Total pageviews

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 1

Josephine Mandamin Mother Earth Water Walkers
Nibi bimaadiziwin Simone McLeod

"The Lake Is Singing My Song"

Updated August 25, 2018


Manidoo Nagamo the Spirit Sings
Manidoo Nagamo (The Spirit Sings), gold and silver necklace handcrafted by the author. Click on image to view details.



Inspired by a unique, deep, and turbulent love story that was born at the shores of Lake Superior in 2015, I share today a story of the spirit of Nibi the water and Gishigamiin the Great Lakes, of the thirteen Omàmiwinini Anishinaabe grandmothers and the revival of the ancient Mide water song, and, last but not least, of the courageous Josephine Mandamin and the Mother Earth Water Walkers. My story today is a story of love, aspiring to celebrate the spirit and legacy of our People and our Ancestors and the life-giving power of Nibi itself that nourishes us all.


Nibi Ayaadizookedjig, Water Storytellers by Simone McLeod



== A Shared Ancestry ==

For six centuries or more, the Great Lakes basin, whose abundant waters, ebbing and flowing with the seasons, feed into the North American continent and the Atlantic Ocean, has been the home of our distant ancestors, who for generations have lived close to the water’s edge to survive. 

Since the days when these Algonquian speaking immigrants first came to this region of bountiful freshwater lakes and islands and rivers and forests, its waters have nourished many generations of the People, physically as well as spiritually.

Along with water, all kinds of fish species, turtle spirits, snakes, muskrats, water birds, mermen and mermaids, underwater panthers, and a myriad of other water creatures, play a central role in the traditional narrations and creation stories for several Anishinaabe Nations that surround the Lakes. 

From time immemorial, these proud Lake People with a shared ancestry go by the names of: 


Anishinaabe Nibi Ogichidaakweg singing, drumming, and rattling at the shore of Adikameg Minis (WhiteFish Island) guiding Anishinaabe canoeists from the US side to Canadian shore. Robinson Huron Treaty gathering, Waatebagaa-giizis (September) 2016. Photo by Sherry Boissoneau.


== Nibi, Spirit of the Water ==

By way of a new blog series called "REFLECTIONS OF THE GREAT LAKES", accompanied by images of fine art and original works of jewelry, we aspire to capture, and pay homage to, the spirit and beauty and majesty of GICHIGAMIIN, the Great Seas of the Anishinaabe People. A natural resource of immense proportions once respected, revered and held sacred, yet nowadays unappreciated by many...

Over the course of a great many decennia the lakes'  ecosystem has largely been misused and abused by commercial fishery and timber companies, as well as by power plants and various international chemical and oil companies and corporations - and of course the tourist industry.

It is our belief that, since there is no life without water, the waters of the Great Lakes should never be taken for granted, nor the water that fills the wells, the inland lakes and ponds, the rivers, and the oceans. Nibi is not merely an element but a soul (spirit) who gives us beauty, growth, generosity. Nibi gives us peace. The time has come for us to honor the debt we have toward Nibi and acknowledge her primacy from our hearts and our minds.

It's time we assume our responsibilities. It's time we learn to honor the waters again.


Zhaawano Giizhik Unieke trouwringen
©2003 Zhaawano Giizhik 


"Jiigewe’am naawij, nagawawin jiimaan,
Bimaawadaaso wiijiiw giigoonh, bineshiinhyag,
Megwe digowag, megwa anwaatin ge.
Nagamowin nibi nagamon,
Agamiig nagamawin nagamon."

"Paddling along on the lake in our canoe,
Traveling along with the fishes, the birds,
Among the waves, in calm waters too.
Singing our water song,
At the lake singing our song."

-Ojibwe Lake Chant

Ojibwe Floral Design

Does A Canoe Have dreams? A love poem ©2003 Zhaawano Giizhik  



== Nibi Waaboo, the Water Song ==

According to tradition, the nii'inaa ikwewag  (women of the Anishinaabe Nation) are the keepers of Gichi-Nibi, the sacred water circle. The idea behind this is that Anishinaabekweg are more in tune with the natural cycles than ininwag (men). After all, it is the women in their period who are connected with the blood of the Earth, which is the water. Thus, Anishinaabekweg have the connection and the ways and the ceremonies to bless and purify the waters.

Leland bell Bebaninojmat Woodland Art
An important part of the ancient water ceremony is called "MIDE WAABOO" (Literally; Medicine Water). In this ceremony, during which a song is sung called NIBI WAABOO or WATER SONG, Midewikwe (a member of the medicinal, spiritual, scientifical, philosophical, and artistic society of the Anishinaabe Peoples, the MIDEWIWIN) holds the water up in a vessel made of the sacred copper, while the water song is sung by the Midewaanikweg (Sacred Water Line women) attending. 

The spirit of water is addressed to in prayer and a small amount of nibi is shared with everyone attending the ceremony. The water is no longer just nibi – it is then perceived as MIDE-WAABOO: sacred medicine water. 

Gichi Nibi Ojibwe Anishinaabe Sacred Water Circle
The water songs can be sung at each new moon or even every day to bless the spirit of the water. This can be at the lake shores and at river banks, at wells and the great ocean - even at the sink in your kitchen: anywhere where there's water present. Traditionally, during the NIBI WAABOO performance, a ceremonial staff is being used and certain teachings are being shared. Women in a circle play clapper sticks of white birch bark - as it was done in the old days, before the hand drum came to women.

After a period of one hundred and fifty years in which the NIBI WAABOO had gone underground - and perhaps not been performed at all -, a group of women from the Omàmiwininiwak or Algonquin First Nation in Quebec decided to revitalize the NIBI WAABOO. Among the participants of the ceremony, which took place in February 2002 in Kitigan‑zibi reserve, were Omàmiwinini (Algonquin) women and women of mixed blood, thirteen in total. These thirteen women represented all women of all four races of the world.


Simone McLeod First Nations Anishinaabe painter Maamoyaawewin


One of the women was a grandmother who in 1998 had received a vision of the ancient Nibi Waaboo. After having followed a four year-lasting spiritual journey in order to bring the rebirth of the ceremony to completion, she decided to remain anonymous. Since then the other twelve participants are the guardians of the ceremony, charged with passing on the ceremony to all the women of the world. 

The MIDE WAABOO is particularly held each year at the thirteenth moon - which is the moon at the end of February/March. It is established that the water song, like all women's ceremonies, shall be sung at the new moon and only by women. It is to be sung one time for each of the seven directions - east, south, west, north, the skies, the earth, and within oneself. According to the vision of the Omàmiwinini grandmother that led to the renewed water song ceremony, thirteen grandmothers stood on the ice of a lake in order to absorb the teachings from the water under their feet. 

So sacred are the words that make up the nibi waaboo song, that - although it is deemed very important that the song is being shared throughout the world - they are supposed not to be shared through the Internet. Therefore we will not reveal the words of the song on our blog.*

Who knows, one day one of us, or both, might create our own interpretation of the image of the thirteen grandmothers standing on the ice as they receive the original water ceremony - be it in the form of a panting, a pencil drawing, or a piece of jewelry...

Any additions, corrections or suggestions for improvement of the above explanation of the water song ceremony are welcome.

* There exists a more recent version of the Water Song, related by Menasekwe (Beatrice Jackson) of the Ojibwe Migizi doodem. This song, called Nibi Nagamowin, was written by Waabanikwe (Doreen Day) of the Ojibwe Waabizheshi doodem at the request of her grandson. The song is sung like a lullaby and without using clapper sticks or shakers or hand drums. The words of the Nibi Nagamowin can be shared freely without any restrictions; click here to hear the song.


Nibi painting by Anishinaabe Woodland painter Simone McLeod


==Water Walkers and Water Line Women==

A Give Thanks Prayer for the Grandmothers of Our Turtle Island Nations.

Hoowah, Ningookomisinaanig - Our Grandmothers.

Miigwech gida-igom ningookomisinaanig jiinaago gaa-iyaajig, noongom e-iyaajig miinawaa waabang ge-iyaajig...

I’iw nama’ewinan, maaba asemaa, miinawaa nindode’winaanin gida-bagidinimaagom.

(Thank you for the Grandmothers of yesterday, today and tomorrow...

We offer our prayers, tobacco, and our hearts.)


- A personal prayer song by the author for our elder Water Warrior Women


Nibi Bimaadiziwin wedding rings by Zhaawano Giizhik
Nibi Bimaadiziwin (Water Is Life) wedding ring set. Click on the image to read about the symbolism.


Reflecting on a prophecy by Three Fires Midewiwin Elder Edward Benton Binesi that by 2030 an ounce of water will cost the same as an ounce of gold, Thunder Bay-based Elder Josephine Mandamin, a member of Anishinaabe Awaazisii doodem (the Ojibwe Catfish Clan) from Manitoulin Island, with a pail of the sacred copper filled with water in one hand and an eagle feather staff or a bear staff in the other, took on a sacred walk which will still be talked about by many generations to come. For the last 13 years Josephine earned high praise and deep respect by traversing on foot over 11,000 miles around each of the Great Lakes - which is, mind you, equal to nearly half the earth's circumference. Ogimaa-Nibi-Ogichidaakwe (Chief Water Warrior Woman) Josephine is known all around the world as the “Water Walker.”

In 2003, she and her sister Melvina Flamand-Trudeau from Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation Reserve of Manitoulin Island initiated the Mother Earth Water Walk to pray for water’s health and promote awareness that Nibi and manoomin, its sacred grass (wild rice), need protection.

After what first started out as an off-the-cuff suggestion made by one of Josephine’s friends during an informal women’s meeting in her living room, the Mother Earth Water Walk grandmothers started taking action to make the public aware of the importance of protecting nibi. Each walk is a prayer for life; for Nibi the water, for Mother Earth, for the trees, the animals, the birds, the insects, and for us, all the two-legged. By walking the perimeter of all five Gichigamiin, the Great Lakes, each year around spring time, the walkers raise awareness of the importance of preserving the water quality and quantity and helping people recognize that water is life. Of course, an important part of their message is to raise awareness about pollution, laws, and any issues that impact fresh water, such as the dangers of fracking and oil pipe lines. Between 2003 and 2016 the Mother Earth Water Walkers walked the entire length of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and walked from all four coasts of North America.


Josephine Mandamin Water Is Life


The first Annual Women’s Water Walk took place in April 2003. Several women from different Anishinaabe odoodemag (Ojibwe clans) came together to raise awareness that the water of the fresh water lakes of Anishinaabe Aki is being polluted by chemicals, vehicle emissions, motor boats, sewage disposal, agricultural pollution, leaking landfill sites. The Annual Women’s Water Walk was chosen for spring because spring is a time for renewal, regrowth, and rebirth.*

Men and Women are and have been involved in many parts of the Mother Annual Mother Earth Water Walk; ininiwag (men) eventually came forward and helped Josephine to carry the Eagle Feather staff, and are presently helping out in many more ways. Anishinaabewininiwag, the men of the Nation are traditionally caretakers of the Fire and are supposed to know everything about the responsibility that stems from the spiritual teachings of the Anishinaabeg, but it is always Anishinaabekweg (the women) who carry the water in copper pails, as watching out for the health of nibi is their spiritual responsibility.

Simone Agnes Geertsema

Nowadays the pails containing the water are typically made from the sacred copper; this metal, which used to be mined in Lake Superior by our ancestors, has long been respected by Anishinaabe peoples for their purifying qualities. The metal, which holds various spiritual and symbolic meanings in connection with water, has always been regarded as a beneficial gift from the water spirits that dwell the underworld of the lakes and is therefore deemed extremely sacred.

Along the way, Josephine Mandamin, whose vision, actions, and message testifies of a tremendously intense commitment to, and a deep level of understanding of, the Seven Grandfather Teachings and the principle of Anishinaabe mino-bimaadiziwin, the Ojibwe code for upright living, advises the people and the authorities that bodies of water must be given their original Native names back. The original names are embedded with instructions for water, and how it’s supposed to work she says.

“Collecting consciousness is not easy to explain. But when we are walking with the water, we are also collecting thoughts with that water. And in the collecting of thoughts, we are also collecting consciousness of people’s minds. The minds, hopefully, will be of one, sometime.”*** … We'd get up at 2:30 or 3 am, and walk until the sun goes down. We'd have an orange or fruit along the way or juice. You have to walk with a pail as if you are walking with a water stream. It's very important to keep the water moving because you've made that promise to keep it moving while you are walking. People would put us up in homes or if we had funds we'd stay in motels…”****

- Josephine Mandamin

Mandamin's courageous example has helped to bring together more than 100 Native Nations in both Canada and the Unites States to sign the Tribal and First Nations Great Lakes Water Accord in which all pledged to work together to protect nibi and manoomin. Mandamin received several awards - among which the following may be highlighted: The Lake Superior Magazine Achievement Award in 2011 and the Lake Superior Bi-National Education Award in 2004 - for calling attention to water issues and contributing to the well-being and protection of Anishinaabe-Gichigami.**




In 2011, Ogimaa-Nibi-Ogichidaakwe Josephine embarked on her most ambitious walk yet: to collect four copper pails of water from Hudson Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean, ending at Gichi-Anishinaabe-Gami (Lake Superior). A group of grandmothers, carrying a buffalo staff/flag came from the west carrying water from the Pacific ocean. Other grandmothers traveled up from the Gulf of Mexico. In the first week of May, Josephine’s sister Melvina from Manitoulin Island, grandmother Irene Peters of the Minisink Lenni Lenape (Munsee Delaware Nation), and others carried the eagle staff representing the east, carrying water from Maine’s Atlantic ocean. Ogimaa Nibi Nookomis Josephine, carrying a polar bear staff, representing the north, brought in the arctic waters. Then, on June 12, during a Mide Waaboo (Medicine Water) ceremony, as Midewaanikweg (Sacred Water Line Women) held the water up in copper vessels while a nibi waaboo water song and prayers to the spirit of nibi were rendered and a small amount of nibi was shared with those present at the session, all the collected water from the oceans, which now was no longer just nibi but had become mide waaboo, sacred water, was then mixed into Gichi-Anishinaabe-Gami. This took place near Bad River, Wisconsin. Nookomis Josephine said the following about this: “We realized the healing potential of salt water. Salt is healing, and that’s the idea of bringing that salt water to Lake Superior, as well as all the Great Lakes; the salt water will be intermingled with that.”


A magic moment: An Anishinaabe jimaan (canoe) crossing the St. Mary's River from the US side to Whitefish Island on Canadian side. Robinson Huron Treaty gathering, Waatebagaa-giizis (September) 2016. Courtesy of Sue Chiblow.


In 2015, the Sacred Water Walk started on June 23 in Matane, Quebec, with the eastern clans (among others the Ojibweg and the L'nu'k/Mi’kmaq, Peskotomuhkati, and other Wabanaki-Abenaki Nations) gathering to share stories of the great Ojibwe migration story of the Seven Fires. Another focus of the 2015 Sacred Water Walk was to share traditional teachings about the connection the People have to water and to raise awareness about water disasters such as oil spills and train derailments along the Great Lakes and the St.Lawrence River.

Josephine’s incredible journey from the four directions to the great sea of the Anishinaabe Peoples is an inspirational testament to the human spirit and the life-giving power of nibi that nourishes us all. Native women from across Turtle Island (North America) have been inspired to take up Josephine’s work and walk the waters in their own communities.******

"Water has to live, it can hear, it can sense what we’re saying, it can really, really, speak to us. Some songs come to us through the water. We have to understand that water is very precious…If we discontinue our negligence, we can change things around. That’s why I am really embodying the (Midewiwin) prophecy. You’ve heard of ‘Walk The Talk,’ this is why I walk."*****
- Josephine Mandamin
Giiwenh.That's how far this story goes. Thank you for reading & listening.
Miigwechiwendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!

See also the second part of the series "Reflections Of The Great Lakes"!

Joanne Robertson  The Water Walker
Click here to view order details of the book The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson

Ojibwe Glossary & Pronunciations from The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson





* Source: Motherearthwaterwalk website




Suggested reading and listening:

Niibi Bimaadiziwn website by Beatrice Menasekwe Jackson
Mother Earth Water Walk website
Great Lakes Water Walk

Meet Me By The Water Song
Anishinaabe Blog by Bob Goulais, Nipissing First Nation 
OMFRC Newsletter ('Feathers in the Wind')

Top photo: 'Manidoo Nagamo', gold and silver pendant by Zhaawano Giizhik   
Pen and ink drawing: 'Wiidigemaaganag /Niizhomaangwag' (Life Partners/ Two Loons), pencil drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik. 
'Nibi Storykeepers', a digitized version of the 2015 original by Simone McLeod; 
'Offering A Bowl of Water of life' by Leland 'Bebanimojmat' Bell
Maamoyaawewin ("Thanksgiving") by Simone McLeod
'Prayers For Life Water' by Simone McLeod
'Protecting Mother Earth' by Simone McLeod.

About the artists/authors:

Simone McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is a Nakawe-Anishinaabe (Saulteaux) painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) and is a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan. Simone feels a special kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River "#16" First Nation) of Manitoba. She 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 Agawa Rock

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, a writer, and a designer of Native American jewelry and wedding rings, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.

The MAZINAAJIMOWINAN or ‘pictorial spirit writings’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throug
hout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items, such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - are Zhaawano's main design inspiration.

To his ancestors, the mazinaajimowin was a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the world as they experienced itMany 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 coastline where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.


No comments:

Post a Comment