What's Your Doodem, part 2
"He Who Walks Around the Turtle Island"
Ah! Ma’iingan, niikaan
Niwii gikinawaajitoon gindinaadiziwin
Aaniish gimashkiki-akiim aapiji-manidoowan
Giizhigong gigii onjimookiiwe
Manidoowiyin gigii onjimookiiwe
Miinawaa wii-da aangishkaakawen
Haw sa! Mizhisha ninzagaswaa,
Haw sa! Giginoonikoom ji-noondameg,
Minode’ ezhowishinaang niikaan,
Ah! Wolf, my brother
I honor you, I honor you
I shall try to emulate your nature
Since your medicine is truly powerful.
From the Sky you have emerged
In a sacred way you came forth
You will bear your medicine around the world
And you will leave your footprints
Deep into the Earth
as well as deep into my heart.
Yes! before you I sit and smoke the pipe
Yes! Before your ears I speak the word.
Fill our spirits with goodness my brother
So that our lives will be upright
So that I shall always live my life humbly.
- My personal song to the Wolf
Welcome to part 2 of my blog series titled "What's Your Doodem," in which I connect my and kindred artists’ storytelling art - in the form of rings, jewelry, and canvases - with stories of, and knowledge about, the odoodeman (clans) of the Anishinaabe, Nêhiyawak-Cree, and Haudenosaunee Peoples of the northern regions of Turtle Island - nowadays called Canada and the United States.
We will learn that in Anishinaabe as well as in, for instance, Cree and Haudenosaunee societies the families, which have an extended nature, are organized into clans, or, in the case of the Anishinaabeg, into phratries (clan groups) that in turn are divided into clans and subclans.
The purpose of these phratries and clans has always been to divide labor and spiritual-ceremonial tasks, provide general support, and to stress identity of self and the group.
To us, our clan system basically acts as family and marriage regulators and is still today an essential part of our identity as a People and our relations with Nations that surround us.
Today we will learn of the meaning of the Wolf in both our everyday lives and our teachings and sacred star stories. We will get to know him as a clan progenitor, an Earth Teacher, and a Teacher and Contrary hunting moose in the Night Sky. Let's start off with a brief introduction of the wolf clans among the Anishinaabeg and Cree Peoples and of three other notable, Eastern Woodland, Peoples.
The wolf is known as Mai’ingan among the Ojibweg Anishinaabeg, Mawii'aa among the Bodéwadmig Anishinaabeg, and Mahwaew among the Mamaceqtaw Anishinaabeg (Menominee). All three names mean literally "He Who Makes Strange Noises" - possibly a reference to his habit of howling at the moon at night; or perhaps he howls at night for the loss of his brother Anishinaabe (read the story below: He Who Walks the Land).
The Nêhiyawak, a cousin Nation to the Anishinaabeg with a similar language, speak of mahihkan when referring to the wolf; the Aniywiya (who are related to to the Haudenosaunee) and Este Mvskokvike, both peoples from the Southeastern Woodlands, call the wolf respectively Aniwaya and Yahalgi.
The Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) have different names for the wolf: in Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) the word for wolf is okwaho, in Onondowahgoh (Seneca) the word for wolf is tha:yö:nih, in (Guyohkohnyoh) Cayuga the word for wolf is otahy:ni:, and in Onundagaono (Onondaga) the word for wolf is thahyų:nih. The Onayotekaono (Oneida) word for Wolf Clan is lotikwáho, and the Skaruhreh (Tuscarora) word for wolf is Th-Kwah-ree-neh.
What is the meaning of clans among the Ojibwe Peoples?
Since time immemorial, the Anishinaabeg, their cousins the Nêhiyawak/Eeyou/Ininiw (Cree), the Haudenosaunee, the Aniywiya (Cherokee), the Este Mvskokvike (Muscogee), and several other Turtle Island Peoples have a unique and powerful system of government, based on an intricate, very complex network of mutual kin rights and obligations. This web of kinship, which in the old days used to be the frame and fabric of their societies, is for instance called gid-oodem-inaanig in the language of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg. This roughly translates into "our blood relations," or "our clans."
The stem of this Ojibwe word is -oode, signifying a blood-related kinship; the suffix -m indicates a possessive relationship. Some sources* state that "oodem" comes from the same root as "doodam,” which means "to do," “to act,” or “to fulfill,” and "doodosh," meaning "breast." The literal meaning of the word (d)oodem, therefore, could be: "breast from which I draw," in other words: "that from which I draw my purpose, meaning, and being."
In other words, the clan system, the way the Anishinaabeg are organized socially, is the heart, spirit, and lifeblood of their society.
The Ojibweg had originally five to seven doodem groups, nowadays divided into at least sixty-five different odoodeman; Haudenosaunee society, for instance, has nine clans in total. The Ojibweg and other Anishinaabeg have a patrilinial clan system, which means their doodem identity is passed down through the father; the base their system of kinship on descent through the mother.
Among the Anishinaabeg, each doodem, which is typically represented by a bird, a fish, a land animal, or a spirit, denotes a common (male) ancestor. As they disclose norms and principles for bimaadiziwin, or living long and healthy lives, the animals, birds, and fish, as elder brothers of humans, represent the basic needs of human society. Each different animal (or spirit being) seeks to instill in clan members certain virtues to emulate and provides them with a set of life-long responsibilities to live up to - both individually and communally.
To read more about the topic of Anishinaabe clanship, see the first part of the series: What's Your Doodem, Part 1.
"Although united by bond of totemic relationships, similar in outlook and understanding, speaking one common language, and observing one tradition, the Anishinaabeg were diverse and autonomous. Perhaps distances may have precluded political and economic unity, but the sense of independence and individual freedom was, it is suggested, too deeply entrenched in the Anishinaabeg character to encourage submission to a central government, adherence to one set of laws as required by political and economic union. Nor did they feel that one community ought to submerge its well-being or commit its destiny to another.
The individual must be free; so also his community. By having its own leaders, controlling the conduct of its own affairs, following customs of its own devisement, each community was free. No community dared presume to interfere with the affairs of another, even in war. In all matters, a community was free. There was among the Ojibwemowin-speaking peoples one language, a similarity of understanding, but no union; what held the people together was the totemic system. Men and women belonging to the same doodem, regarded one another as brothers and sisters having obligations to each other."¹
Wolves as warriors and educators
The wolf plays an unique and meaningful, spiritual role in Anishinaabe, Nêhiyawak, Aniywiya, Este Mvskokvike, Haudenosaunee, and several other Native cultures as a clan animal. Members of the wolf clan are known both as protectors/defenders and as educators of spiritual values.
Traditional Ojibweg for example know that Wolves know where mashkiki, or medicine used for healing the sick, can be found. The Elders tell us that when you pray and ask for medicine the wolves will howl and you will know where the medicine can be found.²
Wolf Clan members are known as warriors and loners and as the thinkers and decision makers of the Nation. Wolf clan people particularly stand for virtues like perseverance and guardianship.
Among the Ojibweg, the Wolf Clan belongs to the phratrie (clan group) known as Mangi-waanakozidan, or LARGE PAWS. The group consists of the following clans and subclans:²
Nooke: Bear Clan is the Healing Clan ("Protectors")
- Makade-makwa (Black Bear)
- Waabi-makwa (Polar bear)
- Misko-makwa (Red bear)
- Ozaawi-makwa (Brown bear)
Waabizheshi: the Marten Clan: “Protectors”
Amik: the Beaver Clan: “Providers”
Nigig: the Otter Clan: “Medicine People”
Bizhiw: the Lynx Clan: “Protectors”
Ma’iingan: the Wolf Clan: “Protectors”
Among the Anishinaabeg, perseverance, guardianship, self confidence, humility, and modesty are the traits wolves are most known for. Among the Haudenosaunee wolves are loved and respected for their loyalty, curiosity, patience, and their social skills. Wolves are friendly toward each other and, like most of us, devoted to only one mate. They live in organized packs just like humans. They are social and intelligent creatures like you and me.
An old wolf clan war song
Ma'iingan nindoodem, ma'iingan nindoodem
Gaawiin ninga bimiwaaganezisii
The wolf is my clan, the wolf is my clan
Dangerous is he.
Warriors you, warriors we
Without a wound, unmarked
Will I go home.
- Fragments of an old Ojibwe warrior song
The Teaching of Humility
Dabaadendiziwin, or Humility, is the sixth of seven Grandfather Teachings. This Teaching tells us to live in harmony and balance as we walk the road of Life. Wolf teaches us to be self-confident and at the same time to be modest in spirit and gentle and patient toward all our relatives of the human world and to those that belong to the animal and plant worlds.
Aayaanikaaj ookomisag and aayaanikaaj mishoomisag, our ancestral grandmothers and grandfathers, knew that if there was one creature who walks the face of the earth who truly understands the principle of humbleness, or the virtue of humility, it was Ma’iingan, the Wolf.
As our progenitors observed how wolf did not live for himself but for the pack he was part of, being the kind of hunter that would never take the food until it could be shared, they looked upon him as a Grandfather and a Teacher of this valuable lesson. To them, wolf modeled the virtue of Humility because he is the most social of all animals. They observed that when he bowed his head in the presence of other wolves it was not out of fright but out of courtesy and out of consideration for the pack.
It is Ma’iingan’s lack of arrogance and his respect for the pack that are even today lessons to us all to be humble and unselfish and to have respect for the community (and our parents and Elders) that bred and raised us.
Teachers, scouts, and pallbearers
Generally speaking, the Ojibwe Ma'iingan doodem indicates Bwaanag (Dakota) origins; this means that in former times Dakota captives were adopted in the clan. Among the Ojibweg of Zaaginaang (Saginaw, Michigan), however, a person is adopted in the Wolf Clan in case their clan is unknown - provided their parents are both Anishinaabe and their first-born is male.
Throughout history, the Wolf clan produced many teachers and scouts, paricularly among the Gichi-gamiin Ojibweg and Bodewadmig Peoples (those who live close to the borders of the Great Lakes). Ojibwe Wolf clan members live mostly among the Misi-zaaga'iganininiwag/Manoominikeshiinyag (Mille Lacs and St. Croix Chippewas), which is a sure indicator of their mixed Ojibweg-Bwaanag (Dakota) heritage. Negwanebi, one of the signatories of the 1842 Treaty of La Pointe, was a wolf clan member and one of the most notable ogimaag (chiefs) of Mille Lacs.
Another important duty of Wolf Clan members is to guide deceased tribal members in their journey to the land of souls. Traditionally, Wolf clan people step forward when there is a need for a pallbearer. The reason for this is that traditionally it was the Wolf Clan members who went out onto the battlefields and cared for the dead and brought them back. They have done this up into the nineteenth century. And still it’s the Wolf Clan members – particularly those among the Southern Gichi-gamiin Anishinaabeg - who will offer themselves as, or will assume to be, pallbearers.³
The Wolf Clan colors among the Ojibweg are silver, black, and turquoise.
A Grandfather's Teaching of the Wolf
Ningwiz, my son, wolves were referred to as the guardian of our spirits.
Wolves are free spirits even though their packs are very organized.
A lone wolf is rarely found in the wild. Wolves are social creatures like you and I. Just as you watch over your sister so does a wolf watch his brother.
Just as you listen to your father, so does a wolf to his mother. Just as our family eats together, so too does the wolf family.
Niingwiz, our people and the wolves are the same.
Long ago, wolves were as numerous as the stars. Many of them once watched over us. Now there are but a scattered few.
They were strong hunters and survived with what the earth would give them.
Although they would travel, they would never be far from home.
Each of them knew their place in the pack and always did their share. Without working together not only would they die but the entire pack would as well.
Our people are like the wolf, we need community, we need to work together and we need to do our share. Not only will you benefit, ningwiz, but so will your people.⁴
“He Who Walks the Land”
Below is an Anishinaabe aadizookaan (traditional Ojibwe story) about Ma’iingan and his relationship with man.
In the beginning of time, the Great Mystery made Anishinaabe, the original man, and his brother Ma’iingan, the wolf.
Together, they walked the Earth naming all of the other creatures on the planet.
There came a time when the Great Mystery said the two must live apart but warned that whatever happened to one would happen to the other.
To this day, the wolf howls in mourning for the loss of his friend, Anishinaabe."
The above story⁵ corresponds nicely with a nowadays much-quoted Anishinaabe aphorism that says: "Our people and the wolves are the same. What happens to the wolf, happens to us." The underlying thought is that like the wolves, Ojibwe Anishinaabe communities have struggled throughout the centuries for survival. The health and survival of the people have always been inseperably linked to that of the wolf. Therefore, technical terms used by US state officials like "wolf harvesting," "population caps," or "minimum viable poulations" are offensive to Anishinaabe people - to them, these phrases sound as if they pertain to their own demographic situation or the future of their own communities.
Many aadizookaanan of the Anishinaabeg relate of the important role that ma’iingan, or "He Who Makes Strange Noises," has played in the lives of the People since the beginning of times. To this day the Elders of various Ojibwe communities tell stories that link Ma'iingan to Wiinabozho, or Wiisagejaak ("Crane Manidoo") as he is called in the northern country, who is also known as Original Man, a beloved semi-supernatural trickster and benefactor of the Anishinaabe Peoples. According to oral history, it was the Great Mystery, called GICHI-MANIDOO, that sent the wolf to keep Wiinabozho company while walking around Creation.
So important is Wolf to the Anishinaabeg that he even plays a role in many stories of the creation of the earth, as AKI-BIMOSE: "HE WHO WALKS THE LAND."
When GICHI-MANIDOO, after a big flood that once swept the planet, was re-creating the earth on top of the back shield of a giant Turtle, he ordained Wolf to run round the circumference and spread soil that Muskrat brought up from the bottom of the sea. Thus Wolf enlarged the land until Turtle Island (North America) had gained its present form.
One storyrelates how Wiinabozho, the original man, who at one time longed for companionship, adopted Ma'iingan as his brother. Since then, the two siblings had many adventures together tricking one another. Both had the power of shapeshifting; this means that they often transformed into any animal or human form. Although it was Wiinabozho who was the most daring and imaginative of the two, it was Wolf who often guided Wiinabozho and taught him valuable lessons of wisdom.
"So, First Man and Ma'iingan walked the Earth and came to know all of her. In this journey they became very close to each other. They became like brothers. In their closeness they realized that they were brothers to all of the Creation. When they had completed the task that GICHI-MANIDOO asked them to do, they talked with GICHI-MANIDOO once again. GICHI-MANIDOO said, "From this day on, you are to separate your paths. You must go your different ways. What shall happen to one of you shall also happen to the other. Each of you will be feared, respected, and misunderstood by the humans who will later join you on this Earth.”⁶
So This Is How Big This Land Will Be…
Another aadizookaan linking Wolf to the creation of the world was told by George Peequaquat of northern Saskatchewan. The story was taken from the book “Bits of Dough, Twigs of Fire” by Nick Johnson.
"This is a story about Wiisagejaak we call him. He walks throughout the land. He wasn't too pleased with himself. This earth of ours, flooded, he called the muskrat to dive down to get a piece of earth. So really the muskrat brought some for him. He dried it and blew it. After he blew it they were on an island. The next time he blew it he couldn't see across or how big the island was. And again he blew it, he made a wolf. Then he told him to run around to see how big our land was. He was away for four nights, then he came back, then he said this land of ours would be too small. He blew it again, the earth. Then he sent the wolf off again to run around it. Now he was away for four weeks this time, that wolf. He said the earth was still too small... So again he blew the earth. Then finally after fourteen years he got back. He was a very old wolf after fourteen years of running. So this is how big this land will be, that's how he finished."
Wolf Howling to Boy in the Moon
Artist: Carl Ray
Medium: Acrylic on Canvas
Size: 24 x 30 inches
Source: Bear Claw Gallery
Wiinabozho's teacher on Earth
Still another, similar, aadizokaan about the legendary, spiritual companionship between Wiinabozho/Wiisagejaak and Wolf goes as follows:
One day, a long time ago, Wiinabozho, the semi-human spirit and benefactor of the Anishinaabeg, befriended a Wolf, whose name was Gekinoo’amaaged Ma’iingan, The Teacher Who Makes Strange Noises. They became brothers and the Teacher and Wiinabozho walked together naming all of the other creatures on Aki, the earth, such as the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the trees, the plants, and the animals, the insects, the birds, and the fish.
The two brothers had many adventures together on Aki and they took great pleasure in tricking each other. Both had the power of shapeshifting; this means that they often transformed into any animal or human form. Although it was Wiinabozho who was the most daring and imaginative of the two, it was Mai’iingan who often guided Wiinabozho and taught him valuable lessons of wisdom.
So, since he was the elder and wiser brother of Wiinabozho, Gekinoo'amaaged Ma’iingan taught Wiinabozho many things. First, he taught Wiinabozho to hunt moose - which the latter then taught the Anishinaabeg. Then he gave Wiinabozho one of his teeth - the first arrowhead -, which Wiinabozho then used to make fire with. Thus Wiinabozho shared with the Anishinaabeg many teachings and survival techniques obtained from Teacher Wolf. When Ma’iingan was finished teaching he and Wiinabozho went different ways, and Ma’iingan was sent by GICHI-MANIDOO to jiibay-miikana (the Spirit Trail; the Milky Way) to await all Anishinaabeg who pass on so that he could show them the way to the Land of Souls...and at clear nights we can see Wolf's dwelling place hanging in the sky, the trail that he guards illuminated by the countless campfires of the ancestors who moved to the Spirit World before us...
Again, stories like the ones above reflect how much humankind is indebted to the wolf. All stories told here shed light on how much our ancestors were aware of the humanlike characteristics of wolves and the social, basically non-violent personalities they possess and on why we regard them as our educators and important spiritual teachers.
"He Who Walks Around the Sky"
As we have seen in the above, Ma’iingan the Wolf, as he/she is a symbolic mediator between man and spirits and of many fundamental paradoxes that exist in life, plays an important role in several Ojibwe stories of Wiinabozho, the creation of the earth, and stories of the Great Flood. According to tradition Wolf was gekinoo'amaaged (a teacher) who was sent by Wiinabozho to Aki (the Earth) to teach mankind about the world, and to the world of the souls of the deceased to be their ogimaa (chief).
The Hegman Lake mazinaajimowinan (pictographs), located on North Hegman Lake in what is nowadays Minnesota (see inserted photo to the left), are a well-preserved example of Anishinaabe "pictorial spirit writing." The red ocher painting on the granite cliff overlooking the lake sheds an intruiging light on my ancestor's worldview and the role of the Wolf in their stories and teachings.
The panel (see below image) shows a humanlike figure in an outstretched arms posture standing near a bull moose and - what could be - a wolf. Beneath these figures is a long horizontal line, probably representing the earth, and above the human figure are two vertical rows of short horizontal lines or dashes. One set has 4 lines and next to it are 3 lines visible. Above and to the right are the images of three canoes carrying five occupants. Above the moose's rack is a single mark. Above all of these figures rises a large crosslike figure.
It is possible that the age-old visual language of the panel relates to the Ojibwe aadizookaan (story-legend) of Wiinabozho, the four legged animal representing a wolf which is hunting the moose. Learn more about this story below, see: Wiinabozho and His Teacher.
It is also suggested that the careful and artistical arrangement of painted figures on the Hegman Lake cliff wall (see inserted photo) represents the meridian constellations visible during the early evening in winter. To the Ojibweg, the winter constellations were important guidelines essential for navigating in the deep woods during hunting season. Mazinaajimowinan such as those found at Hegman Lake depicted the seasonal changes of star constellations, thus connecting the sky to the land; these spirit writings, in turn, reflected aadizookaanan, the traditional teaching narratives that were told during the long winter nights.
This - widely acknowledged - theory about the rock paintings denoting star constellations suggests that the man with the outstretched arms is not Wiinabozo but a graphical reference to the winter-rising constellation called Gaa-biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter (which is the same as Orion the Hunter in Greek mythology but extends beyond it), whose presence in the night sky heralds winter.
According to Ojibwe tradition Gaa-biboonikaan - who, like Wiinabozho, is a supernatural trickster hero - arrives in the sky around the moon when the spirit is born (December). In the painting, his awe-commanding arms are outstretched across Gaagige-giizhig, the Forever-Sky (the Universe), enveloping the sky while each year keeping Aki in an icy grip until the moon of boiling maple sap (April) arrives.
According to the Bringer of Winter story-theory the position of the pictographs on the cliff wall is intentionally drawn oriented toward viewing the Gaa-biboonikaan constellation in winter. The moose and wolf, then, could well represent star patterns that can been seen on winter nights below Orion/the Bringer of Winter. The constellations of Mooz (Moose) heralded the fall; the wolf, or rather the path he follows in the night sky, symbolized to our ancestors the phenomenon that some planets travel backward through space. In this context, Wolf is not a teacher who walks the Earth with his brother Wiinabozho, but a hunter who walks a path in the sky as Giiwitaagiizhig Bimose, "He Who Walks Around the Sky" as he perpetually follows the tracks of Mooz (the Moose) throughout the Universe. Learn more about the Wolf Sky Path below: see "Backward tracks in the night: the wolf as Sky Contrary."
The three canoes in the painting, according to this version of the story, represent paddlers steering their jiimaanan under a sky awash in northern lights along jiibay-miikana (Path of Souls; the Milky Way); so these paddlers, too, could very well be metaphorical representations of stars. The horizontal markings depicted above the Winter Bringer may have been used for counting or tracking the passage of time.
In conclusion, the large crosslike figure depicted at the top of the panel is impressive enough to represent GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery and Creator of the Universe. The position and size of the X could also be a reference to a big, bright star - perhaps a supernova - that once, in the long ago, struck awe in the eyes and hearts of ancient man...
Backward tracks in the night sky: the wolf as Contrary
Follow the Heart Trail
Although eventually Ma’iingan became an estranged sibling to us anishinaabeg (human beings) during our time together on aki – only incidentily observed in the night sky and meeting occasionally on earth and even then in passing, briefly as a vague shadow in the twilight -, we are undeniably brothers, twins whose destiny is entwined forever, bound together by ode' miikana, "the heart line." It is commonly understood that historically, both wolf and Anishinaabe shared – and still share - the same fate: misunderstood and persecuted and massacred each in their own time, context, and place. The Anishinaabeg by governments, greedy corporations, and a largely ignorant and sometimes downright racist dominant society, and the wolves by state-sanctioned hunts that are often a result of wide-spread and deeply rooted misinformation and even plain hatred against “predators.”
The Gete-ayaa’ag, the Elders, however, tell us that we still must follow Ode' Miikana, the Path of the Heart. it still isn’t too late to reverse our shared fate, and to acknowledge and revitalize and pass on to future generations the wisdom and knowledge Wiinabozho and his brother Ma’iingan passed on to our ancestors many strings of life ago.
Haw sa, there is still much work to do!
When we walk the trail of life, learning hard lessons along the way, maturing through hardship and experience, let’s not forget the lessons that Grandfather Wolf taught our ancestors; simple but wise guidelines that are still here today for us to live by.
Walk quietly, not boisterously, walk with an open mind and a humbled heart. Accept that you are just one small part of the whole and always express deference and gratitude to the Great Mystery and your community and to the gete-ayaa’ag who sustained and helped to shape it.
And always act like the wolf who shows altruism in the hunt and bows his head in the presence of his People.
Let's live well and never forget to follow Ode' Miikana: the Heart Line that binds us to our elder brother the Wolf.
Giiwenh. That’s how far this blog story goes. Miigwech for reading and listening!
Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see me again!
¹ Free after Basil Johnston, Ojibway Heritage, p.72
² Source: Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College Education website
³ Source: Indians of the Midwest, Past and Present
⁴ Source: Native American Tribes of the United States
⁵ Source: Saving Ma'iingan: Why Michigan's Indian tribes want to block the wolf hunt
⁶ Quoted freely from Edward Benton Banaise's "The Mishomis Book." Source: Donald Carbaugh: The Handbook of Communication in Cross-cutural Perspective, p. 258
⁷ Source: Konnie LeMay, Ojibwe Cosmos
About the author/artist and his inspiration
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 a second- generation Woodland artist who writes stories and creates graphic art and jewelry designs, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. For this he calls on his manidoo-minjimandamowin, or "Spirit Memory"; which means he tries to remember the knowledge and the lessons of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.
To Zhaawano's ancestors the MAZINAAJIMOWINAN or "pictorial spirit writings" - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos that they felt they were an integral part of.
Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the lakes' and rivers' coastlines where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.
The way Zhaawano understands it, it is in these sacred places invisible to the ordinary, waking eye that his design and storyteller's inspiration originate from.
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