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 the United States and Canada.

Medicine Societies

The Anishinaabe have three 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 is sometimes translated into English as either "shaman" or "medicine man".


The Waabanowin (also spelled Wabunowin, 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 Waabanowin 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 only two levels: Elder and Senior Elder. 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 in recent years. While many of the ceremonies and traditions are closely guarded, one that is known is the Fire Dance.


Another well-known society among the Anishinaabeg is the Jiisakiiwin, 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." In the past they were hunted down and murdered by both Canadian and United States officials as being "individuals who endanger society".

Common beliefs

All three of the Societies held some beliefs in common. Though the interpretation my be different.

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 they 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 Ojibway and Ottawa. Particularly, the Potawatomi did not adopt the agricultural innovations discovered or adopted by the Ojibway, such as the Three Sisters crop complex, copper tools, conjugal collaborative farming, and the use of canoes in rice harvest.[3] The Potawatomi also divided labor according to gender, much more than the Ojibway and Ottawa did.

Common medicinal plants and their uses

  • Asemaa (Tobacco) - Ceremonially, tobacco represents east. Though pure tobacco is commonly used today, traditionally "kinnikinnick"—a giniginige ("mixture") of primarily red osier dogwood with bearberry and tobacco, and occasionally with other additional medicinal plants—was used. The tobacco or its mixture is used in the offering of prayer, acting as a medium for communication. It is either offered through the fire so the smoke can lift the prayers to the Gichi-manidoo, or it is set on the ground in a nice, clean place as an offering. This is done on a daily basis as each new day is greeted with prayers of thankfulness. Tobacco is also the customary offering when seeking knowledge or advice from an Elder or when a Pipe is present.
  • Nookwezigan (Smudge stick)
    • Mashkodewashk (White sage) - Ceremonially, the sage represents west. It is burned as a purifier.
    • Giizhik (White cedar) - Ceremonially, the cedar represents south. The leaves are cleaned from the stems and separated into small pieces which are used in many ways, but when burned, cedar acts as a purifier, cleansing the area in which it is burned.
    • Wiingashk (Sweet grass) - Ceremonially, the sweet grass represents north. This, too, is a purifier. When sweet grass is harvested, it is cut rather than pulled and then is often braided because it signifies the hair of Ogashiinan ("Mother Earth"). Sweet grass purifies by replacing negative with positive. Sweet grass does not smell much until it is dried.

Other ceremonial acts and beliefs

  • Jiingotamog and Niimi'idimaa (Ceremonial and Secular Pow-wows)
    • Sun Dance
    • Jingle dress
  • Sweat lodge
    • madoodiswan (or madoodoo'igan) (sweat lodge)
    • madoodoowasin (sweat stone)
  • Seven fires prophecy
  • Seven Grandfathers
    • Nibwaakaawin (wisdom)
    • Zaagi'idiwin (mutual love)
    • Minaadendamowin (respect)
    • Aakode'ewin (bravery)
    • Gwayakwaadiziwin (honesty)
    • Dabaadendiziwin (humility)
    • Debwewin (truth)
  • Oshkaabewis - A ceremonial assistant to the Midewinini.
    • Drumkeeper
    • Firekeeper
    • Pipekeeper
  • Mizhinawe - A sexton to the Midewiwin ceremony.
  • Dreamcatcher


Traditional stories told by the Anishinaabeg are the basis for the oral legends. Known as the aadizookaanan ("traditional stories," singular aadizookaan), they are told by the debaajimojig ("story-tellers", singular debaajimod) only in winter in order to preserve their transformative powers.

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 myth. 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).

The Song of Hiawatha

The Song of Hiawatha is an 1855 epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow based on the Nanabozho stories. Longfellow credited as his source the work of pioneering ethnographer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, specifically Schoolcraft's Algic Researches and History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States.

Spiritual beings

In the aadizookaan many manidoog ("spiritual beings") are encountered. They include, but not limited, to the following.

  • Aadizookaanag (singular Aadizookaan) - Manifestation of the traditional teachings, often seen as being the Muses.
  • Animikiig ("thunderers", singular animikii) also called "thunderbirds" (binesiwag, singular binesi)
  • Aniwye is a skunk spirit and was the first skunk to be given the smell by Nanabozho when he was starving.
  • Bagwajiwininiwag - Anishinaabe for Bigfoot or Sasquatch, literally meaning "Wildmen" or "Wildernessmen." In the aadizookaan, they represent honesty.
  • Bakaak is a flying skeleton. He is in this form for committing an act of murder, his form is a punishment for that act.
  • Chakenapok or Chakekenapok - in the aadizookaan with Chekenapok, Nanbozho is the second son (and Bapakiwis is omitted) and instead Chakenapok is added as the youngest of E-bangishimog 's four sons.
  • Earth-Mother, akaNookomis - "Algonquin legend says that "[b]eneath the clouds [lives] the Earth-Mother from whom is derived the Water of Life, who at her bosom feeds plants, animals and men" (Larousse 428). (8) She is known as Nokomis, the Grandmother." Also known as Ogashiinan ("Dearest Mother"), Omizakamigokwe ("Throughout the Earth Woman") or Giizhigookwe ("Sky Woman").
  • E-bangishimog - The west wind, manidoo of ultimate destiny. E-bangishimog is considered to be the father of Majiikiwis, Bapakiwis, Jiibayaaboo and Nanabozho.
  • Elbow Witch
  • Gaa-biboonikaan - Bringer of winter.
  • Gichi-manidoo is the father of life, "The Great Spirit, the Supreme Being"
  • Jiibayaabooz - "Spirit Rabbit" who taught methods of communication with the manidoog through dreams, vision quests and purification ceremonies. He is the "Chief of the Underworld."
  • Majiikiwis - Eldest son of E-bangishimog and brother of Nanabozho in the aadizookaan but was casted as the father of Hiawatha in The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
  • Mandaamin - Maize manidoo
  • Memegwesi (or variously as Omemengweshii, Memengwesi, Memegweshi, etc.) - usually described as a hairy-faced river bank-dwelling dwarfs, often travelling in small groups, appearing only to those of "pure mind" and often to children.
  • Mishibizhiw (meaning "Great Lynx"; also known as Mishipeshu) is a horned panther living in the waters, often associated with copper. While not strictly evil, Mishibizhiw was greatly feared, and often said to cause drowning deaths.
  • Mishi-ginebig (also known as Mishikinebik) is a great horned snake, a powerful underground manidoo that was the guardian spirit brings that brings wisdom and healing.
  • Mizaawaabikamoo/Ozaawaabikamoo - Rock manidoo
  • Nibiinaabewag/niibinaabekwewag ("Watermen"/"Waterman-women", singular nibiinaabe/nibiinaabekwe) are mermen and mermaids
  • Wemicus is a trickster spirit.
  • Wiindigoog (singular wiindigoo) are giant, powerful, malevolent cannibalistic spirits associated with the Winter and the North. If a human ever resorts to cannibalism to survive, they are said to become possessed by the spirit of a wiindigoo, and develop an overpowering desire for more human flesh.
  • Wiisagejaak - Crane manidoo, also known as "Whiskey Jack"
  • Wiininwaa - A woman entitled as "Norishment" who became immortal through manidoowiziwin (the process of taking on qualities of a Manitou); daughter of Nookomis and mother of Nanabozho.

Other stories

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

See also


  1. Benton-Banai (1988), pp. 89-102
  2. 2.0 2.1 Benton-Banai (1988), pg. 102
  3. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Waldman & Braun.

Further reading

  • 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 0299073106
  • 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

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Anishinaabe traditional beliefs. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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