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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 7

Mishi-name, The Great Sturgeon

- Updated May 17, 2019


Anishinaabe Name Doodem
Click on image to find out more about this acrylic painting by Simone McLeod ©2014 Simone McLeod 

Boozhoo! Hello! Biindigen, welcome to our new blog story!

We are Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik. By way of a blog series called "REFLECTIONS OF THE GREAT LAKES," accompanied by our own works of art and jewelry designs, as well as artworks by kindred artists, we seek to capture - and pay homage to - the spirit and fascinating beauty and majesty of GICHIGAMIIN, the Great Seas of the Anishinaabe People, and of all the creatures that live near, on, or beneath them. 

Like we explained in our previous blog story in the series, to our ancestors, the waters themselves and their undercurrents and beaches and islands covered with mists have always evoked a myriad of mysterious representations of manidoo. These spirit beings, such as mishi-bizhiwag (great horned underwater cats), mishi ginebigag (great horned underwater snakes), 
nibiinaabekwewag (mermaids), and mishi-name-ginebigag (great snake sturgeons), occasionally appear in natural guise with distinct animal (and sometimes human) personalities.


Wedding rings Name Babaamaadiziwin designed by Zhaawano Giizhik
Name Babaamaadiziwin - Path of the Sturgeon - bicolor gold wedding bands designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. Click here to view details of the wedding bands.

Aadizokaa Giigoonh

Lake sturgeon is one of the FISH SPIRITS native to the Great Lakes region that play a role in many aadizookaanan, or sacred stories of the Anishinaabe Peoples that live close to the lakes. This ancient, extremely tough fish species, that survived centuries of pollution, over-fishing, and dams, can grow to be more than six feet long. Sturgeons swam in ancient seas while dinosaurs still walked the earth...

Since time immemorial, lake sturgeon, besides playing a fundamental role in the economic life of the Anishinaabeg and Ininewak (Cree) Peoples whose communities were, and still are, depending on fish as a major food crop during the entire year and as a central item of exchange, takes a central place in their ceremonial life as well. Being an important connection with both the natural and the supernatural world, Name (pronounce nah-MEH), as he is called in Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language), is still known as Adizookaa Giigoonh, a Grandfather Fish who provides spiritual help to the People (see the above image of an acrylic painting by Simone McLeod depicting her clan animal, a sturgeon, giving birth to the Seven Grandfathers, or Prophets).

Traditionally, Grandfather Sturgeon, since he offers himself abundantly to the spearers during the fishing season, symbolized to our ancestors selflessness and sustenance, and he taught them the need for modesty and wise and generous sharing. When a person killed an animal or collected the first fruits of the season - like maple sugar, blueberries, and wild rice -, he was supposed to, in the spirit of Na-me, first offer it to the Spirit-Grandfathers of the Universe and then divide it among the camps. Then he would cook his own share and invite all the old people to come and eat with him.

Wii winaanaa-naadaashimag mishi-name
Mii, wii gagwedibenimag.

"I shall go after the great sturgeon in the wind
Thus, I shall test the great sturgeon."



"I set my nets near the shore
I set my nets halfway across the lake."*


Agawa rock panel





Traditionally, Name, like other fish species such as Owaazisii (Bullhead catfish), Maanameg (Catfish), Namebin (Sucker), Ginoozhe (Pike), and Adikameg (Whitefish), is also known to have played a fundamental role in structuring Anishinaabe society through their clan systems. In Anishinaabe society, families, which have an extended nature, are traditionally organized into clans; the purpose of these clans is to divide labor and spiritual/ceremonial tasks, provide general support, and to stress identity of self and the group. Through the clanship system founded by the Anishinaabe ancestors, these fish species as well as a myriad of land animals, reptiles, and birds, instill in the respective clan members certain virtues to emulate and provide them with a set of life-long responsibilities to live up to. One’s clan animal/fish/bird is regarded as a progenitor - the first ancestor in the direct line -  and is therefore not to be consumed; to do so would be cannibalism.



The Sturgeon Snake


Anishinini painter Carl Ray

The complex and varied place that Name occupies in the cosmological world view of the Anishinaabeg and the Ininiwak is illustrated by various oral stories, with a metaphoric, often sacred nature, revealing the extraordinary social and spiritual relations that exist between man and this Grandfather Fish. 

In some of these stories, Name is a descendant of a snake, and there are many tales relating of Mishi-name-ginebig, the Great Sturgeon Snake, prowling the waters of the lakes, that - sometimes described as a huge snake with a fish tail, a red belly and a box-shaped head, sometimes with horns -, if consumed, will strangle a human being, or even transform him into a snake... 



The story of Name Odakanid (the Horned Sturgeon)


"Once upon a time, some Anishinaabe giigoonyikewininiwag (Ojibwe fishermen) got in their canoes to look for Name (sturgeon); they had spears; and they went out on the lake. They looked down into the water and they happened to see a sturgeon.

One man speared the sturgeon. Then, one fisher was heard saying: Atayaa! Nashke gosha ezhinaagozid wa’aw name. Wadakani’ind igo moozoong ezhinaagozinid wadakani! (“Oh boy, look at how this sturgeon looks! He has horns like a moose, he has horns like him!”)

All fishermen came in their canoes to see how the sturgeon looked. “It really does have horns!” they said. “So it’s manidooname (a sacred sturgeon)!”
Then the men smoked, and put asemaa (tobacco) on the water of the lake. After they smoked they went their separate ways.

One day, another canoe of Ojibwe giigoonyikewininiwag went out, and again they saw this Aadizookanaa Giigoonh (magic fish creature). Then, taking his spear, one of them speared the horned sturgeon. After he brought it up from the water, he saw Migizi (a bald eagle) clinging to the sturgeon’s head. Then all the giigoonyikewininiwag had a big laugh." **  

Giiwenh. So goes the ancient Teaching Story about Mishi-name, the Great Sturgeon... Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to our storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, we hope to see you again soon. 

Please click here to read the next story in the series...

Carl Ray Native Woodland artist


*A free rendering by Zhaawano of a traditional Midewiwin song for good fishing. Source: Basil Johnston, Ojibway Ceremonies, University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London, 1982.
**Source: Oshkaabewis Native Journal; a free rendering by Zhaawano of a retranscription by Jeremy Kingsbury of the Ojibwe traditional narrative "Name Wadakanid."
From top to bottom: 
"Name Doodem"' (Sturgeon Clan"), 2014, acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod, 24 x 30 inch;
"Path of the Sturgeon" - bicolor gold wedding bands designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik;
Agawa rock panel, a sturgeon chased bny mishi-ginebig, the mythical horned underwater snake;
"Snake Sturgeon," acrylic on canvas by Carl Ray;
"Spirit Fish,"  1975, acrylic on canvas by Carl Ray, 24 x 30 inch.


Simone McLeodZhaawano Giizhik Tammo Geertsema

About the authors/artists:
Simone McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is an Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962. She belongs to the Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) of the ᓇᐦᑲᐌ (Nakawē-Ojibwe Anishinaabeg). 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 Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist, a writer, and a designer of jewelry and wedding rings, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.

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