Teachings of the Tree of Life Blog series by Ojibwe storyteller artists Zhaawano Giizhik and Simone McLeod top banner

Teachings from the Tree of Life, part 3

"The Purpose of Life"

Abitaa-niibini-giizis (Middle of the Summer Moon; July 5), 2017

The tree branch toward discovery

"Our spiritual path was designed way before we were born on Mother Earth; many times you'll be tested and many times you'll fail. "Spiritual Paths" or "The Tree Of Life" is a simple teaching to understand and all you need to do is to take a good look at yourself and see what you truly need. When we try to get things that our neighbours have, this is where our Spiritual Path and design gets confused and ultimately fail. This is where people get confused and create problems in their life.  When confusion sets into your life, you have the ability to choose another branch from the tree of life and follow that branch towards discovery. When you stand back and take a good look, you have so much branches to choose from."*

- Wikwemikong Anishinaabe Medicine Painter James Mishibinijima

Illustration: Telling Stories under the Tree of Life, pen and ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik (detail, 2001)

Boozhoo, aaniin indinawemaaganag, gidinimikoon: Hello relatives, we greet you in a good way! 

We are Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik. Welcome to part 3 of our new blog series titled Teachings from the Tree of Life. Today we share with you two Teachings based on the ancient Anishinaabe spiritual/philosophical principle of mino-bimaadiziwin that countless generations of ancestors handed down to us from the time they still lived in the old homeland along the Atlantic coast. The stories - one of which is told by Simone - feature a pen-and-ink drawing by myself and three images of beautiful canvases done by our dear mutual friend, (the late) Moses Amik.

Today's stories are aadizookaanan (traditional stories) that convey valuable lessons that Aandeg (the Crow) and Gaagaagi (the Raven) teach us. Like all Tree of Life Teachings, the healing message that lies hidden in the aadizookaanan is in itself easy to understand - that is, if we choose to open up to it. The hard part, as always, is to follow it...

The first story: how Aandeg gave purpose to life


In the beginning, when the world as we know it was still young and GICHI-MANIDOO (the Great Mystery) was infusing life into the flyers of creation, all the flyers had great purpose. Migizi and Giniw (the Eagles) were to be the People’s messenger of prayers and thanks. Gekek the Hawk too was a messenger of the People’s needs and good medicine. Maang the Loon was the teacher of love and relationships. Aandeg, however, who is much less beautiful than Apishi-gaagaagi (Magpie), was without purpose.

He had no special color, nor did he possess the powerful wings of Migizi and Giniw. So, he flew around looking for purpose like many people today are doing. Aandeg visited Makwa (Bear) and asked him to teach his ways. Makwa did and eventually Aandeg got bored and unsatisfied with Makwa. For some reason the ways of the bear didn't fit with him, so Aandeg went off and sought a new way and hopefully would find purpose. The beaver, the loon, the wolf, the coyote, the fish, all of creation he learned from, but still Aandeg gained no purpose or satisfaction with life.

Then came the day where Aandeg heard Ajidamoo (the Squirrel) crying in a hole of the oak. So he flew to Ajidamoo and said, "Aaniin Ajidamoo, what troubles your heart today?"

Ajidamoo looking poorly said to Aandeg, "I am sad and feeling drained about my life." Aandeg advised Ajidamoo to visit Makwa for some medicine for his health and the Turtle to find his heart. So, both Aandeg and Ajidamoo went to visit the Bear and Turtle and they were both great helpers to Ajidamoo. The Turtle travels slow and is paced in all matters of life, he never misses a thing. Bear is chief of the medicine ways and he placed great healing upon Ajidamoo. At last Squirrel felt balanced and returned to his purpose with vigor and refreshed spirit.

Aandeg flew around the bush feeling great about what had happened. Then there was another cry in the woods. Always curious about such things, Aandeg went to investigate only to find Waabooz (Rabbit) was crying in her borrow. Aandeg asked Waabooz, "Waabooz what troubles you today?"

"I wanna die” the Rabbit cried.

"What is it that has brought you to such ends?" aked Aandeg.

Waabooz was crying about Waagosh (the Fox) and how there is no peace with Waagosh around. Aandeg carefully listened to everything Waabooz said. Quietly Aandeg advised his little friend that her purpose is found in her strong legs and long ears.

"Waabooz, said Aandeg, "Surely you can listen very well and can tell when Waagosh is coming and you can easily outrun Waagosh."

Eye', Waabooz thought to herself. I can and I will feel good about it too. "Miigwech Aandeg."

As time went on as it does, the word traveled all across the lands about the Crow who was born without purpose, so he though, but found good purpose in helping others to either find or renew their purpose. From that day Aandeg travels throughout the land making friends with all creation by helping them find the right path.

Aandeg is our traveling companion always reminding us that work and dedication will show the way to the purpose we seek. We cannot find our purpose if we sit on the path. Crow teaches that you must meet life head-on and create good connections with those around you and work with spirit of friendship.

As Aandeg found out, you become your purpose by doing what feels good with good intention. Walk a good path and you will be guaranteed to find your life's purpose...**

- Illustration: Knowledge Quest, acrylic on canvas by the late Moses Amik (Beaver) (2004)

The second story: how Gaagaagi gave hope to the People


Raven wings of Change by Moses Amik

Many moons ago when times were hard for the people, the great Migizi (Eagle) had to travel far in search for answers on how to better help the First Nations Peoples. They had been forced to give up their children to these horrible monsters called Indian Residential Schools. 
 

These monsters were awful and consumed all who entered their mouths. Once the great mouths closed, all the ways about the children were then lost and forgotten. They no longer remembered who they were and they could no longer see the great Eagle in the skies above. 
 

The Eagle never forgot them but still, being scared lonely little children, they believed that they were no longer loved and that they were forgotten by their families, their communities, and their spirit helpers. They had become The Lost Children.
 

It was about this time when Gaagaagi (the Raven) began to appear in the sky looking down upon the people. Once the most vain and beautiful bird, the raven would bathe in the sunlight showing off his plumage of rainbow colors. The Raven took great pride in representing all the people of the earth. There was no need for Raven to be a large bird so he enjoyed being smaller nestled in the safety of never having to prove himself.
 

When the children disappeared from the communities the mothers would cry and the elders would cry. The cries were heard by the Raven and his heart grew so heavy that he had grown also. His beautiful rainbow plumage had become a pure black color. So black that when people gazed upon him he at times appeared to be blue. 
 

Above Looking Down by Moses Amik

Raven could no longer stand to see the people so unhappy so he called a meeting of other Ravens and they decided that some of them would be left behind. These are the smaller black birds we see flying around today still, but they are not as noticed as the raven. The heartbroken large Ravens began to come up with ways to give the Lost Children hope. 
 

Many of the lost children remembered hearing stories about the Great Eagle who used to come and hear and take the prayers of the First Nations People up to the creator. They also knew that even their prayers had become lost, replaced with praying like a society they did not know. How could they know, they were not from this society and they could never fit in. No matter how they tried.
 

Now, Ravens had taken it into their own hands. They agreed that since the Great Eagles were so busy trying to hear and answer all the prayers and therefore could not reach all of the people, that they would have to bring hope to the people.
 

Today, being a descendant of the Lost Children, many times when I am feeling lost, I look up into the sky and I see the shadows of great birds. I see them soaring way above and for minutes, I am in awe. I feel blessed and I am full of hope and my day has been made. 
 

Many times though, because I am a curious woman, I wait and look until I can see, that it is not the Great Eagle who soars high above my head. It is Gaagaagi, the Raven. Strong and powerful letting me know that the Creator still hears my prayers today. That there will always be hope. All one has to do is look for a way...

("How Raven Gave Hope to the People" is a story told by Simone McLeod)

Illustrations: acrylics on canvas by Moses Amik: Raven Wings of Change (top) and Above Looking Down (bottom)

Giiwenh. So go the stories about the Crow and the Raven... Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to our storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, We hope to see you again soon.

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Aki-egwaniizid miinawaa Zhaawano Giizhik/Wenoondaagoziwid Webaashi

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About the authors/artists

Simone Agnes McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is a ᓇᐦᑲᐌ (Nakawē Anishinaabe) painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962 and a member of Pasqua First Nation, Saskatchewan. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) of her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba. Simone descends from a long line of Midewiwin seers and healers and artists. Her artwork has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by art lovers from all over the world.

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.

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