Note: This is a 40 page academic research paper written for my Doctoral Studies in Energy Healing, documenting both my experience living in the Michigan wilderness with Grandmother Keewaydinoquay and some of the history of our Gift of Knowledge, called the Midewiwin. Below is a brief intro, followed by a link to download the entire paper. Hope you are interested to read it all.

The Mystery Begins.  An Introduction. . . 

My name is Onani. I am Mixed Blood1 Anishinaabequay, a woman of Celtic and Native American ancestry. I am a Mashkikiquay of the Midewiwin, a medicine woman of our tradition. Thus begins a complicated story of love and hate, betrayal and courage. A story of a “500 year old relationship; coming out of conflict, colonialism and denial.”2 Though it may seem simple and personal on the surface; I hope to convey the layers of complexities, reaching back into history and culture. That’s how conflict is. And most of all, this is a story of mystery, healing, forgiveness and transformation. I was taught the indigenous people of the Great Lakes region who call themselves, Anishinaabeg, meaning People3, were divided into three distinct groups by settlers coming into their native lands. The names and divisions imposed onto them are Ottawa (or Odawa), Potawatomie and Ojibway (or Chippewa)4, also known as The 3 Fires Confederation.5 Today, there are many variations of this understanding.6 For the purpose of this paper, I will interchangeably use the term Anishinaabe, Anishinaabeg (plural), possibly Anishinaabequay (woman) and Ojibway. I include myself in these words, though today I might be identified as Potawatomie7, depending on whose history and language is used. “Assuming that a people has the right to be called by the name which they themselves have always used, I use Ahnishinaabeg” says my teacher, Grandmother Kee about herself.8 Ahow.9

Grandmother Keewaydinoquay and Miniss Kitigan

Throughout my 20’s, in the 1980’s- early 90’s, I spent my summers living with one of the last traditionally trained Ojibway medicine women of the Great Lakes, Grandmother Keewaydinoquay.1 Born in 1919 or so2, Kee grew up in her own native village of Cat Head Bay, MI. She was one of the few children of her village left to learn the traditional ways from her Ojibway Elders.3 By the age of 9, Kee began her apprenticeship with a well-known and highly respected mashkikiquay (medicine woman) of the area, named Nodjimahkwe.4

This cultural exposure during childhood was extremely rare for several generations of Native children. Most children were sent away to residential schools, physically and sexually abused, forbidden to speak their own language and were told their way of life was wrong, no good, evil and the work of the devil.14 They were forced to speak a foreign language (English) and adopt the values and religious practices of the dominant culture.

Kee and her students lived on Miniss Kitigan (Garden Island), a small, wilderness island in northern Lake Michigan15 with no running water, no electricity and no outside communication. A supply boat came once a week, weather permitting, that took a few people on or off the island, exchanged incoming and outgoing mail and dropped off a fresh supply of fruits and vegetables that were then stored in a root cellar. We had a large Midjiimiwig (supply lodge) with canned goods and dried beans and grains. Michi Keegan (big lake- Lake Michigan) was our drinking and bathing water. We gathered wood to cook over fire. We washed our clothes by hand and often slept under the dark, anongog (star-filled skies); hoping to hear the haunting call of Mahng (loon) or see the silent, majestic, moving colors of a spectacular show of Waasanoodé (Northern Lights).

 

Nokomis (Grandmother) slept in an old log cabin built by her Great Uncle Shaboose in 184717, located in the central clearing. The rest of us, anywhere from 2 to 20 others, slept in various wigwams we built scattered for privacy along various trails on the outskirts of the clearing, but within easy walking distance of main camp. Though most people came for a week or two, I was one of the few people that lived on Miniss Kitigan (Garden Island) with Grandmother throughout the entire summer season at the time she could still hike and canoe the Archipelago. I lived there for several summers until I had children in the late 80’s; then I went there with my family for a few weeks every summer.

While living in this secluded, virginal environment, we learned the ways of the Midewiwin. We sang songs, performed ceremonies, gathered herbs and made medicines. We listened to Grandmother tell ancient stories around the campfire in the dark night; sometimes huddled close to stay warm against the winds of KabbibonNodin (Cold-Blower). We sang prayers of gratitude to the Seven Directions every night together in Bear Circle, passing the ossinogan (stone dish) of burning kinnic. Every morning, I dove my naked body into the cold, clear, refreshing waters of Michi Keegan (Lake Michigan) as Gissis (sun) rose to paint its glorious fire onto the endless horizon of untouched water, earth and air. I often fell asleep on a bed of aromatic Nokomis Giizhik (Grandmother Cedar) and Nimissé (Elder Sister Balsam Fir) in my wigwam nestled in the Northern forest to the familiar beat of distant drumming and singing late into the night. Ya ha! Oh ya hey hey yo! Ahow.

 

 

Society of Mysterious Doings:  Exploring Mysteries and Secrets

The Midewiwin is an important part of the Ojibway culture.18 There is no direct translation for this word or concept into English; therefore there are many variations on the attempt to translate it.19 One literal translation is often thought to be “good-hearted” from Mino meaning good and odé meaning heart.20 Because we recognize a healer’s character and integrity as being an essential quality for healing and spiritual guidance, good-heartedness is a requirement for entrance into the Midé.21 Grandmother Kee says the literal translation of Midewiwin is “The Society of Mysterious Doings,”22 referring to the mystery of spirit, rather than the all-too-often interpretation of the mysteriousness of suspicious activity. The generally accepted translation the Midewiwin is The Grand Medicine Society.23 In relation to this translation, Grandmother says, “I never objected to this term. It’s a good usage. It indicates the benefits of the Midé. I appreciate the term.”24

What’s most intriguing to me is that the Midewiwin is. . .