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Friday, January 15, 2016

Love Stories from the Land of Many Lakes, Part 5

"Wenabozho and the Wild Roses"

- Updated April 11, 2019 


Ojibwe rose brooch


Aaniin. BiindigenHello, welcome again to our art blog!

Today's story is the fifth in a new blog series named "Love Stories From The Land Of Many Lakes."

It’s a collection of love stories written and provided with jewelry images and illustrations of paintings and drawings by our hands as well as by those of kindred artists. The stories are new stories based on old aadizookaanan (traditional narratives) of our People, the Ojibweg/ Anishinaabeg of gaa-zaaga'iganikaag, the land of many lakes - the Great Lakes area of Mikinaakominis (Turtle Island; North America). These "new old" stories are of a sacred, healing nature and told within a romantic context, their allegorical themes often autobiographic, or at least provided with a personal touch.

The following tale is a zaagi'iwewi-aadizookaan (sacred love story). It is narrated in the form of a frame story, in this case a metaphoric tale of a traditional, sacred nature placed within a larger story that has also embedded in it some autobiographical elements.

The story that we will relate here is about the deep love that a young man feels for the woman of his choice, who, however, lives in a far-away land. The protagonist of the story acknowledges and understands all too well that the Grandfathers made it possible for them to meet in an imaginary place that each night is blessed by the magic light of the Fisher Star (Big Dipper); both know that the Grandfathers, despite the geographical distance and the jealousy-infused petty-mindedness of others, still smile on both of them. This gives both lovers so much strength that their friendship grows and flourishes against all odds. Yet the danger of taking for granted the love that is returned by the other is always there...sacrificing so much for love seems great, but it can only survive the tooth of time if it’s love given in friendship and not thoughtlessly consumed.

The tale Simone and I relate today, therefore, not only becomes a teaching story about following one’s dreams and overcoming distance and prejudice, but also about the necessity to continuously tend, and invest prudently in, the friendship that lay at the base of their mutual love...

"Miigwechiwendan akina gegoo ahaw."
"Be thankful for everything!"

Wayeshkad (How It All Began)

Once upon a time, in the center of Anishinaabe Aki, the land of the Ojibwe People, in a village at the foot of the Falls, a young hunter lived who went by the name of Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi (His Voice Reaches Far). He belonged to Waabizheshi doodem, the clan of the Marten People.

One day Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi noticed an elderly couple accompanied by a young curly-headed woman passing through his village. The girl regarded Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi with intense dark eyes above a mysterious smile and when he asked his parents who she was, they told him she belonged to Name doodem, the clan of the Sturgeon People, that her name was Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan (Wild Prairie Rose) and that she lived in a faraway village to the northwest of the Falls. From the moment they exchanged glances Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi and the beautiful girl fell in love with each other...they met a few times at night, where they shared a blanket under the sacred light of Ojiiganang, the Fisher Constellation. They intuitively knew that the Grandfathers smiled on them. But one day the elder couple and their daughter continued their westward journey and Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi stayed behind, fearing that he would never see the mysterious girl again. 

One day the young hunter decided to mention to his mother his wish to find and marry the girl whose People roamed the high plains in the far-away land in the west called Manidoo-abi (“Land Where The Spirit Sits”). Upon hearing her son’s wish and sensing his grief she urged him to travel to the far-away land and ask 
Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan’s parents for her hand.

On the morning of the next day, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi packed his belongings and started the long journey toward the sunset...

Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan aadizookaan ZhaawanArt Fisher Star Creations


The First Journey

The journey to the far-away land in the west took Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi many moons. One evening in late fall, after traveling two summers and winters through an immensely vast and practically inhabited territory in which he encountered many hardships and dangers Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi found the hunting camp in which Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan and her parents lived.

After mustering courage Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi walked into the bajiishka’ogaan (tipi) that belonged to the girl’s family. Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan’s father motioned for him to sit down by the fireplace, asking the young man for the reason of his visit. “I want to marry Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan”, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi told the old man who pretended to be busy repairing an odaabaanaak (toboggan). Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan’s father acted as if he had not heard the young man’s bold question. Yet as he continued replacing the deerskin tongs of his birchbark sleigh he pondered Wenoondaagoziwid's request for some time which to the young man seemed like forever-, and finally he said with a grim tone, "I do not think my daughter is ready. She has no skills and I therefore do not think she would make you happy. Maybe you should ask for a girl from your own village.” 

Of course the old man was testing the young stranger who came all the way from the Falls and Rapids in the east to ask for his daughter’s hand! But Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, who was very determined, repeated his request, “I have heard many stories relating of the industry and the good nature of your daughter. I want to marry her.” The old man, secretly impressed by the young man’s stubbornness, replied with a yellow wolf-like glow in his eyes - eyes that were almost lost in the folds of his skin -, “I do not know who told you this. My daughter is hard to live with. Everyone knows she is clumsy and moody. She has a vicious and ill-tempered dispositionShe has the nature of gwiingowaage (a wolverine)! Like gwiingowaage has the capacity to bring down deer, elk, and even mountain goats, she will certainly hurt an oshki-inini (young man) who is so foolish as to underestimate her temper.”

But I heard that your daughter is skilled and smart! People say she is temperamental, yet most of the time cheerful” the young man persisted as he was shrugging his shoulders. “Tayaa! Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan’s father replied, unable to surpress his irritation, “you are very persistent. I’ll tell you what. If you feel the same way about Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan next fall, then you can come back. And before you leave in the morning leave a deer at the entrance of my lodge!”

Enh geget”, responded Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi. “Yes, certainly! I will bring a deer to your bajiishka’ogaan and then leave, but only to return in binaakwe-giizis, the leaves falling moon.”

The Second Journey

Thirteen Moons later, by the time the first leaves began to change color again, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi again undertook the long journey through thick forests and across a myriad of waterways to the plains in the far-away land of Manidoo-abi, where he knew he would find the hunting camp where Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan and her parents would be. The day after arrival he left a deer at the entrance of the ajiishka’ogaan of Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan’s father, and the following day he brought another deer and left it at the gibiindige’on (tent flap). Then, on the following morning, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi returned and, for the first time since his arrival in the camp, he spoke to the girl’s father. “I still want to marry Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan,” he said. But the old man looked at the young man with contempt. “Gaawiin,” he said. Go back to your village. Find a woman there. Leave my daughter alone.”

Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi was devastated by the rudeness of the old man. But, being the determined man he was, he built a wiigiwaam (birchbark-covered dwelling) a few hours’ walk outside the hunting camp and, each day after nightfall, he and Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan secretly met under the glow of the Fisher Star (Big Dipper star constellation). In the mornings Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi snared and hunted, and each afternoon he waited in anticipation for sundown, meanwhile singing his love songs.

Gaawiin begaanizid

Giineta bishiigenimin

Gergo gashkendigen

Gego mawiken

G’ga abi naanin.

Baamaa abi-izhaaminaan

N’ga bizaan-ode’e

N’ga bizaanendam.

(“I care for no one else

I care only for you.

Do not be sad

Do not cry

I will come for you

Only when I come to you

Will my heart be at ease

Will my mind be at peace.”)

The Change


Simone McLeod The Gift Of Love canvas
See the website for details


During the fall season the two lovers, maneuvering very carefully, managed to remain undetected by Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan’s peopleBoth were happy. But gradually Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi noticed a change of mood in Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan. At times she seemed unusually bright and happy, but at other times she became moody and withdrawn. Her once intense dark eyes lost their sparkle and she rarely smiled the beautiful smile that had once captivated Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi. Enh, something definitely had upset her mind! An invisible curtain of fog rose between them...Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, who suspected that his lover’s mood change had something to do with her father, tried to get through to her inner pain. But it was to no avail. Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan’s despair began to weigh heavily on his heart and the nature of the songs he sang before nightfall changed.

Dibishkoo biidaanikwag, w’gii abi-izhaa

Ningim dibishkoo wabaanikwag, aabiji-maajaa.

W’naagozi dibishkoo anang

Ningim w’waasa wendaagozi dibishkoo anang.

“Like a cloud has she come and gone

Like a cloud she has now gone forever.

She is like a star that I can see

Yet too remote to grasp.”

The more Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan withdrew in herself, the longer Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi stayed away on his hunting trips, and soon he would not show up when the girl appeared on their usual place of rendez-vous by nightfall. It was as if he did not hold the same love for the woman he once cared for so deeply. It was as if he did not appreciate her any longer, as if did no longer see her as worthy to travel long distances and risk great dangers for.

Then, at the beginning of gashkadino-giizis, the ice freezing over moon, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi decided to return to his village at the foot of the falls and rapids so he could hunt for his old parents, and after he collected his bow and arrows and put on his aagimag (snowshoes), he kissed Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan on her forehead, telling her he would return to her as soon as the waters of rivers and lakes started to thaw. He told her that, since his parents were old and needy, he had no choice but to undertake the long journey back to the land where his People lived. Then, not looking back once, Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi left the young woman behind in bewilderment and confusion...

Grandfather's Counsel

After Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi returned to his people, life took its normal course. Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi kept himself busy hunting and trapping and taking care after his parents. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not forget Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan. He feared that he had made a mistake by leaving her behind in the care of her tyrannical father. He feared he would never see Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan again…so big was his sadness, so tormented became his dreams, that he decided to consult his grandfather, a village Elder who was known wide and far as a great thinker and ayaadizooked (a storyteller).

Mishoomis (grandfather) invited Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi into his wiigiwaam to sit with him at the fire, and after the young man entered the lodge he offered his grandfather asemaa (tobacco) and respectfully addressed him as follows: “Nimishoo! Grandfather! If you allow me I will tell you now about what lives in my heart.” Then, as he was looking into his friendly eyes, he commenced to tell his grandfather about the mysterious girl from the far-away village whom he had fallen in love with under the Fisher Star and related to him his fear of never seeing her again in this life.

Mishoomis, a wise man who knew that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation, understood the depth of the pain and grief that shone through the account his grandson had related to him. He sat quiet for a while before he spoke. Finally, this is what he told Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi:

"Aahaaw noozis, 'ngad aadzooke (Now grandson, I will tell a traditional story).”*

“Many moons ago, when the world as we know it was still young, oginiig, or roses, were the most numerous of all the flowers and the brilliance of their colors used to be unrivaled. So beautiful were the roses to their spirit and senses that the Anishinaabeg held roses in high regard. However, over time the sweet flowers which flourished by the myriads in a great variety of color tones became so common that tayaa! the Peoples of the Anishinaabeg forgot to mark the brilliance of their colors! Ehn noozis, yes my grandson, even the dazzling deep perfume which floated from their petals lost its charm to them! The Anishinaabeg had taken the oginii-waabigwaniin for granted!


Ogin silver brooch Fisher Star Creations
See our website for details


And this, noozis, is why, when the oginiiminagaawanzhiig, the rose bushes, started to decline in number and the roses, the richness and brilliance of their petals, diminished, no one seemed to care, no one deemed it necessary to become alarmed. After all, why should they be concerned? Was the cycle of scarcity and abundance not just a part of the natural order of things, a logical development in the process of bimaadiziwin, life itself? Was the natural cycle of decay and regeneration not something that applied to their relatives the roses as well? Yet atayaa! Woe betided them noozis! it was by reasoning like this, that the Anishinaabeg began to overlook the fragile nature of the balance that exists between all living things in general. Enh noozis, our forefathers closed their eyes to the circular dependency, that delicate fabric of the web that the Great Mystery had woven between plant, animal, and man...with disastrous consequences...

Not before long noozis, the waaboozoog (hare) started to become affected by the scarcity of the oginii-waabigwaniin that once had covered the earth as far as the eye could see, their fatness decreasing and their bellies screaming for food. Although the Anishinaabeg vaguely sensed that something was not quite right - the fur of makwa, the bear, became less rich and its meat tasted less sweet than it used to - it were our relatives the aamoog (bees) and the naanooshkaashiinsag (humming birds) who were the first to be alarmed, and, naturally, in the longer term the bears themselves, since they too depended on the nutricious honey that the roses used to yield in abundant quantities.

Eventually, one summer there were no roses to be seen anywhere and the Anishinaabeg, as their little winged relatives almost became extinct and the makade-makwag (black bears) became moody and even outraged, finally started to worry and even to despair, and at last, everyone, humans and animals alike, became alarmed and started to blame each other. So noozis, it was at the end of this summer, which is still known to our People as Oginiig Angwanaagwadwag Niibin (The Summer Of The Disappearance Of The Rose), when more and more conflicts were reported and famine and desperation were at its highest, that a Gichi-zagaswe’idiwin (Great Meeting) was called. Mizhinaweg (messengers) were sent to all four corners of Aki (the earth) to call upon all the spirits and animals and human beings to congregrate and sit around a huge campfire; everyone was invited, eveyone attended.

During the Great Meeting the delegates of the Anishinaabeg and of every animal being that roamed earth, sky, and waters, chose Makwa, the bear, as ogimaa, the First in Council. "Aaniin nisayedog ashi nimisedog gaye! (Hello brothers, and you too sisters!)" Makwa spoke, "Like you, I am worried about the extinction of our relatives the roses because the honey that their flowers used to yield is becoming scarcer by the day and my People, as well as our little winged relatives aamoog and naanooshkaashiinsag are starving! What do you suggest we can do to help bring the roses back?" 

Many suns passed before the Great Meeting reached an unanimous decision: they called on one of the few hummingbirds that had survived the famine to search the world and find out if there were still roses left, and, if he would find one, to bring it back. Moons went by before the brave Naanooshkaashiins discovered a solitary rose in a far-away land in the west, clinging to a mountain slope as she was desperately trying to catch the last sunrays of the day. Hereupon Naanooshkaashiins carefully lifted the withering rose from her bed and carried it to the Anishinaabeg, who assembled their best Medicine men and women, calling upon them to tend the rose and restore her to life. In four days the rose was well enough to give an account of what happened to her siblings, and, after everyone had congregated again, she managed to say in a voice that quivered with weakness,  “It was waaboozoog, the hare, who ate all of my relatives...”


Norval Morrisseau rabbits


Upon hearing the rose’s account the Council raised a furious uproar that was heard all over Aki. Within seconds the poor waaboozoog that were present that day were seized by the larger animals who beat them up and ferociously swung them around by their ears. So violent was the assault that the ears of the waaboozoog became stretched and their mouths split open! The poor waaboozoog were almost killed that day! But then the rose spoke again, saying, “Tayaa! Good golly, do not kill the waaboozoog! Our destruction was your fault too! Had you cared and looked after us, we might have survived but all of you, animals and humans alike, were indifferent to our leave the poor waaboozoog be!”

Wiinabozho Miinawaa Ayaadizookedjig Waabandizowin

Makwa the bear, Ma’iingan the wolf, and Bizhiw the Lynx, although still enraged, obeyed the words of the rose and, be it reluctantly, released the waaboozoog. But gichi-wiiyagaaj! alas! the waaboozoog, nor the roses, would ever be quite the same again noozis! The waaboozoog did not lose their disformities and the oginii-waabigwaniin never attained their former beauty and abundance. While the scars on the hares' faces remained as a reminder of their excessive indulgence of appetite, it was Wenabozho, the friendly manidoo (spirit) himself, who endowed the roses with thorns to protect them from the insatiable greed of hungry animals. In doing so, Wenabozho imparted on all those who were present at the Great Meeting an important lesson: plants can exist alone, yet neither animals nor men can exist without plants. Disturb the fragile balance and disaster will fall on everyone. You should therefore never cease to cherish and tend our relatives the plants, Wenabozho warned the animals and the humans. Never take them for granted!

Then Wenabozho addressed the Anishinaabeg. 'The thorns I gave to the roses are a reminder of the journey of your lives' he spoke. 'The thorns symbolize the hard-won lessons and teachings without whom you all would surely fail and die. The roses, therefore, represent failure and neglect, but they also stand for acceptance, awareness, self-reflection, mental growth, gratitude, and love. 

And so, nisayedog miinawaa nimisedog, my brothers and sisters, roses are bimaadiziwin, life itself!' 

Giiwenh. So the story goes.”

After pausing a while, Grandfather continued:

“I know noozis, this is a sad tale because it speaks of suffering and disaster, but it is also a story of great beauty and wisdom. I have told you the tale about the roses because I know you are not like the hare who showed intemperance, nor are you like our ancestors in the story who became indifferent to the beauty and the faith of the roses. You will learn to understand that true friendship is like a rose because it, like any other plant, needs continuous tending and nurturing. But what makes a plant different from a friendship between two people is that the former can exist alone but the latter cannot...Tonight, I want you to look up at Ojiiganang, the Fisher Constellation, and send to the girl you left behind in that far-away land in the west your thoughts of healing and reassurance. Her lamenting voice is heard by the Star Grandfathers every night since you left her behind. The Star Grandfathers know! Enh noozis, this lonesome girl from the far-away country in the west whose name is Wild Prairie Rose deserves to have the love she has been sending to you since you left returned to her tenfold! So go out there noozis, and do as your heart has told you all along...”



Pen and ink drawing by Woodland artist Zhaawano


The Third Journey

Wenoondaagoziwid-webaashi, feeling relieved, thanked his grandfather for the story he had told and the wise counsel that he had given him and he went outside, determined to do as his grandfather had suggested. That same night he sent his thoughts and prayers to Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan through the Fisher Star Constellation, and the next morning he put on his aagimag and commenced the long journey back to Manidoo-abi, the far-away land in the west where Bizhikiwiginii-waabigwan lived, determined to find her and never leave her behind again... 

Thus is the zaagi'iwewi-aadizookaan, or sacred love story, about Wild Prairie Rose and His Voice Reaches Far. Throughout time the deep love that existed between these two Anishinaabeg became to the their People a story of hope, strength, and determination that still today shines brightly like the Fisher Star above...

Ahaaw, miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw zaagi'iwewi-aadizookaan. Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga.

Well, thank you for listening to us today, to relate to you this sacred love story. Please come see us again!

Click here to read the sixth episode in the series "Love stories from the Land of Many Lakes":"Gibwanasii and Thunder Eagle Woman."

Traditional Ojibwe story freely adopted by the author from the book Ojibway Heritage by Basil Johnston, University Of Nebraska Press, Bison Book Edition, 1990. Page 43, The Primacy Of Plants.


  • Ogin (Wild Rose), sterling silver brooch set with red coral and onyx by Zhaawano Giizhik (1995). See the website for details.
  • The Sacred Story of the Wild Prairie Rose, pen and ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik (2015)
  • Zaagi'idiwin Miinidiwin (Gift Of Love) by Simone McLeod, acrylic on paper (watercolor block), hot pressed, 100% cotton 2014, 181/8 x 24 inch (ca. 46 x 61 cm). 
  • Children's Animals Friends, acrylic on canvas by Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau) (ca. 1985)
  • Wiinabozho And The Storytellers' Mirror (detail), digital painting by Zhaawano Giizhik (2014)

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.

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