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TEACH: Native Peoples of the Region

5 | Language, beliefs and art

Boozhu! That's the Ojibwe word for "welcome" or "greetings," most likely derived from the French "bonjour." Also written as boozhoo (southern Ontario First Nations) and buzhoo (Michigan tribes). The word "Aanii" (or aaniin, Ahneen) is also used.

Fun Fact.More examples of the Algonquian language

  • nibi (water)
  • ma'iingan (wolf)
  • animosh (dog)
  • gaazhagens (cat)
  • omakakii (frog)
  • amik (beaver)
  • esiban (raccoon)
  • zhigaag (skunk)

Beaded mocassins. Click for larger image.Handsewn moccasins and other leatherwork, and ornate quillwork designs (made from porcupine quills) are common among the Great Lakes tribes. These designs are also created with glass beads. Other beadwork patterns came from nature or French cloth.

Picture writing
Even today, on towering cliffs along the waterways of northeastern Minnesota and in Ontario's Lake Superior Provincial Park, the picture writing of the Chippewa tribe can be seen. These pictographs have also been found on slate rock, copper, lead and birch bark throughout the region. According to Ojibwe tradition, the Great Spirit gave this record of events to the Native Peoples after a great flood, and wise men spread the story throughout the country through their picture writings.

Here are some definitions of the picture writing:

Mound builders in Ohio. Click for larger image.

Click to see mounds built by Ohio Indians!

  • circle with a dot in the center = spirit
  • plain, empty rectangle = great
  • human foot = passed
  • empty circle = life
  • black circle = death
  • turtle with head and tail extended = land
Inscription Rocks on Kelleys Island
On the north shore of Lake Erie, pipe-smoking figures are carved in the rock. Other drawings depict an Indian chief, his pipe, his various instruments of magic, a journey on snowshoes, a road, serpents, feathers and articles of leather worn by chieftains, war clubs, and more. Interpreters say these carvings told the story of the Erie Indians, their occupation of the islands, the coming of the Wyandot tribe, the invasion of the Iroquois, and the evacuation of the Erie from their temporary home in Lake Erie early in the 17th century. These drawings along with some relics and burial grounds are all that remain of these Native Peoples.

Chippewa Gods/Spirits
Nanabooshoo [also Nanabush, The Great Hare, Manaboju, The Great Trickster]: This prominent figure in Chippewa oral tradition supposedly taught the Native Peoples all their chief social functions, including hunting, fishing, canoe building and face painting.

Kitchi Manito [also Gitchee Manito]: The Supreme Being; the Creator; the Great Spirit.

Matchi Manito: The Evil Spirit, who takes the form of a great fish or two-tailed merman, the Great Lynx or something evil that lives in the lake.

The Winds: The other four spirits (four is an important number among the Chippewa) are the East, West, North and South winds.

Medicine man drummer. Click for larger image. Dances
In the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence tribes, dream, medicine, plant, war, calumet (ceremonial peace pipe) and animal dances predominate. Best known among Lake Superior tribes are the War Dance, Pipe Dance (used only in peace), the Jingle Dress Dance for healing, and the Bear Dance and Buffalo Dance, descriptive of their respective achievements in the chase.

The recurrent dance pattern is a counterclockwise circling by large groups, with a running step or stomp to responsive singing (i.e., the alternation of two groups or of leader and group). Medicine rites are often exclusively for female or male members of a society, but dances for hunting or agriculture admit men, women and children. In winter and in war or hunting ceremonies, men are the organizers and leaders; in summer and in agricultural ceremonies, women are featured performers.

Longfellow's "Hiawatha"
Hiawatha Cover. Click for larger image.American Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow brought the legends of the Algonquian Indians to life in his well-known work Hiawatha. In the annals of literature, it is said that this poem has greatly deepened the world's understanding of and sympathy for the plight of the North American Indian. Longfellow began writing Hiawatha on June 25, 1854, and finished its 5,314 lines on March 29, 1855, nine months later.

In Longfellow's poem, Hiawatha is a member of the Ojibwe tribe. Raised by his grandmother, Nokomis, Hiawatha is able to talk to the animals of the forest and surpasses all the other boys of his tribe in physical and mental skills. He grows up to be a leader of his people, marries the Indian maiden Minnehaha, and acts as a peacemaker among warring tribes.

The real Hiawatha was a Mohawk Indian chief who lived in the late 1500s. Listed as a founder of the Iroquois Confederacy, he is also credited with introducing maize (Indian corn) and fish oil to his people, and originating picture writing, new navigation techniques and the practice of medicine.

Read the full text of "Hiawatha"!


Graphics: Mounds built by the Paleo-Indians of the Ohio Valley, Britannica; moccasins, Britannica; handsewn moccasins and beadwork, courtesy Jennifer Dale, Bay Mills Indian Community; Chippewa medicine man singer with ceremonial turtle clan drum (c.1900), Minnesota Historical Society; original cover of Longfellow's "Hiawatha," courtesy University of Virginia Library.

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