Anishinaabe traditional beliefs

Picture on a rock of an underwater panther (mishibizhiw) as well as two snakes and a canoe, attributed to the Ojibwe people. From Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario.

Anishinaabe traditional beliefs cover the traditional belief system of the Anishinaabeg peoples, consisting of the Algonquin/Nipissing, Ojibwa/Chippewa/Saulteaux/Mississaugas, Odawa, Potawatomi and Oji-Cree, located primarily in the Great Lakes region of North America.

Medicine Societies

The Anishinaabe have four different Medicine Societies.


The Midewiwin (also spelled Midewin and Medewiwin) is the Grand Medicine Society of the indigenous groups of the Maritimes, New England and Great Lakes regions in North America. Its practitioners are called Midew and the practices of Midewiwin referred to as the Mide. The Midewiwin society is a secretive animistic religion, requiring an initiation, and then progressing to four levels of practitioners, called "degrees". Occasionally, male Midew are called Midewinini, which sometimes is very loosely translated into English as "medicine man".


The Waabanowin (also spelled Wabuowin, Wabunohwin and Wabunohiwin) is the Dawn Society, also sometime improperly called the "Magical Dawn Society". Its practitioners are called Waabanow and the practices of Waabanowin referred to as the Waabano. The Wabanowin are distinct society of visionaries. Like the Midewiwin, the Waabanowin is a secretive animistic religion, requiring an initiation. But unlike the Mide, the Waabano have sometimes two levels and sometimes four. This variation being dependent on the particular lodge. They were systematically imprisoned in mental hospitals by the United States government in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Because of this persecution the Waabanowin went underground and have just begun to reemerge since the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The ceremonies and traditions are closely guarded.


The Jiisakiiwin are also known as the Shaking Tent or the Juggler's Tent. Among the Anishinaabeg, a particularly powerful and well-respected spiritual leader who had trained from childhood is called a Jaasakiid or Jiisakiiwinini, also known as a "Juggler" or "Shaking-tent Seer."

Migration story

According to the oral history of the Anishinaabeg, they originally lived on the shores of the "Great Salt Water" (presumably the Atlantic Ocean near the Gulf of St. Lawrence). They were instructed by seven prophets to follow a sacred miigis shell (whiteshell) toward the west, until they reached a place where food grew upon the water.[1] They began their migration some time around 950,[2] stopping at various points several times along the way, most significantly at Baawitigong, Sault Ste. Marie, where they stayed for a long time, and where two subgroups decided to stay (these became the Potawatomi and Ottawa). Eventually, after a trick by two of the clans, the other clans travelled West (see William Warren's account of this incident) and arrived at the wild ricing lands of Minnesota and Wisconsin (wild rice being the food that grew upon the water) and made Mooningwanekaaning minis (Madeline Island: "Island of the yellow-shafted flicker") their new capital. In total, the migration took around five centuries.[2]

Following the migration there was a cultural divergence separating the Potawatomi from the Ojibwa and Ottawa. Particularly, the Potawatomi did not adopt the agricultural innovations discovered or adopted by the Ojibwa, such as the Three Sisters crop complex, copper tools, conjugal collaborative farming, and the use of canoes in rice harvest.[3]

Nanabozho stories

Nanabozho (also known by a variety of other names and spellings, including Wenabozho, Menabozho, and Nanabush) is a trickster figure and culture hero who features as the protagonist of a cycle of stories that serve as the Anishinaabe origin belief. The cycle, which varies somewhat from community to community, tells the story of Nanabozho's conception, birth, and his ensuing adventures, which involve interactions with spirit and animal beings, the creation of the Earth, and the establishment of the Midewiwin. The myth cycle explains the origin of several traditions, including mourning customs, beliefs about the afterlife, and the creation of the sacred plant asemaa (tobacco)

Other stories

  • Aayaase (also known as "Aayaash" or "Iyash")
  • Shingebiss

See also


  1. ^ Benton-Banai (1988), pp. 89-102
  2. ^ a b Benton-Banai (1988), pg. 102
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Waldman & Braun.

Further reading

  • Angel, Michael. Preserving the Sacred - Historical Perspectives on the Ojibwa Midewiwin. The University of Manitoba Press (Winnipeg: 2002).
  • Blessing, Fred K., Jr. The Ojibway Indians observed. Minnesota Archaeological Society (St. Paul: 1977).
  • Barnouw, Victor. Wisconsin Chippewa Myths & Tales and Their Relation to Chippewa Life. University of Wisconsin Press (Madison: 1977).ISBN 0-299-07310-6
  • Benton-Banai, Edward. The Mishomis Book: The voice of the Ojibway. Indian Country Communications, Inc., and Red School House Press (Hayward, WI: 1988).
  • Densmore, Frances. Chippewa Customs. Minnesota Historical Press (St. Paul: 1979).
  • Hoffman, Walter James, M.D. The Mide'wiwin: Grand Medicine Society of the Ojibway. Lightning Source Inc. (Minneapolis: 2005).
  • Johnston, Basil. Ojibway heritage. Columbia University Press (New York: 1976).
  • Johnston, Basil. How the birds got their colours : Gah w'indinimowaut binaesheehnyuk w'idinauziwin-wauh. Kids Can Press (Toronto: 1978).
  • Johnston, Basil. Tales the elders told : Ojibway legends. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1981).
  • Johnston, Basil. Ojibway ceremonies. McClelland and Stewart (Toronto: 1987).
  • Johnston, Basil. Tales of the Anishinaubaek. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1993).
  • Johnston, Basil. The Manitous: the spiritual world of the Ojibway. HarperCollins Publishers (New York: 1995).
  • Johnston, Basil. The bear-walker and other stories. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1995).
  • Johnston, Basil. The star man and other tales. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1997).
  • Johnston, Basil. Mermaids and Medicine Women. Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto: 1998).
  • Johnston, Basil. Honour Earth Mother. University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln: 2003).
  • Jones, William. Ojibwa Texts, vol. 7. Collected by William Jones. Truman Michelson, ed. Leyden, E.J. Brill, Ltd. (New York: G.E. Stechert & Co., 1917–19).
  • Warren, William W. History of the Ojibway People. Minnesota Historical Society Press (St. Paul: 1984 [1885]).
  • Vecsey, Christopher. Traditional Ojibwa Religion and its Historical Changes. American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia 1983).

External links

Media files used on this page

Underwater Panther rock painting (crop).jpg
Author/Creator: Wonder Al took the photo., Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
A set of pictographs (roch art paintings) on Agawa Rock at w:en:Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada.