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Unto the Seventh Generation

Perhaps the most profound of all Anishinabe teachings, seventh generation philosophy holds that one must be mindful of the effects of any decision or action on the future of the people unto the seventh generation. After all, we ourselves are a seventh generation who owe our very existence and our rights to the wise thoughts and brave deeds of our Grandfathers and Grandmothers seven generations ago. In this modern industrial age, there is no greater challenge to the seventh generation than the environmental threats facing our world.

This article will discuss the Anishinabe role in the creation of the “Protect the Earth” movement, which is dedicated to preserving our collective natural resources so that they may be enjoyed seven generations hence and beyond. The story picks up with the “Walleye Warriors” during the turbulent spearfishing riots of the eighties and proceeds through the blockade of the railroad tracks by the Anishinabe Ogitchidaa in 1996 and on to the drafting of the much needed Seventh Generation Amendment.

The 1983 Voigt decision, upholding the right of the Ojibway People to hunt, fish, and gather on off-reservation lands ceded to the United States in the Treaties of 1836, 1837, 1842, and 1854 (collectively called the Ceded-Territory Treaties), spawned a vicious outpour of racism against the Ojibway. During the late eighties and early nineties, a series of tense, often violent, conflicts broke out at boat landings throughout the north woods as Ojibway spearfishermen, dubbed “Walleye Warriors”, ventured bravely onto the waters to exercise their right to fish in the ceded-territories, while white protestors hurled racial insults and physically attacked them. The situation grew more serious as bullets were shot across the water at the fishermen. Native activist Walt Bresette and non-Native activist Rick Whaley co-founded Witnesses for Non-violence and the Midwest Treaty Network to support the Walleye Warriors and foster peaceful counter protests at the boat landings.

Walt knew that northern Wisconsin’s non-Native population, including many of those who belonged to racist anti-treaty groups, would eventually see that the profiteering corporations and corrupt government agencies polluting Wisconsin’s natural environment posed ‘more of a threat to their lifestyle than Indians who go out and spearfish”.[i] Mercury pollution from mine wastes, a byproduct of the mining process, posed a common threat to both Native spearfishermen and non-Native sport fishermen.

During the height of the spearfishing wars, Walt Bresette and Anishinabe poet Al Hunter went to an anti-treaty rally in Minocqua, Wisconsin. According to Hunter, “The park was filled with guys in orange coats, when Walt walked right up to the podium to hear ‘em talk. A path cleared. It was like the parting of the Red Sea for a couple of Shinnob guys.” As Dean Crist, leader of Protect America’s Rights and Resources (PARR) – the leading anti-treaty group, – got up to speak, Bresette shouted, “Hey, what about the mines?”[ii] As the end of the spear fishing controversy neared, the refusal of the anti-treaty groups to take a stand against mining was costing them their “environmentalist image”, such that many ecologically minded sport fisherman had withdrawn their support. All that was left of the anti-treaty movement was racist rhetoric. At that point, the focus of Walleye Warriors changed from “winning” to “healing”.[iii]

waltnsandy

Anishinabe Ogitchida Walt Bresette and activist Sandy Lyon

Gradually, non-Native sport fisherman and Native spearfishermen became united in their opposition to the “outside” threat posed by mining companies and the pollution of Wisconsin’s precious waterways. Remarkably, the vast majority of Wisconsinites, including a great many who had been part of the anti-treaty movement, supported the 1996 Anishinabe Ogitchida blockade of the railroad tracks and subsequent campaign against White Pine Mine.[iv]

The Protect the Earth movement had been born over the course of a turbulent decade in which Anishinabe sovereignty had been reaffirmed and redefined. An unprecedented interracial and multicultural alliance emerged from the spearfishing conflicts. Such organizations as Anishinabe Niiji, which in the Ojibway language means “Friend of the Anishinabe”; the Midwest Treaty Network; Lake Superior Greens; The Environmental Network, Great Lakes Chapter; and WOJB FM radio all owe at least part of their existence to Walt Bresette and his tireless campaign to unite the people of the Great Lakes for Mother Earth.[v]

Anishinabe treaty rights had emerged as a powerful weapon against the environmental degradation resulting from corporate tyranny and governmental corruption Any threat to the natural environment within the ceded-territories endangered the ability of the Ojibway to exercise their usufruct rights to hunt, fish, and gather. If harm were to come to the game animals, fish, or wild rice, or any number of edible and medicinal plants harvested by the Ojibway, then the ceded-territory treaties have been violated. Thus, the ceded-territory treaties stood as a strong and unyielding protection for the shared environment of all people throughout the Upper Midwest.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) was created in 1984, comprising eleven Ojibway tribes, to implement the ceded-territory treaty rights under a management strategy designed to maximize the yearly harvest while ensuring the continuing availability of resources for future generations.[vi] Bresette and many others envisioned an “environmental zone” encompassing the ceded-territories that would be jointly coordinated by state and tribal agencies, and which would serve as a model for green economic development throughout North America and the world. Such exceptional cooperation between states and tribes has not yet developed, though significant progress has been made.[vii]

As much of a victory as the Voigt decision was for the environmental movement, it was only applicable to the ceded-territories of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. Therefore, Lake Superior Greens began exploring the prospect of securing universal environmental protection throughout the United States. The challenge lay in the fact that the U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of the land, does not include provisions for the protection of common property, those natural resources which cannot be owned by an individual but rather are held in common by all human beings, such as clean air, safe drinking water, sunlight, and other natural gifts. The Fifth Amendment provides protection for private property, which has been the major grounds of opposition to environmental legislation, with industrialists and corporate interests claiming that environmental regulations result in the diminished value of private property. Lake Superior Greens believed that, “the taking of common property through abuse of private property use should be as illegal as the opposite.”[viii]

The only Constitutional basis for the protection of common property lay in the Preamble, which includes a line calling for the present generation to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”. This clearly exemplifies seventh generation thinking, as it was the intention of the forefathers to preserve for future generations, “our Posterity”, that for which they had fought so gallantly. It seems entirely reasonable that clean breathable air, fresh drinking water, and other common properties should be considered “Blessings of Liberty”.[ix]

In 1995, in the Spirit of securing the “Blessings of Liberty” for future generations, the Lake Superior Greens drafted a landmark Constitutional Amendment called “The 7th Generation Amendment” or “Common Property Amendment”, which would provide Constitutional protection for common property, balancing the protections of private property and giving environmental legislation a solid legal foundation. [x] Below is the draft language for the 7th Generation Amendment:

“The rights of the people to use and enjoy air, water, sunlight, and other renewable resources determined by Congress to be common property, shall not be impaired, nor shall such use impair their availability for the future generations.”

As Wisconsin celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1998, Walt Bresette and Frank Koehn organized the 7th Generation Walk, a 320-mile journey from the Red Cliff Reservation (the northernmost point in Wisconsin) to the state capital at Madison. The Walk had several purposes, most notably of which was to raise awareness and gain popular support for the 7th Generation Amendment. Along the way, the walkers would stop in each community and hold talking circles to discuss the environmental and economic issues impacting their region and to gather stories and messages from each community to present to the governor and the state legislature. The Walk was planned for 28 Days (the sacred lunar number of the Anishinabe and also the length of the rail blockade on Bad River), ultimately culminating in a rally at the steps of the state capital building. As a personal outreach, the 7th Generation Walk was a journey that intended to put a human face on a movement to protect the common property of people everywhere.

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“A photo of Walt and Frank Koehn at sunrise on Lake Superior on Eagle Bay (as far north as you can get on the mainland of Wisconsin) following the beginning prayers for the Protect the Earth Journey, the 320 mile walk for awareness about the Seventh Generation Amendment.”[xi]

I was blessed to be able to walk on the Protect the Earth journey and I would like to share a short excerpt from my journal that I kept during that sacred sojourn:

We are traveling to Park Falls tonight. Park Falls has the reputation of being one of the most racist towns in Wisconsin. During the spearfishing conflicts of the late eighties and early nineties, Park Falls was known as PARR Falls (for Protect America’s Rights and Resources, an anti-treaty group that led the racially motivated assaults on the native spearfishermen). The tension of the spearfishing conflicts is still thick. The people have not let go of their anger and hatred. We have asked Anishinabe Ogitchida to take us through Park Falls. Butch and Buster were at the boat landings years ago and have now returned. We went to Butternut Lake boat landing to visit the battlegrounds once again. We met another man at Butternut Lake who was at the standoff. His memories and presence was a source of inspiration for us all. Park Falls is a very negative place. We have all picked up on the negativity. The people of Park Falls were very unhappy to see us. After a slight mix up, we ended up at a park next to the Flambeau River, overlooking the pulp yard of a paper company. The sight was unbelievable. A reporter from Park Falls came to meet us. He was a good man. I am reminded of the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Can God find 10 righteous people in all of Park Falls? We posted watch at night in case anyone wanted to mess with us. I kept watch from 2 to 4 A.M. It was an unpleasant experience.

I didn’t sleep much last night. We awoke, did morning ceremonies, and passed the sacred pipe. I enjoyed the idea that Anishinabe ceremonies were being performed in Park Falls. We left as soon as we could. I tied four tobacco ties in downtown Park Falls. I pray that the people will be transformed by the powers of Love, Understanding, and Compassion. Only time will tell. Heather arrived this morning to walk with us. I was very glad to see her. After introducing her to everyone, we began to walk. We have to cover 18 miles today.

An amazing lesson came to me today: We saw two crows fly over today, so I knew that I had to pay attention because a message was coming from the Spirit World. As we were walking, we came upon a dead turtle…its shell smashed. Now the turtle is the foundation of the world. It is upon the turtle’s back that the world was remade after the Great Flood. This was the message – the foundation of our world – our society – is cracked. We are therefore doomed to failure. So how do we repair the crack? The answer came to me as we were walking: Buster was walking carrying the flagstaff of Anishinabe Ogitchida. I was walking carrying the Protect the Earth staff. It was just the two of us. And suddenly the answer came to me. Buster is Native American. I am White. We are united in the purpose of working for the Creator. We follow the Natural Way. We are the New People of the Seventh Fire. Perhaps the cure to racism is Walking. We should all get together and go on a Walk…A Seventh Generation Walk!!

The Seventh Generation Walk was a success, but our celebration was not long lived, for on February 21, 1999, tragedy struck as Walt Bresette, at the age of 51, died of a heart attack while visiting friends in Duluth, Minnesota. A true warrior had departed this world. Everyone who knew Walt reacted much the same way. I learned about Walt’s passing from another Northland College student who had handed me a remembrance card that had a picture of Walt performing a smudge ceremony for non-violent resistors in October 1995. The card included a quote from Walt, which said, “Once we were all arrested for not ending a drum ceremony…we danced into a waiting police wagon, high on our collective rejection of authority.” I smiled. Walt’s wake was like an international conference of New People, a real testament to the alliances he helped create. Walt had carried us for many years. He helped foster a movement of peoples back toward right thinking and right action, back toward the Original Instructions of the Creator. Frank Koehn, Walt’s longtime friend and “partner in crime”, summed it up well when he said, “There aren’t too many things that have happened up here that haven’t got Walt’s footprints all over them. He kept us focused. He was truly a leader, a very great leader who knew what to do to prod people into action.”[xii]

And now it is our turn to carry on Walt’s work.

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The “Protect the Earth” Eagle Feather Staff

Footnotes

[i] Quote cited from: Al Gedicks and Zoltán Grossman, “Defending a Common Home: Native/non-Native Alliances against Mining Corporations in Wisconsin”, on the website of the International Development Research Center: http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-64531-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html. Gedicks and Grossman originally cited the quotation from Midwest Treaty Network (1991) Wisconsin Treaties: What’s the Problem?, Madison, WI.

[ii] Nick Van der Puy, “Heart failed, spirit lives on.” Ojibwe Akiing: Ojibway Turf, March 1999; Volume 3 Number 3, 1,6.

[iii] Al Gedicks and Zoltán Grossman, “Defending a Common Home: Native/non-Native Alliances against Mining Corporations in Wisconsin.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Nick Van der Puy, “Heart failed, spirit lives on.” Ojibwe Akiing: Ojibway Turf, March 1999; Volume 3 Number 3, 1,6.

[vi] For information about Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), visit their website at http://www.glifwc.org/

[vii] Al Gedicks, Racism and resource colonization

[viii] Walt Bresette, The 7th Generation Amendment, cited on Synthesis/Regeneration Online Magazine: http://www.greens.org/s-r/

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Both photos of Walt cited from the ‘Protect the Earth’ website: http://www.protecttheearth.org/Walter/aboutwalt2.htm

[xii] Bayfield, Wisconsin (AP), “Ojibwe Treaty Rights Activist dead at 51”, Ojibwe Akiing: Ojibway Turf, March 1999; Volume 3 Number 3, 18.

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Anishinabe Ogitchidaa

~~~~~~~

Migizi, the eagle,
soaring high
above the earth,
over lakes and streams.
Anishinabe, dancer of dreams,
traditions and life,
dancing to the beat
of the drum
heard from generation to generation.
The eagle calls to the people
of every nation…
The Earth, mother to all creation,
needs you, ogitchidaa,
to care for the rivers,
plains, mountains and valleys.
Leader, warrior, earth protector –
ogitchidaa.[i]

~~~~~~~

On the morning of July 22, 1996, five men awoke before dawn and made their way to a remote stretch of railroad tracks on the Bad River Indian Reservation near Highbridge, Wisconsin, not far from where the tracks crossed over a bridge so old and rickety that the rail ties were falling into the river. A sacred fire was lit and an eagle feather staff was placed on the railroad tracks. Prayer flags were set in the four directions and a drum was set up for the ancient songs of prayer and thanksgiving. The men were Ogitchida, protectors of the Ojibway people, and they had come to blockade the tracks and stop any trains from crossing the decaying bridge. Why had these men taken such a bold action? Wisconsin Central Ltd. had begun transporting sulfuric acid across the reservation to supply the solution mining operation at the White Pine Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Copper Range Mining Company closed the mine in 1995, after forty years of operation, due to declining profits, but Inmet Mining, a Canadian-based company, planned to use solution mining, in which acid is poured into the mineshafts, to recover the remaining copper. The operation required 550 million gallons of sulfuric acid![ii]

The Ojibway living on the Bad River Indian Reservation were terrified that a train accident at the old bridge would dump thousands of gallons of sulfuric acid into the river, destroying the wild rice, from which the people draw their livelihood, along with the rare sturgeon and countless other species living in the river. The acid would seep into the drinking water on the reservation and inevitably be washed into Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. The Ojibway also feared acid drainage from the mine itself, which was only five miles from Lake Superior. John Wilmer, Chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, brought the concerns of his people to state and federal government officials.[iii]

Regrettably, the fears and concerns of the Ojibway People fell on deaf ears. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), citing interstate commerce laws, gave Wisconsin Central Ltd. permission to ship the acid across the reservation without the consent of the Bad River tribal government. When the tribe protested, claiming that the tracks were unsafe, the FRA sent an inspector who cited several areas of concern, but authorized the trains to proceed with their shipments provided they didn’t exceed 10mph. Shipments commenced on June 21. The initial phase of the solution mining began at White Pine Mine on July 2.[iv] Only one day prior, the Environmental Protection Agency had granted the permit for Inmet to proceed with the project without completing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or holding public hearings on the proposed project, claiming that the involvement of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was sufficient for granting a permit.[v]

Anishinabe Ogitchida decided that enough was enough. Sulfuric acid and solution mining posed direct threats to the health and safety of the Ojibway people and threatened the very livelihood of the people by potentially irreparably damaging the environment, from which the Ojibway draw their sustenance. Ogitchida Butch Stone explained the need for action:

“A lot of people are good at talking the talk. However, they’ve got nowhere. We have environmental organizations talking against mining, against these chemicals, against the destruction to out water, the air, the animal nations, the plants, but they don’t take no action. We are a sovereign people. We have the inherent right to protect and preserve all that our Creator has given to us to protect and preserve. We are carrying out our duties as Ogitchidaas.” [vi]

As the sacred fire was being lit at the tracks, local and regional press members were receiving a statement from Anishinabe Ogitchida, prepared in advance and delivered by Native activist and Ogitchida spokesman Walt Bresette, who had resigned his position as Indigenous Chair of the EPS’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council after the agency blindly issued the permit for solution mining at White Pine. Below is the press statement from Anishinabe Ogitchida at the onset of the blockade:

Today, at dawn, a sacred fire was lit next to the railroad tracks on the Bad River Chippewa Reservation, within the ceded territory of the Lake Superior Chippewa.

The sacred fire will burn for four days during which prayers, songs and offerings will be made in traditional ceremonies. We, the Anishinabe Ogitchida, will hunt and gather food during these four days.

These next few days will help determine our actions for the next few weeks, months and perhaps years. We ask that these ceremonies be undisturbed by train traffic or those who would seek to disrupt these spiritual activities.

Following the four days of spiritual ceremony, we will leave if the following conditions are met:

1) An immediate cessation of acid mining at White Pine, Michigan until:

a) The Treaty Rights of the Lake Superior Chippewa are considered;

b) There is a full Environmental Impact Statement of the Acid Mine Project

2) A reclamation plan is developed for the existing tailings area prior to acid solution mining.

3) A reclamation plan for the brine aquifer seepage at White Pine prior to
consideration of acid mining.

4) The immediate cessation of all sulfuric acid transport in ceded territory
until:

a) A full EIS on acid mining [is performed];

b) An inspection, report, and repair of rail lines in our territory;

c) All communities on the rail corridor have trained staff, adequate equipment and emergency response teams to handle an acid spill.

If these conditions are met, this peaceful and spiritual gathering will end at dawn on Friday. For the next four days our community will be safe from this unsafe transport of hazardous materials.

We call on others to seek similar spiritual guidance, and to take similar action.

We call on all traditional and spiritual people to join us in these deliberations.

We call on other Anishinabe Ogitchida to also join us; we will protect our right and our duty to these ceremonies.[vii]

The trains stopped. As word spread, more people joined the Ogitchida at the tracks and journalists throughout the upper Midwest picked up the story. Railroad officials met with Anishinabe Ogitchida and agreed to “delay” shipments and develop an emergency response plan specifically for the reservation; however, when Anishinabe Ogitchida did not leave at the end of the four-day prayer ceremony, but instead the gathering at the tracks grew in number, the very same railroad officials demanded the Ashland County Sheriff “remove the protestors”.[viii] The Ashland County Sheriff, along with a group of county police, met with Anishinabe Ogitchida on July 29 during a somewhat tense, but peaceful, meeting on the tracks. Ultimately, the Sheriff refused to take any action, claiming that, since the blockade was taking place on the reservation and involved Native American religious ceremonies, the matter was clearly a treaty issue and must be resolved by the federal government.[ix]

As if by divine intervention, a Wisconsin Central train derailed in downtown Ashland, Wisconsin at 2 PM on July 30, the day following the Sheriff’s refusal to take action against Anishinabe Ogitchida. Fortunately, no one was injured and the train wasn’t carrying any toxic materials. The derailment, caused by one of the rails breaking in two, perfectly illustrated the concerns and fears of the Ojibway people and north woods environmentalists. An accident such as this could have resulted in the spilling of thousands of gallons of sulfuric acid. As media reporters arrived on the scene, along with many who had been to the blockade to show support for Anishinabe Ogitchida, the rail workers were busy making repairs and getting the engine that derailed back onto the tracks. During press interviews, one railroad official said, “I don’t know why people are so concerned with this minor incident. It happens all the time.”[x]

In frustration, notoriously pro-mining Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson requested a federal mediator from the U.S. Department of Justice to take over the situation on the tracks. Justice Department mediator John Teronnez met with Anishinabe Ogitchida on August 2.[xi] Contrary to reports of an armed conflict on the railroad tracks, the mediator found a peaceful spiritual protest led by conscientious people. Walt Bresette spoke with the mediator as both a spokesman for Anishinabe Ogitchida and a representative of all those, Native and non-Native, who opposed the solution mining project.[xii]

Walt expressed the deepest fears of the Ojibway, not only that an acid spill might contaminate their reservation, but also that acid drainage from the mine itself could irreversibly damage the delicate Lake Superior watershed. Furthermore, Anishinabe Ogitchida considered the project a direct assault on Ojibway sovereignty.[xiii] The Treaties of 1836, 1837, 1842, and 1854, guarantee the Ojibway and their progeny the right to remain on their lands and retain usufruct rights in the ceded-territories to ensure their livelihood. In 1983, the Supreme Court upheld Ojibway sovereignty in the landmark Voigt Decision, which reaffirmed the rights of the Ojibway to hunt, fish, and gather on all off-reservation public lands (and in some cases private lands) throughout the ceded-territories, i.e. the northern third of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.[xiv] The solution mining project was illegal because it violated ceded- territory treaty rights by threatening the natural environment from which the Ojibway secure their livelihood.

After meeting with officials from Wisconsin Central Ltd., Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Ashland County Sheriff’s Department, Inmet Mining, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency, federal mediator Teronnez reached an agreement with Anishinabe Ogitchida in which they would end the blockade in exchange for a complete environmental analysis of the solution mining project at White Pine Mine.[xv] During the negotiations, two trains were allowed to pass the blockade after Ogitchida inspected them for toxic materials and found them to be safe. On August 19, Anishinabe Ogitchida released the blockade after 28 days on the tracks. Trains began moving through the reservation once again, but railroad officials agreed not to ship any sulfuric acid until a formal agreement with the Bad River tribe was reached.[xvii] Walt Bresette announced the success of the blockade saying, “Sovereignty is not something you ask for. Sovereignty is the act. This blockade has successfully drawn public attention to the largest ecological threat in our region’s history.”[xviii]

Nearly a month after the blockade ended, the EPA announced that they would hold a series of public meetings from September 23 – 26 seeking public input on the solution mining project and would explain the process involved in conducting an environmental analysis. The meetings would be held on the Bad River Indian Reservation; in Ashland, Wisconsin; in Ironwood, Michigan; and on the Keweenaw Bay Reservation. Later, after Ontonagon County officials complained, EPA announced a fifth meeting to be held in the city of White Pine itself. Public outcry against the mine was nearly unanimous on the reservations and was strong in Ashland, where many students and faculty of Northland College testified against solution mining.[xix]

Many declared their intention participate in a demonstration at the mine, which Walt Bresette had announced in early September. Only in Ironwood, Michigan, near the mine itself was there any real show of support for the project.[xx] It was at this time that I entered the scene, having arrived at Northland College as a freshman in early September. Like many others, I testified against the mine and rebuked the EPA for granting a permit for an unethical and illegal project without even conducting a proper assessment or involving the Native governments in the process.

EPA officials announced that over the course of the next 12 to 18 months they would conduct an Environmental Analysis of White Pine Mine. The analysis would carefully consider the effects the project would have on Native American populations and would contain many of the same features as an Environmental Impact Statement, which EPA claimed was unnecessary because of the preliminary research provided by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. EPA also announced that the railroad tracks leading through the Bad River reservation met federal regulations for transporting sulfuric acid. In due course, Wisconsin Central Ltd. resumed their shipments of acid. Outraged, Walt Bresette proclaimed that he felt “betrayed” by the EPA and would lead workshops on “how to take apart the rails”.[xxi] This proved unnecessary.

On October 14, 1996, Copper Range and Inmet announced that they were withdrawing their permit application and suspending all activities at White Pine Mine, claiming that the length of time indicated by EPA for the Environmental Analysis, with no certainty of being approved for the full scale project, would result in a net loss of profits.[xxii] In short, the mining companies were unwilling to pay the ante for an unsure hand, and they chose to lose a small amount of money early in the game rather than a great deal of money 12 to 18 months down the road. The company made the intelligent choice. Less than a year later, environmentalists were successful in passing the mining moratorium law in Wisconsin, setting much higher environmental standards to acquire permits for solution mining.[xxiii] The White Pine Mine had seen its final days.

Anishinabe Ogitchida had secured a decisive victory not only for the Ojibway, but also for all people and for Mother Earth. They provided an example of the positive change that may be accomplished through political activism in our local communities and regions. The Ogitchida are warriors, protectors of the people, charged with the responsibility of defending those who cannot defend themselves and speaking for those who are not given a voice. Central to the Ogitchida way is the Seventh Generation philosophy, which holds that one must be mindful of the effects of any decision or action on future generations. Traditional Anishinabe look to the seventh generation to see how their actions will affect their descendants. It is the responsibility of the Ogitchida to look to the seventh generation and take action to ensure the best possible life for the people.

anishinabe-ogitchidaa

Anishinabe Ogitchida blockaded railroad tracks crossing the Bad River Indian Reservation for twenty-eight days to prevent Wisconsin Central Railroad Ltd. from transporting sulfuric acid to the White Pine Mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The solution mining operation at White Pine sat only 5 miles from Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Anishinabe Ogitchida decided to take direct action to protect their people and Mother Earth.

NOTES:

[i] Edward Benton-Banai wrote these beautiful words. Cited from the “Ogitchida” poster published by Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC).  The copyright holder is University of Saskatchewan. Cited from website: http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/permalink/27707

[ii] Zoltan Grossman “Chippewa block acid shipments – the Anishinabe Ogitchida group, protectors of the people, fight against transport of 550 mil gal of sulphuric acid for a copper mining recovery project“. Progressive, The. . FindArticles.com. 27 Dec. 2008. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1295/is_n10_v60/ai_18710709

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Peter Macjewski, “Environmental Justice Case Study: Solution Mining in White Pine, MI and the Bad River Reservation”, edited and coded by Kate Jones, cited from University of Michigan, Environmental Justice Case Studies, at the website: http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/cases.html

[v] Midwest Treaty Network. 1996. “Train Blockade at Bad River Ojibwa Reservation, WI, to Stop Sulfuric Acid Shipment to Michigan Mine.” Web site viewed on July 30, 2004. http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/mtn-brx1.html

[vi] Bad River Ogitchida Butch Stone quoted in: News from Indian Country, Aug 12-19, 1996, pp. A1 and A6.

[vii] Statement from Anishinabe Ogitchida released the morning on which the railroad blockade began. Cited from website: http://nativenet.uthscsa.edu/archive/nl/9607/0092.html

[viii] Macjewski, “Environmental Justice Case Study: Solution Mining in White Pine, MI and the Bad River Reservation

[ix] Tom Meersman, “A conflict of environment and economics; Chemical shipments spur safety concerns and a tribal protest.” Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN.), 8/3/1996, 3B.

[x] Alice I. McCombs, “WISCONSIN CENTRAL DERAILS IN CITY OF ASHLAND”. 7/31/1996. Cited from website: http://nativenet.uthscsa.edu/archive/nl/9608/0003.html

[xi] Meersman, “A conflict of environment and economics; Chemical shipments spur safety concerns and a tribal protest.

[xii] Peter Maller, “Group to protest process at mine: Opponents already blocked acid shipments.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/4/1996, 5.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Rick Whaley and Walter Bresette, Walleye Warriors: An Effective Alliance against Racism and for the Earth  (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1994), 17-21.

[xv] Maller, “Group to protest process at mine: Opponents already blocked acid shipments.

[xvii] Macjewski, “Environmental Justice Case Study: Solution Mining in White Pine, MI and the Bad River Reservation

[xviii] Grossman “Chippewa block acid shipments – the Anishinabe Ogitchida group, protectors of the people, fight against transport of 550 mil gal of sulphuric acid for a copper mining recovery project“.

[xix] Macjewski, “Environmental Justice Case Study: Solution Mining in White Pine, MI and the Bad River Reservation

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Cited from “Legislative Briefs”, Brief 98-1, published by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, May 1998. Available online at the Wisconsin State Legislature website: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/LRB/pubs/Lb/98Lb1.pdf

Women Are Sacred

On the eve of the historic Women’s March on Washington DC on January 21st, 2017, we should remember that women are sacred.

Anishinabe teachings hold that women have two gifts that men do not have. The ability to quicken life in the womb and bring new generations to the earth and the ability to purify their own body, mind and spirit through the monthly moon cycle. Through these gifts, women are inherently more spiritually powerful than men.It was decreed by the Creator that men should have the responsibility of protecting women, children and elders.

Women and men alike have a responsibility to protect women’s rights. The Women’s March is at the center of the seventh fire struggle. We are at the crossroads foretold in the Seventh Fire Prophecy and we must make the right choice as to which path we will follow. A good first step on the Natural Path would be to honor women as sacred.

women-sacred

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women

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women-strength

women-iroquois-feminists

The Matriarchy of the Iroquois Confederacy led the way in teaching and supporting the early feminist movement. Now, contemporary feminists carry the torch.

The Women’s March on Washington is advocating the following Unity Principles. This is why we march:

Click to download full PDF

We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women—including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, Muslim women, and queer and trans women—are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.

ENDING VIOLENCE

Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of all forms of violence against our bodies. We believe in accountability and justice in cases of police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color. It is our moral imperative to dismantle the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system.

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.

LGBTQIA RIGHTS

We firmly declare that LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights and that it is our obligation to uplift, expand and protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans or gender non-conforming brothers, sisters and siblings. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes.

WORKER’S RIGHTS

We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity. All women should be paid equitably, with access to affordable childcare, sick days, healthcare, paid family leave, and healthy work environments. All workers – including domestic and farm workers, undocumented and migrant workers – must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage.

CIVIL RIGHTS

We believe Civil Rights are our birthright, including voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation or harassment, freedom of speech, and protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability. We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

RIGHTS FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

We believe that all women’s issues are issues faced by women with disabilities and Deaf women. As mothers, sisters, daughters, and contributing members of this great nation, we seek to break barriers to access, inclusion, independence, and the full enjoyment of citizenship at home and around the world. We strive to be fully included in and contribute to all aspects of American life, economy, and culture.

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS

Rooted in the promise of America’s call for huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we believe in immigrant and refugee rights regardless of status or country of origin.  We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

We believe that every person and every community in our nation has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. We believe that our environment and our climate must be protected, and that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for corporate gain or greed – especially at the risk of public safety and health.

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Seven Fires Prophecy – Part 4

The prophecy of the Seventh Fire as related by Edward Benton-Banai in The Mishomis Book:

The seventh prophet that came to the people long ago was said to be different from the other prophets. He was young and had a strange light in his eyes. He said, “In the time of the Seventh Fire a Osh-ki-bi-ma-di-zeeg (New People) will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the elders who they will ask to guide them on their journey. But many of the elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the elders will be silent out of fear. Some of the elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the elders. The task of the New People will not be easy.

If the New People will remain strong in their quest, the Waterdrum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinabe nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit.

It is at this time that the Light-skinned race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and Final Fire – an eternal Fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood. If the Light-skinned race makes the wrong choice of roads, then the destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will come back to them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth’s people.

Our Mother Earth has become very ill. Her river veins and her sky lungs are polluted, and her children, the many living ones that nourish at her breasts are becoming ill and dying into extinction. Instead of uniting together and uniting in a spirit of global cooperation, so that we might collectively reverse the damage done to our Mother, the peoples of the earth are choosing to continue to wage destructive wars against one another. We have not recovered from the atrocities of the Twentieth Century, which claimed over one hundred million lives to war and genocide, and yet we still appear eager to wage war and commit crimes against creation in the new millennium.

The Age of the Seventh Fire has arrived. The human race finds itself at a Great Crossroads. The two roads spoken of by the Prophet of the Seventh Fire represent two divergent trends in dominant society, and a choice must be made upon which path humanity will choose. One path is described as a hard-surfaced highway – a proverbial fast lane. Elders have warned us that the Earth is experiencing a quickening; that everything today is moving faster and faster headlong toward annihilation. Our lives, for all the technological conveniences we boast, are more stressful and chaotic now than in any prior age. Throughout the Twentieth Century, the human race has embraced rampant technological development, which has led to increasingly destructive wars as we develop new and more effective methods to destroy each other, and the planet as well. We have used our technology to increase the speed at which goods are produced. The factory system has churned out more and more consumer goods until we have, at last, become a throwaway society. This road will lead to the assured destruction of Mother Earth and all her children.

There is an alternative…the Prophet of the Seventh Fire told of two roads: the other road is described as a natural earthen path, with forests and grasses, and flowers by the way. This is the natural path, and it will ultimately lead all orders of creation toward global peace and unity. The natural path seeks to embrace the sacred relationship between humanity and all other beings in creation. All orders of the creation, whether mineral, plant, animal, or human are relatives deserving of our respect and care. Imagine the face of the world if all people embraced such a paradigm. Imagine what our world would be like if all people embraced the Good Heart. The Prophet foretold that should the Light-skinned race choose the natural path, then humanity will proceed on toward the Eighth and Final Fire – a perpetual era of global peace and unity.

fork-in-th-road

The Prophet foretold that during this Age of the Seventh Fire, a “New People” would arise. They will retrace the footsteps of their ancestors and recover that which was left by the trail. Elders teach that what the New People are finding and recovering is the sacred ancient knowledge and earth wisdom that was lost because of the false promise; and with this recovered knowledge, the New People are instructed to use their voice to speak for those who are not given a voice, i.e. all orders of creation that are persecuted, oppressed, and exploited. Our society needs a new worldview to heal itself, and to heal the wounds that it has inflicted on all life. As a society, we must experience a paradigm shift that will alter our values system before we destroy Mother Earth. The New People must steer the human race down the natural path toward the Eighth Fire, but, as the prophet warned, the task would not be easy.

The New People need a common vision, a source of inspiration providing guidance and reassurance that their quest was true. One would expect such a powerful vision to come to an aged prophet or a great leader, and yet, the vision that would ultimately inspire and guide the New People was given to a young boy. In the Age of the Sixth Fire, as the U.S. Army marched westward to conquer and dominate all of North America, and the struggle of the Fifth Fire gripped all Native Americans, a small Lakota child received a profound vision that would change the world. The child, who would become the Holy Man Black Elk, lay comatose in a teepee, dying of an unknown illness. As he succumbed to the fever and lay dying, the Grandfathers, powerful spirits from each quarter of the universe, took him and showed him a great vision of the Sacred Hoop and the great flowering Tree of Life. He later told this vision to an anthropologist named John G. Neihardt who printed it as the book Black Elk Speaks:

black-elks-vision

Black Elk’s vision encompassed the entire world. He saw that all nations were but one great hoop that encircled the source of all life – the great flowering Tree of Life. Black Elk survived his illness and was sent back to tell his vision and inspire those who would listen to heal the Sacred Hoop of Life and bring life back to the great flowering Tree. Although Black Elk believed that he had failed his quest, the journey of renewal was only just beginning, for Black Elk Speaks has reached millions, Native and non-Native alike, and has inspired a sort of Native American renaissance.

During the sixties and seventies, a growing number of people throughout the world began searching for a deeper connection to Mother Earth. There was also a genuine renewal of interest in traditional indigenous cultures. That which was left by the trail was being recovered and renewed by people of every race and ethnicity! Natural spirituality was reincarnated in many parts of the world, known by such names as Mother Earth Spirituality and Eco-Spirituality. The feminine principle was rediscovered and millions rediscovered the Goddess and the divine feminine. The balance between masculine and feminine energies was at last being restored.

Multiracial Hands Surrounding the Earth Globe

Black Elk’s vision had the greatest effect upon Native Americans, who began feeling a sense of pride that they had never felt in their lives. Native children and teens started to recover their sense of identity. Young people desperately sought out their teachings, traditions, and ceremonies. They sought out the elders to teach them the ways of their people, but as the Prophet of the Seventh Fire had predicted, many of the elders had fallen asleep and woke up to the great renewal of their people with nothing to offer. Nevertheless, many Natives found their way back to their ancestors. Recovering a sense of cultural pride, they were appalled at the atrocities still being committed against their people. The American Indian Movement (AIM) was created as a warrior society to defend Native people from industrial and governmental exploitation, and from enemies within such as alcoholism and depression. AIM was founded on spiritual ideals, and its members often embraced sobriety and participated in healing ceremonies such as the sweat lodge and sun dance. On several occasions, AIM was forced to take up a militant stand to protect the rights of Native Americans, and several tense standoffs with federal agents brought international attention to the injustices against Native peoples. Issues affecting Native people throughout the world attracted sympathetic media attention, and as a consequence, support for Native American issues grew.

Industry poses the greatest threat to indigenous sovereignty. Whenever minerals or other resources coveted by corporate interests were discovered on reservations, the companies would find ways, usually with federal cooperation, to extract the resources despite the consequences to the people living on the reservations. Native people began to look to the federal treaties for protection. If pollution from industry posed a threat to the people’s ability to provide for their own subsistence, then they have a legitimate claim to fight that industry. For example, if the runoff from a mine was polluting the waters of a river where Natives fished, and the fish failed to reproduce or began dying off from the pollution, then the Natives can claim that their treaty-protected right to subsistence is threatened. After all, where there are no fish, you can’t go fishing.

As scientists learned increasingly more about the interconnectedness of ecosystems, and it became apparent that pollution occurring outside a reservation could damage connected ecosystems within a reservation, treaty rights became an effective tool for environmental protection. Nevertheless, while treaties provided the legal machinery to fight industrial pollution, courts and hearing boards needed to see masses of people speaking out before they would take any action. Governmental institutions could not ignore an alliance of citizens from differing racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds rallying in support of Native Treaty Rights and demanding clean air, clean water, and an ecologically healthy environment.

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Having participated in a number of rallies that occurred in northern Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota from 1996 – 2004, in which hundreds of people gathered from different races, cultures, and beliefs, I will personally testify to the spiritual power and good heart that presided over these gatherings.  There was always a feeling of family among the participants, and everyone was concerned with one another‘s well being. I have never participated in anything that compares with the power and presence of Spirit at these gatherings, nor have I ever met people more dedicated to positive social change. This was the beginning of the alliance of peoples that ultimately became the New People of the Seventh Fire. Born of the womb of Mother Earth, they would grow into a global phenomenon intent on changing the world and restoring the natural balance.

Throughout the world, the New People are coming into realization of their own identity. People of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities are searching for the ancient earth wisdom of their ancestors. They are retracing their footsteps and finding what their ancestors left on the trail. The New People are using their voice to speak for those who have not been given a voice. They are speaking out against injustice and exploitation, and they are struggling for a new social order based upon equality and justice. They are taking a stand against international corporations and governmental institutions that would harm Mother Earth; The New People see and recognize the unity in all creation and honor and respect all the minerals, plants & trees, animals, fish, insects, birds, and human beings in the four sacred colors and all the variations of human sexuality. In the spirit of unity, the New People are seeking out like-minded individuals around the world in the hopes that a one-world unity movement might take shape. We are children of one mother. To be a New Living One is to be a deeply caring, involved, and spiritually alive person who is willing to walk with others down the natural path. It is critical that in all that we do, we strive to help those who may be taking their first steps on the natural path. In this way, one person at a time, the New People are becoming stronger. Together, we might yet steer humanity down the natural path that leads to the Eighth Fire, a time of peace, unity, and justice, and an ecologically healthy Mother Earth.

The New People, those who follow the natural path, must lead humanity down the natural road. We might yet form the greatest nation the world has ever seen and bring humanity into the light and warmth of the Eighth Fire. We are the New People, and it is our task. We must come together in knowledge and friendship to restore harmony and balance to the world. Now is the time and ours is the generation.

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Seven Fires Prophecy – Part 3

The prophecy of the Fifth and Sixth Fires as related by Edward Benton-Banai in The Mishomis Book:

The fifth prophet said, “In the time of the Fifth Fire there will come a time of great struggle that will grip the lives of all Native people. At the waning of this Fire there will come among the people one who holds a promise of great joy and salvation. If the people accept this promise of a new way and abandon the old teachings, then the struggle of the Fifth Fire will be with the people for many generations. The promise that comes will prove to be a false promise. All those who accept this promise will cause the near destruction of the people.”

The prophet of the Sixth Fire said, “In the time of the Sixth Fire it will be evident that the promise of the Fifth Fire came in a false way. Those deceived by this promise will take their children away from the teachings of the chi’-ah-ya-og’ (elders). Grandsons and grand-daughters will turn against the elders. In this way the elders will lose their reason for living … they will lose their purpose in life. At this time a new sickness will come among the people. The balance of many people will be disturbed. The cup of life will almost be spilled. The cup of life will almost become the cup of grief.”

By the end of the eighteenth century, it was evident that the promise of material wealth and the new way of life brought by the light-skinned-race was indeed a false promise. The fur trade that rose to dominate the relationship between the Europeans and Native Americans brought all of the most harmful elements of European culture to bear upon the Natives. Disease and warfare ravaged the country for three hundred years, destroying many nations entirely and leaving many more destitute. Christian missionaries stripped away the Native’s spirituality. Alcohol devastated Native communities, leaving families broken, and causing many to opt for suicide. Native hunters had over-hunted the game animals, which heralded the decline of the fur trade, and left little food and peltry for their people to survive. Without the ongoing fur trade, Natives didn’t have access to European goods and services. Many had forgotten the primitive skills to craft their own goods, having become dependent on European wares. The false promise not only failed to make the people wealthy, but also stripped them of their family, culture, spirituality, and their ability to sustain themselves. As the prophets warned, those who adopted the false promise caused the near destruction of their people.

The latter Eighteenth Century saw a series of colonial wars, which had left intact not a single Native American nation east of the Mississippi River, but which had united the British colonies into a new nation. The French and Indian War, which raged from 1754 to 1763, pitted the two European superpowers against one another. France and England fought for dominion over the North American continent, with Native nations drawn into the conflict on both sides. England won the war and pressed for the removal of French interests in North America. A great uprising of Natives in the Midwest, led by an Ottawa warrior named Pontiac, resisted English authority. Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the English governor commissioned to quell the rebellion, dealt with the uprising by issuing blankets infected with smallpox to be given as gifts to the Natives. When the warriors learned that their families were dying of the pox, they broke off the war and returned home. Less than twelve years later, the American colonies united and rebelled against England’s authority. Once again, Native nations fought on both sides of the conflict. When the colonial Continental Army defeated the English army, a new nation, the United States of America, was born.

As its borders expanded west throughout the nineteenth century, the United States would invariably pursue a strategy of genocide against Native Americans. Claiming that it was manifest destiny ordained by Providence, the United States declared its right to possess and control all the lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Anyone or anything in the way of that progress was removed. Native peoples were confined to reservations or forcibly relocated. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, ordering the forced relocation of all Native nations east of the Mississippi River to the designated Oklahoma Indian Territory. The U.S. Army was charged to carry out the Removal Order. Despite their peaceful relationship with the Americans, the Cherokee of the Carolinas and of Georgia were the first people to face a removal order. They were summarily rounded up and marched west on the infamous Trail of Tears. Other nations, such as the Sauk and Fox and the Seminoles, rebelled against the removal order. Despite the valiant resistance of Black Hawk and Osceola, both nations were forced west to Indian Territory.

trail-of-tears

The United States Congress likewise issued the Anishinabe Ojibway a removal order. So that they might remain on their ancestral lands, the Anishinabe ceded timber rights to the US government in 1837. Despite treaty promises that the Anishinabe could remain on their lands, the US government again issued a removal order in 1842. This time, the Anishinabe ceded mining rights. When the US government violated this treaty as well, issuing another removal order against the Anishinabe, the aged Chief Buffalo undertook his historic voyage. Over ninety years old, Chief Buffalo traveled to Washington D.C. to convince President Millard Fillmore of the legitimacy of his people’s claims to their lands. Twice, he argued, the Ojibway had ceded usufruct rights to the U.S. government in exchange for the right to remain in their promised lands. He also said that, unlike other Native nations, the Anishinabe had not warred upon the Americans. The relationship of the two peoples had always been one of peace. Chief Buffalo negotiated an agreement with President Fillmore, whereby the Anishinabe ceded all their lands in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan to the U.S. government, but established reservations at their sacred grounds so they could remain on their lands. The Anishinabe also retained the right to hunt, fish, and gather in the ceded-territories, rights that are now a very important tool in the struggle to preserve the ecological integrity of the Upper Midwest. For their part, the U.S. government would never again attempt to remove the Anishinabe from their lands.

Following the Civil War, the U.S. Army invaded the west with the intention of rounding up all Native Americans and forcing them onto reservations. The Army massacred any undefended villages, killing elders, women, and children in cold blood. Where they found encampments of warriors, they engaged them in battle. Great Native leaders, such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Dull Knife, Geronimo, and many others fought bravely to fend off the invaders. The most famous battle of the “Indian Wars” was the Battle of the Little Big Horn, in which Crazy Horse and other Native leaders led a host of warriors against Lt. Colonel George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. Following the decisive victory over the U.S. Army at Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse was invited into Fort Robinson under a banner of peace and was murdered. They stabbed him in the back because they couldn’t defeat him face to face. At Wounded Knee, the U.S. Army massacred the last free band of Lakota and left the victims frozen in the snow, silent witnesses to the end of Native military resistance.

the-wounded-knee-massacre

Life on a reservation was nearly unbearable. Once able to hunt and gather throughout their territory, they were now confined to a prison, from which they were not permitted to leave without a written pass from the regional Indian agent, who was ordered not to give out any passes. The western reservations were unyielding, having few natural resources and little wild game. For a people who lived in abundance, the reservations must have been like being stranded on a desert island with no supplies. To make matters worse, the corrupt officials administering the rations on the reservations stole monies and goods that were meant for the Natives. Meat supplied by the government was often tainted, causing illness among the people, who often died from lack of medical treatments. Native men and women were often murdered for the slightest offense or even for no offense at all. In the face of such conditions, many committed suicide, having lost the will to live.

The twentieth century saw the fulfillment of the Prophecy of the Sixth Fire, as official U.S. government policy promoted assimilation of Native Americans into the dominant culture. The Dawes Act undermined the Native concept of communal lands by dividing the reservations into small plots that could be bought and sold. Native ceremonies were banned, and traditionalists were forced to go deep into the wilderness and perform their ceremonies under cover of darkness in secrecy. The ceremonies were kept alive by a few who maintained the teachings of their ancestors. Children were taken away from their families and sent to boarding schools, where their hair was cut and they were forced to wear the white man’s clothing. The boarding schools were directed solely to one purpose: destroying the children’s sense of Native identity. They were taught that their culture and spiritual beliefs were the work of the devil, and they were forbidden from speaking their own language under penalty of being beaten and abused if they were caught. When these children returned to their reservations, often having been gone for ten years, they had little in common with their parents and grandparents. Seeing their children turn away from their people and their heritage was more than most elders could take, and, as the Prophet of the Sixth Fire predicted, the people started dying at an early age, having lost the will to live.

boarding-school

Despite five hundred years of struggle, and overwhelming pressures to conform, Native Americans survived and maintained their traditional identity, but the greatest threat to Native identity yet looms: the loss of languages. There are few fluent Native language speakers today, and of those few, many are elders. There is a very real danger of Native languages becoming extinct. The only way to recover them is through total immersion, in which a Native language is exclusively spoken on reservations. Unfortunately, traditional languages are not spoken in most homes. English has become the universal language throughout Native America. A controversy has arisen over whether knowledge of Native language is needed for participation in the traditional spiritual ceremonies. Many elders feel that if their language dies, their sovereign identity as the people dies with it. If Native languages disappear, the U.S. government’s agenda of termination may become a reality.

The Sacred Hoop of Life was broken because the Light-skinned race arrived wearing the face of death instead of the face of brotherhood. The Prophet of the Fourth Fire spoke of a great nation that could have been formed if the Light-skinned race would have arrived in North America bearing only their knowledge and a handshake. It was foretold that the knowledge and implements of the Red Race could have been joined with those of the White Race, and the two nations would have joined to form one mighty nation. And if that were to happen, the Prophet predicted, they would be joined by two more nations, yellow and black, together uniting humanity and restoring the human race. Could the Light-skinned race, the dominant culture, now wear the face of brotherhood and reverse the damage that has been visited upon all orders of creation? The Sacred Hoop of Life can be mended.

Seven Fires Prophecy – Part 2

The prophecy of the Fourth Fire as related by Edward Benton-Banai in The Mishomis Book:

The Fourth Fire was originally given to the people by two prophets. They came as one. They told of the coming of the Light-skinned Race.

One of the prophets said, “You will know the future of our people by what face the Light-skinned race wears. If they come wearing the face of nee-kon’-nis-i-win’ (brotherhood), then there will come a time of wonderful change for generations to come. They will bring new knowledge and articles that can be joined with the knowledge of this country. In this way two nations will join to make a mighty nation. This new nation will be joined by two more so that the four will form the mightiest nation of all. You will know the face of brotherhood if the Light-skinned race comes carrying no weapons, if they come bearing only their knowledge and a handshake.”

The other prophet said, “Beware if the Light-skinned race comes wearing the face of ni-boo-win’ (death). You must be careful because the face of brotherhood and the face of death look very much alike. If they come carrying a weapon … beware. If they come in suffering … they could fool you. Their hearts may be filled with greed for the riches of this land. If they are indeed your brothers, let them prove it. Do not accept them in total trust. You shall know that the face they wear is the one of death if the rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat. You shall know them by these many things.”

The arrival of the Light-skinned race in North America should have been a cause for great celebration, for the Prophet of the Fourth Fire foretold that they would bring new implements and knowledge that could be joined with the knowledge of Native Americans and a great nation could be formed from the joining of the two. If the Europeans had arrived with a handshake and a smile, offering their knowledge, our world today would wear a very different face. Unfortunately, they had been led astray by greed and lust for power, and they arrived in North America with weapons in their hands. Even a cursory examination of history will show the face of death upon the Light-skinned race in North America. Through five terrible centuries, they pursued an agenda of wholesale genocide against Native Americans through land dispossession, forced economic dependency, disease, and warfare. Having “acquired” land from the Native Americans, the colonists cleared the land of undesirable wilderness to make arable farmland, causing incalculable ecological damage in the New World. To provide a labor force for their colonies, they enslaved millions of Africans and perfected the practice of “breaking” slaves into submission. The history of exploitation and genocide in colonial America casts a long shadow over the shining national mythology of the great American melting pot.

As the prophets predicted, the Light-skinned race came in suffering. Without the aid of the Natives, the settlers surely would have starved and froze to death during the harsh New England winter. The Natives saw that their brothers were suffering and offered aid, but the Europeans had arrived with greed in their hearts and betrayed the generosity of the Natives. Soon after first contact with the Light-skinned race, the Native Americas found themselves caught up in a 500-year struggle for their very survival, and ultimately for the survival of Mother Earth.

european-contact

(William Penn’s Treaty With the Indians by Benjamin West)

Historian Francis Jennings, author of The Invasion of America: Natives, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest, identified six complex “New World” phenomena that disrupted Native cultures:

  • The Fur Trade
  • Intertribal Warfare
  • Introduction of Firearms
  • Destructive Effects of Alcohol
  • Foreign Diseases such as Smallpox
  • Active Assimilation Strategies

During the first exchanges between Natives and Europeans, the idea of establishing a vast fur trade system throughout North America began to develop in the minds of European entrepreneurs. European traders wanted furs, particularly those of the beaver, to ship back to Europe. The furs were processed into felt, which in turn was used to make the hats that were the fashion throughout Europe for nearly two centuries. In trade for furs, European goods were offered. Among those items highly prized by Native traders were European cloths, blankets, glass and shell beads, metal cooking pots and utensils, silver jewelry, steel traps, firearms and shooting supplies, and tragically alcohol. The Fur Trade had a profoundly negative effect on Native culture. European trade goods were often viewed as objects of status in Native society, and many Natives preferred the European implements to their own. Thus, as the Natives became more deeply involved in the fur trade, they also became increasingly dependent upon the European market economy for their very survival. Caught in an eddy of historical circumstance, Native hunters had little choice but to participate in the fur trade.

fur-trade

(Winter Trade, by Robert Griffing)

Competition for advantage in the fur trade to obtain the prized European goods at better trade rates, and to increase their status in the eyes of the Europeans, compelled the Native hunters to trap greater numbers of fur-bearing animals. Ultimately, the hunters decimated the populations of the coveted animals in their own territories and began trapping out the hunting grounds of neighboring nations. Soon, unprecedented large-scale warfare erupted over control of prosperous hunting grounds. The most infamous of these wars were the so-called “Beaver Wars” of 1649 to 1654, which resulted in the complete destruction of the Susquehannock, Neutral, Tobacco, and Erie nations, and the near destruction of the Huron. The “Beaver Wars” demonstrated how the fur trade dominated Native policy. The end result of the fur trade was the over-hunting of certain animal species and the total destruction of five Native cultures. Thus, while the population of Natives was continually dropping, and the population of Europeans continually grew larger, European capitalists profited greatly at the expense of the Natives.

iroquois-warclub

(Warclub and Wampum Belt)

Two of the main trade items, firearms and alcohol, had a profoundly detrimental effect on Native culture and population. Firearms became a necessity of Native existence, not only in warfare, but also in the commercial hunting of the fur trade. At first, Native hunters and warriors wanted firearms because they offered an advantage over enemies and gave the hunter an edge in the stiff trade competition, but as their enemies began to acquire firearms as well, the warriors soon needed firearms to maintain the status quo and ensure the defense of their villages. It was not long before a sort of frontier arms race developed. By their very nature, firearms increased Native economic dependence on the European market. Firearms came only through trade, and if they became damaged, only European smiths could repair them. Furthermore, the components of a muzzle loading rifle, namely gunpowder, lead balls, and cloth for patches, all were acquired from the European traders at the cost of more pelts. Perhaps the most detrimental effect of the firearms trade was the loss of Native primitive skills. As hunters and warriors adapted to firearms use, they ceased to make traditional long bows. In only a few generations, the traditional crafts of Native American culture all but disappeared. European goods had replaced traditional crafts, and in time, few Natives possessed the traditional knowledge.

The single trade item that has caused the most suffering for Natives, both historically and in the present time, is alcohol. Manufactured and introduced by Europeans fur traders, the strong drink resulted in mass drunkenness and chronic demoralization throughout Native communities. Native women and elders lamented the arrival of alcohol in their villages, especially whisky, which caused emotions to flare. The drunken warriors often quarreled, leaving grieving family members to mourn for relatives lost in senseless fighting. Even worse, the colonial European powers and officials of the United States government used alcohol as a means to steal lands and rights from the Natives. Chiefs, drunk on firewater, signed away ancestral lands for a few trinkets. Make no mistake, the European traders and statesmen knew fully the damage that alcohol was doing to the Native communities, and with impunity they used this knowledge to their advantage.

As the Europeans became established in North America, a fundamental disparity began to develop in the exchanges between them and Native Americans. This disparity caused the European dependence on Native goods to greatly diminish, while the Native dependence on European goods to increase dramatically. After the Europeans learned how to survive using the Native’s primitive skills, they had no practical use for further Native guidance. Furthermore, when Natives granted or sold lands, the territory became European forever; in return, the Natives received trade goods but not the ability to make and repair such goods themselves. Thus, in the trade that came to dominate their lives, Natives had no choice but to supply the goods and services demanded by the Europeans: food, peltry, and lands. When European farms and herds became established, the demand for Native-produced food dwindled. Commercial hunting and the sale of lands perpetually depleted the stocks of the very commodities on which the Natives depended. Furthermore, after becoming dependent upon European-produced goods, Natives soon lost the knowledge of their own primitive-skills through disuse.

painting_griffing_bushy_run

(The Battle of Bushy Run by Robert Griffing)

As the balance of power shifted to the Europeans, many Natives opted to trade lands to the in exchange for additional goods, but the concept of land ownership demonstrated a major perceptual difference between the Europeans and Native Americans. The Native concept of land ownership was based on communal usufruct rights, in which the Creator of Life entrusted them with a territory and permitted them to take from the land what was needed to survive, but bound them to protect, honor, and respect the land and the life it supported. When Natives “traded” or “sold” lands to the Europeans, they believed they were extending their usufruct rights to the “buyer” use those lands for subsistence just as they used them. Contrary to a Native concept of usufruct rights, the European notion of land ownership held that once an individual bought a piece of land, the borders of which were surveyed and clearly defined, that individual had exclusive legal rights to the land and could do whatever he wanted to it, providing that he did not infringe on the property rights of his neighbor.

Having bought land from the Natives, the Europeans cleared the land of trees, filled in wetlands, and destroyed all predators, effectively transforming what they perceived as “heathen wilderness” into “civilized farmland” that could be handed down generation to generation within the same family, or sold at profit. Once lands began to be sold or taken from the Natives, the differences of perception between European and Native worldviews expressed themselves in the deteriorating ecological changes that swept across the North American continent over the course of nearly five centuries of colonization. The process of “civilizing” the world has never stopped, and even now, the effects of colonization remained unchecked in many parts of the world. The Prophet of the Fourth Fire had warned that the Anishinabe would know that the Light-skinned race wears the face of death if “the rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat”. We are unfortunately witnessing the dire realization of this prophecy in our time.

Disease was another tragic aspect of colonization that undoubtedly forced many Natives to accept the false promise of assimilation. Native Americans faced an enemy that they could neither see, nor fight, but which killed them mercilessly, decimated entire nations, and left others destitute. That unseen enemy was the ravages of epidemic disease. Unlike the invading Europeans, the Natives had no natural immunity against the microscopic pathogens. Smallpox, measles, influenza, and even the common cold claimed the lives of Natives who yielded their lives to the overwhelming enemy. Smallpox alone reduced the Native population of the northeast to one-tenth its precontact extent. Elders, wise in the history, traditions, and ways of their people, died and carried their wisdom to the grave. Kinship and clan systems were hard pressed to maintain their historic roles in the face of the devastation. Whole nations were destroyed by epidemics.

father-joseph-pierre-bonnecamp-and-native-americans-courtesy

(Christian Missionary, Artist Unknown)

Faced with such tragedy, many Natives turned to Christianity, as the missionaries urged. The first missionaries, the Roman Catholic Jesuits, arrived in Native communities with the fur traders and established permanent missions in or near villages. The missionaries undermined the clan system by promoting the church as the new community center, through which all communal activity (marriages, funerals, coming of age rituals, and other ceremonies) had to be directed. They pushed for the total conversion of all Natives to Christianity. Parents who had converted brought their children to the Church to be baptized and made Christian. It was not long before a generational schism developed between the young converts and the traditional elders. Within one or two generations, Native nations split into two major factions, traditionalists and Christians. The mission priests taught that the traditional ways were devil worship, and even went so far as to blame the traditional peoples for the evils besieging Native communities, the diseases, wars, and rampant alcoholism that afflicted the villages, despite the fact that these evils had arrived with the fur traders and the missionaries themselves. Thus, the converts came to see their traditional relatives as agents of the devil, and the missionaries successfully destroyed the solidarity of the people. Regrettably, the Church played a significant role in the casting of the “face of death”.

The significance of the Fourth Fire cannot be exaggerated. In A People’s History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn estimated that there were perhaps more than ten million Natives living north of Mexico at the time of contact with Europeans, but through the combined effects of disease, war and cultural assimilation, their number was reduced to less than one million. The Light-skinned race might have arrived with the face of brotherhood, but history records the terrible face of war. The first three prophets warned the Anishinabe to migrate west or face destruction and nearly all of the tribes living on the Atlantic coast at the time of first contact with Europeans perished.

Seven Fires Prophecy – Part 1

Long ago, when the Anishinabe were living peacefully along the northeastern shore of North America, seven prophets came among the people and gave predictions about the future. Each prophet described an era of time, symbolically represented as a Fire, through which the people would pass. The prophecies were given to guide the people through the challenges and difficulties of each Fire. The Anishinabe would survive because of the wisdom of future generations to remember the prophecies and carefully choose the best path for the people. Collectively, these prophecies became known as The Prophecy of the Seven Fires. In the next series of posts, I will trace the historical fulfillment of the Anishinabe prophecies, ultimately examining the development of the New People in the Age of the Seventh Fire. The first time period addresses the Anishinabe migration from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean westward to the upper Midwest. This is the period of the first three Fires. The second time period is the arrival of the Light-skinned race, which is the time of the Fourth Fire. I will address not only the coming of the Light-skinned race, but also the historical circumstances of their arrival. The Fifth and Sixth Fires deal with the history of cultural genocide the Light-skinned race brought upon the Native Americans. This period begins with the arrival of the Europeans and continues to the present. Finally, we will examine the birth of the New People in our time and the choice we all face. The prophecies will be presented in bold block format and are cited from The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, written by Edward Benton-Banai.

The first three prophets that came among the Anishinabe instructed them to prepare the entire nation for a great westward migration. The Anishinabe were told that they would begin and end their journey on turtle-shaped islands connected to the purification of the Earth. They would follow the sacred Megis shell, which would appear out of the water seven times at sacred places where the people would stop to rest. The Megis shell would thus guide them to their promised land, a land to the west where they would find food growing upon the water. Along the way, they were warned that they would lose their way and all would be in confusion for a time, but they would be led in the right direction once again. The prophets instructed them to have faith in the traditional ways and look to the Midewiwin Lodge, the medicine society of the Anishinabe, for guidance. The prophets warned the Anishinabe that they would face total annihilation if they did not migrate to the west:

The first prophet said to the people, “In the time of the First Fire, the Anishinabe nation will rise up and follow the Sacred Shell of the Midewiwin Lodge. The Midewiwin Lodge will serve as a rallying point for the people and its traditional ways will be the source of much strength. The Sacred Megis will lead the way to the chosen ground of the Anishinabe. You are to look for a turtle-shaped island that is linked to the purification of the Earth. You will find such an island at the beginning and end of your journey. There will be seven stopping places along the way. You will know that the chosen ground has been reached when you come to a land where food grows on water. If you do not move, you will be destroyed.”

The second prophet told the people, “You will know the Second Fire because at this time the nation will be camped by a large body of water. In this time the direction of the Sacred Shell will be lost. The Midewiwin will diminish in strength. A boy will be born to point the way back to the traditional ways. He will show the direction to the stepping stones to the future of the Anishinabe people.”

The third prophet said to the people, “In the Third Fire, the Anishinabe will find the path to their chosen ground, a land in the West to which they must move their families. This will be the land where food grows on water.”

anishinabe-migration

(Map depicting the Anishinabe Migration – from The Mishomis Book)

The historical record confirms the words of the prophets. Through the various disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, history, and linguistics, we are able to trace the Anishinabe on their migration journey. There are, however, several allegorical mysteries and deeper cultural symbolism hidden in the words of the prophets that need further examination if we are to understand the full significance of the prophecy. The symbolism of the Megis shell, for example, rising from the water at the seven stopping places along the migration route requires greater explanation.

Ojibway historian William Warren wrote the first history of the Anishinabe Ojibway in 1852 (History of the Ojibway People), after gathering hundreds of accounts from elders, historical narratives, and observations of the customs and ways of the people. While observing a Midewiwin ceremony, he heard the following account of the Ojibway migration and the appearances of the sacred Megis shell: “While our forefathers were living on the great salt water toward the rising sun, the great Megis (sea-shell) showed itself above the surface of the great water, and the rays of the sun for a long period were reflected from its glossy back. It gave warmth and light to the An-ish-in-aub-ag (red race). All at once it sank into the deep, and for a time our ancestors were not blessed with its light. It rose to the surface and appeared again on the great river which drains the waters of the Great Lakes, and again for a long time it gave life to our forefathers, and reflected back the rays of the sun. Again it disappeared from sight and it rose not, till it appeared to the eyes of the An-ish-in-aub-ag on the shores of the first great lake. Again it sank from sight, and death daily visited the wigwams of our forefathers, till it showed its back, and reflected the rays of the sun once more at Bow-e-ting (Sault Ste. Marie). Here it remained for a long time, but once more, and for the last time, it disappeared, and the An-ish-in-aub-ag was left in darkness and misery, till it floated and once more showed its bright back at Mo-ning-wun-a-kaun-ing (La Pointe Island), where he has ever since reflected back the rays of the sun, and blessed our ancestors with life, light, and wisdom. Its rays reach the remotest village of the widespread Ojibways.”

Seeking clarification and understanding of the narrative he had heard, Warren sought out one of the Midewiwin elders and inquired about the meaning of the migration story. He brought some tobacco and a gift, as is the custom when one wishes to learn from an elder. The old man accepted the gifts and offered the following explanation: “My grandson, the Megis I spoke of, means the Me-da-we religion. Our forefathers, many strings of lives ago, lived on the shores of the Great Salt Water in the east. Here it was, that while congregated in a great town, and while they were suffering the ravages of sickness and death, the Great Spirit, at the intercession of Man-ab-o-sho, the great common uncle of the An-ish-in-aub-ag, granted them this rite wherewith life is restored and prolonged. Our forefathers moved from the shores of the great water, and proceeded westward. The Me-da-we lodge was pulled down and it was not again erected, till our forefathers again took a stand on the shores of the great river near where Mo-ne-aung (Montreal) now stands. In the course of time this town was again deserted, and our forefathers still proceeding westward, lit not their fires till they reached the shores of Lake Huron, where again the rites of the Me-da-we were practiced. Again these rites were forgotten, and the Me-da-we lodge was not built till the Ojibways found themselves congregated at Bow-e-ting (outlet of Lake Superior), where it remained for many winters. Still the Ojibways moved westward, and for the last time the Me-da-we lodge was erected on the Island of La Pointe, and here, long before the pale face appeared among them, it was practiced in its purest and most original form. Many of our fathers lived the full term of life granted to mankind by the Great Spirit, and the forms of many old people were mingled with each rising generation. This, my grandson, is the meaning of the words you did not understand; they have been repeated to us by our fathers for many generations.”

From Warren’s account of the Midewiwin migration story, we learn that the identity of the symbolic Megis shell can be found in the Midewiwin Grand Medicine Lodge. When the power of the Midewiwin diminished and the people grew weary of their surroundings, they migrated further westward. When the Midewiwin ceremonies were revived, and the sacred Megis, emblem of the Midewiwin initiates, was seen once again, the Anishinabe would stop their migration and settle for a time. As the migration followed waterways, the people saw the sacred Megis shell, symbolic of the Midewiwin Lodge, rise from the water and appear before them. Thus, the revival of the Midewiwin Lodge signified a time to stop the migration, rest, and give thanks to the Creator through the Midewiwin rites.

miigis-shell

(Sacred Megis Shell)

The first stopping place on the Anishinabe migration was a turtle-shaped island, located in the St. Lawrence River, near present-day Montreal, which the first prophet said was connected to the purification of the earth. The Anishinabe faced many enemies as they walked westward. The territory along the St. Lawrence River was the ancestral ground of the Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy. The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) warred with the Anishinabe and several skirmishes broke out along the way to the second stopping place, Niagara Falls, a mysterious place filled with the sound of thunder and considered sacred by both the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinabe. At Niagara Falls, the Seneca (Keepers of the Western Door of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy) offered a wampum belt signifying friendship to the Anishinabe. The wampum belt was accepted and a lasting peace was initiated that has continued to the present day.

The third stopping place was near the Detroit River, and may have been where the Three Fires Confederacy was born. Along the migration journey, three distinct nations emerged from the Anishinabe, each accountable for different responsibilities. The Potawatomi (the Fire People) were the keepers of the Sacred Fire; the Ottawa (the Middle Men) negotiated trade alliances with other nations; and the Ojibway (the Spiritual Leaders) were keepers of the Sacred Mide Scrolls and the Waterdrum of the Midewiwin Grand Medicine Lodge. As the three nations progressed along the migration journey, they each developed into a distinct people, yet all retained their identity as Anishinabe and worked for the common good. Collectively, the Anishinabe became known as the nation of the Three Fires or the Three Fires Confederacy. The Ottawa and Potawatomi found lands that suited them, and so they chose to remain behind while the Ojibway proceeded westward.

It was on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron, the fourth stopping place on the migration, that the Prophecy of the Second Fire was fulfilled. The Second Prophet spoke of a time when the people would lose their way. A boy would be born who would point the way back to the traditional ways and lead them to the “stepping stones to the future of the Anishinabe people”. Such a boy was born and he led the people across a chain of islands from Manitoulin Island to Sault Ste. Marie, the fifth stopping place on the migration. By canoe, the migration continued across these islands, across these stepping-stones, to the future of the Anishinabe nation. Manitoulin Island was the largest of the islands in the chain, and it was there that the Midewiwin Lodge initiated a revival of traditional ways.

As the Anishinabe Ojibway migrated west from Sault St. Marie, they faced a new enemy. The Santee Dakota lived in the western Lake Superior region, into which the Anishinabe Ojibway were moving. Early competition over hunting grounds led to full-scale warfare as the Anishinabe Ojibway moved into the Dakota’s territory and settled in what is now northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota. The warfare developed into a retaliatory feud, each nation wanting to avenge the death of one of their own at the hands of their enemy. A time was fast approaching, however, when both the Anishinabe Ojibway and the Santee Dakota would face a common threat to their sovereignty.

When the Anishinabe Ojibway continued their migration west from Sault Ste. Marie, they formed into two large groups, one traveling the northern shore of Lake Superior and the other following the southern shore in search of their chosen grounds. At the far western end of Lake Superior, near what is now Duluth, Minnesota, the Anishinabe Ojibway saw wild rice, the “food that grows on water”. There, on what became known as Spirit Island, the Sacred Megis shell appeared for the sixth time. The Anishinabe had at last reached their chosen ground, but the Prophet of the First Fire had said that the people would begin and end their journey on turtle-shaped islands. The people traveled back eastward along the southern shore to investigate an island offshore of present day Bayfield, Wisconsin, that fit the description given by the prophet. There the sacred Megis shell appeared for the seventh time, and the prophecy of the Third Fire was fulfilled. The Anishinabe Ojibway called the island “Mo-ning-wun´-a-kawn-ing (the place that was dug)”, and it was later called Madeline Island. The Creator had selected this sacred island to be the center of the Anishinabe Ojibway Nation, a place where the Midewiwin could thrive.

The Anishinabe began their historic migration journey around 900 A.D. and by the year 1400 A.D., fully two hundred years before their first contact with European fur traders, they had established themselves in their promised land. The historical odyssey of the first three Fires was at an end, the prophecies having been fulfilled. As the Prophet of the First Fire had warned, those who chose to remain behind rather than migrate westward were destroyed. The Age of the Fourth Fire had dawned.

ojibwe-pictograph-of-gichi-gami-2

(Representation of Lake Superior using Ojibway pictographs)