Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 8

"A Good Way of Life"

Zaagibagaa-giizis (Moon when the leaves bud; May 10), 2017

Boozhooaaniin, hello,

Welcome to part 8 of the blog series titled 'Reflections of the Great Lakes.'

The series features my jewelry and works of art, occasionally along with images of paintings by kindred artists. 

The stories pay hommage to the spirit and fascinating beauty and majesty of GICHIGAMIIN, the Great Lakes of Turtle Island (North America), and thematically connect the jewelry and artwork displayed with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Ojibwe Anishinaabe People who for many generations have lived close to the Lakes' shores to survive.

Today's story features a detail of a beautiful 36 x 48 inch acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod titled 'Protecting Mother Earth' (see the banner at the top of the page) and a set of palladium white gold wedding rings made by hand in my studio. 

 Anishinaabe Midewiwin designer wedding rings Bimaadiziwin (Life)

The tides of the Great Lakes

This contemporary, stylish designer ring set of 14K white gold and sterling silver, created by hand with the aid of the overlay technique, is titled Nibi Bimaadiziwin (Water Is Life). Both the title and the sleek design of the rings, which are executed in a comfort fit - which means the rings have rounded inside edges for increased comfort -, are an artistic reference to an age-old teaching of the Midewiwin, the ancient Lodge of Wisdom and Knowledge seekers of the Anishinaabe Peoples.

In addition, the flowing, oxidized wave that you see integrated in the design of the rings subtly refers to the tides of Gichigamiin, the North American Great Lakes, and, in a graphical sense, to the ‘outline drawing’ style of the Medicine painters who paint in the tradition of the Native Canadian Woodland School of Art.

For six centuries or more, the Great Lakes basin, whose abundant waters, ebbing and flowing with the seasons, feed into the Turtle Island (North American continent) and the Great Salt Water Sea (Atlantic Ocean), has been the home of our ancestors, who for generations have lived close to the water’s edge to survive. Since the days when these Algonquian speaking immigrants firs came to this region of bountiful freshwater lakes and islands and rivers and forests, nibi has nourished countless generations of the People, physically as well as spiritually. Along with nibi, all kinds of fish species, turtle spirits, snakes, muskrats, water birds, mermen and mermaids, underwater panthers, and a myriad of other water creatures, play a central role in the traditional narrations and creation stories for several Anishinaabe Nations that surround the Lakes.

Since there is no life without water, Gete-ayaa'ag, our ancestors, never took the waters of Gichigamiin for granted, nor the water that fills the wells, the inland lakes and ponds, the rivers, and the great sea waters (oceans). To them, nibi was not merely an element but a soul (spirit) who gave them sustenance, beauty, growth, generosity, and peace of mind.

Wedding rings Water is Life designed by Zhaawano Giizhik

Life and the cycle of nature

To the Anishinaabeg, bimaadiziwin or life has always been characterized and driven by factors of a material as well as spiritual nature. Anishinaabe ishinaamowin/izhinamowin, our traditional worldview, as well as the social structure of our communities and cultural traditions, are based on the lessons taught by bigwaji-bimaadiziwin, the cycle of nature, and on an innate understanding that existence is a dynamic and continuous interplay between all of creation.

Just like the tides of the lakes are continuously changing, this mutual interaction between life forces is a flowing, dynamic entity that affects - and is affected by - everyone and everything in the here and now, the past, and the future.

To the Anishinaabe, everything and everyone – natural objects and phenomena, human beings, man-made objects, animals, plant beings, spirit beings - are interconnected and exist beyond linear time and space.

Life Waves white gold designer wedding rings by ZhaawanArt Fisher Star Creations

Midewiwin and the Native Way of Life

ANISHNAABE-BIMAADIZIWIN, the Native Way of Life, also called mino-bimaadiziwin, means a good, wholesome, and balanced life as each individual should live in relation to his or her community and all of Creation in order to receive good fortune, good health, and peace of heart in this world; and to gain admission into the Land of Peace in the next world.

Traditionally, material wealth does not enhance the status of a person in Anishinaabe society. Only courage, skill, and respect for the children and the Elders and the sacred web of life leads to bimaadiziwin.

For a Midewiwinini or Midewikwe, respectively a male and a female member of the Midewiwin, the age-old society of thinkers and healers, to depart from mino-miikana bimaadiziwin, the true path of life, and not return is equivalent to death.

There is, however, a cyclic notion behind this ancient knowledge. Since digression has rarely a permanent character, a Mide is expected to withdraw annually in vigil and prayer, to ask the manidoog (spirits) for guidance, and to review their life to determine whether they are still on the true path.

A wave symbolizes life and unity

The dramatic, flowing wave design of the wedding rings, which show two halves of white gold, one side matte and the other highly polished, symbolizes all of the above. Both halves of the slightly curved ring surfaces form the Universe. The wave design stands for life in its fullest sense and it is also reminiscent of a unity symbol as it reflects the duality as well as the complementary forces that exist in nature and in human nature.

The wave symbol reminds us of ebb and flood, or day and night, or the notion of dark versus light. It is a reminder to the owners of the rings that each living being, or union between two people, consists of two separate parts or individuals who, as if they were interflowing waters, exist and work together in close relation to each other.

So the story goes...

Giiwenh. So goes the Teaching Story about Life... such is the story of the wedding rings. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.

Click here to read the first story in the Spirit of the Great Lakes series, which centers around the incredible story of the courageous Mother Earth Water Walkers and showcases several paintings by Simone McLeod, artwork by Leland Bell, and a pen-and-ink drawing and a gold pendant by myself.

About the author/artist and his inspiration

Author Zhaawano at Michipicoten Bay, Ontario




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. 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 MAZINAAJIMOWIN 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, many  generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the lake's 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.