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OTTISSIPPI Excerpt Ch. 3, # 3, Customs

By Cheryl Morgan

OTTISSIPPI is written by local author – Cheryl Morgan. It is the New Native History and culture of Southeast Michigan and beyond that has been untold. It was inaccessible due to the complexity of the many tribes, governments, states, and boundaries. The history was hidden and scattered everywhere due to time and the many changes of names of waterways, peoples and places. It is the result of 4 years of intense groundbreaking research that clarifies and reveals what happened here and in the Northwest Territory. Now available in one volume! Non-fiction 643 pages.

BWHL will be sharing excerpts from OTTISSIPPI with the readers each week. The book is available on Amazon.com/ottissippi .

It is available as an ebook with a searchable Table of Contents and in Print – paperback.

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CUSTOMS

NANABOZOO

Nanabozoo was an Adam Type a Great Spirit who was Co–Creator of the world, the inventor of fishing and hieroglyphs (word pictures), and teacher of all things. Who lived through the Great Flood on a raft with animals.

The Mide Medewiwin Society – Healers were revered, visions and dreams held Great Importance. Offerings of Tobacco were made in gratitude and respect to the Heavenly Spirit. The people, were thankful and worshipped the creator always.

The Grand Medicine Society – Mide Medewiwin – was made up of holy men or healers. Midewiwin learned hunting medicine to find game. Midewiwin prayers were for abundant game, fish, and other food, as well as for health, long life, fair weather, and community ethics, the concerns of traditional Ojibwas.

Mides made tobacco and dog sacrifices to the Manitos (God’s messengers) as part of their official acts. They took sweat baths before entering the medicine lodges. Mide members used ritual pictographs in greatly expanded form. Ceremonies were requested for the help and blessings of the powerful Manitos. The Mide called on the Manitos for pity and charity. Offerings of tobacco were made in gratitude and respect to the Heavenly Spirit. The people were thankful and worshipped the Creator always.

Mide initiates were often required to receive visions of the Manitos before approaching Mides for instruction. The first step toward society membership.

The Society devoted much of its instruction to the knowledge of medicinal herbs and other curing devices. Midewiwin’s major concern was the maintenance of health and the combating of diseases. Midewiwin taught its members ways of gaining power over sickness, just as the Manitos taught traditional Ojibwes to avoid illness. In addition, Mides viewed ill health as punishment for sins against Manitos and encouraged Ojibwas to lead ethical and ritually responsible lives. In keeping with traditional morality, the society encouraged respect for all the living persons of the universe.

Midewiwin taught that every plant had a pharmaceutical use, and each member cultivated his or her own medicinal knowledge beyond the more elementary recipes (Densmore). Midewiwin initiation gave them the powers to heal and destroy, but they used those powers on their own, as though received from Guardian Manitos in private visions. The Society taught that the religious leader’s role was to heal the sick.

Nanabozho was recognized as the founder of Midewiwin. His role was intercessor between Kitchie Manito and the Indians. The Supreme Being was the ultimate source of medicine in many of the Society’s myths.

Midiwiwin kept pictograph records, ceremonial speeches, and ethical doctrines in scriptural scrolls. Their Birchbark Records were the Indian equivalent of the Christian Bible. They used them as representations of the origin myths, charts of the movement of Ojibwas and Midiwiwin, maps to heaven, guides to moral life, instructional catechisms, ceremonial guides, and sacred manifestations of Kitchie Manito’s message. The Ojibwe passed down these scrolls from teachers to students, from community to community, as embodiments of God’s teachings.

A Secret Society was developed within the structure of Society. The specialists went beyond a secret language, a depth of understanding, and ceremonial knowledge, separate from those of the common Ojibwa. The Master Mides of the highest degree’s activities were veiled from the lower degrees. They opposed the activities of the Djessakids and other religious specialists. A very exclusive and secretive priestly group. The exclusiveness of Midewiwin leadership was fostered by the high cost of instruction and initiation.

Mide worshipped the Supreme God. Midewiwin fostered Ojibwa unity, organized religious leadership, maintained curing, and morality. The Midewiwin teaching lodge means, from the heart, prayers are offered, along with songs and stories and counseling. Medicine is anything good.

The Indians had few diseases; their medicines were quick to cure and generally infallible (Canadian Indian History, www).

The Medicine Bundle is a collection of objects which symbolize a spiritual path, symbols of power.

Ojibwes associated health with correct morality. Mide taught that proper conduct determined one’s length of healthy life. Generosity, honesty, strength of character, endurance, and wisdom were the admired qualities of the Indian. To the Indian, the land was the source of life for everything alive on earth, the creation of the Great Spirit. The land was priceless and holy and useful. It was the sustainer and nurturer, “Mother Earth”. Everything belong to the world and its people. The universe is built of a grand design by Gitchi Manito, the Great Spirit. Gitchi Manito had many helping spirits that are the animals and otherwise around us. Evil spirits were rattlesnakes and big storms.

There was unfailing respect for the established place and possessions of every other member of the family circle. There was habitual, quiet order and decorum in behavior. Family was the social unit, also the unit of government. The Native is not demonstrative in affection at any time. Two who should be in love, should be united in secret, before public acknowledgement of their union. (C. Eastman, The Soul of the Indian).

The position of women was secure. All property was held by her. Modesty was her chief adornment; she ruled undisputed within her own domain, a tower of moral and spiritual strength. Young women were usually silent and retiring (C. Eastman).

The Indian is an individualist in religion as in war. There was no national army, nor an organized church, no priest to assume responsibility for another’s soul. This was the supreme duty of the parent, in some degree, since the children were of his creation and protecting power, who alone approaches the solemn function of deity – God.

Indian people do not choose which religious tradition they will practice. They are born into a community and its particular ceremonial life (Eastman). A religious man from his mother’s womb, taught silence, love, and reverence: the trinity of first lessons. She later adds generosity, courage, chastity, she learns from Mother, and Grandmother Nature.

The love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. Children must learn early the beauty of generosity. Taught to give what they prize most, taste the happiness of giving. To give away all that they have, above all to the poor and aged, and hope for no return.

Indian etiquette was very strict. We always avoid, a direct address. The title of a person was used to show respect. Children were not allowed to speak in adult presence, unless requested. Children are taught generosity to the poor and reverence for the Great Mystery. Religion was the basis for all Indian training.

The Indian was a blood brother to all living creatures; the storm wind, a messenger of the Great Mystery.

Grandparents teach our history, repeating the time-hallowed tales with dignity and authority, to lead into his inheritance in the stored-up wisdom and experiences of the race. Old were dedicated to the service of the young. They were the teachers and advisors. The young regard them with love and reverence. Old age gave much freedom (C. Eastman).

Some words have different meanings for men and women.

Boozhoo is a greeting. Migwetch is “thank you.” Chi Migwetch is a big “Thank You”.

The Ojibwe are not boisterous; they speak in a low tone. They never interrupt. They have a natural politeness. They are gentle, obliging in manners and bashfulness.

The Indian is very superstitious (Eastman).

The land was a pristine Eden. The vegetation was magnificent; rich clusters of grapes hung from the trees (Lanman, History of MI). The soil was rich and produced immense crops of corn, beans, pumpkins, squash, and other vegetables. The virgin soil was extremely fertile with luxuriant growth. The pigeons were thick like a cloud and easily caught with a net. They and the abundant other fowl and waterfowl left abundant natural fertilizer.

The Indians rotated their town sites every 10 years and let the land lay fallow. Being enriched with vegetation and natural fertilizer from the many animals and birds. Indians built the first corn cribs.

Wildlife and game abounded, fish were abundant, there was plenty. The Indians shared the excess among them. This was called daawed – “sharing” (D. Plain).

Great numbers of moose and elk, having huge horns that rivaled the branches of trees, were thriving. Wild beeves (buffalo) were among the wildlife (Lanman, 1855). Bison – buffalo, were in Canada, the Southeast, and prairies of Michigan. At an early day, the buffalo roamed from Canada to Mexico. Tens of millions of buffalo fed on the prairies. One way of hunting the buffalo was to surround them with a fire circle; they were then easily captured for sustenance.

The marshes were luxuriant with wild rice, a feast for a great variety of birds and waterfowl, and for the Indians. The area is a major migration flyway. Marsh hay was abundant (Hudgins, “The Biodiversity Atlas of Lake Huron to Lake Erie”. Sec 2, 1936, “The Walpole Indian”).

In the spring of the year, the hunters would set fire to the marsh grasses to cause flight and the appearance of game, beaver, deer, muskrat, and otter. Then the prairie would be a sea of flame. After the fires, May, brought forth the sweet grass, and nature again restored her bright carpet (Marantette Papers, Michigan Archives).

Wild geese collected around small interior lakes after the winter migration, where they obtained their food from the wild rice, which was the peculiar product of this region. Lanman, 1855). Wild rice was at Saginaw Bay and in many lakes and ponds, along with other waterways in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and throughout North America. The rice season, lasted 10 days to three weeks in early autumn.

The game was much tamer, the deer fed at deer parks. Clearings were made to supply fresh grasses and draw them, elk, and caribou, to certain areas for hunting. Moose fed along the swampy places. Trees were girdled and burnt to clear the trees for game and fields crops. Bears and wolves were many.  

When the need was established and the Great Spirit worshipped, it was fitting for the earthly relatives to make the supreme sacrifice to aid man. As a token of gratitude, the Indians always placed a bit of tobacco in the hole where he gathered roots for medicinal use.

Wild rice was gathered from shallow waters, maple sugar was made from the many groves. Maple syrup was poured over snow to make candy and into molds. The duck bills filled with maple sugar were a favorite for infants. Brushes were made from the tail of a porcupine. Wild fruits of many kinds and berries were gathered and dried. Choke cherries were pounded pit and all; mixed with pounded jerked meat and fat to form a much-prized Indian delicacy. Pemmican was travel food; warriors took it in a pouch for the hunt and war. The Indians drank teas boiled from plants and herbs and sweetened with maple sugar. They carried water in bags made of tripe or pericardium.

Every flower had a wise purpose; every blade of grass, every plant, herb, root, and tree, and was to be used to please God – Gitchi Manito (Canadian Indian History, www).

There was scarcity of food in the spring. Everything was free: food, lodging, everything. All were rich alike in summer.

The trade of the Indians was more a social and political trade than an economic. The giving of trade goods was not economic, for profit or wealth.

The Indian hardly ever cried. This was very necessary: we rise early, silent and reticent – the foundation of patience and self-control. There are times of mirth, but the rule is gravity and decorum.

The wise man believes profoundly in silence and absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit. The man who preserves his selfhood ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence. Silence is the cornerstone of character. Truthful and brave, hard exercise was kept up. Fasting and two meals a day. It is an honor to be selected for difficult or dangerous service (C. Eastman).

A first birth name was given, honor name, nicknames. A child is named after they are able to walk, a distinguishing character or a famous deed to live up to, unstained. Like giving away property to those in want, love and goodwill toward fellow man. If they grow up and fail to live up to the name chosen, they are no longer called by it.

Bear, wolf, and eagle are masculine. Fire is the symbol of enthusiasm, energy, devotion.

The doe, mink, ermine, and otter are feminine. Sky, wind, and water are either (Charles Eastman).

SEASONS AND THE INDIAN CAMP

The maple camp and fishing was early spring, the time of new beginnings and renewal. The garden camp was early summer, the beach for summer gatherings and fishing. It was the time for socializing with the greater family who would gather in great numbers for religious ceremonies, games, storytelling, council meetings, planning and preparation for winter. The rice field or fishing camp in the fall. Winter camp, hunting and trapping; it was the camp in the woods, where the forest protected the people from fierce winds and winters. It was a time for oral history and storytelling on long winter nights. It was singing, repairing tools, sewing new clothing, tanning hides, gathering wood, and making furniture of small limbs tied with gut.

Charles Eastman in his “Indian Boyhood” relates;

The Indian exercised much ingenuity in selecting a suitable campsite. There must be water and fuel. Next, sanitation and drainage and protection from the elements and ready discovery by foes. Finally, beauty of situation.

In midsummer in a great number, they choose an extensive plateau on a secondary bank of a river or lake or upon the level bottomlands of some large stream.

For a winter camp, they prefer a protected site in the deep woods, near a large river or lake. A small party concealment is the first principle to be observed. Seclusion gives a sense of security, but a beautiful spot, which commands all approaches, or a hidden cave, guarded by curving shores but very near a long-distance view, is used for a lookout.

In summer, he pitches his tepees upon a high rocky point to get away from mosquitoes but is protected to the approach of others, concealed at the back and sides that afford a retreat in case of danger and also shortcuts for return from hunting and trapping. Teepoles are left when they move. They build small fires, as the smoke may be seen a long way off if the wind is right. Only in cold weather or a special purpose is a huge fire built. In no case does he leave it without it being entirely extinguished. It is built on rocks if possible, so the ashes are removed by wind and rain, and the ground shown no disfigurement.

Tents are pitched in a circle with the entrance always toward the watering place. Council lodges are opposite the entrance. There are more than one circle for large parties with each band or clan having its own.

Camp breakup is announced the day before, and the next site is already explored and selected. The people are guided by the men to the chosen spot. The start is before daybreak; the packing is done quickly with a well-understood system. Wagons, ponies, dogs, canoes, or men and women are used to transport the belongings from place to place. There is nothing messy or haphazard. A carrying strap, with a head and chest piece of two strings four to five feet and two inches wide, long enough to encircle the head and shoulders, is used. Goods are secured in a well-balanced roll or bundle that is not carried too low to suit their strength and comfort. They do not let it sway or swing. The travois is the primitive vehicle used for many years. It is two tent poles and a basket with the end of the poles bound to a saddle. It contains all the household goods, and sometimes young children.

The temporary shack is six- or eight-sided with six poles that are 10 feet long, a fork branch that is set two feet deep in the ground and eight to twelve inches apart, with other poles resting on the forked ends. Four more poles are in the center, forming a square, and are also connected at the top. In the middle, a hole is dug for a fireplace and lined with stones.

For the bark house, the outer wall is of split poles driven into the ground, close together, and neatly overlaid with bark of the birch, elm, or basswood in strips eight feet long by four to six inches wide. Outside posts hold light saplings which hold the bark in position. Crosspieces are also tied to the split poles with strips of tough cedar bark; the roof is made the same way. The overlapping bark is waterproof with an adjustable opening over the fireplace. The door opens to the south side, three by six feet, and is closed by a movable door of bark or rawhide. The home may be thatched with coarse meadow grass instead of bark. Some are partly underground for warmth in winter and covered with sod or earth; then it becomes a round house. The wickiup was a brush shelter.

Beds are built with poles and bark; robes are spread and blankets for beds by night and a lounging place by day. Grass of rushes are braided into mats and used for coverings and carpets. The Plains Indians used buffalo hides, nicely tanned and sewed together in a semicircular shape. If nothing better, a quantity of grass will make a warm bed.

Winter stores are stored overhead and roundabout in every space. Weapons of war and of the chase (Hathi Trust, Levi Bishop 1870). Mounds were made for lookouts or signal stations.

Time was told by the sun’s shadow hunger was a good guide, and the distance traveled. (Eastman)

THE TEACHING STICK

Teaching sticks were used to tell the truths of our people. At a council, the person holding the stick is the only one allowed to speak. The answering feather is passed to someone who is asked a question. The stick is passed from person to person. Everyone is allowed their own, sacred point of view and are respected in their viewpoint.

People responsible for holding any council meeting make their own talking stick. It is used when teaching children, holding council, settling disputes, at Pow Wow’s, storytelling circles, or a ceremony where more than one person will speak.

It is the medicine stick of the owner, and each stick is different. White pine is the peace tree, birch symbolizes truth, evergreen is growth, cedar is cleansing, aspen is for seeing clearly, as there are many eye shapes on the truth. Maple represents gentleness, elm is used for wisdom, mountain ash is for protection, oak is for strength, cherry is for expression, high emotion, or love. Fruit woods are for abundance, walnut or pecan for gathering energy or beginning new projects. Each must decide which type of standing tree will assist their needs and add needed “medicine” to the councils held.

The ornamentation on the stick all have meaning. Red is for life, yellow knowledge, blue for prayer and wisdom, white is for spirit, purple is for healing, orange for feeling kinship with all living things, and black is for clarity and focus.

The feathers and hide are very important as well. The answering feather is usually an eagle feather, which represents high ideals, truth from sight on high, and the freedom that comes from speaking the truth to the best of one’s ability. It can also be a turkey feather, the peace eagle of the south, which brings peaceful attitudes and the give and take to solve problems. The owl feather may stop deception.

The skins, hair, or hides bring the ways of the creature. The buffalo brings abundance, elk fitness and stamina, deer gentleness, rabbit listening, horse hair perseverance and connection to the earth and wind spirits. If there is a sickness of heart, mind, body, or spirit, a snake skin may be wrapped around the stick so healing of those persons may occur.

The talking stick teaches each one to honor the sacred point of view of every living creature.

BURIAL CUSTOMS

The Indian looks forward to a happy return to a Land of Plenty and Great Joy – not literally, but in spirit. And this desire and hope fills his soul with exultation when he sees the glorious orb of day sinking near the abode of departed spirits (Jones).

They hold nothing, so precious as the bones of their dead. They do not have a Hell.

When a man is at the point of death, he is decked with all the ornaments owned by the family. They dress his hair with red paint mixed with grease and paint his body and face red with vermillion; he is dressed as richly as possible. Red means life, thus the color. They adorn the place where he is lying with necklaces of porcelain and glass beads, or other trinkets. His weapons beside him and at his feet, all articles that he used in war during his life. All his relatives and, above all, the Jugglers – Holy Men – are near him.

When he seems to struggle to give up his last breath, the women and girls begin mourning. They sing doleful songs, cries and lamentations, and weeping. The men do not weep.

When he is dead, or a moment before, they raise him to a sitting position, his back supported as if he were alive. The corpse remains thus sitting until the next day and is kept in this position.

Death is the test and background of life. It holds no terrors for him but is met with simplicity and perfect calm, seeking an honorable end as his last gift to his family and descendants. He courts death in battle; it is disgraceful to be killed in a private quarrel.

We cut our hair, sacrificing all personal beauty and adornment, the dress was trimmed off the fringe and ornaments, cut it short or cut robe or blankets in half. Men blacken their face, widow women or bereaved parents sometimes gash their arms and legs till they are covered with blood. They give away all that they have, not caring about any earthly possession, even beds and home, wailing day and night unto voicelessnes. Some are put on a scaffold or platform, sometimes the body is placed against a tree or rock in a sitting position facing the enemy.

A lock of hair in pretty cloth is rolled up, a spirit bundle is suspended from a tripod and occupied a place of honor in the lodge; at every meal, a dish of food placed under it. A person of the same sex and age is invited to eat the food. At the end of a year, a feast and gift giveaway are given. The lock of hair is buried with ceremonies. The spirit returns to God after it is freed from the body. It is everywhere and pervades all nature. Yet lingers near friends to comfort and hear prayers. There is so much reverence for the spirit, we didn’t even speak the name aloud.

The head was always buried facing west. Offerings of food and other valuable items for travel were placed, in the grave house. The deceased person was buried with their most valuable possessions: guns, jewelry, their best clothing. Men were buried with their tobacco pouch, a bowl of fish stew or other food, a jar of water, gun, shot and ball, tomahawk, knife, and blanket. Sometimes corn, pelts, trade goods, and other gifts were placed all around the casket (Plain, 1300 Moons).

A spirit house was built over the grave of many dead. It was made of branches and was like a small log or bark house with a hole in one end to place food and other necessities. The hole also allowed the spirit to leave for the spirit journey of four days to the Land of Souls.

Scaffold burials also were used, the scaffold erected seven or eight feet high. After one year, the bones were cleaned and buried. Sometimes the bodies were burned on six poles, the bones cleaned, polished, or blanched for travel (Plain, 1300 Moons).

After burial, the family make liberal payment to those who took part therein. For a year food was placed often in the grave house for the departed.

In the home, a place was set and food placed for the person who died. If a child was taken, the mother carried a baby bundle with her for a year, in mourning. Near relatives wore their most ragged clothes for a year in mourning (Eastman).

A feast of the dead is held every three years. They bring the bones of their relatives. They set them out and heap gifts upon them of all their finest and best possessions. The cooking pots are constantly on the fire, full of meat for anyone to eat who likes. They make a continual song night and day with drums or pots or bark and sticks. They go out and fire muskets, and begin howling until the air quivers, they reenter daubed with black. This goes on for 3 days and nights. Toward the end, they make presents to those invited to the feast of all that belongs to the dead. They go out uttering great howls and, with heavy blows, break the ceremony hut to pieces. The women, lay fir branchs on the ground where the hut was. They kill a large number of dogs which are to them as sheep are to us and are valued more than any other animal, and make a feast of them. Prayers are made for pity on the souls of their relations, to light them on their journeys and to guide them to the dwelling place of their ancestors. Then each takes the bones of their relations; and bury them in stony, unfrequented places. After that, the dead are never spoken of again in any way.

The Feast of the Dead was a mingling of bones in a common grave, dance, games, contests, election, and feast. Presents were distributed by the families of the dead, marriage alliances made and plans. (Schenk).

In the following, Cadillac gives much insight into Anishinabe life:

White men came and found the continent: everywhere was occupied by Indians. Scores of tribes scattered over the continent. They were highly hospitable, sharing their cabins, food, and women. Sagamity is different foods mixed together to be eaten.

They eat fish cooked in all sorts of ways, fried, roasted, boiled, smoked, and stewed.

They have no butter or oil. They have grease or marrow, from elk, moose, or buffalo, which is brought to Michilimackinac from the Illinois, or Chicago.

The Miami bring huge bears into their village they have captured and tamed, driving them before with switches, like sheep.

Their cabins are weatherproof; no rain gets in them. Poles are thick as one’s leg and very long. Entwined between are cross pieces as thick as one’s arm. An opening about two feet wide runs along the peak. They are 100 to 300 feet long and 20 to 24 feet high. (Pierre Margry, volume, French North America)

Every tribe has its doctors, surgeons, and apothecaries, called Jugglers. Dogs are sacrificed. The Medicine Men are highly rewarded. Experience shows they can cure a wounded man in a week; better than our surgeons can in a month. (Cadillac)

They anoint and perfume the hair in oil and grease. They fight to the death for liberty; nothing is so shameful to a man as slavery.

They marry several wives and put (them) away whenever they are pleased. The brother marries the widow.

They observe the 40-day purification after birth. They speak in parables and metaphysically. They tell of the Flood Deluge. Their manners, customs, and ceremonies resemble the Jews.

All Indians are naturally intelligent; they have great faculty for drawing, painting, and sculpture, and God had given them a very good memory (Cadillac).

Lahonton in “Travels in Louisiana” wrote:

At a feast, there was two hours of singing and dancing. After that the slaves came to serve. Four platters were set before me. One had two whitefish, only boiled in water, another the tongue and breast of a roe buck boiled; the third two wood hens, the hind feet or trotters of a bear, and the tail of a beaver all roasted; the fourth contained a large quantity of broth made of several sorts.

For the drink, a very pleasant liquor; a syrup of maple beat up with water.

The most curious thing I saw in the villages was 10 to 12 tame beavers that went and came like dogs from the river to the cottages.

They know how to make great sloops that will hold 30 or 40 men.

Large quantities of tobacco are grown in New France. In addition, much was imported, this being preferred, by the Indians.

Slavery among Indians was entirely due to prisoners taken in war, a mild form, being treated as members of the family, in the hope of exchange or ransom by their own tribe.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Exam

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This book came about after a visit to the library where I could not find local Indian History. I grew up in the St. Clair and Black River area of Michigan, fishing on all the area waters with my father and brothers. I loved books, libraries, horses and puzzles; I was not a tech person. I love to cook, garden, travel, and camp. I was determined to find and share the truth. This has been a difficult journey in every way. I give you, the reader, the truth and blessings I also reaped. Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl Morgan lives near Port Huron, Michigan with her husband Tom and dog Fred.

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