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Sunday, April 17, 2022

What's Your Doodem, part 4: The Story of Giniw


"The Story of Giniw"

Updated: March 14, 2023


Injichaag Anaamayi'ii ("My Spirit Underneath") eagle feather wedding rings


Screeching  the night away With his great feathers spread Catching the darkness up I hear the eagle bird Pulling the blanket back From the East, sleeping still How swift he flies, Bearing the Sun to the morning See how he perches there In the trail of the Eastern sky.


Boozhoo, aaniin, hello, biindigen miinawaa, welcome again! Zhaawano-giizhik nindanishinaabewinikaazowin. Waabizheshi niin indoodem ("My traditional name is Zhaawano Giizhik and I belong to the marten clan.") I am an artist who creates jewelry and graphic art, which I use as illustrations to my blog stories.
This blog story is the 4th already in a series titled What’s Your Doodem, featuring my works of art, sporadically along with those of
kindred artists. Both my stories and my artworks seek to provide an insight into the unique izhinamowin (worldview) of the Anishinaabeg Peoples of Turtle Island.  
Today's story is the story of Giniw, the Spirit of the Golden Eagle. It’s a story about the Golden Eagle Clan of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibweg) and Neshnabé (Bodéwadmik) Peoples.
Why do I want to share this story with you? As I am inspired by the flight of the Golden Eagle, the words and images of the story aspire to breathe acknowledgement of, and gratefulness for, the blessings that our winged relatives to the East bring us each morning when we rise...

As illustrations I used three photo images of the golden eagle and
a pen and ink illustration by myself, as well as an image of a set of white gold eagle feather wedding rings, which I created at my workbench a little while ago. The design of the rings, particularly the inlaid feathers, symbolically reflect the age-old, sacred worldview of my ancestors who lived at Baawitigong, the area around the present city of Sault Ste. Marie on Michigan’s northern peninsula.


Giniw the Golden Eagle in flight


Anishinaabe Izhinamowin

Gizhigong is how the gete-ayaa'ag called the Sky World and all of its beings, corporeal as well as incorporeal. In Anishinaabe izhinamowin (our traditional worldview), these aadizookaanag (grandfather-beings, or cosmic spirits; literally: "makers of sacred stories") are symbolized by the the sun, the moon, the stars, and by rain and thunderclouds which represent the physical order of the Sky Lodge/Universe.

Traditionally, another class of Sky Beings is represented by bineshiwag, or taloned birds of prey, which play an important metaphorical role in the world of the Bird Nations. Conceptually, Animikii Binesiwag, the "Thunder Birds," supernatural creators of thunder and lightning, are typically grouped with gegekwag (hawks) and the hawk-related bird species - like, for example, bibiigiwizens or boonose (the sparrow hawk), gekekoons (the pidgeon hawk), the osprey (alternately called migiziwag, michiigigwanegonooji-ginoozhewesiwaggiigoonyikeshiinhyag, and  eshkamegwenhyag) - as well as mizigiwag (bald eagles) and giniwag (golden eagles). The latter, often described as "war eagle" by our ancestors, plays an important role in many a traditional Anishinaabe story as a natural counterpart of the supernatural Thunderbird.

Among the Three Fires Anishinaabeg Peoples, binesiwag, the large bird species such as cranes, hawks, and eagles represent the Ogimaa Doodemag (Leadership Clans). These clans traditionally provide their communities with ogimaag and eshpabidjig (leaders and spokespersons) charged with intertribal and international communication.


Giniw the Ojibwe War eagle


The Brown-headed War Eagle as Clan Animal

Aaw! Gaa-giniwaash
Dibishkoo zegaanakwak ziigwang
Nindaagawaateshkamaw, nindaagawaateshkamaw 

Naanzhakii-manidoobines Gaa-minotaagozid
Omiigwaanse, omiigwaanse
Bamishi giizhigoong, bamishi giizhigoong
Dibishkoo waasamoowin.
Omashkikiim, omashkikiim
Ozaawaa-zhooniyaawaande, ozaawinaagozi.
Aaw! Mishi-giniw
Aaw! Gaa-mishiginiwaash
Gaawiin ninzigisi
Gaawiin ninzigisi.
Oh, Black-headed Eagle Flying
Who Is Feathered All The Way Flying
Like a storm cloud in spring
He overshadows me, she overshadows me.
Flying Down Spirit Bird Who Makes A Pleasant Sound
His feather, her feather
Is flying through the sky, is flying through the sky
Like the speed of lightning.
He has black wings,
She has black wings,
His medicine, her medicine
Is colored brown, appears to be gold.
Oh, Mighty Black-headed Bird
Oh, Mighty War Eagle Flying
I am not afraid
I am not afraid.
-  My personal song to Giniw


Among the Three Fires Anishinaabeg Peoples, binesiwag, the large bird species such as cranes, hawks, and eagles, represent the Ogimaa Doodemag (Leadership Clans). These clans traditionally provide their communities with ogimaag and eshpabidjig (leaders and spokespersons) charged with intertribal and international communication. Illustration: "Gift of the Sacred Pipe, © 2021 Zhaawano Giizhik.


The Leadership clans of the Three Fires Anishinaabeg (Ojibweg/Misizaagiwininiwag, Odaawaag, Bodéwadmik)

  • Ajijaak(we) (Crane or "Thunderer"; sometimes described by its metaphorical name Baswenaazhi or "Echo Maker")(Misizaagiwininiwag/Mississaugas, Ojibweg, Odaawaag, Bodéwadmik)
  • Binesi (Ojibweg) or Wamigo (Bodéwadmik) (Thunderbird)
  • (O)migizi(we) (Bald Eagle) (Misizaagiwininiwag/Mississaugas, Ojibweg, Odaawaag, Bodéwadmik)
  • Giniw (Golden Eagle) (Ojibweg, Bodéwadmik)
  • Gekek (Hawk) (Ojibweg, Odaawaag)
  • Bibiigiwizens (Sparrowhawk) (Odaawaag)
  • Makade-gekek(we)/Mkedésh-gékékwa (BlackHawk) (Bodéwadmik)
  • Ashagi (Heron) (Odaawaag)


In earlier times, the Eagle doodem used to be once one of the smaller Leadership clans in Anishinaabe society - particularly among the Ojibweg and Bodéwadmik. However, the number of Eagle doodem members grew with a growing influx of adoptees during wars with other nations; particularly those whose paternal ancestors were of gichi-mookomaan (Euro-American) descent were assigned to this doodem. Nowadays the combined Eagle clans (Giniw, Migizi) are among the most numerous Anishinaabe odoodemag across Turtle Island (the North American continent).


Giniw the Golden eagle


The Brown-headed War Eagle as Protector, Visionary, and Prayer Carrier

From of old, Giniw is Omishoomisimaa (a Grandfather) who is looked upon by the Anishinaabeg Peoples as protector of Ziigwan, the spring Time Spirit of the East, and as a spirit that watches over all women of the Nation. He represents closeness to GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery...Giniw is honored for his vision as he sees the inclusive whole.

Like Migizi the bald eagle, he is the prayer carrier and messenger of the Anishinaabeg. As he soars across the skies, one knows he is carrying the prayers to the Great Mystery.


The etymology of Giniw

"Giniw" describes the talons of the Golden Eagle - in fact, it has same base as in oginiiwaatig (rose bush), which is describing the pointy thorns of this plant. Since Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language) is a verb-based language, giniw isn't a noun like you would think (giniw = eagle), but it's a verb describing the bird's attributes.

The meaning of Giniw's feathers

Carrying an eagle feather is a sacred act among our Peoples - this includes the Anishinaabeg, the Ininewak (Cree), Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Oceti Cakowin (Sioux), Dine' (Navajo), Hopi, and many more tribes and Nations from across our Turtle Island.

Traditionally, to be given a feather from Gimisoomisinaan Giniw (Our Grandfather the Golden Eagle) is the highest honor one can receive. It must be given only to those who have earned it, and it must never be taken by force. It comes along with great responsibilities.

In some Western communities (such as Mikinaakwajiw-ininiwag, the North Dakota based Turtle Mountain "band of Chippwea Indians") the war eagle is honored as oshkaabewis (ceremonial helper) of the Thunderbird in the Sun Dance ceremony. It is said that the power of its feather comes directly from the Thunderbirds themselves; a person who is worthy of wearing an eagle feather must therefore acknowledge that he is recognized by the Animikii Binesiwag themselves as being fit and able to use their formidable spirit powers...


Eagle feather wedding rings Native American style


Symbolism of the wedding rings

This wedding ring set, titled "My Spirit Underneath," is constructed of a sleek and modern overlay design of 14K white and red gold. The rings, which are inlaid with a feather symbol, distinguish themselves by a minimal design, their sober yet warm white-on-red tones creating a story of beauty and wonder.

The rings, symbolizing the golden eagle, and, in a deeper sense, matter and outward manifestation, reveal, in the shape of the recessed eagle feather, the ojichaagoma (soul or inner power) of two partners-for-life. The red gold interiors of the rings subtly show through the openings in the white gold exteriors.

The eagle feathers of white gold represent the spirit and the far vision of Giniw, the golden war eagle, powerful grandfather and spirit keeper of the East who carries our thoughts and prayers to GICHI-MANIDOO and who teaches us the virtues of courage, vision, and clarity of the mind.

The straight cannelure of red gold that runs parallel with the inlaid eagle feather depicts tghe inner, or spiritual if you like, journey that the owners of the ring set take together on mino misko manidoo-miikana, the good red road - the spiritual road that ideally leads to mino-bimaadiziwin, a better life for one self and each other and, eventually, for the People and the generations to follow.

The way I see it, the clean and minimalistic design of these eagle feather rings is a contemporary stilistic statement of beauty and design that may be at first sight Western-oriented. Yet at the same time the eagle feather symbol and the bright white color of the ring exteriors reflect the power of the eagle as well as the spirit of wisdom of giiwedinong-mitigwaakiing nindaayaanikaaj mishoomisag: my Ojibwe ancestors from the northwoods. I wanted the rings to be a stylish synthesis between Gete-anishinaabe izhinamowin (the old worldview) and contemporary design, and I wanted them to be a heart-felt prayer and to speak eloquently of pure form, as well as of a time of wisdom and harmony.

Haw sa, it is my hope that the design and the story of the rings guide the future owners of the rings to the lessons that they both seek while together walking the Path of Life and, eventually, bring them both closer to the teachings of the eagle feather - and, ultimately, through thse lessons, through ceremony and reflection, to GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery that lives in everything the world and the Great Sky Lodge is made of.

Giiwenh. That's how far the story goes. Thank you for reading and listening.

Miigwechiwendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything.

> See the website for details of the wedding rings

> Read part 5 in the series: Dance of the Otter



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

As an American 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.


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