their flesh, wipe out their clans, and make their minds go insane. Although brave warriors managed to overcome the Wiindigoowag and banished them to the far north for good, the wiindigoo is still among us in spirit! His traumatizing footprints are still very much around us! While in the old days meant to keep unruly children in check, today, wiindigoo aadizookaanan (wiindigoo stories) are essentially cautionary tales about isolation, self destruction, greediness, and selfishness. They teach us the importance of living moderately, and of community spirit, of a strong sense of responsibility toward the collective.

The wiindigoo is nowadays a metaphor for many bad things that threaten and poison us as a People — such as forced removal to new lands and the intergenerational trauma caused by the boarding/residential school experience, racism, cultural appropriation, large-scale and systematic exploitation and pollution by multinationals of our lands and waters, the rampant violence and substance abuse in our own midst, and, last but not least, the widespread child abuse and sexual aggression against our young women and men, committed by outsiders as well as by our own people. In a deeper sense, however, Wiindigoo symbolizes the spirit of excess, of lack of moderation. In particular: our unhealthy eating habits, our overindulgence to unhealthy food. This is the biggest and most dangerous enemy of us all, haw sa, even more lethal than the before-mentioned dangers that threaten us and the generations that come after us.



Wenabozho, the "Great Hare," semi-spirit and beloved benefactor of the Anishinaabe Peoples, tends the sacred Fire and offers smoke from his pipe to the four directions. He is depicted here with two eagle feathers and a mide-miigis (sacred shell) in his hair. Leaves of the purifying giizhik (cedar) and a makak (birchbark basket) filled with nutritious manoomin (wild rice) are depicted in the foreground. Detail of the painting "Living the Mashkikiikewin Life." ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik.

It is no secret that our ancestors lived much healthier lives than most of us do today. They were fishers and hunters and farmers and gatherers of seeds, berries, and roots. Their diet was filled with vitamins, natural sugars, and healthy animal fats. The only processed foods they knew were manoomin (that sacred grain that grows on water, often erroneously called "wild rice"), zhiiwaagamizigan (maple syrup), and nooka'iiwagwaan and nooka'iskawaan (pemmican made of, respectively, dried meat and dried fish mixed with berries). All very nutritious and high in unsaturated fat, minerals, and antioxidants. No added preservatives, flavors, nutrients, and other man-made food additives that are bad for a person's health.

Frybread, and "Indian Tacos" you say? When our ancestors were deported from their land and onto reservations in the 1800s, they were kept from their traditional agricultural foods such as maize, beans, and squash and healthy meat given to them by their relatives the elk, moose, buffalo, deer, and rabbit. Rations of flour, salt, sugar, and lard took the place of those traditional foods.  Then, later on in time, modern society "topped" this by introducing white rice and genetically modified corn and building factories on our lands that systematically contaminate the lakes and rivers  which results in toxic drinking water and heavy-metal poisoned fish and manoomin (wild rice). So, since the rez folks only had access to flour, salt, sugar, and lard, this new "Indian tradition" came about. This is where the frybread (or bannock as our relatives north of the border call it) and "Indian Taco" came into being. 
So we're basically looking at an evolution of Native cuisine triggered by grim circumstances.  Frybread, or bannock, became a new staple dish in our communities. Our not-so-long-ago ancestors often added dried fruit or spices to the flour, then fried the dough in a small amount of oil over a campfire. Later on, influenced by intertribal powwows, all kinds of unhealthy stuff was added to make it a "taco." Since then, a life without this round, doughy, deep-fried treat that makes the mouth water just thinking about it has become unfathomable.


Fry bread recipe


There are roughly two ways of looking at this phenomenon. It is often said that frybread is a modern symbol of Native persecution and perseverance, of ingenuity and cultural sustenance. Others, like Cheyenne/Muskogi writer and activist Suzan Shown Harjo, said that frybread is "the connecting dot between healthy children and obesity, hypertension, diabetes, dialysis, blindness, amputations and slow death...." And," she added ironically, "frybread has replaced 'fire-water' as the stereotypical Indian staple in popular culture."

Anishinaabe rock musician Keith Secola put it even more concisely : "Frybread has killed more Indians than the federal government."*

Geget, for sure, it's no exaggeration to say that nowadays fry bread and Indian Tacos are so intrinsically embedded in our culture that most of us can’t imagine going without. But has it always been our tradition? Nah. Our pre-contact ancestors had no flour, nor did they have beef, processed (chemically produced) sugar, hydrogenated frying oils, dried cow’s milk, butter, and Cheddar Cheese. They never heard of those things.

Geget, so yeah. there is no doubt that our ancestors lived the Mashkikiikewin life.

Okay, so...what does Mashkikiikewin mean? The verb mashkikiike means, "gather (or produce) herbal medicine." The noun mashkiki is a contraction of the verb mashkawizi, which means "have strength, or power," and aki, which means earth. -ike means s/he makes, produces, or gathers. The verb is related to the word mashkikiiwinini, which means "medicine man." More literally: "man who makes or gathers strength from the earth." Mashkikiikewin, therefore, denotes, "Living like a man (someone) who is of the medicine making and in doing so, gathers strength from the earth."

Our ancestors lived according the cyclical rhythm set by, as they called it, aandakiiwinan, the seasonal changes. Mashkikiwan and aniibiishag (medicines; medicinal plants and medicinal herbs) as well as editegin (berries and fruit) were of utmost importance to them, in terms of nutrition and healing illnesses. Traditionally, the Ojibwe
odoodem (clan) of nanaandawi’iwewin (healing) is represented by the otter - as well as by the turtle, the frog, the rattlesnake, the water snake, and the mermaid/merman.

It is the teaching of the Midewiwin, our age-old Anishinaabe society of the Good Hearted Ones, that every tree, bush, plant, and fruit has a use. Bimaadiziwin, health and long life, represented to our ancestors a central guideline in life and a code for upright living, and those who had knowledge of plants and fruits and their medicinal and ceremonial use were most highly esteemed among their communities. This knowledge often came directly from manidoog (the spirits), particularly from bawaaganag, spirits in animal form visiting the healer in a dream or vision. But not all herb specialists received their knowledge directly from the spirit world. Many herbalists — generally called Mashkikiiwininiwag - were specialists possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of the mysterious properties of an enormous variety of plants, herbs, roots, and berries. These medicine persons were often women, and therefore referred to as
mashkikiiwininiikweg ("Female Medicine Men") or mashkikiikewikweg ("Women Who Are of the Medicine Making"). These herbalists, either male or female or two-spirited, had great knowledge of that what the earth offered them, and they were keenly aware that certain plants and roots produce a specified effect upon the human system.

miinan miinawaa wiingashk miinawaa Wenabozho Ookomisan wiinizis miinawaa miigis


A Gete-Anishinaabe (Elder) sits at Gimishoomisinaan, our Grandfather Water Drum.  He is ganawishkodawewinini — a firekeeper of his People. A Mide- zhiishiigwan (Ceremonial Rattle) sits on top of the drum head. Ishkode, the sacred fire, is lit in front of the Midewigaan (Medicine Lodge). In the foreground are depicted a makak (birch bark basket) filled with miinan (blueberries), a medicinal plant called Wenabozho Ookomisan Wiinizis (Wenabozho’s Grandmother’s Hair: "Indian Paintbrush"), a mide miigis (a sacred sea shell used in ceremonies), and a braid of the purifying wiingashk (sweetgrass). Detail of the painting "Living the Mashkikiikewin Life." ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik.

Some of the fruits and berries that grow abundantly in summer, such as miinagaawanzhig (blueberries) and bagwaji-ode’iminan (wild strawberries, literally: wild heart berries) were traditionally not only used for food and medicine, but also had a strongly ceremonial function. Berries were often associated with makwa the bear. In the old days, when a person was fond of, let’s say, cherries, the people would say: "Look, there goes a bear".

Our ancestors approached life in a sacred manner. GAA MIINIGOOYANG: “That Which Is Given to Us” used to be a notion that was central to their worldview. Gaa miinigooyang refers to the traditional Anishinaabe belief that everything we have is given to us by Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, as a gift that we must humbly give thanks for.

Traditionally, the philosophy of gakina gegoo, or inter-dependency of all things, lay at the heart of the economic system of our ancestors: the individual was dependent upon his community for survival, the community was dependent on nature for survival, and nature was dependent on the Spirit World for survival.

The traditional definition of wealth has always been the ability to have enough to share with the community, and to give away what one does not strictly need in order to survive. Sharing with each other and giving away more than one receives were therefore the greatest of the virtues…When taking a mashkiki (plant), ojiibik (root), or mashkosiw (herb), one always explained to its spirit why it was being done, and offered some asemaa (tobacco) in return. While putting asemaa in the hole one would respectfully tell the spirit of the dug-up plant or root that the spirits allowed it to grow in that certain spot for the benefit of mankind and that the tobacco is been given in return so that the plant will do it’s best to make the medicine work. This is the way it has always been done and always will be done.

Now. It has taken us Anishinaabeg many strings of lives to develop our bodies so that we coexist peacefully with gaa miinigooyang - the natural foods that Aki provides us with. However, due to land loss, reservation politics, internment in Catholic horror factories and a myriad of mental health issues resulting from it, most of us Anishinaabeg (although not all!) lost touch with the old Ways. This development only took three to four generations to complete. This means that we haven’t had the time to develop resistance to many of the foods and diseases that modern society throws at us. Foods that are manufacturing processed and contaminated with all sorts of synthetic substances. Fish contaminated by heavy metals and drinking water poisoned by plastic bottle producers and oil and gas spills because of leaking pipe lines and devastating health effects caused by nuclear waste from power plants that were put on our lands. Whole communities, particularly in Canada have been and still are being e
xposed to large amounts of radioactivity, causing  nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea, hemorrhage, destruction of the intestinal lining, central nervous system damage, and, ultimately, death. It also causes DNA damage and raises the risk of cancer, particularly in young children and fetuses. 

And when not poisoned by those silent serial killers that live in our lakes and rivers our bodies are daily being ravaged by processed foods that we, out of free will, buy in the stores. Foods that are often difficult to digest and consist of extreme amounts of refined sugar and a myriad of chemicals. All this poison results in widespread and intergenerational diabetes and cancer - and ditto mental issues! - that havoc our communities in much higher rates than most non-Native People that have settled on our Turtle Island.

So, what we don't need is more Wiindigoowin. What I would call: living a m
ass media-fueled consumerist life style. What we do need is Mashkikiikewin  what I would call, living a life based on gathering medicine. More literally: gathering strength from the earth. Because strength can be found in the earth, not in factory products.
I think we all know  or ought to know  by now why the first three Wiindigoowag (sugar, saturated and trans-fats, and synthetics) are extremely unhealthy for us. The Internet provides us with all the information we need to know about healthy and unhealthy food, and there is simply no excuse not to know about these things. But what about the fourth Wiindigoo? Convenience? How so, convenience? Why is convenience a Wiindigoo?

Our modern eating habits are based on just that: convenience. The world has turned in one big convenience store. So, in a way, one could say it isn't so much the unhealthy foods that threat our lives and health; it's convenience that makes us into unhealthy people. It's convenience that is the most Wiindigoowin of all Wiindigoowin! It’s convenient to go to the fast food joint. It’s convenient to microwave our TV dinner. It’s convenient to fill our shopping cart with bags of sugar and snacks and chemicalized beef and baloney and white bread and rice and ketchup and candy and lemonades and soda pops and six packs of beer instead of picking berries or harvesting manoomin and maple sap and buying honey and nuts and fruits and healthy drinks and lean meats  in short, foods that are loaded with natural sugars. vitamins, and good fats that don't clog your veins.

We all can be Mashkikiikewin. We all should be mashkikiiwininiwag, and mashkikiiwininiikweg, medicine men and women, leading a healthy life. Get informed about the properties of the foods and medicines you prepare and consume. Ask yourself each time you put something in your or your children's mouth, is it good or bad for me and them? Why is it good or bad for me and them? Get informed and use the knowledge that is out there in your everyday life to defeat the Wiindigoo. Stay away from a consumerist life style that entices you into bad habits. Avoid disease and work toward having a healthy body and mind. Live the Mashkikiikewin life.

Let's all start here and make a change. Remember,
90% of disease is driven by our lifestyle choices. It's time we step up to the dinner plate and have a hard look at what we put on it. Let's beat the Wiindigoo and become a true Anishinaabe again.

Ahaaw sa. Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom. Well, that is the end of the today's teaching. Thank you for listening to me. Giga-waabamin wayiiba giishpin manidoo inendang, I will see you again soon, if the Great Mystery wills it. Mino bimaadizin! Live well!

* "Fry Bread" by Jen Miller.

Miigwech to Russell Littlecreek, a member of 
(the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians), whose writings inspired me to write this blog post.
Art illustrations by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2022
"Living the Mashkikiikewin life." Visit the website for details."Wiindigoo and the Bear Healer."