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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teachings of the Eagle Feather, part 7

"The First Feather"

 - Updated: May 1, 2022 

Oshki miigwan First Feather graphical work by trouwringen-designer Zhaawano Giizhik


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

Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where legends and teachings are shared. Let’s tell a teaching story today!

Today, we present part 7 of a new blog series connecting our jewelry and pencil drawings and paintings and artwork by kindred artists, with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg PeopleWe chose this story to be the seventh in the series because the number seven, which the Anishinaabeg regard as a sacred number, symbolizes these teachings.

These Grandfather Teachings, kept safe for thousands of years by countless generations of Medicine People of the Midewiwin lodge of the Anishinaabe Peoples, are passed down orally and from the sacred birch bark scrolls that still exist today.

Today's blog story features not only a pen drawing, a painting, and jewelry of our own making but also graphic art by two Ojibwe Medicine Painters, the late Norman Knott and the late Norval Morrisseau.

NORMAN KNOTT (1945-2003) was a gifted Medicine Painter from Curve Lake First Nation in southeastern Onario, noted for his outline drawings reflecting his personal spritual beliefs.
NORVAL MORRISSEAU (1932-2007) was an Ojibwe Anishinaabe artist from Northern Ontario, Canada, who is alternally labelled as "father of the Woodland Art" and "Picasso of the North." His spirit name is Miskwaabik Animikii, which means "Copper Thunderbird" in the language of his People. Miskwaabik Animikii, a first generation Medicine Painter, was the first to defy cultural restrictions by taking the oral traditions and sacred pictography of the Ojibwe-Midewiwin belief system outside Native communities in Canada. Miskwaabik Animikii was the trailblazer of the Native Woodland Art School as we know it today. We, as artists and as Native people, are highly indebted to him.


In the Beginning

"It is said that in the beginning the spirits spoke in song. That is why we Anishinaabeg sing songs today. To honor the voices of the past, we sing to remember that creation began in song. A rumble across the universe, we call the spirit world."


Manidoo Nagamo (The Spirit Sings), gold overlay pendant designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the website to view details of the pendant.

Many moons ago, when the World was not yet born, there was only something, a Great Mystery that perhaps comes close to what we would call a Dream.

This Dream, or Vision, was filled with a vast sky filled with many stars and the day-sun and the night-sun, and beneath it was the earth in the form of a giant sea turtle.

One day this Dream, or Vision, was materialized into rock, water, fire, and wind.

These substances were born spontaneously, seemingly out of nothing, and into each was breathed a sacred life breath that is often called GICHI-MANIDOO (Literally: Great Mystery, or sum of all Mysteries).

So it is understood that from these four sacred substances, each gifted with a different soul and spirit and nature and shadow, was created Cosmos, or Order. This brand new Order was filled with the sun, the stars, the night-sun, and the earth, and all these beings were animated by this vital life force named GICHI-MANIDOO.

Into the day-sun GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the powers of light and heat and rays to warm the earth.

Into the night-sun GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the powers of light and the power to watch over the earth and all her children at night.

Into the earth GICHI-MANIDOO breathed the power of growth and healing, and on and beneath her surface were formed hills, mountains, plains, valleys, lakes, rivers, streams, bays, wells, ponds, and even underwater streams. These waters were given the twin powers of purity and renewal. The wind was given music-making qualities and it was infused by the same power of breath of life as GICHI-MANIDOO's.

Then plants and animals (and birds, insects, and fish) were created and, then, finally, FIRST MAN.


Silver hairpin by trouwringen designer Zhaawano Giizhik

When the Great Nation of Waabanaki was first created, they were placed along the shores of the Great Salt water (Atlantic Ocean). Here, in Waabanakiing (the Land of Dawn) the great nations of the Lenni-Lenape, Abenaki, Mi’kmaq and Algonquin lived a long time in peace and prosperity when Niizhwaaswi Mishoomisag (seven prophets, grandfathers) came among them in the form of seven Miigis shells who taught the Midewiwin way of life to the Waabanakiing peoples and brought them a system of odoodeman (totemic clanship). These clans, based on animals, were instrumental in traditional occupations, intertribal relations, and marriages. 

This sterling silver  hairpin, symbolizing the newly-formed Earth in the shape of a Snapping Turtle, is adorned ith five turquoise, and six red coral cabochons. The turquoises, three mounted on the silver turtleback and two on the head representing the turtle’s eyes, are emblematic of the five main odoodemag (animal totems) of the Anishinaabe Peoples: Ajiijaak (Crane), Makwa (bear), Waabizhesh (Marten), Maanameg (Catfish), and Mikinaak (Snapping Turtle). These (archaic) totems denote the five needs of the People and the five elementary functions of society. MEDICINE, represented by turtle and symbolized by the oval turquoise stone in the center, is flanked by LEARNING (Catfish; top) and SUSTENANCE (Marten; bottom); the turquoise eyes signify LEADERSHIP (Crane) and DEFENSE (Bear). The red coral cabochons symbolize the six animals that make up the MEDICINE DOODEM: Mikinaak (or Mishikenh, the turtle) Nigig (otter), Omakakii (frog), Midewewe (rattle snake), Omisandamoo (water snake), and Niibiinaabe(kwe) (mermain or mermaid). The stamped designs on the domed turtle’s back symbolize the flora and fauna, fishes included. The rim of braided silver wire placed around the oval turtle shield represents the strong clanship ties (odoodeman) and the unity and survival strenght of the Anishinaabeg as a people.

Niizhwaaswi Mishoomisag


FIRST MAN was placed on a land near the borders of a great sea, which soon would be known as WAABANAKIING, the Dawn Land. It was here that many winters later the offspring of First Man, the great Anishinaabe Nation, would thrive before Seven Grandfathers came out of the Sea and gave them their Midewiwin belief, established five doodemag (clans), and a set of seven laws to live by. These same grandfathers also warned the Anishinaabe People of a threat arriving from the East that would bring sickness, starvation - aahaaw, even extermination - and they convinced many to leave the Dawn Land and follow the waterways to a land far to the West, "a place where grows manoomin (wild rice) upon the waters (The Great Lakes)."

Once mankind was placed on the borders of the Great Salt Sea in the East, everything was seemingly in its place and everything appeared to have been adequately infused with the sacred breath called GICHI-MANIDOO, this sacred essence that had brought about beauty and harmony and order.

It was then that the Great Laws of Nature came into existence. These laws bound together every living entity that existed within the great order of the newly-born Universe. These Great Laws of Nature regulated the seasons and all patterns of existence, governing the position and movement of the physical bodies (sun, moon, earth, stars) and the four sacred substances (rock, water, fire, and wind), controlling and safeguarding the rhythm and continuity of birth, growth, decay, and rebirth, ensuring they all lived and worked together interdependently.*

In short, with the materialization of this Dream or Vision that is often called Great Mystery, and which resulted in the formation of the new Cosmos, came BIMAADIZIWIN; life as we know it.


Gakina gegoon bimaadan
Gakina awiya bimaadisiwag.

"Everything is alive
Everyone is alive."


Giizhigo-aadisokaanag by Unieke trouwringen
Click here to view details of the above set


Gift of the Eagle Feather

Although it is certainly true that the Sacred Dream, or Vision, had been successfully brought into existence, it soon became clear that there was still one thing missing, something that would have to be done in order to make the Dream complete. Because the humans who in those days lived in the Dawn Land did not know how to survive in nature and, being weak in bodily powers and thrown to the mercy of evil spirits were afraid of adversity and misfortune, they started to question the powers of the benign forces that had put them on the land by the Ocean.

Miskwaabik Animikii Magic Bear


Pondering what could be done to give the humans ways to express their hopes and fears and dreams and build in them a sense of direction and self-worth, the benign forces, those Spirit Grandfathers that had put the humans in the Dawn Land, decided that they would give them the power to dream, and the power of prayer. As these Grandfathers were pondering through which category of beings they could confer these powers on the humans – the rooted ones, the crawling ones, the four legged, the finned ones, or perhaps the spiritual beings? -, GIMISHOOMISINAAN MAKWA (Grandfather Bear) stepped up from his abode in the North and suggested that he, as the embodiment of birth and new life, would be the one to bring the humans dreams about new beginnings, so they would have a powerful medicine with which they could influence their fate and fashion their destiny.

Then GIMISHOOMISINAAN MIGIZI (Grandfather Eagle) came forward from his dwelling place in the East to suggest that he, in order to reassure the insecure humans, would carry their prayers high up into the sky where they would be heard by all the Grandfathers and aadizookaanag (Spirit Helpers).

Norman Knott

Hereupon the Grandfathers smiled thinking how bears embody virtues like bravery and spiritual healing and that eagles show strength and vision and clarity of mind. So this is why Mishoomis Makwa was entrusted with the authority to govern the people’s dreams and Migizi with the title of messenger of their prayers.

Grandfather Eagle, who thus became symbol to the People of prayers being carried high, came flying from his abode in the East and as he swooped down over the earth one of his feathers fell from his mighty tail, gently floating down. One of the benign Grandfathers caught the feather, a majestic plume, long, finely formed with a black tip, mid-air and as he held it up it spoke as follows:


Migizi miigwan
“In a sacred way I hold this feather.

Because of all the creatures

you reach the highest out

in bringing pure vision to those who seek it,

your feather will not only be a living prayer,

it shall symbolize human life itself.

The quill symbolizes the life path.

Each strand stands for a lesson.

Whoever will hold this feather

Will speak honestly from his heart.

Like life itself, your feather is sacred.”


The Grandfather then spoke of NIZHWAASWI GAGIIKWEWIN (the Seven Sacred Teachings, or laws) that would soon arrive from the Ocean, explaining that each teaching would be a guideline that honors one of the basic virtues intrinsic to mino-bimaadiziwin, a full and healthy life. He told the People to build around these seven laws the traditional concepts of respect and sharing that eventually would form the foundation of their way of life.

 These Grandfather Teachings were, in chronological order, as follows:

- Nibwaakaawin (Wisdom)

- Zaagi’idiwin

- Minaadendamowin

- Aakode'ewin

- Gwayako-bimaadiziwin (Honesty)

- Dabaadendiziwin (Humility)

- Debwewin (Truth)

It was explained to the Anishinaabeg that although these seven sacred Teachings were equally important, the virtue of Aakode’ewin (bravery) was especially meaningful, for being brave is not about being audacious or acting the most daring or mighty, but being brave enough to incorporate all other teachings into one’s life, even if that means standing alone in the community. So, Makwa the bear was chosen to represent the law of Bravery.

The Anishinaabeg were also taught about the importance of zaagi'idiwin; to feel true love is to know and love GICHI-MANIDOO (the Great Mystery) because its very breath is considered the giver of human life. Love given to GICHI MANIDOO is therefore expressed through love of oneself and if one cannot love oneself, it is impossible to love anyone else. Therefore, Grandfather explained, love is an exceptionally important virtue. 


Waasa-agone Inde' wedding rings by Zhaawano Giizhik

Waasa-agone Inde'
 (A Bright Fire Burns in My Heart), white gold eagle feather rings designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. See 
the website for details. 


“A bright Fire Burns in Your Heart.

Look within yourself for love.

Love yourself, and then love others.

You cannot love another until
you first learn to love yourself.

You must understand and live the other

six Teachings before you can love.

Love is worth working for. Love is worth

waiting for. Love is the key to life.

There is no short-cut to achieving the

state of love and you cannot know love

unless you are courageous. You cannot

know love unless you are honest. 

Love is based on the wisdom to understand

one’s self and the humility to accept

weaknesses as well as being proud of one’s strengths. 

Love has as its very core in the other Teachings.”**
  • _______________________________________________________________________

Migizi the Bald Eagle was chosen by the Grandfathers to represent the Teaching of love because Migizi flies high above the earth and sees all that is true, and is therefore closer to GICHI MANIDOO than any other creature. Love is the most elusive of all virtues and no other creature is so elusive as this mighty spirit-bird, and love has the same light and airy nature as his plumes.

Ninjichaag Biinjina, My Spirit Inside, bracelet by ZhaawanArt Trouwringen
Click here to view details of the above bracelet

The Grandfathers also explained that Grandfather Bear and Grandfather Eagle are connected spirits. Doesn't Migizi teach humankind that wisdom and courage cannot exist without each other? Isn't there great wisdom in understanding that one cannot know love unless one is courageous? Isn't it so that one cannot walk the path of life without making changes once in a while and doesn't it take great courage to actually bring about the change?
For this, explained the Grandfathers, the eagle and the bear ought to be honored, always. No symbol is more powerful than an Eagle feather and a Bear paw combined...


Manidoo pendant by ZhaawanArt Trouwringen


Haw sa! Such is the creation story of the Anishinaabe People! By giving the Bear and the Eagle a special mandate the Spirit Grandfathers had seen to it that the creation of the Universe was completed as hey had provided all the means for their well-being, growth, and accomplishment. The creation of the world was now a fact and from that moment on it would be the task of the humans and all other creatures, whether their nature was physical or supernatural or transcendental, to continue the work GICHI-MANIDOO's sacred breath had put into motion.



The above acrylic painting, titled 'Niizho-migizi-miigwanan Miinigowin ('Gift Of The Two Eagler Feathers'), which Simone McLeod created exclusively for this blog story, depicts the newly-formed world in the form of a sun containing two eagle feathers and ceremonial ribbons colored yellow, green, red, and black, and yellow, brown, and gold. Yellow, green, red, and black symbolize Simone´s Midewiwin colors, while yellow, light brown, and gold represent the Waabizheshi doodem, the Marten clan of my Ojibwe ancestors. Simone explains the ribbons as follows:

“The ceremonial ribbons, merging my colors with the clan colors of Zhaawano’s ancestors, express the strong kinship between us on a personal as well as artistic level, and also celebrate the long-standing ties existing between my People who live in the West and Zhaawano’s ancestors who lived in the East. Although I myself belong to Name doodem (Sturgeon clan), I depicted the colors of the Marten out of respect for their doodem, because Martens are warriors who defend and keep alive the traditions, language, and stories of their People.”
The two feathers in the painting represent a personal experience, which Simone describes as follows:

Some years ago I held this long walk across Canada in honor of my deceased brother and to ask attention for mental and sexual abuse within Native communities. As I went to Prince Rupert in British Columbia, I walked to Terrace in four days where I did an interview with the radio station about ending sexual abuse and incest. The community was welcoming me and many people came and talked to me over that year. I made many great friends that I still have.
I needed to run off my hurt about my brother’s death, wanted to run until I dropped, but when I arrived in Prince Rupert I could see the end of the world, the ocean, the vast waters, and it was like the edge of the world and I felt so small. As I went to the radio station I was given two eagle feathers, they were beautiful. When I got to the edge of the ocean I saw so many bald eagles that I thought the trees had snow on them. When they flew out to catch fish I could see thousands of them. I remember when I got the two eagle fathers I felt faint.
When I returned from the Ocean I went to my brothers gravesite and I left them with him. Around the same time I was given a ceremonial bear hide and did a sexual abuse ceremony with a man from Fraser BC.
As I came out of the ceremony I looked up and there was a spotted eagle circling above me.
Others saw it too and were surprised that it was there for we only see bald and golden eagles here; however, the ceremony was done with a spotted eagle whistle. I took the bear hide to the valley in which me and my brothers used to hide and play when we were kids and I did the second half of the ceremony there, sitting on the bear hide in the bushes. It was then and there that I decided to live calmly. However I am not a solid rock, I feel sad a lot but it is okay.

So that is how I got two feathers and a hide but I gave them away. ”

The Offering of the First Feather

As Grandfather spoke about the importance of mino-bimaadiziwin, living a life according to the Seven Grandfather Teachings, Mishoomis Migizi became inspired and told him that he, since his feathers symbolized the intermediate region between things of the spirit world and the earth, would like his feather to be gifted to the Anishinaabe person who’s the most brave and who’s guided the most by the Teachings conferred on the humans by the Spirit Grandfathers. Migizi’s generous offer prompted Grandfather to tell the Anishinaabeg of the teachings of the feather and the power of spirit flight, and he instructed them that no Eagle be harmed for their feathers since they were manidoog (spirits) in themselves, and that whenever a person saw an Eagle fly overhead, this mighty spirit-bird must be honored with asemaa (sacred tobacco) in hand. Grandfather added that any person, no matter what age, living their life according to the Seven Teachings would be gifted with a feather!


First Feather Woodland Art drawing by trouwringen-designer Zhaawano

Oshki-miigwan (First Feather) by Zhaawano Giizhik, March 2013. A Mide Oshkaabewis (Spiritual Messenger) offers the first eagle feather to humankind, along with the Seven Grandfather Teachings and the five original odoodeman (clans): Crane, Bear, Marten, Catfish, and Turtle/Snake, all hidden in the drawing, depicted in the X-ray style of the Woodland Art School.
 These X-ray views reveal inner structures of the depicted figures and express hidden representations of inner spiritual life. Also depicted are the head of a bald eagle and a stylized symbol of the sun, representing Universal presence of Great Mystery.


Upon hearing this, the Anishinaabeg were filled with awe and great gratitude and they soon began to wonder who among them would be the first to receive such a powerful manidoo (spirit) feather. When Grandfather sensed the eager anticipation of the Anishinaabe people he called upon two elderly medicine people of the Midewiwin to step forward, and he presented the Eagle feather to these oshkaabewisag (spiritual messengers) for inclusion in the Mide biinjigwasan (medicine bundle) that one of them carried. Then Grandfather instructed that the teachings of these two oshkaabewisag and the feather itself be passed forward to the next generation, and that the teachings of the successors of the Mide oshkaabewisag be passed to the generation after the next generation, and so on and so on into eternity.

One of the two elderly medicine people, after having received the feather and the instructions that came with it, then called a promising youth forward and said as he took the feather out of his biinjigwasan:

“Your first name is Giizhig-egwaniizid (Sky Blanket; All That Covers The Sky), your doodem is Name (Sturgeon clan).

I have witnessed how you represent our People in a good way.

I have seen how you incorporate the Sacred Teachings into your life by walking the straight path.

Seven days ago you undertook a makadekewin (vision quest) that took four days to complete.

You fasted in solitude in a glade in the middle of the forest.

Surrounded by tall cedar tree sprits you fasted until after four days and three nights

you received your first life-guiding dream.

In the late afternoon of the fourth day of this quest for self-discovery you

 looked up into the blue sky as it suddenly changed colors.

The sky went from  blue to a brilliant white, the color of the light of the rising sun

to green, the color of the grasses of mother earth in the springtime symbolizing growth

as well as that of the cedar and the spruce symbolizing life continuity and a promise for the future

to red, the color of the setting sun sinking in the great waters in the West

as well as that of the sacred fire awaiting when it is time for you to leave this world

to black, the color of the cold North

where there is sickness and decay yet where you can also seek self-reflection and purification of the spirit

then to white again, symbolizing birth, rebirth, and illumination of the mind.

As the sky had regained its original blue bright color you felt something lifting you up.

Carried by columns of air and wafting in circles lifted by currents and whirlpools of winds you ascended.

You became light and airy and nothing but a vast blue sky surrounded you.

Here, high up in the sky you felt the presence of an Eagle

lending you his strength, swiftness, and clarity of mind.

And from the sky on high, your soaring spirit alive and vibrant,

you perceived yourself sitting on earth, seated on a bear skin

painted the colors of white, green, red, and black

and you heard yourself chant in a language you had never heard before.

Then, slowly, your voice echoed away and the image of you sitting on the bearskin faded.

A transition from bird to human took place and you found yourself seated on the earth again.

Then you noticed a blast of warm air and the mighty screech of an Eagle filled the sky.

You looked up and saw the Eagle whose shape you had taken on earlier on soaring high up in the sky.

Then you saw a feather the color of pure snow gently flowing down, landing in your lap.

You woke up in that glade amid the cedar trees, the bearskin had gone.

The feather of your dream was not there yet its image was so vivid and its presence still so strong

that you intuitively understood that it was an object of a spiritual nature

exceeding and transcending the immediate and the concrete world around you

and that it was a powerful symbol marking the beginning of a new existence.

The true significance of this dream is in the colors of the sky you saw and the bear skin you sat on,

but above all it is in the feather you received during it.

Therefore I gift you with this Sacred Eagle feather that GICHI MANIDOO gave me to pass on

so that you can live your life according to your life-guiding dream and be an example to others

and so you can pass the Teaching I confer on you today onto the next generation.

May your dream and your life continue to be a message of inspiration for our People.

Never try to be someone else,

live true to your sprit always,

be honest to others and to yourself,

and accept who you are the way the Great Mystery created you.

Your name will be from now on Oshkimiigwan, First Feather.

May your journey always be richly blessed.” 

Midewiwin Life Path

At last, the Eagle Grandfather had come to the world and to this day his feathers enrich the spiritual lives of the Anishinaabeg.

Giiwenh. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw izhinamowin

So the story goes. Thank you for listening to us today, for allowing us to tell you about this sacred dream.

>Click here to read the next episode of our "Teachings of the Eagle Feather" series.

>Return to the blog overview page. 

*Loosely based on Basil Johnston: Ojibway Heritage: The ceremonies, rituals, songs,dances, prayers and legends of the Ojibway. McClelland and Stewart 1976, reprinted 1998; Toronto.

**Taken from The SevenSacred Teachings by David Bouchard.

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. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) and is a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan. Simone, who feels close kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River "#16" First Nation) of Manitoba, 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.


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