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Monday, April 2, 2012

Teaching Stories, part 7

"Birth of Turtle Island"

- Updated August 31, 2023

Turtle Island Tammo Galtjo Geerstema Unieke Trouwringen
MISHI MIKINAAKOMINIS NIIGIWIN, Birth of the Great Turtle Island by Zhaawano Giizhik.   

Boozhoo. I am Zhaawano Giizhik.

In this blog post, I'm going to dwell a little further on my art and the ancient teaching stories that I share along with it. Part 7 of a new series.

The above pencil drawing, which I made in 2011, tells the OJIBWE CREATION STORY of the world as we know it. The drawing is made in the X-ray Woodland art line drawing style of the Medicine Painters.

The image depicts a stylized image of MIKINAAK (the Great Snapping Turtle), or MISHIIKENH (the Mud Turtle). It serves as an illustration to the story of the Great Sea 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!


Ahaaw, ningad-anishinaabe-aadizooke (“Now, I will tell a traditional story”).

Mikinaak Miinawaa Ma'iingan Zhaawano Unieke Trouwringen
Visit the website to view details of the above hair buckle

“A long, long time ago disaster fell upon the world in the form of a great flood, which killed the plants and all land creatures, including mankind. The island that was created afterwards by GIIZHIG-OO-KWE (a female spirit who resided in the skies) who, with the aid of Wazashk (muskrat) and Ma'√≠ingan (wolf), made it grow on the back of Mikinaak along with new flora and fauna, is still being called TURTLE ISLAND by most Original Americans.

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 Great Spirit infusing all things and beings 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 NIMISHOOMISINAAN 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."


Visit the website to view details of the above pendant, created as a tribute to the late John Trudell

Giiwenh: so the story goes.

Mikinaak, or Mishiikenh, teaches the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg healing and communication with the Mystery World. Although physically the slowest of all creatures, he/she symbolizes swiftness of the mind and is regarded as a master of communication (of thought). 

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!

Zhaawano Giizhik Tammo Geertsema

The female figure depicted inside the turtle represents Sky Woman who, after fulfilling her task of recreating the world, ascends into her home, the sky world. The sturgeon and the water snake (which is also Sky Woman's right arm) depicted inside the turtle's body symbolize the water creatures and the odoodemag (clans, animal totems) of Science and Medicine, while the stylized wolf footprints that run around the circumference of the turtle's back shell refer to the land creatures - and to the warrior clans, the wolf doodem included: it was wolf himself who helped creating a new island home for the Anishinaabe People. The plant world (in the form of the long grains of manoomin or wild rice) is represented by Sky Woman's loose hair streaming after her. The five birds depicted on top of the turtle's head refer to the origins of the Anish-i-naab-eg and the five original odoodemag that formed the basis of an extensive family clan system that exists even until today. These five are: Crane, Bear, Marten, Catfish, and Turtle. Finally, the stylized sea shell or miigis depicted inside the turtle's head is a sacred symbol representing the seven great mide miigisag, radiant beings that appeared in human form to the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg to teach the people about the midewiwin life-style. 

The floating seed designs that surround the great snapping turtle are seeds of life, or balls of spirit power. These stylistic elements
 are powerful carriers of symbolic meaning, reminiscent of the sacred rock and birchbark art of the Ancients. The oval-shaped Power circle over the turtle's head and the flowing power lines that are connected to the turtle's fore legs express interdependence and communication and indicate a high level of spiritual power that's present in the drawing.

The Power circle, or unity symbol, depicted in the top of the drawing, and which I stylized after the oval shape of a miigis, symbolizes the duality of life. The divided circle represents dualities present in the new world that Sky Woman created - womanhood and manhood, sky and earth, good and evil, birth and decay, day and night, moon and sun, ebb and flood, honesty and dishonesty, function and dysfunction. One section of the circle inspires, complements, and  strengthens the other part. Each part depends on the other. The four smaller circles depicted inside the power circle/unity symbol, representing the four cardinal directions, are a reference to GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery that encompasses the four directions and everything that is. 

Miigwech for reading and listening. Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see me again!

Read part 8 in the Teaching Stories series.

Illustrations by Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik. Jewelry photos: Mikinaak Miinawaa Ma'iingan, silver hair buckle and the back of a silver and gold pendant by Zhaawano Giizhik.

Zhaawano Giizhik Voice Carried By the Winds

About the author:

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 McLeod between the years of 2011 and 2018.


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