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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Teaching Stories, part 16

"The Good Way of the Warrior"

Updated October 29, 2019


Ogichidaa Gikinawaaji’owin designed and handmade by Zhaawano Giizhik



Today's blog story features an old Anishinaabe song, a beautiful poem by Simone McLeod, a powerful painting by the late Anishinini artist Carl Ray, and a sterling silver belt buckle and bolo tie of my own making; all connected by a shared theme: ogichidaa mino-bimaadiziwin, the good way of the warrior.

Let's first ask ourselves: what is a warrior and what does it take to become one? And what does our elder brother the Wolf have to do with being a warrior?

In traditional Anishinaabe society, a warrior status is something that a person should not lightly or vainly identify himself or herself with. Being an ogichidaa (literally: big- or brave-hearted person) is a status that must be earned and recognized.* It is not a badge of honor that one can give himself, but an honor that has to be bestowed by the People as a whole, by the gichi-aya'aag (Elders) or by the Mideg, the spiritual men and woman of the Midewiwin Lodge. A person is always expected to learn and earn, and there is simply no valid way to become an ogichidaa other than by following the example of Ma'iingan the Wolf who models the virtue of Humility. When after the kill Ma'iingan waits for the other wolves to arrive at the scene and he bows his head in their presence he doesn't do that out of fright but out of courtesy and out of consideration for the pack. So, like the Wolf, a true warrior lives and acts consciensciously and consistently always, without pomp and proclamation, showing courage, integrity, modesty, humility, kindness, and utter selflessness throughout his or her entire life.


Wolf tracks

Ma'iingan nindoodem, ma'iingan nindoodem
Naniizaanizi, naniizaanizi

"The wolf is my totem, the wolf is my totem
Dangerous is he, dangerous is he."

Nimashki-akiim, nimashki-akiim
Aapiji-manidoowan, aapiji-manidoowan

Giinawaa, giinawind

G’minisiinoowim, g’ minisiinoowim

"My medicine, my medicine,
Is very strong, is very strong.

You, we,
Warriors you, warriors we."

- Fragments of an old Anishinaabe warrior song**

Fisher star Creations Native American bolo tie
Giizisoniimii-bimisewin (Flight Of The Sundancer), bear paw and eagle feather bolo tie with a 2.75 x 1.9 inch sterling silver slide set with turquoise and red coral; a black braided leather cord decorated with 18 sterling silver eagle feathers; and sterling silver tips set with red coral, resembling the nails of an eagle claw. See our website for more details.


Carl Ray painting
Bear, acrylic painting by the late Medicine Painter Carl Ray


How Majiigawiz stole the wampum from the warlike bear

Once upon a time there lived four brothers in the northern part of Gaa-zaaga'iganikaag, the Land of Many Lakes. They were born to E-bangishimog, the Ruler of the West, and a mortal woman named Wiininwaa, "To Nourish From The Breast." The names of these brothers were Maajiigawiz, Papiigawiz, Jiibayaabooz, and Wiinabozho. Here, not far from Gichigami, the Great Lake nowadays called Superior, the brothers decided to hunt Gichi Makwa Ogimaa, the Great Magic Grizzly Bear Chief who lived in the Land Of The Setting Sun and who was widely known and feared for his aggressive nature. The eldest brother, whose name was Maajiigawiz which means "First-born Son", visited the Bear Nation and wrested from Gichi Makwa a necklace made of waa-miigisagoo (wampum), which he knew was an important object for war for it represented the belligerent nature of the huge bear creature. After Maajiigawiz had killed the bear ogimaa with one swing of his war club, he cut it into small pieces, scattered them to the four winds, and inaa! from Gichi Makwa's body parts emerged smaller makwag (bears), who were less war-like and menacing to the Anishinaabeg. Hereupon Maajiikawis divided the treasured waa-miigisagoo among all the ogimaag (leaders) and ogichidaag (warriors) of the Anishinaabe Peoples, and as he did so he spoke the following words: 

"Ambe! Behold the sacred Wampum that I wrested from the hands of the Chief of the Bear Nation! The shells of the pale hue of the Wampum are emblematic of Peace, while those of the darker hue will surely lead to Evil and to War. From now on, you as Anishinaabe ogimaag (leaders and speakers in council) will wear sashes of the holy waa-miigisagoo and use them as waabamaabeeyag, historical records whose symbols remind the speaker of everything that is important to the Anishinaabe Peoples: their stories, ideas, beliefs, codes, rituals and the succession of events in their history, and everything that relates to the People's existence on Aki. From now on, you as Anishinaabe warriors, will do Good to the inhabitants of Aki (the Earth) and give and share all things with a liberal hand and a generous heart!" 

Maajiigawiz, because of his courageous and wise achievement, was hereupon chosen by the Great Mystery to direct the west wind, and from then on he would be known by the name of Ningaabii'anong.***


A code for upright living

Warriors can be found in countless different ways and circumstances. They can be found in all walks of life, not just in everyday places and daily stuff of life but also in unexpected or even remote places. In the old times, warriors were traditionally found in the rearguard as they were the defenders of the People. You don't have to be in the spotlights to be called a warrior. It is not just the exclusive preserve of those who stand in the front lines engaging themselves in armed or political combat. A warrior person does not per se spill the blood of other persons, but is rather someone who stands for an idea or principle or who defends the lives, values, and honor of his family or his community.

Doctors are warriors because they battle illness; teachers are warriors because they battle lack of knowledge. Treaty lawyers and political and environmental activists dedicated to the inherent land rights, sovereignty, and First Nations self-government are warriors. A single parent raising his or her child or children in difficult circumstances, instilling in them a code for upright living, is a warrior. A person who defeated alcohol and drugs and has returned to the red road, the spiritual ways of his People, is a warrior. A Sun Dancer who fasts and dances from dusk till dawn sacrificing for the sake of those who need mental, spiritual, and physical healing is a warrior. Nurses, midwives, and social workers who distinguish themselves by offering vital help in disadvantaged rural areas or on remore reservations, they, too, are warriors. Everyone can be a warrior, and all he or she has to do is protect, and stand up for, the community or individuals or ideals. 

In brief: one becomes a warrior by doing what must be done to protect the environment and society and advance their cause -  even if it's on a modest scale or in the smallest of ways.



Sleep is the solace
we wrap ourselves in
so why then awaken
with such a sore grin

We look in the mirror
seldom like what we see
so stripped of the image
of what we could once be

Why be so forlorn though
try look a bit deeper
and see just what I see
the beautiful sleeper

If put down too much
at your time of growing
try then do what I do
and take comfort knowing

When born you are sweet
by the grandfathers you're loved
pay no more attention
to when you were shoved

Forced into those corners
that kept you at bay
so you would not fight back
at the end of each day

Stand tall now my dear
for all those to see
that you are a warrior
being all you can be...

© Simone McLeod, March 11, 2014


Warriors and artists

Personally, to both Simone and me, being a warrior is about being modest, the willingness to share meaningful strories and fight uphill battles for the good of others, and, most of all, about knowing and understanding where we come from. This realization defines our role in society; on a more personal level it might even be integral to deciding where it is that we, as individuals, want to go in life.  

I myself am waabizheshi doodem, a Marten Clan person, and I have heard that in the old days Martin clan members served as pipe bearers and message carriers for the ogimaag (chiefs). I am also told that nowadays martens are looked upon as fierce defenders of mino-bimaadiziwin, the Good Way of the Heart (Midewiwin) and of Anishinaabemowin, the beautiful language of the Ojibwe people. Sure, the virtues that the ancestors accredited to martens (they jump fearlessly into the black of night to defend values, to fight for change, for what is right) are things that I can try to emulate in everyday life, but I am also fully aware that this still doesn't earn me warrior recognition status, or make me an ogichidaa in the eyes of my People, or society as a whole.

What Simone and I do know, however, is that we are artists, who passionately and whole-heartedly chose to tell inspiring stories through works of art. Artists is who we are, it is our calling and it defines our spiritual outlook and, at the same time, our unique yet humble place in society: Simone as a painter and a poet, myself as a gold and silversmith and graphic artist. Telling teaching stories is what we do, and if we are lucky our writings and creations in paint, ink, precious metal, and digital design touch and inspire in meaningful ways the hearts and minds of at least some of those who are out there. City people. Rural people. Reservation people. Those who follow the red road and those who do not, or not yet. The blessed and the drop-outs, the healthy and the disabled. Those who have houses and those who live on the streets. The fortunate and the not so fortunate, the young and the elderly, men, women and youngsters of every color and creed. The brave-hearted out there and, yes, even the not so brave-hearted...



                Flight Of The Sundancer bolo tie, see our website for the symbolism and price details.


A tribute in silver and stone

What is it that made me design the bear paw design buckle and bolo tie that you see on this page the way I did? As a jewelry maker I have always been intrigued with purity of design, always looking for unusual forms and artistic placement of stones - although I realize this sometimes challenges the old, traditional Native feeling of symmetry in designThe sleek, asymmetrically shaped and slightly curved silver surfaces of the belt buckle and bolo slide that you can see on this page, adorned with a hand-cut turquoise stone and pear-shaped cabochons of red coral, testify of my love of traditional elements combined with modern and minimalist design. Showing a stylized bear paw made with the aid of the shadowbox technique, these sterling silver pieces are my personal tribute to the ogichidaag, or minisiinoong as warriors are sometimes called, of yesterday and today. In southern Anishinaabe societies the claws of Makwa (bear), Bizhiw (Lynx) and Ma’iingan (wolf) stand for perseverance and guardianship, as well as for strength, stamina, and courage. They are warrior symbols of great magic that may apply to ininiwag (men) and ikwewag (women) alike, even in our day.


Shadow box design belt buckle
Ogichidaa Gikinawaaji’owin (Mark of the Warrior), 2.36 x 3.15 inch domed overlay belt buckle with turquoise and red coral shadowbox settings.  


Go to our website to view more details of the above belt buckle. 


The fabulous technique of overlay

Overlay type of jewelry, a fabulous technique originated around 1940 in Arizona by silversmiths of the Hopi nation, is produced by soldering two pieces of silver (or one piece of silver and one piece of gold) together. The top piece contains a design element (see the bear paw of the buckle and the bolo slide) which is cut out of the metal. The bottom piece of metal is then oxidized to produce a contrasting background. Stamping, engraving, or stone setting (sometimes in combination with the shadowbox technique) is sometimes done to finish the desired design. The near-finished product is then filed, buffed and polished to produce a fine finish.

Of course modern day Hopi silver and goldsmiths do not limit themselves to overlay (Charles Loloma for instance hardly used it) and it is done by many Native American artists other than the Hopi. With the aid of a small line embossing tool, most Hopi artists texture the silver bottom sheet of an overlay piece to produce an additional contrasting effect (but also to camouflage any solder that the jeweler might have spilled while soldering). In order to distinguish my overlay from that of the Hopi, I like to keep the underlying, blackened silver perfectly smooth. Personally, I believe this doesn’t diminish the three-dimensional quality of my overlay jewelry one bit. However, if I feel texturing could enhance an overlay piece I’m working on, I use the technique of rocker engraving, a once popular method of decorating silver used by Eastern and Great Plains Native silversmiths - such as the Mamaceqtaw, Kgoy-goo, and Neme-ne. Unlike the Hopi method of indenting a bottom sheet of overlay by means of a punch, the rocking-like motion of a graver, made to follow the shape of the design, cuts out tiny slivers of metal, producing a zig-zag line which can best be compared with herringbone prints left in the snow by a skier walking uphill.


Zhaawano Giizhik Native American jeweler


                          Flight Of The Sundancer bolo tie, see



Shadowbox, introduced in the 1970’s by Dine' and Pueblo silversmiths from the Southwest, is a technique I also like to include in my overlay jewelry. In both the bolo tie and belt buckle designs that you see in this blog post, the deep, blackened recesses that make up the contours of the stylized bear paw are highlighted by the bezels (stone settings) that I soldered in their interiors. These “shadow-boxes’’ create the illusion of “floating” bezels and at the same time accentuate the brilliantly blue color of the stones...

Giiwenh. That´s how far this blog story goes. Miigwech for reading and listening!

Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see us again!

>Read the next episode in the Teachng Stories series: Finding Back the Road the Way to Wisdom.

*Eddie Benton-Benaise, The Ogichidaw - warrior, Exploring the meaning of ogichidaw today, Masinaigan, Spring 1998.
** Basil Johnston, Ojibway Ceremonies, University of Nebraska Press, p, 71.
*** Story by Zhaawano loosely adapted from an aadizookaan (traditional story) told in the 19th century by Zhaawandazii and originally put in writing by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. Source: Mentor L. Williams, Schoolcraft's Indian Legends, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 1991, pages 46-55.

Jewelry and photography by ZhaawanArt Fisher Star Creations. 
Poem by Simone McLeod.
Painting by Carl Ray.


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 a Nakawe-Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation in SaskatchewanShe belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) and feels a special kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River 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 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. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.


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