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When Everybody Called Me Gabe-bines,

Teachings from Paul Buffalo

Timothy G. Roufs (Ed.)
University of Minnesota Duluth

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"This project has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society."

"This publication was made  possible in  part by the  people of  Minnesota  through  a grant funded by an appropriation  to  the  Minnesota  Historical Society  from the  Minnesota  Arts and Cultural  Heritage  Fund. Any views,  findings,  opinions,  conclusions  or recommendations expressed in this publication  are those  of  the authors  and  do not necessarily represent those of the State of  Minnesota, the  Minnesota  Historical Society, or the  Minnesota  Historic Resources Advisory Committee."

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Buffalo Image

Wenabozho and the Creation of the Current World

Ojibway Indian woman and two girls with loaded canoe heading for blueberry camp, 1920.

Manabozho in the tree above the flood, 1905.

Armour, R. C. North American Indian Fairy Tales Folklore and Legends. London: Gibbons & Co., 1905. Page 70.


One time, when she was a little girl, my sister Mammie saw a strange person in red clothes. My sister and my mother were out in the woods, picking berries or something.

"Ma. Did you see that man standing there? He was very close."

He was about fifty or seventy-five feet away.

Ma said, "Where? . . . Oh. Now I could visualize it. That's Wenabozho.(1) He fears. Just that quick Wenabozho moves. Did he move in just one blink of the eye?"


"That is Wenabozho. He's the fellow with red clothes."

They never saw him again. But they felt him.

They went to an old Indian(2) to find out what that meant. "We saw a man in the woods. We don't know why we saw him."

This old Indian told them, "You are going to live a long time. He came to bless you. Wenabozho came to bless you. He's hard to be seen, but if anybody sees him, he'll give you the blessing."

So look at how old she was. My mother was eighty-four years old . . . eighty-four. And my sister lived a long time too.

That's true.

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 our creator?"


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 our god."

"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 gone.

Many often wondered why they don't try to capture him.

You can't. 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 do good.

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 are for.

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 happened beforehand.

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 me land."

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 land?"

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.

"Come here."

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 from you?"

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 the ocean.

"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 land from?"

A beaver came, but they didn't want him. "Noh, I have to find something quicker. A beaver takes his time. He's slow thinking."

"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 land.

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."

Pfffffff. Pfffffff.

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 island.

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 make land."

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 it equal."

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."

They came.

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?

They drifted 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.

That's something! 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 lived healthy.

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 about it.

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 issue.

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 out.

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 water.

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 together.

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 underwater pigs."

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 and Councils."

9. Cf. Ch. 31, "Spiritual Doctoring, Tipi-Shaking, and Bone-Swallowing Specialists."

10. Muskrat.

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 age.

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.

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