So look at how old she was. My mother was eighty-four years old . . . eighty-four.
And my sister lived a long time too.
Not very many people would see Wenabozho, the one that white
people call "Hiawatha." But they know he's there though. There might be
just one or two in a place like Ball Club(3)
who would see him. I don't know. There are not very many. It has to be
a clear day, with not a cloud in sight. After Wenabozho told the
people, "You're going to see me," everybody looked for him. But still
not many saw him. But once in a while somebody sees him somewhere; that's
the way that is. He used to be out, more or less, years ago. People don't
notice him too much at all any more because there are a lot of Indians
here now. If the younger generation looked in the woods and saw a strange
guy, they wouldn't stop and wonder who he is, because there are so many
people now. Their expression now-a-days is different.
I dream of Wenabozho, but he never talks to me in my dreams. He doesn't
say much to anybody. But when he does talk, you'll feel it. He's around,
but he travels by gI-chii-g^-may -- Lake Superior -- all the time.
After I got past ten years old I began feeling around and wondering
how the earth and people were created. That made me do a lot of thinking
that maybe would help me in the time that was coming in my days. Before
that I heard a lot of stories, a lot of talk, about the history of the
Indian of this country, but I didn't meditate too much on that then. One
time, later on, I finally asked one old person, "Who is our creator? Who
is the god of the Indian in this country, the people of this country,
the Anishinabe? Who is the Indian Spirit? Who is our god? Who is
They said, "There was a man that was able in directing the Indians
who were forth-coming. Do you know the Indian's Manidoo for medicine,
the Grand Medicine Manidoo? That's old Wenabozho. Wenabozho's
"Why is he our God, the God of the Indians?"
Gitchie Manidoo -- the Great God -- is the one that selected
Wenabozho -- the great man -- to give the medicines to the people.
He told Wenabozho, "You show the people what it's for." Wenabozho
is the Indian medicine god -- the Grand Medicine God. He's the leader. He
tells stories of the history -- stories of the history of medicine and everything.
In the stories he tells us what to use. That's why he's our creator. He
can show us the medicine. He can talk to us. He can show us the Indian
way of life. He can show us what to use.
Wenabozho lived a long time. He talked to the trees. He talked
to anything. Wenabozho could talk Sioux; he could talk anything.
Wenabozho looks just like a person -- but he can change his
looks. He usually looks just like a person in rawhide clothes. He's only
around about thirty. He's very active. When he sees you, he'll stop and
look at you. If you try to talk to him, he'll walk away. If you do talk
to him you could be talking to him and in one blink of the eye he'd be
Many often wondered why they don't try to capture him.
He's too fast. Uh uh. If they ever capture him, boy I don't know what
he would do. Some whites talk about trying to capture him. We wouldn't.
A few of the white people tried everything to get ahead of us. We don't
do things like that. It isn't the idea that we're scared, but we respect
other people who live in our vicinity. He has to live too.
Wenabozho had a grandma -- Old Nokomis -- who would tell him
the right thing, but he wouldn't go according to what she advised. He'd go according
to his own way of thinking. Any time that he was really stuck,
he wouldn't listen to grandma. He'd ask grandma questions, but he wouldn't
listen to the answers. But he would try to make it better. He would try
anything -- his own way.
I've always heard that Wenabozho was shrewd and he was tricky.
He was -- they say he was -- foolish. Wenabozho was shrewd.
He was foxy, you know. He was foolish. But in lots of ways he was smart
too. He was a corker; he sealed everything that he started. He tried everything.
And he never trusted anybody.
We would call one another in the tribe "Wenabozho." We'd say,
"There's the guy that's foolish. He's just like Wenabozho. He fits
anywhere and he's daring." It was just like TV now-a-days; you can believe
it or not.
There are great stories about Wenabozho. You never know what
Wenabozho was made of. He was made for the right and wrong. He
was made for right and wrong, so that's why he could do bad and he could
There's an old history of him changing himself into an animal. He'd
do anything. He used to change himself into animals. He used to change
himself into a wolf. He'd change himself, and there's a hard method to
that. Very few Indians like the act of changing themselves into animals,
so they don't care much about practicing that. They generally didn't believe
in getting into that. They're too serious for it.(4)
So we don't believe in changing ourselves into animals that much now,
later on in years. We believe it is the best thing to live what you're
made of. And there's no use changing what you're made of. There is such
a thing that if you change yourself you might not come back. You might
not be able to come back to your original form. But you want to understand
-- if you do change yourself, you have to be good at it!
Wenabozho goes around checking -- checking the waters, checking
the trees, and checking the wild life. He just stops and pokes the fire
up a little bit. He'll put a little wood in a pile, and then he keeps
on a-going. He throws a little pile of wood down at each place. He keeps
on a-going by the lakeshore of the Great Lakes. He gets enough to eat.
He cleans fish and smokes them by a campfire. The number of fires he has
depends on what distance he goes. He might go ten or fifteen miles in
a day. He can walk on top of the water too.
It's something to think about. You have to ask yourself, "Why do
they say that about Wenabozho?"
They had to have stories to keep the young people in good humor,
so they wouldn't be too anxious to go out into the world to learn a lot
of things the hard way. That's what I think the Wenabozho stories
There were really two people that lived in the woods. One of
those was Wenabozho and nobody knows the name of the second one.
The Indians know the other guy as the one who hollars two or three times
in the woods. We just call him Gaa-bii-báa-gIt, "the-one-that-hollars."
And on a nice day you could hear Gaa-bii-báa-gIt hollar.
If it's a nice clear day he's hollering for bad weather. Before there
was any white man, he'd hollar around. He just let out a great big yell,
a hollar. And when he got through hollaring, a big cloud came -- most
generally. That was Gaa-bii-báa-gIt. He has his own way
of life. The history of this great guy also says that he fires two or
three shots in the woods. But where did he get his gun? Wenabozho
was scared of Gaa-bii-báa-gIt. And the one next to Wenabozho
wasn't trusted by the Indians.
You know who I imagine who Gaa-bii-báa-gIt is? He's
a devil in the woods. He's a devil in the woods. He destroys the
mind of the people when he catches them. They always spoke about m^'d-ji-^-yáa -- a devil. That's one who doesn't work right. In English and for the breeds
I say, m^-jíi-má-níi-do, that's bad, a bad
manidoo. The devil can frighten. He frightens you to work with him.
He can change his looks too, just like Wenabozho.
I heard Gaa-bii-báa-gIt way back. It sounded
just like an echo in the hall of a modern-day building. We were playing in the woods one time, and we were going to hollar
back. We thought somebody was living there, around there. My folks said,
"Shut up! You don't know who it is!"
Ask the full-blood about Wenabozho and Gaa-bii-báa-gIt.
They know it. They know of their Grandma too -- No-ko-mIs by GI-chi-gaa-may.(5) Wenabozho is one of her
boys. So is Gaa-bii-báa-gIt. No-ko-mIs of GI-chi-gaa-may
knows they're there.
I asked how the land was created, and how the animals came. I'd ask
the old folks, "How was the land made?" I asked many times about what
That's an old story I heard years ago.(6)
And I asked the old folks to repeat it and repeat it. They would:
There was a time that the earth flooded. There was a little land
at first, but then there was a flood. The water came altogether like
an ocean. They say it was a big ocean. When I'm talking about an ocean
I'm talking about a great body of water! It seemed as though the flood,
the rain, the water, kept rising and dissolved this little island which
Wenabozho was on. Pretty soon there was nothing but water. Mosh-k^$-^^n
is "flooded" -- flooded with water or liquid.
That was years ago, five hundred or a thousand years ago.
The white man says there were forty days of rain, and forty nights of
rain. We don't know how long it flooded, but we know it could happen
again. It could happen anytime. And what happened a thousand years ago
in this water? Nothing! But look at the improvement now. Who did that?
Who made these improvements?
The creator, Wenabozho.
At that time -- after the flood -- Wenabozho was living without
land. There was no land. But the Wenabozho knew what to do at
that time. He's a very shrewd and smart man. The creator was a very
smart man. He lived in the wilderness like a person. The creator lived
off of natural resources.
He climbed on a floating article, and there he sat with no food,
no nothing. He had this little bíin-d^-sáa-g^n --
a little float -- and was going around on that. The little float was sort
of a raft, made of land, with woods on it. It was like a floating bog. Some say he was just floating around on something like a big deadhead -- a big tree stump.
Well it happened to be that as Wenabozho drifted along he
thought to himself, "For some reason I'm the only one that's left.
It's getting very serious for my wild life, for my people who are coming,
for all. Maybe I am the one that's a creator. I'll try my power."
"How should I do it? I was taught to ask for a piece of land. Should
I ask? I'll ask Gitchi Manidoo, the Great Spirit, to give
So he asked the Great for land. He prayed. He didn't say "pray,"
but in his dreams he asked for the power to make land. He believed that in
his dreams he could do it.
He said to the Great above the earth and waters, "You still
have things alive in the waters that can get along for some time. There
are animals that live off in the waters. There are fish and game that
live there. I want to make land so we can live and float on it."
"We want land with the earth. The water surrounds us. We
can't have fun. We can't meet. All we do is travel by water, and travel
by water. That's too much. Sometime the water's too rough. Unless we
get behind something on a shallow spot, where the water breaks down,
it's going to be too rough. But a lot of them now go where it's deep
and rough, and we'll have to go there more often if there's more inhabitants
who come. I ask before the Great Spirit, would you give me land?"
"OK," the answer was, "you shall have land."
That cheered him up. And he tried to help the country by bringing
back the land to the surface.
Wenabozho called the thunderbirds in for a meeting.(7)
He said to the thunderbirds -- the group of leaders of the North, South,
East, and West -- and to the Great above, "How are we going to make
The thunderbirds is a story of the history way back, way
back. For many years the thunderbirds talked to the old people, and
the old people know it. The thunderbirds know what was on this
earth before the Indians came, even before the Indians were Indians.
There were mermaids years ago before the Indians. The thunderbirds tell us that the
original inhabitants were like mermaids once. They called them áa-bIt-t^-gáy-goo,
"half-fish." People half-fish lived in the ocean. They talked.
They lay along the ocean shores and talked to no-ko-mIss gI-chî-gu-mi,
Grandma Nokomis: "Is this is yours? Afterwards we're going
to have legs." So sooner or later it would be necessary to make
a habitat for the inhabitants, the mermaids, and for the Anishinabe,
the people who had to come.
There are four districts -- North, South, East, and West -- and
there are seven thunderbirds in each one. There are seven thunderbirds
in each district -- North, South, East, and West. There are seven because
the seventh one will vote against anything that he doesn't like. He's
just like a sergeant-at-arms. If there's anything that he doesn't like
to hear, he speaks up. Above and below are taken care of by the Great
Master. The Great Master's the leader. He's not a thunderbird,
but he calls the thunderbirds all in for meetings, and he talks with
them. The Great Master is the Creator of the earth, the Creator of the
heaven and earth.
The thunderbirds and Wenabozho get together just like any
council.(8) The North sits North, the
East sets East and so on. When they meet together they're formed as
a council. They form together to purify the earth with lightening, thunder,
and destruction. They understand our language too. They're the same
as we are, so they understand.
At council Wenabozho told the thunderbirds, "the mermaids -- half-fish -- and water and earth will multiply fast into people.
So we have to have earth. We have to have land."
And then he prayed to his next Creator. He prayed to something
that he couldn't see, but he knew had a Creator. He knew. It
was in his heart. We always figure it was the Great Creator too, gI-chi-máa-ni-do.
Wenabozho and all of them didn't read about the Great,
they felt that -- and there's some meaning to that. All that
came natural to them. They couldn't see God all-together, but they had
a spirit that came into them. Their mind almost spoke to them. And the
Indians spoke to the trees because there was some meaning, some life,
in those trees. And there was life in the animals, and life in the water.
Wenabozho was on that little piece of floating stuff. Wenabozho
was great, and he said, "I shall sing. I shall pray to God, the
Creator, the Great Spirit."
So he sang.
He was not alone when he asked and sang for land and people. "The
people may now already be somewhere. They'll be here sooner or later. I think
they are somewhere else now," he said to the thunderbirds.
"Where are they going to live when they get here? This little piece
of ground that used to be here dissolved. There should be an island
here, but it dissolved. It's all water now. Hmm. . . . I'll try my best.
I'll have a meeting of the other animals. First of all I must call in
some animals. Maybe they could help me. We'll call them all in."
So they called a meeting.
They called the animals, but first, instead of calling all
the animals in, they called one leader. It wasn't a person; it was an
animal like a sea-lion. The sea-lion with his old whiskers is another
one who is a great master of the sea.
And the sea-lion came up out of the water.
"You're meeting. You need help?"
"Ya. I want to make land. I want more land. I want the pet of the
Creator to be here."
"The Creator, Gitchi Manidoo, is the Great Master who left
us here to live. And we have no excuse to be without Him. And if you
believe in this, if you believe in the Creator, you'll always make it.
If you need anything, ask Him first."
Then Wenabozho asked the sea-lion, "Can we get land
But the sea-lion said, "I have no power, because I don't belong
under the water. I belong in the water. But I don't belong
at the bottom of the ocean."
So Wenabozho and the thunderbirds called another meeting.
They called the animals in, and all the animals in the water went there.
They drew the animal messengers in, just like in a tipi-shaking.(9)
The seals went there, the fish went there. Even the eelpout came.
We call the eelpout "lawyers." They crawl on the bottom
of the ocean next to the soil on the bottom ground at the bottom of
"So what will we do?" the leader said.
"I'm floating around here. I should do something," Wenabozho
said. "There must be a Great Spirit for water. We must have land.
I have to have land to live on. So do my sons and my relationship that
are coming. Sooner or later they'll be here. If I make land -- if we make
land -- they'll all move in here, later. Maybe there'll be many here.
This land that we make should be big enough so that it's able to hold them. I think
there are a lot of them that will come if I make out all right with
the land. So I want to ask for some land."
"How are you going to do it?" they asked him.
Another guy also asked him, "How are you going to do it?"
"I'll get land. We should call in somebody from the water."
He said, "I call unto thee."
A fish came up out of the water. "I could help you,"
the fish said.
"Un uh. You can't help me. You live in water. You live in the sea.
But I don't believe you can help me. No, I don't want you. I want somebody
with hands on. I want land."
"Then go." He told him, "Go."
And Wenabozho spoke, "We want land. Who can we get
A beaver came, but they didn't want him. "Noh, I have
to find something quicker. A beaver takes his time. He's slow
"So you go."
They called in the big snapping-turtle.
Right there a turtle -- the snapping turtle -- came up on top of the
water. "What do you want?"
"We want land."
"I'll help you get land."
The turtle came, but he couldn't help because he was too slow.
"No, I don't want you. Who shall we get?"
"I think the best bet is w^-zjésk -- the mushrat."(10)
"The mushrat? Would he make land?"
"That's the one empowered. The mushrat with power is the leader."
The turtle said, "I'll send the mushrat. You shall have a mushrat
to help you."
So the turtle called in the mushrat and the mushrat came up. The
mushrat has little hands. He has hands like a person.
"I hear you're having a meeting."
"What is it that you want?"
"I want land, soil. We want land. You play under the water all
the time. You play in the water all your life. You must
know where it's shallow in the ocean. Maybe there's a bowl here that
fills up with water."
"What are you going to do with soil?"
"Make land for peace for all. We need land to live on. We have
to have land and soil so we can live. We need land for the people to
live on. Could you help us?"
"You want land? . . . OK. I think I could help. I think I could.
I could show you land."
"OK. Show me. I want you to go down and get some dirt. I will treat
the land -- the dirt -- and you shall treat it with me."(11)
The mushrat dove down. Down he went. He went to the depth of the
sea. This little animal went down to the bottom of the ocean, but in
a place where it was shallow. They thought he drounded he was gone so
long. He grabbed a handful of dirt and came up. Finally this guy with
hands on came up. He came up out of the water with one hand filled with
mud. "There's the bottom of the ocean. You shall have land. I'm
bringing the bottom up. Here it is, land." He held out his hand
and showed Wenabozho the dirt.
And there in his hands was dirt he brought to the surface. And
with the power given to him Wenabozho blew on it and made more
Every time Wenabozho blew, the sand multiplied.
"But," the mushrat said, "that isn't enough. It'll take
you a long time to pile land up here. As long as I'm able to do anything,
let me try to help you build this land up. I think I have the power
to do that. I'm older than you. I'll give that dirt a blow, and see
what it does."
The mushrat blew it. And while he blew the soil, the land filled
up his little hand. It covered his hand. He blew again.
Another mushrat came up with a handful of dirt. He said, "We're
making land. You want to live on land and water. You'll have land and
vegetation to live with. You'll have roots and everything."
And just that quick the land became big. Every time he blew with
power -- magic -- the land became bigger. Then Wenabozho told the
mushrat, "Just blow that land. Keep blowing it for all. Have a
meeting, grab some soil. Come up, blow on it. Then use any of that soil
to build a mushrat house along the shore of this land."
He blew it seven -- six or seven -- times.
Pfeew. Pfeew. Pfeew. Pfeew. Pfeew. Pfeew. Pfeew.
After he blew there was land floating around. "This will form
grass and moss -- floating moss. Pfeew. You shall have land." And
once more he blew the dust off of his hand.
From dust you come, back to dust you go.
The mushrat brought Wenabozho another handful of sand, "You
shall blow that." When he blew there was a form of land, and that
land began to grow into different parts. So Wenabozho told the
mushrat, "This is a good job you're doing. Go get some more."
The mushrat went down and got some more. That way Wenabozho
made spots of land, and those spots of land floated together.
They were all busy trying to make land, and they kept working.
They kept blowing. They worked hard. After a while there were enough of
them working to make a big float of land. There was a big crew of them working. And it became land. Wenabozho kept blowing and pretty soon there was enough land.
In a hundred years the soil they were building up became a solid float.
In a hundred and fifty years it became thick. In two hundred years it
became soil and water like we know it now.
The land formed a little island, and on that form vegetation all
at once started growing. Overnight it grew! The sun dried the
soil up, and vegetation started growing on it. And from that time on
the hot sun kept the vegetation growing. "There's the land. It's
beautiful. There's the grass growing." The trees began to
grow. The brush and willows began to grow. Afterwhile roots of everything
started. Before long the roots were holding the sand together. The roots
of the trees anchored the land on to the bottom of the ocean. There
the little island stayed. But it grew bigger, bigger, bigger. The vegetation
kept growing. The vegetation deteriorated. The roots continued to deteriorate.
These all began to deteriorate to make more black soil. Additional plants
deteriorated year, after year, after year. Pretty soon there was a large
So in that way Wenabozho made the island, one island. Afterwards
the waves came up and washed the land down, but the land kept coming
up again. Animals brought up more soil and built up the land all along
the sea line. Then the water cut one island from another. The water
cut the land -- the waves cut it -- by the action of the ocean -- there
was no ocean, it was all flood, flooded over the shallows. And in that
way different lands were made.
After a while the mushrat came and got air. "Pfuuuu."
He needed a rest. He was sitting there in the good old sun when this
chief -- this creator, Wenabozho -- said, "I shall leave you
this world. I will go onto the edge of the ocean and make some more
land divisions, some more points of land, so we can all play and multiply."
"Soon my little people shall come. And there'll be a lot of
wild life on this new piece of floating land! There'll be animals come
to us from underwater. There'll be underwater pigs come out of the ocean
knowing there is land here. There'll be wild pigs, little ones. They'll
multiply. And the people of life -- the Anishinabe -- who are coming
to this wonderful island will multiply. This island is going to continue
to grow bigger, and bigger, and bigger. One-third of this world will
be land. The rest will be water, so we don't run short of water. Water
will provide the moisture for the land. The moisture and land will continue
to make creatures, crawlers, and vegetation. Afterwards all the people
will eat that vegetation. The little ones will eat that. And with that
substantial internal food they will get their health and will start
growing to be bigger. They'll become able to be out on their own. They'll
make bows and arrows. They'll live an Indian way of life and they'll
be Indians. They'll have one language that they understand. They'll
have a language of their own. And they'll multiply out of this moisture
and soil. Moisture and soil, and fog, drizzle, and rain will help you.
With that, you'll never get dry. If it does get dry, I'm afraid the
grass and vegetation will go back into nothing again. It will burn up.
It will dissolve. But I hope it doesn't get to be that way. I hope it
keeps growing, and multiplies for the people. I hope it will multiply
to give us everything we need."
"So on this land is where you shall be. But I'm done. So
I will go. But it will continue growing. There'll be lots of mushrats to help
Then Wenabozho wondered if he was able to do anything else.
"I must have the power. I must help the people. I must help the
animals. To be a man, I must help everything. I think I have the power
to do that."
So he left, and everything he said hits its mark right on. He went
all over sending messages off.
After Wenabozho left, the land continued to grow. It grew
from one state to another -- from one unit to another. It wasn't all
land. This was all islands. Finally it became a happy ground for all
-- animals and people.
Wenabozho is the one who made land through the Great Spirit.
Wenabozho received what he asked for. And he got to be a big
man. All the land that you now see includes the land made from
this one handful of dirt that the mushrat first blew out upon the waters.
This land is made from the mushrat's hand. This land we're living on
is the dust that floats. It still grows. It grows to the bottom of the
ocean, and it grows up above. But Wenabozho asked the Gitchi
Manidoo to help, for he believes in the Spirit of the human being.
And what you believe in, you shall receive.
After the land was built up the mushrats saw a lot of new animals, and
they studied where the animals came from. The animals came from the
soil and the moisture. When we plant a garden it has to have moisture
in order to grow, or else it'll die. It can't grow without water. Without
land it's going to die too. With too much water it will die.
"So," the mushrats thought, "in this earth we have to
balance, land and water. We have to equalize that. We have to leave
Afterwards, just like Wenabozho had predicted, the people
inhabitants came. They were small at first, but soon they grew up to
be the mI-sáa-bi -- the great tall Indians.(12)
The people with no whiskers were the first to come. Then came the
strangers, then the people with whiskers -- the mixed bloods -- and
then the animals and all of the natural life. Pretty soon they saw strangers --
strangers of animals.
"What is that?"
"It's a small boat. It's little people with long whiskers."
That's the "breed" part of the Indian. A blink of the
eye and they're out of sight. These are the ones who are investigating
what's on this land. Maybe they live on the sea somewhere.
But the little people wouldn't talk. They couldn't talk. They wouldn't
know what to say.
"Well, we have to learn to meet them."
This creator Wenabozho was very smart and he came to talk
with them. Wenabozho called a meeting. The language that we have
was given to us then. He made some kind of a drum out of a skin and
sang a few songs. You could hear the echo of the song coming over the
water. Everybody wondered where that noise was coming from.
"There's the creator calling a meeting."
Wenabozho told them, "I'm going to tell you something
so you can understand me. I'm going to make you understand. I'm talking.
Now this talking is going to be yours. You're shy. You're afraid to
talk to me. Every time I blink my eye, you're out of sight. Where do
you go? You've been on water a long time. You've been on the sea. I
wonder what you are. I wonder where you come from. I'm going to find
out sooner or later. But come to think about it, I notice that you are
people of very little size."
Wenabozho told the little people, "there'll be Indians
from all over coming into this land. When they're talking they'll be
'abroad Indians.' But sooner or later you'll understand them. That's
the way it will be."
"Abroad Indians" means that their ways will be like those of people
from abroad -- from out of the area -- and their language will be broad
with accent, and coarse. The broad accent is coarse, in our language.
And afterwhile when they learn, they'll talk just the same as we do.
But they have to live here a while to know where to cut off the broad accent.(13)
Wenabozho said, "After while you'll learn to live together
and learn one another's languages. That language will be the American
Indian language, the language I have given to you. But later on others
will be coming with other languages. These languages are going to help
you -- maybe -- to have a better understanding of things."
Then Wenabozho said to the Great, "You put me here.
You made water, and this is the land we should have. We should
know one another later on in years and be friends! We shall never, we
promise, we shall never shed blood on one another."
So, how did they split up with different languages?
away from unity as all-Indians.
I would call the little people "brown-ees." They're brown-ees --
may-may-gway shiwog. May-may-gwah'-say means "hiding
behind something all the time." The brown-ees landed and traveled amongst
the bulrushes. You don't know where they are, they're so small. They were
small, and with a blink of the eye they would disappear. They had power
too. Nobody knows where they came from. This is a new land. They came
to look for land. They came searching for the land of the ocean. They
might have come from foreigner countries. We didn't know what we would
get from foreigner countries -- but we soon learned.
Old John Smith(14) told us,
My folks used to tell me there were people here, very small, with
small boats. They had a name for it; they called them "mIm-may-gway-say."
These people have a little boat built like a duck boat, low. They got
beards, and long hair. They look like a brown-ee. Same relation to a
brown-ee. We heard so much about it. That's how they look. When they
paddle, they scream.
Well, in the evening they saw one; I believe my
mother saw one, short, going by. She couldn't talk to them, and they
didn't talk. They just shot right by. It was hard to clarify their faces
at the time. It was a small boat. Unusual, funny-looking boat.
It was a little skiff. And they had whiskers; it seemed like they all had
whiskers. If they were people that belong here, if they were the original, Anishinabe, they would stop and try to say a word to us. "Maybe
they were afraid, which made me afraid," she said.
We call them "an aggressive brown-ee that was here years ago."
They were small people.
That was what John Smith used to tell us.
So the small Indians who came in to this new land got together and contacted one another. Pretty soon they
commenced to grow bigger.
Who was here before the Chippewa?
Well that's what I've often asked.
I said, "Who's the Mesabi?" to my grandfolks. As near as I could
figure it, the Mesabi are always brought up when I asked. You know
what a mI-sáa-bi is? A mI-sáa-bi is a big
Indian. They were big Indians! They were partly Canadian; they
were partly Chippewa. The Mesabi were mixed. My grandma would tell us . . .
There was a tribe of Mesabi, and there was a tribe of Ojibway.
The Ojibway came along with the Mesabi. The Mesabi
lived on a great hill, a big hill. The big hill they lived on is The Mesabi Range!!(15) -- The Mesabi Range north. The Mesabi
lived off of the great hills -- on the hills of what they call iron ore
now. He was a tall man and learned the Indian language. And they talk
about the "roars" of the Mesabi too; that's what they call what they sounded like.
Wenabozho came and said to the Mesabi -- he got up
and said, "Now you're a big fellow. You're big, big, big. You're
an Indian. I'm an Indian. I'll show you the way to life. I'll show you
where there are trees for medicine, trees for birch bark canoes, and
trees for making cedar strips. This cedar tree is good for making bark
strips. You can make mats from that. You can use the bark of this tree
or the bark of an ash tree for the roofing of your wiigwaams. With
that bark you can make wiigwaams which can shed water. If you use
that you will never get wet. You can live better with that. This tree
is birch bark; you can shed water with that too. With birch bark you
can make a canoe -- a boat -- to travel along the shore."
"How come they were so big? What makes the Mesabi Indian
so tall?" somebody'd always ask.
Pureness. The way they live. They eat everything. They had everything.
They have lots of vitamins(16) and no disease. They were healthy. They were
great healthy. They lived on oil, fat. They had plenty of vitamins and
they lived their clean life. There was no disease in them, and they
They grow so fast by eating natural food. That's what made them
grow. They ate a lot of lime food from the ocean. They even ate sea
shells. Now we're eating and drinking all kinds of stuff that
stops the growing. They didn't. Now we stop growing at certain size.
So the creator says, "If you use too much of anything it's going
to kill you. But you can use a little of anything. It's there, the lime
and everything, to help you build yourself."
Well that's the nearest I can put it to you.
The Mesabi were up on The Range long ago, and then later the Indians there became
smaller. The Mesabi is a big Indian, a tall Indian. The Chippewa must have been a mixture of something in there -- and that cut them
down. Up there by the Mesabi the other Indians are not Chippewas, they're O'-jib'wáys.
They're from Canada, I think the northern part.
So the Chippewas were always here, I think from a-way back, but I
wouldn't know just what date. I wouldn't want to say what date, because
I may be wrong. I think I heard that too, once before, but when I tell
a certain day, when I tell how long they were here, I want to be correct
Anyway, that was quite a while ago since the Chippewa have been in
this area. It was way back. I asked that too. The old folks said they
can't hardly remember how long we've been here.
Later on I asked, "Oh, what became of the Mesabi?" I asked
the old people, "What makes us? What makes the Chippewa so short?" They'd tell us . . .
Well, it's a cross, a cross-breed. It's cross-breeding.
The Creator made man and woman to inhabit the country. A man couldn't
live alone and multiply the land. They're supposed to be mates and work
together. They're supposed to sweat by the eyebrows, for what they earned.
Then the iron ore and all that underground stuff came to be an
There was one smart Indian who said, "There's supposed to
be some metal holding this land up. Some mineral, metal, is holding
the earth together."
"Yea. There is silver and iron ore under the earth." There
are all kinds of minerals to use, of any kind. The people found that
That iron ore was a rock on the bottom of the land. Things
petrify. That iron ore was petrified earth and petrified water. Everything
petrifies. A mound petrifies, and that's where you get that iron-ore
and everything underground.
And they went and got some of that iron ore and shoved it underneath
other parts of the land. And that rock and iron ore grew in certain
regions, while the rest of the land became colored by rushes. Iron ore
grew. It grew with the dirt! It was petrified. By being petrified and
hard they grow to a certain height. They grow to a certain height by
The creator knew what to do. He formed the land. That's the land
that's the playground for people. They should not be afraid of it. It's
made so that it'll hold any heavy equipment, any vehicle. You know that
along the ocean -- along the coast -- there are big rocks. Well, away
from the coast there are small rocks. They're on land, too far from
the water. The sea pushes them up. It washes them up. So these small
rocks are getting moisture from underneath the soil. And the big rocks
next to the water get more moisture. They're there to hold the land
Did you ever put a rock in the water? At a certain time of the
years they get slippery, don't they? OK. That slippery side of the rock
grows. Where the water is, it formulates that slippery stuff and that
puts a coat on the rock. It grows very slow! The rock
grows a little in that way, but not very fast. That slippery stuff becomes
petrified. And that's why there's higher shelter rock along the waters.
That's where the cliffs are, by this bottom rock. They grow faster by
the water because there's more slippery stuff on there. That slippery
stuff petrifies. It petrifies as a hard rock by water. Water
does any thing!
The climate of the southern and northern parts all has something
to do with the general nature of what went beforehand. It has to do
with the nature of the earth, sun, moon, stars, air, and moisture from
water. I think it's finally getting to be an earth. Everything will
grow. Now we have everything we need to get along in this world. We
do the work on a piece of ground, and that's what we live from.
That's the history, the story, that was told.
Wenabozho left the country because of all the people with
education coming in. The educational has destroyed a lot of stuff in Indian
history. The people stopped dreaming about Wenabozho. They don't
dream about him or see him much any more. . . . There are still some people
who see Wenabozho. He comes to them when they are asleep. He comes
to where they're sleeping and tells them why he's leaving.
Some day he might upset the whole deal.(17)
I do fear that he might do that. I hope he doesn't though.
That's the old history of stories. That's been told
many a-times. But a lot of them now-a-days don't hear that. But I
heard the stories, and lots of them my age heard that.
That story tells you why the internal breath of a medicine man could
blow you.(18) Ffeew.(19)
Whatever way he wants it, that's what's going to happen. The medicine
doctor uses that power to cure the internal and the external, and the
body and soul.
There it is.
And what Wenabozho predicted came true. Even the underwater
pigs came true. Just lately, a few years ago, I heard one Indian talk
about Mille Lacs. "In my time," he said, my brother-in-law -- Jim Mitchell --
said, "in my time, there used to be a cutbank over by Mille Lacs. It was
a narrow piece of land that goes between the waters. We used to go look
at that. In the morning you'd go there and there'd be tracks from the
They figured it was underwater pigs anyway. We called them ^-naa-mi-bíi-kuush'.
It was just like deer tracks. But that was years ago. They'd slide right
down into the water. And a big storm was coming in the water. They come
out when there's a warning of something coming. Jim and the others examined those tracks.
They looked like pig tracks. They were wild pig tracks. He told about
it. He saw them. He didn't see the animals, but he saw the tracks. He
said, "I saw that. I could see that they would slide down there. There
was something there under water."
This Wenabozho story's a good one.
They're all good stories.
1. Much has been written about Wenabozho,
as well as the appearance of Wenabozho as Hiawatha. And there are
many spellings of his name. In addition to many anecdotal tales contained
in longer works several other authors focus on or contain important presentations
on Wenabozho. Cf., W. Carson, "Ojibwa Tales," Journal
of American Folklore, 30 (1917), pp. 491-493; A. F. Chamberlain, "Nanibozhu
Amongst the Otchipwe, Mississaqas, and Other Algonkian Tribes," Journal
of American Folklore, 4 (1891), pp. 193-213; Emerson S. Coatsworth,
and David Coatsworth (Eds.), Adventures of Nanabush: Ojibway Indian
Stories (New York: Atheneum, 1980); Sister Bernard Coleman, Ellen
Frogner, and Estelle Eich, Ojibwa Myths and Legends (Minneapolis,
MN: Ross and Haines, 1961); Rose M. Davis, "How Indian is Hiawatha?" Midwest
Folklore, 7 (1957), pp. 5-25; J. C. Hamilton, "The Algonquin Manabozho
and Hiawatha," Journal of American Folklore, 16 (1903), pp. 229-233;
Alethea Helbig, Nanabozhoo, Giver of Life (Brighton, MI: Green
Oak Press, 1987); Walter James Hoffman, "Notes on Ojibwa Folk-lore," American
Anthropologist, 2:3 (1889), pp. 215-223; Basil Johnston, Ojibwa
Heritage, (N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1976); Thomas B. Leekley,
The World of Manabozho, (New York: Vangard Press, 1965); Ron Messer,
"A Jungian Interpretation of the Relationship of Culture: Hero and Trickster
Figure within Chippewa Mythology," Studies in Religion, 11:3 (1982),
pp. 309-320; Elizabeth Monckton (Elizabeth Davis Fielder), The White
Canoe and Other Legends of the Ojibwas (NY: Broadway Publishing Co.,
1904); Charles S. Osborn, and Stellanova Osborn, Schoolcraft-Longfellow-Hiawatha,
(Lancaster, PA: Jacques Catell Press, 1942); Chase S. Osborn, and Setllanova
Osborn, "Hiawatha" with Its Original Indian Legends, (Lancaster,
PA: The Jacques Catell Press, 1944); E. G. Squier, "Manabozho and the
Great Serpent," American Whig Review, n.s. 2 (1848), 392-398; Stith
Thompson, "The Indian Legend of Hiawatha," Publications of the Modern
Language Association, 37 (1922)), pp. 128-140;Christopher Vecsey,
Traditional Ojibwa Religion and Its Historical Changes, (Philadelphia,
PA: The American Philosophical Society, 1983), pp. 73-75; Christopher
Vecsey, "The Ojibwa Creation Myth: An analysis of its Structure and Content,"
Temenos: Studies in Comparative Religion, 20 (1985), pp. 66-100.
2. A medicine doctor or jessokid. Cf.,
Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing
Specialists," Ch. 32, "Medicine Men / Medicine
Women," Ch. 33, "Messengers and Unusual Events," Ch. 34, "Fireballs, and The Shadow Man," and Ch. 26, "Dreams and Visions."
3. In the whole area of Ball Club, MN, as locally
defined, there were approximately 125 American Indian people living at
the time. So one percent, perhaps two percent, of the population might
actually see Wenabozho.
4. Some things traditional Indian people take very seriously. Fooling
around with Indian medicine power in general, and specific feats like
turning yourself into an animal and (hopefully) back again, are strongly
avoided. Generally, one doesn't try anything that they are not sure about.
And one also avoids trying something that you know only a little about.
For sure you would not try to turn yourself into an animal if you were
not certain that you could likely also turn back into a human. Traditional
peoples in the area would most likely believe that it is possible for one with enough
spiritual power and knowhow -- and, perhaps, help from the Gitchi Manidoo -- to turn himself into other forms of life, including animals. Most would accept that it was normal, and easy, for Wenabozho to do it.
5. GI-chi-gaa-may, or Gitchee-Gumee,
is Lake Superior.
6. Cf., Victor Barnouw, "A Psychological Interpretation
of a Chippewa Origin Legend," Journal of American Folklore, 68
(1955), pp. 73-85, 211-223, 341-355; Jennifer S. H. Brown, and Robert
Brightman (Eds.), "The Orders of the Dreamed": George Nelson on Cree
and Northern Ojibwa Religion and Myth, 1823, (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota
Historical Society, 1988); Albert B. Reagan, "The Flood Myth of the Chippewas,"
Indiana Academy of Science, Proceedings, 28 (1919), pp. 347-352;
Albert B. Reagan, "Flood Myth of the Bois Fort Chippewas," Kansas Academy
of Science, Transactions, 30 (1921), pp. 437-443; Don Spavin, Chippewa
Dawn: Legends of an Indian People (Bloomington, MN: Voyageur Press,
1977); Ivan Swift, "Indian Legend of the Deluge," Michigan History
Magazine, 23 (1939), 217-219; Christopher Vecsey and John F. Fisher,
"The Ojibwa Creation Myth: An Analysis of its Structure and Content,"
Temenos: Studies in Comparative Religion, 20 (1985), pp. 66-100;
and Christopher Vecsey, Traditional Ojibwa Religion and It's Historical
Changes (Philadelphia, PA: The American Philosophical Society, 1983).
Vecsey (1983), pp. 87-88 lists forty-six "Major Versions of Ojibwa Creation
Myth" from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
7. Cf, A. F. Chamberlain, "The Thunder-Bird
Amongst the Algonkins," American Anthropologist, 3:1 (1890), pp.
51-54; and Christopher Vecsey, Traditional Ojibwa Religion and Its
Historical Changes, (Philadelphia, PA: The American Philosophical
Society, 1983), pp. 73-75, 85-86, 97.
8. Cf., Ch. 5, "Chiefs
9. Cf. Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing
11. Together they will work on the dirt with their powers in a special spiritual way.
12. Sometimes these are talked about as giants.
13. A broad accent is a slow, drawn-out pronunciation.
14. Old John Smith was probably born somewhere around 1823 or 1824; Cf., Ch. 40, "John Smith 'Wrinkle Meat.'"
15. The Mesabi Range is a well-known part of the Lake Superior area known as The Iron Range.
16. Vitamins were first identified in 1912 and became an increasingly popular topic in nutritional discussions throughout the first part of the twentieth century. Although Indian children from this over-all area generally entered boarding schools in good nutritional health, nutrition was poor in Indian Boarding schools through the years Paul attended them. Children would have had better nutrition and nutritional education at home -- from their grandmothers and mothers -- than in government institutions of the day. Paul's mother refused to eat canned foods. Cf. also the discussion of vitamins in Ch. 28, "What's Behind the Sun?: An Indian Sermon."
17. Paul is suggesting that Wenabozho might destroy all that he helped create,
presumably because he doesn't like how things are going in this day and
18. That is, the story tells you why, when a
medicine doctor works by blowing on you, it has a positive effect. Curing/improving
by blowing has a long "history" going back to Wenabozho and the
creation of the current world.
19. "Ffeew" is an imitation of how a medicine doctor blows in a ceremony.