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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Spirit Of The Seasons, part 1

"Spirit of the Blueberries"

A story told by Zhaawano Giizhik


- Updated June 7, 2023


Aabitaa-niibino-giizis ladies' ring



I consider it an honor to share with you this blog story, the first in a new series called Spirit Of The Seasons. Today's post features four canvases painted by Simone McLeod, a as yet unindentified canvas - possibly painted by Blake Debassige - and silver-and-turquoise ring handcrafted by myself - which graces the finger of a woman from a faraway land in the East. The ring sat in my showcase for many years waiting for the right person to come along. To me, the purity of the shape and color of the stone symbolizes summer, and, since this woman, even if it was for a brief moment, brought warmth and sunshine back into my heart, and since the ring is exactly her size, I figured it was time to give the ring its freedom. 

What is it that inspires me to write and create jewelry?

To describe my art and writings, as I see it, is to reflect back to our ancestors, the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg from the northwoods and plains of the Turtle Island areas nowadays called Michigan, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. 

Today's blog story breathes the spirit of the months of June and July, respectively ode'imini-giizis and aabita-niibino-giizis in the Ojibwe language of the Anishinaabeg who live south and east of Gichigami (Lake Superior). These names mean literally, "heart berry moon" and  "middle of the summer moon." Other names for June that are used throughout Anishinaabewaki (Ojibwe territory) are:
  • Baashkaawano-giizis (Egg Breaking Moon)
  • Gitige-giizis (Planting Moon)
  • Mishiikenh-giizis (Mud Turtle Moon; term used in in the southernmost parts of Anishinaabewaki) 
  • Ozhibinigaawi-giizhis (sic: Term used by Nakaweg-Ojibweg from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta)
  • Waabigonii-giizis (Flower Moon)
  • Waabigwanii-giizis (Flower Moon)
  • Waabigwaniwi-giizis (Flower Moon)
  • Waawano-giizis (Egg Moon)
  • Zaagibagaawi-giizis, or -biisim (Budding Moon; term used by Nakaweg-Ojibweg from Northwestern Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta, and by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree)) 

The month of July is called by the following names:

  • Aabita-niibino-giizis (Midsummer Moon; term used in Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario)
  • Baapaashkizige-giizis (Keeps Shooting Moon, a modern reference to the Fourth of July)
  • Ishkaninjiimini-giizis (Moon of Unripe Berries; term used in Northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta)
  • Joolay-biisim ("July Moon"): Modern term used by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree))
  • Madwezige-giizis (Be Heard Shooting Moon,  a modern reference to the Fourth of July)
  • Miin-giizis (Blueberry Moon; term used by the Odaawaag/Southeastern Ojibweg)  
  • Miini-giizis (Blueberry Moon; term used by the Northeastern Ojibweg)
  • Miinikaa-giizis (There Is a Blueberry Patch Moon: Northwestern Ontario)
  • Miinikewi-giizis (Berry Gathering Moon: Northwestern Ontario)
  • Miskomini-giizis (Raspberry Moon)
  • Miskwimini-giizis (Raspberry Moon)
  • Opaaskowi-giizis, or -biisim (term used by he North-shore Ojibweg in Ontario, and by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree))
  • Giizhibagaawi-giizis, or -biisim (Be All Out in Leaves Moon; term used in Northwestern Ontario, and by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree))
  • Baashkaawe'o-giizis (Egg-Hatching Moon)
  • Aabita-niibinoowi-giizhis (Midsummer Moon; term used by Nakaweg-Ojibweg from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta)
  • Aabita-niibini-giizis (Midsummer Moon; term used in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern Ontario)


Our ancestors have always lived according the cyclical rhythm set by, as they called it, aandakiiwinan, the seasonal changes.

In the old days, during the warm moons in the period called niibinishiwin (summer camping), the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg of the northwoods, as soon as the ice on the lakes and rivers melted, left their winter camps and headed for the shores of gichigamiin, the Great Lakes. Here they stayed during the summer moons near the river mouths, where the men fished for namebinag (sucker) and namewag (sturgeon) that were entering the rivers and streams to spawn.

Others set up summer camps near the shores of the zaaga’iganan (inland lakes) and fished, hunted, and gathered plant foods and medicinal herbs. These temporary summer villages were usually composed of  single-family waaginogaanan and asawa'ogaanan (respectively circular or domed and conical wigwams made of bent-over saplings and covered with birch bark sheets) that generally housed populations of 50 to 70 persons.
Meanwhile the many small Anishinaabe odoodemag (clan groups) that lived south of gichigamiin, who, unlike their Ojibwe relatives from Canada were semi-agricultural peopleorganized themselves into band units of (sometimes up to) 300 to 400 people as soon as the ice thawed and camped in regions with fertile soil and plenty of fish and game and other food sources. These southern Ojibweg hunted, fished, tapped sugar from ininaatigoog (sugar maple trees) and wiigwaasag (birch trees) and collected other plant foods and berries, and tended gardens of mandaamin (maize), anijiiminan (beans), and nabagokwisimaan (squash). Their summer villages were usually made up of small, round wiigiwaaman (wigwams) made of sapling frames and covered with cattail leaf mats and tree bark. 

Niibinishiwin was not only a time of labor but also of social activities and weddings and ceremonies. At the end of the season called dagwaagin (fall), some of these summer camps served as a base for productive fish expeditions to the tempestuous gichigamiin where the men netted adikamegwag and  maazhamegosag (whitefsh and trout) that spawned in gigantic numbers. After the abundant catch the fish was cleaned, smoked, and freezed for the wintermoons. While the men took care of fishing, these kinds of activities would put a heavy demand on the collective labor of the women. 


Nanaandaw'iwe Manidoo
Detail of NANAANDAWI’IWE MANIDOO (“Spirit Of Healing”) by Simone McLeod

Acrylic on canvas, year and size of painting unknown.

"When I paint blueberries it is because they are offered in healing sweats where I come from. It is the same reason why I paint bear tracks on my canvases and face." 


Blueberry moon

Since time immemorial, the moons of June, July, and August have been associated with wild berries, which are ready for picking in early summer and midsummer, and some even in late summer and fall. So, in many parts of Turtle Island in what is now Canada and the United States, the moon of June is named after the strawberry ("heart berry"); July, depending on the area and community, is often called miskomini-giizis (red raspberry moon) by the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg in Canada, or miin(ikaa)-giizis (blueberry moon, called so by those who belong to the southeastern and nothwestern branches of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe Nation.) August, a time when blueberries and blackberries are still harvestable, is also called miin-giizis in some parts of Canada.

Winter nutrition

The Anishinaabeg and Iliniwak (Cree) ancestors have always been very fond of berries. Berries, cherries, and acorns were traditionally compounded with other herbs in making medicine. Dried berries, sometimes combined with dear tallow and moose fat, provided nutrition for in the winter moons. When boiled, berries were often seasoned with ziinzibaakwad (maple sugar) or combined with other foods. Strawbwerries and bunchberries were eaten raw. Cranberries - harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color - were cooked using sugar. Blackberries, cherries, chokecherries, red raspberries, and currants, after being cooked (usually without sugar), were traditionally spread on slates of wiigwaas (birch bark) and then stored in makakoon (birch bark baskets and boxes) for winter use.*


Turquoise ladies' ring by Fisher Star Creations
(“Middle Of The Summer Moon”)

Sterling silver ladies' ring designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. The ring has a two-prong ring shank and is mounted with a 1.97 x 1.18 inch (15 x 30 mm) high-grade blue turquoise.

The moon called “month of July” in dominant society is called “middle of the summer moon” or "berry moon” by the Anishinaabe First Nations throughout Canada and the USA. During this moon the berries are ready for picking.
The solid blue color of the high-grade oval turquoise stone symbolizes zhaawano-giizhig (the Southern Sky), the warm land were zhaawani-noondin (the South wind) rules. Subtle white strokes of clouds upon the blue sky stone complete the ring design.
The blue color of the stone also represents the smoke of giizhik (the northern white cedar, the tree of life). Giizhik aniibiish (the cedar leaf) is a sacred, medicinal plant among the Algonquian speaking peoples of the northwoods and a harmonizing spirit that represents the southern direction.


A long and healthy life 

It is the teaching of the Midewiwin, the 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 community. 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 medicine persons who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the mysterious properties of plants, herbs, roots, and berries, used to be women, often referred to as mashkikiikewikwewag (medicine woman).

Look, there goes a bear

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) are traditionally not only used for food and medicine, but also have a ceremonial function. Berries are 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".


Bear dreamers

Since time immemorial bears are dreamed of as offering to give medicines for the healing of man. With regard to herb medicine, Makwa is considered by the herb specialists of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, and their neighbours the Dakota, as ogimaa (leader) of all animals, which means that if someone dreams of a bear he or she was chosen by the bear to be expert in the use of medicine made from plants and berries for curing illness. And it is Makwa who guards the eastern door of the midewigaan, the ceremonial lodge of the MIDEWIWIN, as he protects the healing ceremonies and sacred rituals that are being performed inside the lodge. 


Canvas by Earth Blanket Simone McLeod
GEGET GI DEBWE ("You Really Speak The Truth"), acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod


I remember you
in dreams long past
feelings of peace
that seem to last

You brought me hope
when all seemed lost
made life worth living
melting all the frost

That grew so vast
within my own heart
When I followed you
it was just the start

Of a journey made
for my small feet
So many others
I do now greet

I give thanks now
each new day
to you my friend, miigwech
for showing me the way...

Poem by Simone McLeod, March 3, 2014


Story of Ode'imin, the heart-shaped berry

Blake Debassige

The story of the heart-shaped berry, as is the Anishinaabe name for the strawberry, is forever linked to Midewiwin, Society of Good Hearted Ones, a prestigious and important association of male and female healers and thinkers that is said to have been founded many strings of life (literally thousands of years) ago

According to one tradition, the Midewiwin was founded  by the first herbalist/medicine man of his People, who went by the legendary name of Ode'imin (Heart Berry or strawberry). When a plague struck the Anishinaabeg, this 15-year old boy was one of many who died, and as he entered the Land of Souls he pleaded with GICHI-MANIDOO to save his people from this destructive epidemic. GICHI-MANIDOO was so impressed by the admirable altruism of the young fellow that he brought him back to life and sent him back to earth on a mission of revival and hope.  

Under the skillful tutelage of his supernatural teacher Wenabozho, who taught him to study the nature of plants from the conduct of animals, Ode'imin hereupon brought his People the Midewiwin, the grand Medicine Society that forever institutionalized the knowledge of curing, and he taught them about mino-bimaadiziwin. This Good Code for Long Life and Upright Living led to the physical and moral healing of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.


Simone McLeod heart-shaped berry painting
Otehimin (Ode'imin, the heart-shaped berry), acrylic painting by Simone McLeod (detail)

Ode'imin taught the People the properties and the curative powers of all beings of the plant world and conferred to them the philosophy of mino-bimaadiziwin, which would forever be propagated through the ceremonies of the Midewiwin. Ode'imin explained to the ancestors that a healer could only reach the highest possible order of healing powers through a high ethical standard, and not by knowledge alone. What counted were not only knowledge of plant and self, but also the ability to bring together the healing capacities of both plant and self. Only a herbalist gifted with and keeping up a high standard of inner power could expect the plant being to reveal its own healing power; only then the plant would allow the herbalist to confer his or her inner curative power upon the plant itself. And to this day, whenever or wherever they establish their villages and homes, the Anishinaabeg never neglect their duty to annually honor, celebrate, and carry on the gift of knowledge that was handed down to their ancestors by Ode'imin, the Heart Shaped Berry. And into this day, each spring and each summer Ode'imin is remembered and celebrated by the People, for the blossom of the strawberry symbolizes Ode'imin's first life and the berry itself his second.**

Giiwenh: this is how far the story goes. 
Miigwech gii bizindawiyeg, thank you for listening to us and bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see us again!

Read the next episode in the series: Spirit of Autumn


Source: Frances Densmore, How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, pp. 321-322.
** Source: Przybilla and Councillor, Ojibwe Tales, 21-2.


Prayers For Humanity
Detail of acrylic "Prayers For Humanity" by Sinome McLeod/Aki-egwaniid


List of common summer berries, their use, and their harvest season:

Azasawemin,* wiisagipogozimin, isawemin,** ososowemin** (chokecherry): food, medicine (digestive troubles); August to September in Canada;

*Minnesota, Wisconsin, North-shore Ojibweg (Ontario)** Northwest Ontario

Ikwemish,* azasawemin (wild cherry ): food, medicine (digestive troubles); June;


Makade-mikomin,* odatagaagomin,  nabanedemin** (black raspberry)medicine (diseases of women); throughout summer;

* Southeastern branch of Ojibweg
**South-shore Ojibweg (Ontario)

Miin, ininimin* (blueberry): food, medicine (mental problems); ceremonial; July, August;

* Northern and western branches (Nakaweg Ojibweg) and Anishininiwag

Miskomin(red raspberry): medicine (dysentry, diseases of eye, diseases of women); July; throughout summer;

Odatagaagomin,* makade'omin,**makade-miskomin,*** waaboozomin (blackberry), odatagaagominagaawanzh,(blackberry bush): food, medicine (lung trouble); July, August

* South-shore Ojibweg (Michigan, Wisconsin) and Minnesota 
** Southern branch of Ojibweg
*** Southeastern branch of Ojibweg  

Odatagaagomin, mitigwaabimin* (mulberry), odatagaagominagaawanzh (mulberry bush): food; throughout summer;

* Southern branch of Ojibweg 

Ode'imin, odeyimin* (heart berrystrawbwerry): food; sacred stories; June & July;

*Southeastern branch of Ojibweg

Ode'iminijiibik, bagwaji-ode'imin (heart berry rootwild strawberry): medicine (intestinal disturbance of infants); May;

Zhaaboomin, nikimin (gooseberry); medicine (diseases of women); July, August;

Zhaashaagomin, ozhaashaagomin, ode'iminijiibik, zhakaamowin (bunchberry): food; summer to fall.


Zhaawanogiizhik Voice Carried By the Winds


About the author:

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in Amsterdam, 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. 


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