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Friday, July 22, 2022

What’s Your Doodem, Part 6: Shells, Cranes & Clans

"Of Shells, Cranes & Clans: A Story of the Origin of Our Clans"


The Six Prophets Who Came Out of the Atlantic Ocean


"Many moons ago, GICHI-MANIDOO sent Ajijaak (a sandhill crane) to earth on a mission. While the spirit-bird was descending, he uttered loud and far sounding cries heard by ininiwag (humans) and manidoog (spirits) alike. Some say the cries must even have startled Makadeshigan, the spirit of th Underworld! Slowly circling down above Gichigamiin, the Great Fresh Water Lakes, sending forth his echoing cry, pleased with the numerous whitefish that glanced and swam in the clear waters and sparkling foam of the rapids, crane finally chose a resting place (known as the fifth stopping place) on a hill overlooking beautiful Baawiting. Again the crane sent forth his solitary cry and the clans of Makwa (bear), Awaasii (catfish), Maang (loon) and Moozoonii-Waabizhesh (combined clans of little moose and marten) gathered at his call. They soon congregated a large town near the Rapids and a Ceremonial Lodge of the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society) was erected there, and for the second time since the People had left the Dawn Land the sound of the Midewiwin Grandfather Drum reverberated across the land and the waters. Since then the crane, who is sometimes called Baswenaazhi (the Echo Maker) and regarded as a symbol of eloquence and leadership, presides over all councils."

-   Free after Dagwaagaane, the gichi-ogimaa (head chief) of the CraneClan, ca. 1850


Boozhoo, aaniin, biindigen! Hello and welcome!

Welcome to part 6 in the "What's Your Doodem" series.

Today's story follows the legendary westward migration route of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg Peoples, called Path of the Seven Fires, to the land that nowadays comprises Michigan State and part of southern Ontario – and farther west. The historical migration was depicted by the Midewiwin through pictographs on birchbark scrolls, but also recorded in place names, and also in song. It is a story that lives deep in our collective heart…

Part 1: Journey to the Dawn Land

Many strings of lives ago, after leaving the Dawn Land on the seaboards of Zhiiwitaagani Gichigami (the Atlantic Ocean), our ancestors followed the path of a shining seashell in the sky and the flight of a Sandhill Crane, all the way to the land that is nowadays called Michigan, and beyond. Central in the story is the emergence of five Grandfathers who, in the era of the Third Fire, came out of the waves of Lake Michigan to bring my ancestors who colonized that land five clan groups - a system of kinship that exist even today - and teach them how to survive in their new home. 

But what only few people know is that prior to the westward migration to the Great Lakes, our very remote ancestors undertook a similar migration journey – yet in reverse direction…

According to an old Midewiwin allegory, a long time– possibly two to three millennia - ago a large group of Anishinaabeg left their homeland in the Great Lakes area in search for a land of Abundance, which they presumed was in the east. After many years of traveling the migrants came to the northern shores of Zhiiwitaagani-gichigami (the Atlantic Ocean), and so long did they remain that most forgot their origin, and they began to refer to themselves as WAABANAKIIG, People of The Dawn Land.


The Six Prophets Who Came Out of the Atlantic Ocean

Midemiigis Omishoomisimaag Waabanakiing ("The Miigis Grandfathers from the Dawn Land"), art print by Zhaawano Giizhik. See the website for details.

Part 2: Emergence of the Clans from the Atlantic Ocean and the Prophecy of the Seven Fires

For many years these Waabanakiig People were seemingly living a life undisturbed by strife, turmoil, or disagreement. One day six Mystery Beings emerged from the Ocean who had taken the form of miigisag (cowrie shells). These Grandfathers from the Ocean established a system of kinship based on odoodemag (clans or totems).

Now, the Miigis Being who – still according to official Ojibwe Midewiwin tradition – appeared first out of the sea was a fish called Wawaazisii (Bullhead); he would form the phratry whose clans would deliver the teachers, scholars, and healers of the Nation. Bullhead, along with Ajijaak (Crane), Nooke (Bear), Moozwaanowe (Little moose-tail), and Aan’aawenh (Pintail Duck), created the original five clan groups. The sixth Being that came out of the sea, a Binesi-miigisag-ayaa or Thunderbird Seashell Being, is said to have sunk back into the sea after being exposed to the light and heat of the sun; other sources claim that he sank back into the Ocean to save the Peoples because he was so powerful that it was impossible to gaze at him without perishing...

The remaining five Miigis Beings delivered their message to eight prophets, and seven of these prophets asked a messenger to see if he could find ways to improve the condition and wellbeing of the Waabanakiig People. The messenger - some say that he was nigig, an otter, who mastered the Waabanakii language - began a quest that would lead him to an abinoojiinh (child), and after receiving approval from the Seven Prophets, the messenger tutored the child in mino-bimaadiziwin (how to live a full and healthy life). Each of the Prophets then instructed the child with a principle, a guideline that honored one of the basic virtues intrinsic to mino-bimaadiziwin. These Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewinan (Seven Sacred Teachings, or laws) became the foundation of Midewiwin spiritual practice as we know it today. 

What can be said of this system of kinship, that the Six Miigis Beings from the Atlantic Ocean introduced to the Waabanakiig? The odoodem or clan to which an individual belonged, and which was most often an animal, bird, or fish but could also be a tree or a manidoo (spirit, such as the thunderbird or the merman), determined their place and role within their community. An odoodem tied a person to a specific place, especially a place that the odoodem animal (or tree, or spirit) inhabited. Kinship, and the clan system that reflected it, was at the heart of all social relationships. In fact, the odoodem or clan was the foundation of Anishinaabe identity. Odoodem identity stood at the base of the division of labor, teaching, healing, defense, and leadership/communications. Literally all social - and, in some cases, political - interaction was conditioned by odoodem kinship. Clans used to be the number 1 binding factor; "tribal" labels held little or no meaning. Individuals regarded themselves as members of a doodem first, then a(n) (immediate) family, and then a community.

And so it happened that, along with a set of moral values and a new form of kinship, the Miigis Beings, through the seven prophets appointed by them, left the Waabanakiig People with seven predictions of what the future would bring, warning them of a time "when a light-skinned race would arrive at the shores and bring death and destruction." If the People would not leave, the shadow of illness would befall on them, their once happy world befouled, and the waters would forever turn bitter by disrespect.

Until today, these predictions, which referred to seven different time periods called ishkoden (fires), represent key spiritual teachings for Turtle Island, suggesting that the different colors and traditions of the human beings can come together on a basis of respect.

Despite the warnings many Waabanakiig decided to stay behind to protect the Eastern doorway of their Nation from the light-skinned race that had been prophesized to soon arrive at the shores of the Dawn Land. As the journey was marked by the niizhwaaso-ishkoden (seven fires), the migrants were told that a miigis (a radiant cowry shell appearing in the western sky) and an ajijaak (sandhill crane) would show them the way. One of the seven ishkoden came in the form of a vision handed over by the most powerful of the Miigis prophets who had emerged from the Ocean, and who was associated with an Animikii-binesi (Thunderbird). An Abenaki woman who dreamed of this powerful Thunderbird-related prediction told the People about several mikinaako-minisensing (turtle-shaped islands) that would be encountered during the westward migration.

Two to three thousand summers ago, after receiving permission from the greater Waabanaki Nation of their safety in crossing other Nations' territories, a large group of migrants began to move inland, away from the coast of the Salt Sea. This decision would initiate the biggest mass migration in the history of Turtle Island.

Along the migration, which would last approximately 1500 to 2500 years, small family groups or odoodemag (totem clans) stopped, set up permanent settlements - with the societies centered around the Medicine Lodge that was the forerunner of the Midewiwin as we know it today - and eventually became separate Nations. As they traveled deeper and deeper into unknown and often hostile territories, these courageous Waabanakiig migrants started to refer to themselves as Anishinaabeg again: “Spontaneous Beings," after an ancient creation story that located the origin of the Anishinaabeg in the sky.

In this time of the First Fire, large groups of migrants had slowly migrated down Gichigami-ziibi (the St. Lawrence River) to Mooniyaang (present-day Montreal); here the Nation would find the first "turtle-shaped island" marked by a miigs, as had been foretold by the Thunderbird prophet. Here, at the first stopping place, the Midewiwin Lodge was erected for the first time since the migrants had left the Dawn Land.

Once Mooniyaang had been colonized, the larger body of migrants proceeded to ANIMIKIIWAABAD (or Wayaanag-gakaabikaa, the Niagara Falls) - where they encountered the second island the shape of a turtle - and beyond, to “a place where two lakes are connected by a narrow river." Once they had reached the area around Waawiyaataanong (present-day Detroit) and discovered another turtle-shaped island that would become their third stopping place -, they had already separated into several divisions or subnations.

From this spot at the shores of the present-day Detroit River the larger body of Anishinaabeg migrants proceeded to the area now known as Lower Michigan State - which they possibly reached prior to 800 C.E.From here, as they still followed the radiating miigis in the sky, they went on to several regions north and west of Lake Superior and, from there on, west of Lake Michigan.


Pen-and-ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the website to view details 


The great trek westward through this immensely vast and practically inhabited territory was a heavy, tough undertaking often full of hardships and dangers. Not only had the migrants to conquer insurmountable natural barriers and face a myriad of little and big manidoog (spirits) and possibly dangerous mishibizhiwag and mishiginebigoog (catlike and horned, serpentlike underwaterspirits) guarding the sacred landmarks and mystic locations -particularly near the waterways and coastlines -; they were also regularly hindered by warlike parties of Naadoweg (Kanien’kehaka or Mohawk) and other Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nations roaming the territory. 

The worst adversary, however, lurked in themselves...

Not long after reaching the southern shores of Miishii'iganiing (the Michigan lakes) and Mishigamiing (Lake Michigan), the Anishinaabeg had become lost and their once strong sense of oneness shattered, and they split in a northern and a southern branch. The southern group divided into three nations (the Ojibweg, the Odaawaag, and the Boodewaadamiig), when one day a Boodewaadamii boy - as had been predicted when the People still lived in the Dawn Land - dreamed of islands in the form of Stepping Stones. The direction of the Mide Miigis (sacred shell) had been lost, the Midewiwin diminished in strength, and the boy's dream about the Stepping Stones pointed the way back to the traditional ways of the Dawn Land People. Like a prophet in the Dawn Land had predicted, now the time of the Second Fire had arrived: 

"A boy will have a dream and the dream will show the direction to the stepping stones to the future of the Anishinaabe people." 

Hereupon, the 
Misi-zaagiwininiwag, who had migrated along a northern route by the present-day Credit River to what is now Georgian Bay, called for the three groups of the southern branch - whom they regarded as “lost ones" - and entrusted them with the task of forming a political confederation, called Niswi-mishkodewin or Council of Three Fires. Midewiwin sources date the formation of the Council of Three Fires to 796 CE at MichilimackinacThis was at the third major stopping place of the migrants. Since the dream of the Stepping Stones, which came from the Boodewaadamii boy, proved the vision and leadership of his People, the Boodewaadamiig were appointed as the oboodawaadamoog (hearth tenders) of the council. 

After they had formed the “Three Fires," all three Nations started to occupy the area around Naadowe-Gichigami (Lake Huron), but still many migrants decided to move on and to continue following the waterways to the West.

The migrants, after making their way via the Falls of Animikiiwaabad and the Detroit area, followed the “stepping stones” (islands in Lake Huron) and reached the fourth major stopping place: Manidoo-minising (present-day Manitoulin Island), which they recognized as the fourth turtle-shaped island. It was here, on Manidoo-minising, that for the second time since the Anishinaabeg had left the Dawn Land a Midewigaan (Ceremonial Lodge of the Midewiwin) was erected and the age-old beliefs from the motherland were rekindled. The ancient Midewiwin rites were carried out again, the sound of the Mide water drum reverberated across the island and the waters of the lake, and Manidoo Minising became the cultural center of Anishinaabe Akiing (the Land of the Ojibwe Peoples). 

Once the revived rites and ceremonies had healed the broken peoplehood, the still considerably large body of migrants moved southwestward to the Mackinaw area, and then, following the flight of a crane that the Great Mystery had sent, north to the legendary falls of Baawitigong, called nowadays Sault Ste. Marie (Baawitigong is the name of the settlements about Baawiting, the Falls of St. Mary). This was the fifth major stopping place.

Here, not far from the rapids of Gichigami-ziibi (the river that nowadays is called St. Mary's), the Anishinaabeg discovered in the 15th common century the fifth turtle-shaped island of the Seven Fires Prophecy. The odoodemag (totem clans) of the loon, the bear, the catfish, and the marten, gathering at the call of the crane, congregated a large town and soon another Midewigaan (Grand Medicine Lodge) was erected. The Mide rites were performed for the third time since the Anishinaabeg had left the homeland in the East. Baawiting would become the economic and political center of Anishinaabe Aki, the vast empire of the Anishinaabe Peoples.

According to Midewiwin tradition, the era of the Third Fire had arrived.


Odoodemag Agwaataawin  ("Emergence of the Clans from the Waves of Mishigami")

Odoodemag Agwaataawin ("Emergence of the Clans"), art print by Zhaawano Giizhik. See the website for details.


Part 3: Emerging of the Clans from Lake Michigan and the colonization of the Northern Peninsula

Six or seven hundred years ago, in the era of the Second Fire, in this new land that nowadays comprises the southern peninsula of Michigan State, five aadizookaanag (Mystery Beings) had emerged from the waters of Mishigami (Lake Michigan), teaching the colonists how they could formalize and extend a vast net of kinship that would forever cement the different groups together. Hereupon the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg of Michigan began to form five groups of patrilineal kin (odoodemag or totemic clans) whose members thought of themselves as descendants of an ancient animal ancestor. These clans were Ajijaak the Crane; Maang the Loon; Maanameg the Catfish; Makwa the Bear; and Moozons the Little Moose/Waabizheshi the Marten. These clans
represented five basic needs and duties, on an individual as well as social level.

What can be said about the animals that represent these five clans that emerged from the waves of Mishigami?

  • Ajijaak, the Crane, also called Baswenaazhi, the Echo Maker,is responsible for leadership and external communication because of his loud and clear voice. Members of the Crane clan are traditionally noted for giving direction and for their oratory skills. The Waabajijaak or White Crane clan provided for the traditional hereditary chiefs, and some of the more powerful chiefs of the Waabitigowininiwag met the first French explorers of Lake Superior. 
  • Maang, or Loon, the skilfull fisher known for his loud, wild cry, and his habit of assuming his role of subchief, sometimes executive-chief-of-birds, with pomp and authority, definitely didn't make him very popular with the rest of the birds. Loon believes that, since nature placed a collar around his neck resembling the sacred miigis shells and also provided him with an eye-dazzling miigisiyesimiigan (wampum breastplate), he is entitled to a leading place in council...However, this badge of honor is being openly denied by the Crane. Nevertheless, the Anishinaabeg became very fond of him! Members of the Loon Clan are usually responsible for leadership and internal communications; in the past, loon clan members often acted as subchiefs, in conjunction with the ogimaag (chiefs) of the Crane clan. Loon clan members are often charged with the community's council fires and help facilitate dialogue on all internal and/or domestic issues. By working together and regularly checking on each other, Maang doodem and Ajijaak doodem gave the Ojibweg a balanced government.
  • Awaasii or Catfish, representing one of the five odoodemag that gathered at Baawitigong, is known for producing the intellectuals of the People. Another name for this clan is MaanamegTraditionally, Awaasii/Maanameg People are noted for their ability to combine two forms of training: imparting skills and knowledge, and passing on wisdom to the young. It was especially the Elders' task to teach about life through storytelling, chants, and dances, and to prepare the young for a vision quest. Fish clan members are also known to draw on their knowledge to solve disputes between the leaders of the Crane and Loon Clans. Traditionally fish clan people are known for long life and baldness in old age.
  • Makwa, the Bear was selected for his fierceness and bravery and is therefore in charge of defense. The clan that bear represents is called Nooke, or “tender,” named so after his soft paws. They are the police force and the medics of their Nation. Bear clan members have always served and protected their communities and since they traditionally spend much time outdoors they have great knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs used for treating minor diseases and infections.  Traditionally, bear clan members are known for their thick black hair that never whitens even in old age.
  • Moozens, also called Moozoons or Moozonii, represents those that are kin to the Little Moose. These are the providers of their community, responsible for hunting, gathering, and scouting.
  • Waabizheshi, the Marten, who together with the Little Moose shares the same doodem group among my People, is the progenitor of my ancestors. Like those that belong to Nooke doodem, Marten clan members are looked upon as ogichidaag (warriors). Waabizheshiwag are warrior clan people inclined to be great strategic logistic thinkers and defenders of MINO BIMAADIZiWIN, the Good Way of the Heart (Midewiwin) and of ANISHINAABEMOWIN, the beautiful language of the Ojibwe people. In the old days, members of the Marten clan were master strategists in planning the defense of their people and they often served as pipe bearers and message carriers for the ogimaag (leaders). Waabizheshi fights for change and today he defends those who commit themselves to the cultural and educative values and the survival of the language, science and art of the Anishinaabe People. On a personal level, a Marten helps others to reach their potential.

Eventually, these original odoodemag, or animal totems gave rise to twenty or more totems, scattered all over Anishinaabe Aki; each associated with these original five.


Odoodemag Bimisewin ("Flight of the Clans"), ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik

Odoodemag Bimisewin ("Flight of the Clans"), ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the webshop to view details.


Part 4: Flight of  Sandhill Crane and the fulfillment of the Seven Fires Prophecy

The Anishinaabeg who had invaded Michigan’s southern peninsula, now divided into three groups and provided with a new system of kinship called Five Clans pushed their way west and north following the flight of a Sandhill Crane sent by Gichi-manidoo (the Great Mystery). In the 15th common century, a large body of these southern-branch migrants colonized the area of Mackinaw, and then proceeded to the rapids and falls around Baawiting (today called the falls of St. Mary), with some moving inland to form other community villages. These settlers depended primarily on fishing and hunting for survival. The sandhill crane that had led them there would eventually become the symbol of the Sault tribe. 

By the end of the 18th century, the five clans of my ancestors had settled to the extent that there were major centers of population located on Gichi-minis (Grand Island , near Munsing), Point Iroquois (Mashkinoozhekaaning /Bay Mills), Baawiting /Baawitigong (respectively the falls and cascades of the St. Mary and Sault Ste. Marie), Ishkonigan-minis (Sugar Island), Bootaagani-minising (Drummond Island), and Gitigaani-ziibi (Garden River, Soo, Ontario). These historical sites still have settlements of Anishinaabe People living on or nearby today.

Up until today, Ajijaak, the sandhill crane spirit that GICHI-MANIDOO (the Great Mystery) sent from the skies, holds a special place in the hearts and the stories of the Gichigamiwininiwag (the Ojibweg of the Great Lakes) in recognition of one of the defining moments in their history: the founding of Baawiting on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and after that the establishing of two more settlements much farther to the west. Baawiting, the fifth stopping place in the migration of the Anishinaabe Peoples, was to be the political and economic center of Anishinaabe Aki, their new land in the west, and from its rapids the migration split againsearching for the “land where food grows upon the waters,” lighting along the way the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Fires.

In the early 1600's the diaspora spread out from the falls and rapids of Baawitigong to the borders and islands of Gichi-gami (Lake Superior), as far as Manidoo-minisaabik and Mooningwane-kaaning-minis, two islands located respectively at the far end of Gichi-gami and in a bay in the southwestern part of the lake. Here, in gaa-zaaga'eganikaag, the "land of many lakes," wild rice grew in the lakes and streams, fish and fur was plentiful, and the soil was fit to grow large patches of corn and squash; here, in the promised land, the People found life better than it had been in the east.

Thus the crane played a central role in the creation of the fifth, sixth, and seventh stopping place. As the miigis shell had done before the People reached Baawitigong, Crane served as a beacon for the Southern Ojibweg in their quest for gaa-zaaga'eganikag, the "land of many lakes" and he became the symbol of the fulfillment of a Prophecy that had been delivered to them when they still lived in the Dawn Land.

By the 1800's, Anishinaabe Aki (Ojibwe Country) covered an area from the shores of Naadowewi-gichigami (Lake Huron), Gichigami (Lake Superior), and the upper part of Mishigami (Lake Michigan), all the way across the southern part of Canada and the States of Wisconsin and Minnesota to the Turtle Mountain area in North Dakota. Farther to the south, there are even communities in the present-day states of Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, and Indiana, descending from Ojibwe migrants who two centuries earlier had left Baawiting to venture southward. 

The Waabanakiig Peoples from the Dawn had had finally reached and colonized the promised land and it seemed that the prophecy of the Miigis Grandfathers had been fulfilled...

> Read part 1 in the series



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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