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Friday, May 2, 2014

The Way of the Heartbeat, part 1

"The Sound of the Mide Drum"

- Updated June 124, 2023


Midewewe`igan bolo tie


Boozhoo, aaniin!

Welcome to part 1 of my blog series titled The Way Of The Heartbeat, in which I connect my storytelling art - and the work of kindred artists - with the teachings of the Medicine Societies of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. The focus in this blog post will be on the origin of the Midewiwin and the building structure of their Lodge, on drums and how the first Dance Drum was presented to the Ojibweg Peoples, and, specifically, on the meaning and spirit powers of the Midewiwin drum - alternately called Mitigwakik, Midegawikik, and Midewewe'igan. Since time immemorial, the sound of the Mide drum has attuned the heartbeat of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe peoples to the pulse of Aki, the land, or Akikwe, the Earthmother. Madwewe, or sound, as we will learn, as well as nibi, the water - the Dance Drum ceremony and powwow dancing originated in the context of water - are the core and essence of Midewiwin and its ceremonial and ritual practice - and, therefore, of Anishinaabe experience and our cosmic worldview.


"Drums of My Father"

A hundred thousand years have passed
Yet, I hear the distant beat of my father's drums
I hear his drums throughout the land
His beat I feel within my heart.
The drums shall beat, so my heart shall beat,
And I shall live a hundred thousand years.

- The late Shirley Daniels (Ojibwe author)


Name and origin of Midewiwin

Alternately pronounced as muh-DAY-w'win and mi-DAY-win, its literal meaning being “Society of Those Who Are In A Mide State (Mide meaning something like “Sacred And Unseen”), the Midewiwin is a thousands of years old lodge or association of male and female healers and thinkers and artists, respected keepers and protectors of the traditional Anishinaabe way of life and ceremonies. Midewiwin persons are generally called Mide, plural Mideg, participants of the ceremonies are referred to as Midew, plural Midewiig. Mideg themselves sometimes give the following, traditionalistic, explanation about the meaning of Midewiwin: “Society of the Good-hearted Ones” or “The Good Heart Sound Of Life,” or “The Way Of The Heartbeat.” The objective of Midewiwin is basically two-fold: one is to promote bimaadiziwin (la long and healthy life for individuals as well as for the community); the other is to receive from the Spirit World the power - in the form of Sacred Medicine - to achieve that goal. Midewiwin's Medicine and healing offer not only cures for diseases but also provide for precautionary actions to ensure bimaadiziwin. The Mide practitioners are initiated and ranked by degrees: four to eight in total.


Midewiwin lodge drum rattle and seven sacred birch bark scrolls

A Midewewe’igan, or Mitigwakik (Mide hollow log water drum), a Mide rattle and seven Mide-wiigwaasag (birch bark scrolls) displayed in a Midewigaan, a Midewiwin lodge. According to Midewiwin belief, the sound of the Mide drum causes the sky to brighten up and the water to be calm for the person who carries the drum. Both Midedewe’igan and Baaga’akokwaan (the drum stick representing the Midedewe’igan) are considered to be gifts from GITCHI-MANIDOO; the drum stick is held even more powerful and sacred than the drum itself.
Wiigwaasabakoon, or birch bark scrolls, are documents on which the Mide People wrote complex geometrical patterns and shapes. When used specifically for Midewiwin ritual purposes, these scrolls are called Mide-wiigwaas (plural: Mide-wiigwaasag). Scrolls were often hidden away in caves and underground man-made pits. The seven “ritual birch bark teaching scrolls” in the above image enable the memorization of complex ideas, passing along oral history, creation stories, songs, and details of Mide rituals, and many hundreds of years old Ojibwe migration records to succeeding generations. 


Frame of a Mide lodge


idewiwin – some claim the word partially derives from the Anishinaabe word MINODE’ which means Good Heart, others suggest it derives from MADWEWE which means Sound Resonance, as in the echoing of the Mide water drum whose omnipresent sound represents the Earth’s heartbeat and that of the Great Mystery of Life – is said to have been founded many strings of life ago by the first herbalist/medicine man of his People, who went by the legendary name of Ode’imin (Heart-shaped Berry or strawberry). Under the skilful tutelage of his supernatural teacher Wenabozho, who taught him to study the nature of plants from the conduct of animals, Ode’imin forever institutionalized the knowledge of curing and Mino-bimaadiziwin, or the Code for Long Life and Upright Living. He 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 the physical side of life and the physical strength of a human being and that of his community should alwas be in perfect balance with the spiritual side of life and being, and that a healer could only reach the highest possible order of healing powers through a high ethical standard, and not by knowledge alone. So, what counted for an herbalist was not only knowledge of plant and self, but also the ability to bring together the healing capacities of both plant and self. Only an herbalist gifted with and keeping up a high standard of inner power could expect the plant being to reveal his 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.

The Mide Lodge


The Midewigaan or Midewiwin Lodge, also known as Midewiigiwaam (pural Midewiigiwaaman) when small or Midewigamig (plural Midewigamigoon) when large, is usually built in an open grove or clearing. The Midewigamig is modelled after the rectangular open-air lodge first built for Ode’imin by the benevolent manidoo (spirit) WENABOZHO.

A long rectangular or oblong structure, the Midewigamig was intended as an allegory to gichi-gami ("The Big Sea"; Lake Superior), sometimes referred to in Midewiwin song texts as "the long, long room." Nowadays, Midewigaanan are domed oval structures sized to accommodate the number of invited participants. They are always oriented east to west, with an entrance at each end, and open at the top so as not to shut out the light and sounds of Aki (the universe). In the Midewigaan there is a symbiosis between humans and the guardian spirits of animals – some of which are represented by effigies -, who share the same space in near identity with one another. 
Each order of Midewiwin requires its own type of Midewigaan. One to four posts of giizhik, the northern white cedar, cut alive, and erected as Midewatigoog (Trees of Life), stand within the lodge; in some Midewigaanan, Azaadi, the poplar tree is placed in the center of the lodge. A Midewaatig symbolizes the primacy of the plant beings; the idea behind is that plants can exist alone, but neither animals nor men can survive without plants. The number of Midewatigoog corresponds with the order of the Midewiwin involved. Around the central post or posts is an enclosed space whose symbolic purpose is to keep inside the spirit of the ceremonies. 
The walls of the smaller Mide-wiigiwaam consist of poles and saplings wattled with short branches and twigs with leaves.

In communities with large amounts of mideg, the Midewigamig becomes a formal and permanent ceremonial building; some Midewigamigoon are domed structures, others have vaulted ceilings. The high-dome or vaulted ceilings of some Midewigamigoon allow for the rays of the sun and the spirits of the Universe to enter the building and permeate the ceremonial area with light, spirit, and sound. 

Midewiwin teaching lodges, oval domed structures made of bent saplings, are common today to teach the next generations about the language and ancient ways of the past. These living ceremonies reflect, practice, and preserve the traditional ways, ideas, and teachings of the ancient Midewiwin.


Ojibwe drums
Left: a keg drum or "Dance Drum." Right: a s Mide kettle (water) Drum ("Grandfather").


The Ojibwe word for drum is Dewe'igan; ᑌᐌᐦᐃᑲᓐ in syllabics. The literal translation of dewe'igan is, "The instrument that makes the sound of the heart."  In a ritual context, a drum is referred to as gimishoomisinaan, "Our Grandfather." The shape of the drum reminds us that everything in nature is round and that everything happens in a circle. The materials the drum is made of, wood and hide, represent the virtues of TRUTH and KINDNESS. A tree growing high into the sky stands for truth, while the hide used for the drum's membrane is a gift from the deer, who represents kindness.

To the Ojibweg, drums are not just objects; they are manidoog, living, dynamic entities that require a respectful, ritual approach and ongoing practical and ceremonial care. It is said that the oldest form of drum was a large piece of rawhide stretched and pegged to the ground. As the principle of circularity is central to our Anishinaabe thinking and living, the drum, to us, its shape and the patterns that are sometimes painted on its body and membrane, are visual metaphors for other similarly shaped phenomena and beings that we can see and sense all around us in nature. The revitalizing sound the drum produces when first struck resembles the first sound of early spring morning when the seeds pop out of the ground, or it reminds us of our mother's heartbeat that surrounded us when we still lived inside her womb, or it imitates the soft and steady heartbeat of the earth or, when the drum membrane is struck real hard and allowed to vibrate freely throughout the Universe, it reminds us of the violent rumbling of a thunderstorm that comes from the mountain or sweeps in from across the big lake to cleanse the earth. 

A drum is nothing short of a Mystery; only the manidoog and aadizookanag (spirit grandfathers) that inhabit the four corners of the Universe are able to fully comprehend what the drum imparts once its membrane is struck. Drumming never goes without chanting, and is often accompanied by dancing; when they drum the drummers sing in unison sacred chants, their throaty and high-pitched voices carrying wordless prayers and petitions across the Universe and beyond. Thus the attention of the spirit beings that live above and below and beyond the earth is drawn, and the songs, accompanied and pushed on by the pulse of the drum, are sung in a language that can only be heard and understood by dance, the bodies of the dancers move in deep rhythms that bind their world and those of the ancestors and the spirits beings... 

The drum played a role in traditional Ojibwe beliefs about the afterlife as well. Among the objects accompanying the deceased to his/her grave was his/her drum, needed for the four-day journey to jiibay-miikana, the path of Souls. He or she would know that (s)he was approaching the Land of Everlasting Happiness when (s)he heard the drum, for this place behind the stars is supposed to have great singers who provide perpetual music. The Waawaate or Northern Lights (aurora borealis) are conceived of as being the souls of the departed dancing to the beat of the drum.


Drums decorated by hand by Native woodland artist Simone McLeodA personal story related on a hand drum by Woodland painter Simone McLeod

Hand drums and a drumstick decorated with personal symbols and stories, acrylic paintings by Simone McLeod (2014/2015)


The form of a drum and those of other sound producers like drumsticks and disk rattles, but also the Drum Dance open-air enclosure (or dance hall) itself, reflect the shape and the paths of the earth, sun, moon, and stars, or the shape of a reed stem or a seed that lives deep inside the soil of the earth, or that of the rings of a tree, or the circular imprint of a wiigiwaam frame in the other words, sound and shape of the drum represent the CIRCLE OF LIFE, and the wood and hide of which it is made symbolize the Sky and the Earth and all life that springs from it. Anishinaabeg know that the tree spirit that provides the wood for the drum body has been nourished by the soil and the water of the Earth, and as it grew tall and strong the tree pointed into the sky world, bringing it near to GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery. And because we know and understand that the pulsing sound of the drum reflects the sounds that can also be heard in nature and the cosmos, we are fully aware that sound is the core and essence of the ceremonial and ritual practice of our Medicine Lodges. Thus, a drum reminds us as People and as individuals of our dependence on nature and the spirit world and our oneness with the Great Mystery; consequently, it teaches us about important values like gwayako-bimaadiziwin (living an honest life) and mutual sharing with the natural world.


Anishinaabe double headed drum
In the Ojibwe culture, the double-headed drum is considered to be particularly sacred and powerful. This contemporary Ojibwe ceremonial drum was made by Rohahes Iain Phillips. 


When a drum is made, it is never done without seeking a retreat in a secluded place in nature and performing a number of ceremonies; asemaa (tobacco) and food and other things are offered and the spirits of an animal and a tree are very respectfully and patiently asked to donate their skin and wood for the use of the drum. Like pipes and feathers and various other sacred items, a drum is always kept in a special place, preferably encased in bearskin or buckskin or safely placed on a blanket near an asemaa-onaagan or tobacco box filled with fresh asemaa; the drum is often smudged with wiingashk (sweetgrass) and it is customary that during certain ceremonies and dances food and asemaa are offered to the spirit of the drum. By feasting and nourishing the drum the People are nourished in return, which keeps them balanced and healthy.
Ojibwe hand drum

Before a drum is taken out to make its voice sound at a spiritual or social gathering, it must be formally made ready by an Elder who ceremonially blesses the spirit of the drum. Because it must be taken special care of, a dewe'iganan debenimaad or Drum Keeper - a ceremonial leader and a spiritual person who follows mino-bimaadiziwin, the good way of life - is placed in charge of taking care of the drum; it is also he, or she, who does any repair work. Out of respect for the spirit of the drum, no one but the owner touches it and no object can ever be placed atop or across the drum head.

Common types of drum

The Ojibweg basically have four types of drum: 

  • the zhiishiigwan (rattle);
  • the dewe'igan (literally: instrument that makes the sound of the heart): hand drum; 
  • the manidoo-dewe'igan (literally: spirit instrument that makes the sound of the heart): a large, flast bass drum, often called powwow drum or dance drum. Also called gichi-dewe'igan, literally: big instrument that makes the sound of the heart; 
  • mitigwakik or mide-wewe'igan (literally: wood kettle, respectively sacred instrument that makes the sound of the heart): the Midewiwin water drum
Among several types of dewe’iganag or drums, the hand drum, the Mide(wiwin) drum, and the flat pow wow drum are prominent in many an Ojibwe Anishinaabe community. Previous to the introduction of the large ceremonial drum and the big Dance Drum (a flat, elaborately decorated community drum) in the second half of the 19th century, Ojibwe dances as well as healing ceremonies, games, and even warfare had been accompanied with hand drums. Originally, the large community drums were homemade and used for secular as well as sacred/ceremonial events. Increasingly in this day and age they have been replaced with the store-bought bass drums. The Mide water drum is used exclusively by members of Midewiwin (medicine lodge). Called mitigwakik, meaning "wooden vessel," or mide-wewe'igan, meaning "sacred drum," it traditionally averages sixteen to twenty inches in height and is made from a section of basswood or cedar, hollowed by charring and scraping. A piece of wood—usually pine — is inserted and sealed with pitch to form the bottom of the drum. For a drumhead, a single rectangular piece of tanned deerskin is held in place with a removable hoop wound with cloth. The mitigwakik or mide-wewe'igan is partly filled with water through a bunghole in its side and played with a curved drumstick. These Mide Drums, sometimes called Grandfather Drums and traditionally used by high ranking members of the Midewiwin and decorated by the owner depending upon his doodem/clan and/or rank within the Lodge, can be heard from long distances. Mitigwakikoon are regarded as living entities, aadizookaanag (grandfathers of the nonhuman class), and important messengers in the Mide hierarchy.  
Misakwaabik Animikii drum
Hand drums were used principally on the warpath and later in the bwaanzhii-niimi'idiwin (war dance) but also in accompanying makizin-ataagewinan and the Ogichidaa Niimi'idiwin (Warrior Dance/Sun Dance), a curing ceremony. Some have a piece of rawhide stretched over one side of a hoop and laced or tied together on the reversed side to form its handhold, others have two heads stretched over one hoop with the rawhide handhold stitched on the outer edge of the hoop. The heads of both types of hand-held drums are sometimes decorated with dream, or vision symbols (see illustrations above and to the left), but only if the owner has had a vision, or if he or she is directed by a spirit to decorate the drum with a certain symbol. Hand drums are used by both men and women.

Baaga'akokwaanan or 
dewe'iganaatigag, drumsticks used for hand drums, often 5 inches long, sometimes made of bone or wood and hooked at the striking end, are said to be more important than the drum itself as they sometimes represent the head and eyes of Gookookoo’oo (the Owl). Traditionally, before striking the drum, the dayewe’iged (drummer) will raise the Baaga'akokwaan toward the west to give the signal that Gookookoo’oo should respond to the drum call. Some Baaga'akokwaanan have padded deer hide on the striking end (see the above black and white pen illustration).

The introduction of the ceremonial Drum Dance

In order to understand the introduction of the ceremony of the Dance Drum, or Vision Drum Dance, it is important to understand what changes in Ojibwe musical practices were effected by reservation life around 1850, for these had a bearing on the receptiveness of the Ojibweg to the Vision Drum Dance and their adoption of the large Dance Drum as their principal musical instrument. After the mid-nineteenth century, a gradual reduction in the number of contexts requiring music, frequency of performance, variety of song genres, and number of musical instruments occurred. As the Ojibweg were restricted to reservations and reserves, the seasonal pattern of their social life changed, for the annual winter dispersal to isolated hunting areas was discontinued. The Ojibweg were now located in permanent villages, living year around as neighbors; and whereas in the old days summer had been the only season for them to come together in social dances and large ceremonials, the opportunity was now ripe for year-round participation in such events. This helps to explain why the ceremonial Drum Dance came to be organized around four seasonal rites, whereas the older Midewiwin/ medicine lodge had held ceremonials only twice a year when the population was at its densest. See below: "The Vision Drum Dance."

Anishinaabe dewe`igewininiwag

In recent years large flat drums or gichi-dewe'iganan (literally: big drums; Pow Wow or Dance drums) have become common in many Ojibwe communities, and they are either placed directly on the ground or suspended from curved stakes. This type of large bass drum, which is often 3 feet in diameter and can be made by stretching hide over a galvanized metal washtub, is usually decorated with beaded velvet an used during ceremonial events and for pow-wow dances. During jiingotamog and niimi'idimaag (respectively spiritual/ceremonial and social/secular pow-wows), the drum is surrounded by four or more singers and the drumbeat symbolizes a unified heartbeat and oneness with the Great Mystery.

Indicating a spiritual bond between the owner and/or user of the Drum and his manidoo (spirit) protector, the design of a Dance Drum is always dictated by the spirit in a dream or vision, at which time certain songs are taught the recipient to go with the drum. On the ceremonial Dance Drum, the (often yellow) stripe painted on the drum head symbolizes both bimaadiziwn (Life) and giizis (the Sun), its path from east to west. 
The drum is never used at night because the stripe indicates the path of Giizis - and is therefore to be used only when the sun is out. The ritual requirements of orienting the path as well as putting the drum up at sunrise and taking it down at sunset reminds the participants in a Drum Dance of passage of "sacred time"; which means that normal everyday secular events are halted.
Wiigwaasi-zhiishiigwan Ojibwe shaker

The rattle and its connection with the stars and the seasons

Zhinawinigan, or zhiishiigwan or rattle, is the first drum known to the Ojibweg. Since time immemorial, rattles, or shakers are used in rhythmic accompaniment to singing. The word is derived from zhiishiigwe, rattlesnake. Provided with a wooden handle and filled with small pebbles or shot (seeds), some zhiishiigwanan are traditionally made of birch bark strips shaped into cylinders (see above illustration) while others are simply fashioned from hide stretched over willow hoops. 
The seeds inside a rattle, which symbolize life and the first sound that we hear in the early morning when plants pop (shoot seeds), symbolize the creation of the cosmos. A flat hoop, or drum-shaped rattle, sometimes called wiikaan ("brother") is used like a tambourine by a Mide doctor during healing practice.  
Mideg also use these rattles to “shoot miigis power” into an initiate or patient during initiation or curing rituals. 
Zhiishiigwanan, like many items used in daily and ceremonial life on earth, have a direct connection with the spirits in the sky world. Among the Ininewak (Cree), who are cousins of the Anishinaabeg and have pretty similar cosmological beliefs, the sound of the rattle heralds the song and the arrival of sikwun (ziigwan in our language), the star constellation that encompasses the star that we call Giiwedin Anang, the North Star (Polaris). The root word of Sisikwun/Zhiishiigwan is Sikwun/Ziigwan...Spring.

The Vision Drum Dance


Anishinaabe Dream Drum


The Gichi-dewe'igan-niimi'idiwin or Pow-wow Drum Dance (also known as the Dream, or Vision Dance Ceremony) is nowadays a very important symbol to the various Anishinaabe bands throughout Canada and the US. Each year in summer almost every community hosts some form of outdoor festival or ceremony throughout Anishinaabe Aki (Ojibwe Country), generally called pow-wow. A large, flat, elaborately decorated community drum performs a central role in these niimi'idiwinan/ jiingotamog; since the second half of the 19th century the Gichi-dewe'igan or "Large Drum" is actually one of the centerpieces in our sacred Midewiwin ceremonies, which are always conducted on a specially prepared circular dance ground. Originally, these Gichi-dewe'iganag were homemade and used for secular as well as sacred events. In the 20th century they have been increasingly replaced with the store-bought bass drums.

The Pow-wow

Ojibwe powwow Dancer

An Anishinaabe aadizookaan (traditional Ojibwe story) describes how after a great deluge Wenabozho, the Original Man, was lowered to the Earth and walked carefully trough Creation; his movements would be emulated in the dancers' steps that to this day leave imprints upon the Earth and upon the hearts and souls of our People who gather at annual pow-wows across the land...

Although the term Pow-wow - derived from an Algonquian word for "Curing Ceremony" - is no Ojibwe in origin, it is commonly used, not only in Anishinaabe Aki but all over Turtle Island (North America).

The Ojibweg have basically two types of powwow: the traditional/ spiritual/ceremonial jiingotamog as well as niimi'idimaa or social dance contest powwow - in which there is competition in dancing and drumming.

In the old days, when our warriors and hunters had returned to their homes, they told about their feats through dance and many gathered to take part in the celebrations. Movement, color, and sounds, rather than words served to tell the stories of their hearts. These gatherings were not only about dancing and singing, they also served to extend respect or give special thanks or bestow names, and so on. They were the forerunners of the contemporary pow-wows.

The Drum Presentation  

Traditionally, the presentation of a Dance Drum is an important affair to Ojibweg, and involves responsibilities that are never taken lightly. A Dewe'igan may be requested by another tribe or even another band from within the same community. The future Drum owner must have appropriate dreams, and then a council of Elders talks it over. In the old days, as the gift of a Dewe'igan involved the return of gifts supposed to equal in value the Drum and the presents bestowed by the original Drum party, it was customary for the man presenting the Drum to ascertain from the one to whom he wished to present it whether the latter desired to assume the obligations associated with its acceptance. This was typically done several moons before the drum was to be given. It was considered the duty of the recipient to see that a suitable quantity of gifts was presented to the Drum party at the ceremony, that one or more feasts were provided for the guests, and that their camp was supplied with food during their entire stay. At some later date he was supposed to return a full equivalent of gifts to the donor of the Dewe'igan. Sometimes it took him several years before he was able or prepared to do this. When he was ready he sent a messenger to the donor, and shortly afterward visited him with a large party carrying the gifts.

Once gifts were accumulated, the Drum was given away in a special presentation service called dewe'iganan omiigiwen. The ceremony began with four days of dancing either in the hosts' community prior to their departure or enroute to the site of the ceremony. A temporary camp was set up near the site to await the arrival of the runner from the recipient group's ogimaa (chief) informing them they were ready to be received. Ideally, four notification ceremonieas were held on successive nights before a Drum presentation.

The Vision Drum 

Throughout Anishinaabe Aki, small home meetings are being held throughout the year for a Dance, or Vision Drum, but the main ceremony is ideally a four-day event held twice a year. These gatherings are generally part of the Midewiwin culture. During these gatherings the drums in the community are assembled for the ceremony, which is held in a special lodge or in an outdoor area surrounded by benches or low fencing, with openings on two sides.

Vision Drums are called so since they typically come in visions and dreams. In Manitoba for example, around 1915 at a site near present-day Pauingassi (Bawingaasi) First Nation, renowned medicine man Naamiwan (Fairwind) had a dream that led to a ceremony or dance called boodaade. The dream taught Naamiwin to make a drum  named Gibaabaanaan;  a brother drum made some years later was called Gaa-gizhewaadizid (the Gracious One). These healing drums are said to have cured many people.and were also used to communicate with the dead and guide their jiibayag safely along the flower-lined path to waakwi, the land of the dead.  

It is said that although our People know the drum within living memory, the gichi-dewe'igan or community dance drum, often called gimishoomisinaan (our Grandfather) in a ritual context, and the sacred drum presentation ceremony that comes with it, is not Anishinaabe in origin; it was our former, traditional enemies the Bwaanag (Dakota), neighbours to the west, who, after one of their women had received a vision, gave it to the Ojibweg of Minnesota in the form of a ceremony, called Dream or Vision Dance. Since that day, less than 150 summers ago (around the year of 1870), the Anishinaabeg attribute their community drums with special powers, and although a person would never hand over his or her drum during life, or even leave behind to another at death, occasionally a special community drum is presented as a gift to another Nation in an act of goodwill, as a symbol of peace and brotherhood. The Dakota woman whose Vision, in the form of the ceremony of presentation of the Big Drum, led to a peace offer to her People's most respected enemies the Ojibweg, has become a metaphor for seeking peace over war. That the story of the Drum Vision of the Dakota woman is still being passed on to next generations and that the mighty voice of the big dance drum can still be heard far and loud at many pow-wows all over Anishinaabe Aki, shows not only our People's ability to recognize spiritual power in other Nations, but it also demonstrates the spiritual power of women to guide their life. So this is why nowadays drumming and singing at pow-wows are not just about pride in our own Anishinaabe culture and history, but also about breaking down barriers and unifying with other Nations and about pride in the strength and spirit powers of Anishinaabe women and Native women in general. But above all, pow-wow is of dancing and singing and letting the spirit fly with the shaking of rattles and the beating of Our Grandfather, the Sacred Vision Drum...


The Woman's Dance Drum

At most ceremonies, the women have a special place to sing and that is behind the (male) singers. This protects the men and helps the men sing during those harder high pitched parts of the song. Up until today, however, many male Elder pesons and singers say that it is wrong for a female to touch the drum. Even though the female was the first to receive it, the female ended up giving the drum to the male; because of this, the belief that if a female touches a drum or singing with the drum then it’s almost like they are "taking it back," is still prevalent throughout  Anishinaabe Aki

In the 19th century, however, a Woman's Dance (ikwe niimi'idiwin) was developed with its own drum and large repertoire of songs. The reason for this was that - in contrast to the position of women in the Midewiwin, in which they could and often did advance as far as men in degrees - drum ceremony-related roles became strictly divided between ininiwag (men) and ikwewag (women); women's responsibilities became restricted to those duties that perhaps paralleled most closely their domestic chores: preparing the food, assisting in maintaining the dance grounds, making the beadwork clothing for the Drum, keeping the Drum and its paraphernalia clean and in good repair. This is why ikwewag gave the sticks of the Big Vision Drum to the ininiwag and do not participate as dancers. The ikwe niimi'idiwin (women's dance) itself was learned from the Bwaanag (Dakota; see below: "The Origin Story of the Dream Dance Ceremony"). 

Related to the ceremonial Drum but slightly smaller in size, the ikwe dewe’igan (Women's Dance drum) is also believed to have originated in a dream. The ikwe niimi'idiwin is distinguishable from the dancing in the Male Drum Dance by its rhythmic accompaniment and choreography. It is basically a circle dance, where the dancers stand shoulder to shoulder around the drum and move sideways in a clockwise direction for a while, then counterclockwise. Whereas the pattern of the percussion accompaniment for the regular ceremonial songs is in even strokes, zhaabowewikwewag (female Drum singers) accentuate alternate drumbeats for Woman's Dance songs. Traditionally, the ikwe niimi'idiwin is customarily held at the end of a Drum Dance.

In recent times, women being restricted to their own drum and not being allowed to sit at the Big "Grandfather" Vision Drum has become a source of debate

With so much conflict happening in our communities and what is happening to the land, some women are stepping up to the battle. They point out that in the light of the role of women in the Origin Story of the Dream Dance Ceremony, it is important to understand that the Big "Grandfather" Vision Drum used the belong to the Grandmothers, the women. It were the women, the Grandmothers of the Nation, who gave the men the right to have the sticks for the Drum and that is why nowadays the men sit at the Big Drum. But now, it is argued, men have lost their way. Men have forgotten their roles and their responsibilities in their communities; they have ignored for too long the true role of Women and their place in the lives of the People. So this is the reason why there are more and more women who step up and are taking back the stick of the Big Vision Drum...



The Thunderbird Drum

Anishinaabe ceremonial hand drum with Thunderbird design

On Manitoulin Island, a common type of Grandfather Spirit, or Vision Drum is the Bineshii Dewe’igan or Thunderbird Drum; the design of this type of drum and certain songs and rituals that go with it are brought to its owner by a Thunderbird Spirit who shows him or her how to make and use it, and the design he or she must paint on it. The colors of the Thunderbird designs, which represent Manidoo Animikii Bineshi Miikana or Spirit Road of the Thunderbird, usually depict some of the revitalizing tasks that the Thunder Grandfathers fulfilled when they brought the rain to the earth so that life on earth would continue, like cleansing the earth, the lakes, and the rivers, and sustaining the plants and the trees by giving them water when they return each spring with the migrating birds…it is the sound of these drums, imitating the thunder rolling through the sky, that reminds the Anishinaabeg that the Thunder Grandfathers represent the linkage between the birds of the sky world and plants of the middle world and underwater creatures, as well as a spiritual connectedness of birds with the physical orders of the cosmos like sun, moon, earth, stars, thunders, lightning, rain, wind, fires, etcetera. This is why Thunderbird designs so often figure on drums, and since the power that they contain flows directly from these avian Grandfathers, both the drum and the Thunderbirds are regarded with awe and reverence. The design, colors, and sound of the drum remind us that as long as we don’t forget about the Thunder Grandfathers, they will always look after our People. Above illustration: a hand-painted hand drum of wood and deer hide, ca. 1840; collection of the Detroit Institute of ArtsIllustration below: "Birth of Thunder." Depiction of a medicine man (Thunderbird drummer) communing, through his Bineshii Dewe’igan, with the Thunder Grandfathers whose birthplace is Gichi-ogimaa Wasomaad Aki, the planet where there is always lightning and the thunder is never silent (Jupiter)His hand drum depicts a painted image of a Thunderbird lowering itself to earth through the Bagonegizhig ("Hole in the Sky," the Pleiades constellation), thus connecting the star world with the earth (the red paint) and the water (the blue paint). A Mide water drum , a drum stick, and an opwaagan (sacred pipe) are depicted to the Thunderbird drummer's right.

Ojibwe vThunderbird Medicine man communing with the Thunder Grandfathers

The Thunderbird drum was also known outside Manitoulin Island. For example, in 1914, an Ojibwe ikwe (woman) named Maggie Wilson from Emo, which is located along Gojijii-zbii (the Rainy River) in northwestern Ontario, began to dream a great war dance, which, through its performance, was intended to protect the relatives of people in her community who were fighting overseas in World War I. In her dreams she was visited by the Animikiig (Thunder Grandfathers), which taught her eighty songs for the ceremony; they also dictated the special costumes and choreography to be used in the dance. The fifth time the Animikiig appeared to her with a drum and indicated to her how to construct it and how it was to be used in the dance. The drumhead was to be decorated in the manner of the ceremonial dance drum, with red and blue fields divided by a yellow stripe; a white Binesi (Thunderbird) was to be superimposed on the basic design. For the next seven or eight years other people dreamed more songs for the ceremony, which was usually conducted in the spring or fall.


Origin Story of the Dream Dance Ceremony


Instructions On Drumming, acrylic painting by Cecil Youngfox


There are several stories about how the gichi-dewe'igan or "big drum" came to our People - along with the drum presentation ceremony called Dream, or Vision Dance. Yet all stories have the same, interrelated, themes: the powwow, its songs, and the Grandfather Drum are somehow related to the sacred element called nibi, or water, and to ikwewag, women - or, in some cases, to nookomos dibik-giizis, grandmother moon, who of course is closely associated with both water and women.   

The most prevalent story relates of a Dakota woman - her name was Tail Feather Woman - who, hiding in a lake under lily pads after fleeing U.S. soldiers, received  a vision over the course of four days instructing her to build a large water drum and teaching her the songs that would restore the traditional world of her People. From the Dakota, the ceremony of the "big drum" spread throughout the Algonquian-speaking Nations to the Ojibweg and, as its message changed throughout the years into a  story about peace and harmony, cultural continuity, and solidarity with other Native Nations, the Drum Ceremony eventually became  the focal point of our ceremonies.

Another, more traditional, story tells about a woman, the wife of a Dakota chief, who, covered by a large lily pad, hid in a river  at the start of a fierce battle between her People and our People; after four days, a voice from the skies bade her to come out, and one night the voice she had heard before summoned her to the Skies. Here, a spirit addressed her, telling her that she must seek peace and everlasting friendship with the Ojibweg through a large drum. And that is how the Drum Ceremony began.

And then there is another, very beautiful story, which is told below.
"There once was a time when the Ojibweg and Bwaanag (Dakota) peoples were at constant war with each other. Ogichidaa (warrior) societies on both sides flourished and around the village camp fires the talk was always of war. The villages were becoming empty of men, and the women mourned and buried their husbands and sons. Soon, there were only women and small children left in the camps since the men and available youth were on the war path. War became such an inseparable part of their lives that most people forgot how the fighting had started and what it was they were fighting about."

"In one of the main villages of the Bwaanag, there lived a little girl, a little girl tired of war. She went into the lodges of the grandmothers and grandfathers and told them she was tired of all this talk of war, of burying her male relatives, and friends, she was tired of death and dying. She said to them:  "There must something that our People could do to stop the wars?”

“You!” cried the grandmothers and grandfathers, “You’re just a little girl!”

After such rude behavior from the grandmother and grandfathers the little girl decided she would go on a fast. She and her grandparents did all the preparations, she would begin her fast on the night of the full moon. She took nothing but a blanket and went out on the hill by herself determined not to come back down until she received an answer."

"For seven days, nothing happened. No visitors or visions came to her, and the little girl was getting hungrier and hungrier. With the moon full again, the little girl was close to death, and feeling abandoned and alone. As she lay on her blanket dying, the birch trees caught the moonlight and reflected it back to the earth around her. It was like daylight out on the hillside, so the little girl watched the moon and prayed to the Great Mystery. Through her tears, it seemed to her she saw seven figures surrounding the bright ball in the sky that she recognized as Grandmother moon. It looked as though the seven figures were gently carrying Grandmother from the sky toward Mother Earth. The little girl understood that the seven figures were grandfathers. She reached her arms out to embrace the grandmother, with the final strength in her body she got up and took her blanket and spread it on the ground so that the seven grandfathers could rest Grandmother moon on it.

Anishinaabe pow wow drum

The grandfathers sat with the little girl around her fire for four days and gave her the Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewinan, or  "Seven Sacred Teachings." The Grandmother began to talk to the little girl telling her how to create a drum, the correct way to stretch the rawhide and lace it on. She told the little girl that the men were so busy waging war that they forgot how to connect with their hearts. If the little girl would give them the drum, they would once again connect with their hearts. She said that the drum is animate and has a spirit, when the little girl was finished making the drum she thought of how much it looked like Grandmother moon.

The little girl took the finished drum to the Warriors lodge, were the men accepted the drum and began to use the drum and use their voices as medicine prayers. They started connecting with their hearts, and soon all thought of war left their minds. With her People still raiding the Ojibweg, the little girl decided to make another drum, but on the face of this drum the little girl painted one half red and the other half blue, and down the middle she painted a yellow strip. Red was for the Ojibweg, blue symbolized her own People, and the yellow stripe in the middle represents Life. The little girl went and presented the Bwaanag ogichidaag (Dakota warriors) with the drum and demonstrated to them the proper custody of the drum and how they must bestow it upon their former enemies. Soon after the Bwaanag ogichidaag laid down their weapons and they too started to connect with their hearts. Peace came into the people's hearts...soon the people of both Nations hunted together, celebrated festivals together, derived their warmth from the same fire, and, in some cases, ate from the same bowl, yes even hung their garments together..."

Video: A beautiful teaching about the big drum from Elder John Rice from Wasauksing First Nation.


The Grandfather Spirit Drum and the Little Boy Drum of the Midewiwin


Bolo tie designed by Zhaawano Giizhik depicting a Grandfather water drum



"The pulsating sound of the drums emulating the sound of flowing water reached the Midewiwin Lodges and entered the hearts of the Medicine People - not just their ears. As soon as the flowing water chant was started, all Medicine People in the Lodges would rise and dance during the remainder of the series of chants."


Traditionally, a Midewigaan (Midewiwin Lodge) is presided over by the Spirit of the Midewiwin called MIDE-MANIDOO, in the form of the Omishoomisinaan Dewe'igan or GRANDFATHER SPIRIT WATER DRUM. It is believed that he sound of the drum, be it a personal or communal one, gives strength and unity and contacts the singers/drummers with GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery. Originally made of a body crafted of the wood of an Elder Tree (basswood), its rawhide skin stretched over the drum head provided by Otter or Deer, its base gifted by Turtle, its rag wrap coiled around the rim contributed by Snake, and the drum stick formed by the beak of Loon, Mide drums in general and the Grandfather Water Drum in particular are regarded as AADIZOOKAANAG: literally: Makers Of Stories; Spirit Grandfathers, or persons of the other-than-human-class. The Mide drum is a living entity given life through the spirits of the wood and the animals that fashioned it, and through the energy that the drum maker put in its construction. The drum, when played, communicates with the natural world and, through that, with the realms of the supernatural, and by beating its rawhide membrane and producing sound from it, the Mide invokes the presence of, and makes himself heard to, the MIDE-MANIDOOG, thus enabling him to actively promote bimaadiziwin (prolonging human life) through that communication.

Zhaawano created this silver Mide drum bolo tie, a sterling silver slide attached to a silver snake chain lanyard, the 0.98 x 1.18 inch (25 x 30 mm) slide featuring the stylized image of the Sun, symbol of Great Mystery and representing the below-told story of the LITTLE BOY DRUM. The green of the large oval malachite stone cabochon adorning the drum head stands for Omizakamigokwe, the Eathmother, source of all life; the smaller malachite stone placed in the head of the drumstick denotes innocence in the heart of the People. A silver  rattle design  is attached to the side of the drum body and set with an oval red coral cabochon representing the element Fire and the campfires of the People as well as the Seven Prophecies that the Great Mystery bestowed long ago on the People, and the Migizi miigwan (eagle feather) hanging from the drumstick handle symbolizes the spiritual aspects of Midewiwin healing practices. The silver snake necklace that serves as the bolo cord refers to the resemblance between a Grandfather Drum and the snake and suggests shared characteristics. (The ability of a snake to change shape and to transform through the shedding of its skin is reflected in the circular form of a Grandfather Drum and the snake skin, which is coiled around its rim in order to hold the skin membrane tightly, can be removed or replaced at will.) Lastly, the silver bangle tips at the ends of the silver lanyard show a Thunderbird's zigzag lightning pattern (which in turn is a metaphorical interpretation of the extended power of the otter, symbol of Mide Medicine), and two stylized leaves representing the Plant and Tree world.


Artist's impression of Midewiwin water drums


The Anishinaabeg use two different types of Waterdrums in the Midewiwin Lodge: the Grandfather Drum  and the Little Boy Waterdrum (see the above image, an artist's impression by the author of both types of water drums). The Grandfather drum can be recognized by the hoop placed at the top of the drum, while the Little Boy Waterdrum is tied together with seven small, round stones. The Little Boy Waterdrum has its origin in a traditional story that will be told below.

In Midewiwin practice, the Grandfather is symbolically supported by OSHKAABEWIS, his ceremonial helper, called the Little Boy Water Drum in reference to the below-told origin story of the Midewiwin, about a little bear boy who descended from the Sun and remained for some time among the Anishinaabeg to teach them the mysteries of the Midewiwin. It is said that the Little Boy points the way to the Grandfather, but when the Grandfather comes, darkness flees before him, and the whole world, the whole sky is enlightened...According to Midewiwin belief the sound of the Mide drum causes the sky to brighten up and the water to be calm for the person who carries the drum. Both midewe'igan and baagaakokwaan are considered to be gifts from GICHI-MANIDOO; the latter is held even more sacred than the drum itself.
To view details of this bolo tie, go to the Fisher Star Creations website


Norval Morrisseau painted hand drum

Miskwaabik Animikii (Copper Thunderbird/Norval Morrisseau) (1932-2007) sounding a contemporary Thunderbird hand drum hand-painted with Thunderbird and turtle designs.


Two Midewiwin Origin Stories 

19th century Misi-zaaga'iganiing (Mille Lacs) ogimaa (chief) Bayezhig related the story of GWIIWIZENS WEDIZHICHIGEWINID: Deeds of a little boy, a traditional origin story of the Anishinaabeg and their Midewiwin Society. Below is given a free rendering in zhaaganaashiimowin (English):

"In the beginning, GICHI-MANIDOO made the MIDE MANIDOOG (Mide Spirits). It first created two men, and two women; but they had no power of thought or reason. Then GICHI-MANIDOO made them rational beings. It took them in its hands so that they should multiply; it paired them, and from this sprung the ANISHINAABEG. When there were ANISHINAABEG (people) it placed them upon the earth, but it soon observed that they were subject to sickness, misery, and death, and that unless it provided them with the Sacred Medicine they would soon become extinct.”

“Between the position occupied by GICHI-MANIDOO and the earth were four lesser manidoog with whom GICHI-MANIDOO decided to commune, and to impart to them the mysteries by which the Anishinaabeg could be benefited. So GICHI-MANIDOO first spoke to one manidoo and told him all it had to say, who in turn communicated the same information to the next, and he in turn to next, who also communed with the next. They all met in council, and determined to call in the wendaanimag noodinoon (four wind manidoog). After consulting as to what would be best for the comfort and welfare of the Anishinaabeg, the wendaanimag noodinoon agreed to ask GICHI-MANIDOO to communicate the Mystery of the Sacred Medicine to the people.”

GICHI-MANIDOO then went to GIIZIS the Sun Spirit and asked him to descend to the earth and instruct the people as had been decided upon by the council. GIIZIS, in the form of a gwiiwizens (little boy), went to the earth and lived with a woman who had a little boy of her own. This family went away in the autumn to hunt, and during the winter this woman’s son left for the Spirit World, or the Land of Souls. The parents were so much distressed that they decided to return to the village and bury the body there; so they made preparations to return, and as they traveled along, they would each evening erect several poles upon which the body was placed to prevent the wild beasts from devouring it. When the boy whose soul had crossed to the other side was thus hanging upon the poles, the adopted child—who was the Sun Spirit—would play about the camp and amuse himself, and finally told his adopted father he pitied him, and his mother, for their sorrow. The adopted son said he could make his brother return to the physical world, whereupon the parents expressed great surprise and desired to know how that could be accomplished."

“The adopted boy then had the party hasten to the village, when he said, “Get the women to make a wiigiwaam (lodge) of bark, put the boy in a covering of wiigwaas (birch bark) and place the body on the ground in the middle of the wiigiwaam.”


Aki-egwaniizid bear painting


On the next morning after this had been done, the family and friends went into this lodge and seated themselves around the corpse. When they had all been sitting quietly for some time, they saw through the doorway the approach of a bear, which gradually came towards the wiigiwaam, entered it, and placed itself before the dead body and said, “ho, ho, ho, ho,” when he passed around it towards the left side, with a trembling motion, and as he did so, the body began quivering, and the quivering increased as the bear continued until he had passed around four times, when the body came to life again and stood up. Then the bear called to the father, who was sitting in the distant right-hand corner of the wiigiwaam, and addressed to him the following words:

Noos gaawiin anishinaabewisii, ayaawiyaan manidoo ningwizis.
Bi-mayaa-miniik niiji-manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-gi-aawiyan.
Noose, zhigwa asemaa ji-atooyeg. E-mikondem mii eta
aabiding ji-gashkitood wenji-bimaadizid omaa agaawaa
bimaadizid mii omaa; niijii-manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-giiweyaan.

(“My father is not a human. I, a son, am a Spirit.
Just as - my fellow Spirit - you now are.
Father! Now, you shall put out tobacco. Recalling that he could do this
only once in order to barely live here, thus he lived here;
my fellow Spirit, so now, I must go home.

“The little bear boy was the one who did this. He then remained among the Anishinaabeg and taught them the mysteries of the Midewiwin; and, after he had finished, he told his adopted father that as his mission had been fulfilled he was to return to his kindred manidoog, for the Anishinaabeg would have no need to fear sickness as they now possessed the Midewiwin which would enable them to live. He also said that his spirit could bring a body to life but once, and he would now return to GIIZIS (the sun) from which they would feel his influence.”***

Another aadizookaan (sacred story) about the origin of Midewiwin relates of Nigig the Otter and how he brought the Ojibweg Medicine and the Mide drum. Wenabozho, the beloved, benevolent aadizookaan (Spirit Helper) of the Anishinaabe Peoples, noticed that the Ojibweg were vulnerable and helpless against famine, sickness, and death, and he decided to help save them from extinction.

“When Nanabozho (as Wenabozho was called by Nookomis, his grandmother) was pensively drifting across the center of Aki (the Earth), he heard laughter in the distance, and as he moved closer he perceived a dark, slender, fast-moving object on the surface of the Big Lake to the west, and then in all four directions; and then, within the blink of an eye, the directions were brought together in what appeared to be a madoodiswan (purification, or sweat lodge) in the center of Aki. It was in this sacred place, where sky, water, and land come together, that Nanabozho saw Nigig, the Otter. Nanabozho, understanding and appreciating the magic phenomenon he had witnessed before his very eyes, instructed the Otter in the mysteries of the Midewiwin and he gave him a Midewewe’igan (Ceremonial  Drum) and the Miigis (cowrie) shell, telling him how they should be used at sacred feasts and during the ceremonial of initiation; he also gave him a Zhiishiigwan (Ceremonial Rattle) to be used when curing the sick, and Asemaa (tobacco) to be utilized in invocations of the Spirits and in making peace with enemies.”

Ojibwe lightning pattern
Nigig offered these sacred objects and instructions to the starving Anishinaabeg and thus saved them from extinction, and they gratefully chose him as symbol of Healing and elected him the patron of their Lodge. Nigig has various ceremonial roles in the Midewiwin Lodge, and it is said there are pictorial representations of him inscribed in several origin-migration birch-bark scrolls and in no fewer than seven scrolls containing mnemonics of Mide songs, and in at least two locations near a body of water sacred rock paintings of Otter can be seen with power lines emanating from his body. He gives his skin for the Midewayaan (Medicine Bag) that carries the medicinal herbs, charms, and miigisag (cowry shells) used for symbolically "shooting" novices during their initiation into the Mide Lodge, and in the old days his power was multiplied by the Anishinaabekweg (women) who portrayed his abstract, patterned image on various ornaments, costumes, utensils, weapons, and sacred objects…particularly that of the zigzag trail of the otter and its tail-swaying movements when pursued – as it tries to deceive the predator or hunter by changing its course. Often called a lightning pattern, this design element, traditionally occurring, often in doubled or even tripled form, in Anishinaabe quill and bead work, is said to represent not only Otter’s zigzag stride but also his extended power, reaching far into the sky, into the realms of the Thunderbirds who create thunder and lightning (see the zigzag outlines at the bottom of  the cylindrical bolo tie tips in the photo). 


Nigig, the Otter


The people that belonged to Zhaawano’s odoodem (clan), Waabizheshi or Marten, sometimes depicted Otter as a hunter and warrior/strategist, and to this day, his characteristics, like his playfulness, craftiness, adaptability, industriousness, and his adventurous and autonomous nature, are still core aspects of the teachings and the leadership of the Midewiwin Lodge. Otter symbolizes new life, and all of life is seen as an extension of Otter’s magical power. Just as from time immemorial the Anishinaabeg have drawn on the resources of both land and water to survive, so too the Otter, being one of their most important mediators between the physical world and the spirit world, lives in both environments, and the People have always tried to emulate his talent for moving through both worlds with ease, playfulness, and humor. 

But above all, Nigig, who first and foremost discloses his power through sound, is respected and revered for having brought the Anishinaabeg the Gift of Medicine and the sacred drum whose pulsating sound reaches far and corresponds with the voices and the heartbeat of the cosmos...

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

The next blog story in the series "The Way of the Hearbeat" will feature a metaphorical story about how the disappearance of the blueberries caused the starvation of the bears.

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

> See part 2 in the series The Way of the Heartbeat: Dream of the Spirit Berries
> Return to the New Fisher Star Creations blog menu
* Traditional story freely adopted from Young Otter woman Design ** Translation by Charles J. Lippert
***Traditional story freely adapted from the Gutenberg files

Jewelry and jewelry photography by ZhaawanArt Fisher Star Creations
"Powwow Dancer," a digitized pen and ink drawing on paper by 
Zhaawano Giizhik © Zhaawano Giizhik 
Acrylic painting of drummers by Cecil Youngfox
"Birth of Thunder," a digitized pen and ink drawing on paper by Zhaawano Giizhik  © Zhaawano Giizhik
Acrylic painting of Bear by Simone McLeod © Simone McLeod
Acrylic painting of Otter by Bruce Morrisseau 


About the author/artist:

Zhaawano Giizhik Agawa Rock

My name is Zhaawano Giizhik. My clan is waabizheshi, the marten.

As an American visual artist and jewelry designer currently living in the Netherlands, I like to draw on the oral and pictorial traditions of my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors from the American Great Lakes area. For this I call on my manidoo-minjimandamowin, or "Spirit Memory"; which means I try to remember the knowledge and the lessons of my ancestors.

The mazinaajimowinan or ‘‘pictorial spirit writings’’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos.

Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many, many  generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the coastline where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet. It is these age-old expressions that provide an endless supply of story elements to my work; be it graphically, through my written stories, as well as in the context of my jewelry making.