Zhooniyaa, Precious Gift of the Underworld
This blog post is part 2 in a series titled "Reawakening Of The Medicine People." Today we will focus on zhooniyaa (silver) and the relation of this sacred metal to my art and to the traditions of my ancestors, the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg of the North American Great Lakes area. Zhooniyaa used to be a traditional metal to the Anishinaabeg, and, being an artist who works with precious metals and being smart enough to be receptive to the suggestions made by my ex partner Simone, I decided to take her advice. So, in the Spirit Moon of the year 2015, I started to honor and restore the silversmithing tradition of my ancestors by designing a new line of sterling silver wedding rings. The title of the line is Anishinaabe Silver Wedding Rings. Miigwech nishiim!
Why silver rings?
Silver rings are more affordable than gold rings; extra thick plate is used to compensate the lower durability of silver. My silver rings feature inside graphics - some of which have multicolor gold inlays - stylistically inspired by , the ancient pictographic art of the Anishinaabe Peoples. Some of these "spirit drawings" are eternalized on sacred birchbark scrolls, on animal hide, or copper items while others are painted on, or incised in, rocks and cliff walls in remote locations near coastlines and river banks where earth, water, sky, underground, and underwaters meet.
|"The Spirit of the Sleeping Giant." Click here to view details of the ring set.|
The meaning and use of silver
|"Thunder Bay" by the late Ojibwe painter Roy Thomas|
Nibaad Misaabe, the Sleeping Giant
There are several fascinating stories related to zhooniyaa. One relatively recent aadizookaan (traditional story) is connected with the southern tip of a rocky peninsula called Nibaad Misaabe (The Sleeping Giant).
According to a local Anishinaabe tradition, this majestic rock formation jutting out of Animikii-wiikwedong (Thunder Bay) – a body of water that forms the head of Gichigami, or Lake Superior - is the petrified body of Wiinabozho. Our ancestors knew Wenabozho, who was also known as Nanabijou, or Nanabush, as the First Man who walked the Earth, a supernatural Grandfather and a Teacher who a long time ago was sent to Earth to clear the path for those that came after him, and give names to each and every part of Creation, including the lakes, rivers, and islands that make up the vast area that would become known as Anishinaabe Aki, the Great Land of the Anishinaabeg…
Wenabozho, who was truly fond of the Anishinaabeg – the Ojibweg of Miinoong (Isle Royal) for instance, gave him a prominent role in their storytelling and honored him with the honorary title of the Spirit of the Deep Sea -, had gifted them with a mine rich with a vein of pure waabishki-zhooniyaa asiniiwaabik (silver ore).
Wenabozho, hurt and ashamed, had been turned into rock overnight…GICHI-MANIDOO’s warning had come true and the beloved manidoo of the deep waters had been turned to stone for eternity…or will he perhaps awaken one day?
The return of Wenabozho
|. Sterling silver wedding bands designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano, depicting the dramatic outlines of Nibaad Misaabe (the Sleeping Giant). The sides of the wedding rings show graphic insides containing ovally shaped designs of 14K red gold and sterling silver (the latter are not visible in the photo.) These inlays symbolize the, respectively, copper and silver deposits in the area of Thunder Bay, Ontario, which since time immemorial hold a sacred meaning for the Anishinaabe Peoples who inhabit the Great Lakes district. Go to the website Fisherstar Creations.com to see price and order information about the wedding ring set.|
*Misko-biiwaabikoo ("miskwaabik") literally, red metal, is, another word in use for (a piece of) copper.
Simone McLeod (her traditional name
is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth
Blanket") is an Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in
Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon
clan). Simone feels special kinship with her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibiNitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of
Manitoba. She 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 in the past.