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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Star Stories, part 1

"Fisher Star Who Lives in the Sun"

- Updated: January 3, 2018 

Simone McLeod Fisher Star Creations Zhaawano Giizhik trouwringen blog by Tammo Geertsema


Boozhoo, aaniin!

Welcome to part 1 of a new blog series that connects artwork by Simone McLeod and me and fellow artists with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabe People.

This blog post, like most of the teaching stories that we write about, holds lessons that are based on the Midewaajimowinan and Waabanowaajimowinan, the teaching concepts from the lodges of the Midewiwin and Waabanoowiwin of the Anishinaabe Peoples.

Artwork by NakawÄ“-Anishinaabe artist Simone Mcleod and Ojibwe-Odaawaa-Anishinaabe artist Leland Bell.

Simone Mcleod (
Aki-egwaniizid) is an Anishinaabe artist, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan). She feels special kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba. Simone's work has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by many art lovers from the UK, Austria, France, the Netherlands, Greece, South Africa, Japan, India, and New Zealand.

Leland Bell (Bebanimojmat) is Ojibwe-Odaawaa Anishinaabe from the Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation on Manitoulin Island, born in 1953. He is Maang doodem (Loon Clan) and a second degree member of the Three Fires Midewiwin Society. His work has gained worldwide recognition and is represented in many prominent art collections in North America and Europe.


The fisher marten star

Ever since I was little I felt a special connection with the natural and the supernatural world. I had a special place in my heart for the star world and the star knowledge of my distant ancestors, the Anishinaabe people of Upstate Michigan; a knowledge that had sustained their communities for thousands of years. This feeling of kinship grew inside me as I got older. As soon as I started writing and making art I decided to honor my Native ancestors by expressing through my creations my love of the celestial bodies.

Zhaawano Giizhik artblog
When I became older I learned that from of old, the constellations and star knowledge of the Anishinaabe Peoples relate to aandakiiwinan (seasonal changes), nandawenjige and maamawinige (hunting and gathering activities)manidookewinan (ceremonies), and - last but not least - their aadizookewin (storytelling).

The Anishinaabeg understood that everything works and moves in cycles: the tides of the Great Lakes, the weather patterns, the movements of the sun and the moon and the revolving patterns of the star constellations, the animal behavioral patterns and  the bird migrations. All these circles were understood to coincide with the cycles of human life, and with something they called ANISHINAABE IZHINAAMOWIN: man's outlook on life. 
The name my ancestors used for the sum of all these cycles working together was WAAWIYEKAMIG, the cosmos (lit.: the round world); the life force  behind the creation and the preservation of the cosmos and everything that lived in it was called GICHI MANIDOO, the Great Mystery.

As I grew up I heard and read many traditional stories about the stars and I learned that, since it was believed that stars move from east to west, new life and knowledge emerged from WAABAN, the eastern sky and that the spirits of my ancestors travelled to NINGAABIIAN, the Western Sky. I also found out that the most well-known and beloved star constellation that plays a central role in Anishinaabe lore is the Big Dipper or Ursa Major. To the Anishinaabeg, the Big Dipper is part of the constellation OJIIG-ANANG (Fisher Marten Star).

It was in the course of 2012 that, under the sacred guidance of the Fisher Marten constellation, Simone and I chose to walk the same creative path... 


Zhaawano's art blog featuring a new painting by Simone McLeod



New layers of meaning

It is the story of the Fisher Marten star and his bride Ojiigansikwe (Little Fisher Star) that inspired Simone Mcleod into creating this new canvas, a 30 x 40 inch acrylic piece that she titled Ojiiganang Aadizookewin ("Sharing stories of the Fisher Marten Star"). I consider it a great honor that she chose this blog to, as she described: "give her artwork a quiet place...a quiet place to share pieces of us."

Like all Simone's work, the painting is rich with symbolism containing several layers of meaning. It tells a very personal story combining several traditional elements into a brand new tale...I think it became a very touching story reflecting a strongly-felt love for the lore of her Ojibwe and Cree ancestors and an even greater love for - and concern about - the children of the world.

As an artist, Simone, who listens to the spirit name of Aki-egwaniizid (Earth Blanket), paints in the great northerly tradition generally called New Woodland Art. This means that she, like all Medicine Painters, follows and reflects the ways of the spiritual elders of her Anishinaabe community, thus retracing the footsteps of her ancestors. From of old, painting is the sole domain of those who are trained and disciplined in the sacred teachings of the Midewiwin; the petroglyphs and pictographs the ancestors have left scattered on the rocks and inscribed in birch bark scrolls are the silent witnesses of this. 

It is in this ancient tradition that Simone’s personal approach to life and her growing knowledge about the history and the stories of her people are to be found; it is in the same tradition that this awesome new painting was born. As she explained to me, the metaphor of the Fisher Marten Star that she read about was taking on a new and personal layer of meaning calling for this painting. She had pondered the Fisher Star story for some time, but the moment she looked outside her window and saw the Big Fisher in the night sky she picked up the paintbrush and started painting... so the painting was conceived of and created in the spur of the moment...and while she was painting, her deep love for children and her talent for story telling fueled the creative process that, in my opinion, makes her such a special person and such an outstanding artist. 


The symbolism of Simone's painting

The artist herself describes the the story of the painting as follows:

There was a time when I was always worrying about which colors I should use or how I should put what where. Being a people pleaser and hating angry controversy, I slinked around feeling the need to just let the colors decide what they wanted to be and where they wanted to go...
As many of you remember not long ago I wrote this book and tried to walk across Canada to ask our many great nations for solutions on stopping incest and child sexual abuse.
I made it to Terrace and because of this quest I made many new friendships...I visited many communities from many nations and talked to elders about colors and paintings. This is what I was told:
“Artists are our record keepers. It is up to you to decide on colors and messages. Trust your instincts.”

Nookoomis Fisher Star story
This piece is inspired on a story a gentleman told me about The Big Dipper Anishinaabe Style...My message is a celebration of all nations on this Planet.
All nations whether they are red, yellow, black, or white are not easy to label or categorize into single groups like white people, Indians, Asians et cetera. Each group has nations within themselves who are distinct and have much to share…This piece invites all nations to Share with all of us their own interpretation of what the star formation called The Big Dipper means to their particular people. It is no right or wrong story. I am sharing a story visually from my Ojibwe people. I invite each of you to represent your own nations and feel pride in your own stories.
Nimishoomis Giizis, the sun, represents Gichi-manidoo, the great spirit that gives all life. The Storyteller's head is gently touching the grandfather sun to show much respect for the gifts of life, experience which allows him/her the knowledge to share lessons with those willing to learn.

Painting Simone Mcleod
The children all sit pointing or looking up in awe to depict that Yes they are listening and Yes they are learning what the Storyteller is sharing....
The bear paws on their feet show just how close they share a bond with Makwa, the bear spirit. The bear paws form a learning lodge over the group taking up, the children’s innocent curiosity to the grandfathers so their learning will be easier and they will understand the storyteller's words.
The child in purple looking the other way honors those children who are free thinkers and who are unafraid to venture forth and take what they learn and share their own ideas with others. Should we not honor the ones who are different for we are all unique. Applying labels to children only holds them back.
The meaning of the big dipper in the sun?
Lessons are generally taught to our children during the time when the sun is in the sky. This depiction shows how just because we cannot see the night sky or the dipper, that does not mean that it is not there. Trust the grandfathers that we do not have to visually see everything in order to understand teachings. Faith and trust and patience and time will eventually reveal our true lessons.

Makizin moccasin detail
The detail of the little dipper on the child’s foot is a part of the story that inspired me to do this piece...

As my friend Zhaawano explained to me, 

Gichi-manidoo the Great Mystery, as it was completing the formation of the earth and the skies, ordained that the newly wedded bride of the Fisher, called Ojiigansikwe (Little Fisher Woman), who like her husband also came  from earth, would leave her starry footprints round her husband. Thus Ojiig and Ojiigansikwe completed the arrangement of the skies.

The reason why the part of Little Fisher woman inspired me into making this painting, is that people tend to overlook the primacy and the strenght of women. They see the Fisher Star and forget the Little Fisher Star who stands behind him. I also believe that th
e bond the Fisher and the Little Fisher share is so strong and sacred  that it should only be painted in a small area of the canvas...” 

Giiwenh. That's how far the story goes. Thank you for reading and listening.

Miigwechiwendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!


Our next 'Star Stories' blog post will be a love story revolving around the theme of "spirit flight" and two of our People's most beloved stars: the Evening Star and the Morning Star. The story will feature acrylic paintings by Simone and a pair of wedding rings and a bolo tie by myself. Click here.

Return to the blog overview page


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 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) of her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River "#16" 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, a writer, and a designer of  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. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.


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