The program titled Ojibwe Heritage was presented at the November meeting as part of the DAR celebration of American Indian Heritage. For my mother and I, this was sharing a part of our family history, claiming our heritage as Anishinabe which translates as "the original people."
According to their tradition and from recordings in birch bark scrolls, many of the Original People came from the eastern areas of North America, or what the original people called "Turtle Island." These original people traded widely across the Continent for thousands of years, and knew of canoe routes west, and of a land route to the west coast. Some of the first maps of the inland rivers and lakes were made by the Ojibwe made on birch bark maps and preserved by the elders along with the history of the original people, Anishinabe.
Legend says seven great "radiant beings" appeared to the peoples in the Land of the Dawn - the eastern lands - to teach them of the ways of life. These seven great beings established clans - or dodems - for the people of the east. The original Anishinabe were the crane, loon, fish, bear, bird and marten and the thunderbird.
After a time, the great beings returned to the sea and the people prospered - drawing on the bounty of the eastern forests and lakes. In these early years, one version of the legend said the Original People "were so many and powerful that if one was to climb the highest mountain and look in all directions, he would not be able to see the end of the nation."
Then came a warning from a prophet to the people: "If you do not move, you will be destroyed." The prophet urged the Anishinabe to seek out an island in the shape of a turtle; this would be their first stopping point. There would be six more, and each one would be revealed through a sacred sign in the form of a cowrie shell that first emerged from the great salt sea.
During their long journey, which lasted many generations, the Anishinabe encountered enemies and subdued them. At night it was said their campfires flickered like stars for as far as the eye could see. All the campfires were kindled from one sacred fire, which had been carried from the land of the rising sun and was never allowed to die.
At their third stopping place near present day Detroit, the Anishinabe divided into three groups and went their separate ways, with each group assuming a different responsibility for sustaining the culture. One pledged to safeguard the sacred fire, these people became known as the Potowatomi. Another group agreed to carry out major trading expeditions, these became known as the Ottawa. The third group who's duty was to protect the spiritual beliefs of the Anishinabe emerged as the Ojibwe. Before separating, they formed a confederation called the Three Fires, and met each year to renew their alliance.
Continuing westward the Ojibwe settled farther to the north, along the north shore of Lake Superior. After parting from the others, the Ojibwe continued to be guided by the sacred spirits. In time, a new sign appeared to them at another place of beauty and bounty, the strait where waters from Lake Superior rushed down to the lower-lying Lake Huron and whitefish choked the rapids. It was here the Ojibwe paused and established a village they called "Place at the Falls." This was not only a splendid fishery but also a hub of water-borne trade. French explorers and traders who arrived there in the 17th century called the local Indians Saulteurs, an adaptation of the French word saut, or "falls." This place became known to the French as Sault Ste Marie. At that time, the village had a permanent population of several hundred people, a number that swelled to two or three thousand each summer as Ojibwes and others from surrounding areas congregated there to fish, trade, hold diplomatic councils and join in ceremonies.
By the time the Frenchmen reached Sault Ste Marie, many Ojibwe were fanning out around Lake Superior. According to legend, those who ventured to the western end of that lake were again blessed with a vision. That sign appeared to the people for the last time at La Pointe Island, or Madeline Island as it is known today, where the Ojibwes founded a bustling village that emerged as the spiritual center of their culture.
One of the foremost scholars and researchers believes the migration of the Anishinabe began around 900 AD and took approximately 500 years to complete.
It is from this group of the Ojibwe that my mother's family descends. My great-great grandmother was a member of the Lac du Flambeau band, which translates to "Lake of the Flaming Torches." Early French explorers used the term to describe how the tribe often fished at night by torchlight. While my gr-gr-grandmother's name was been long forgotten, she is included in the early rolls of the reservation as the wife of Isaac Stone, the first white man to settle into this area of Wisconsin. She has been found listed as "Elizabeth" on a vital record but very little is known about her other than she died in June 1858 shortly after giving birth to my great-grandmother, Nancy Ann Stone. Elizabeth is buried in an unmarked grave in the village of Hogarty, Shawano Co, Wisconsin. On Memorial Day, my mother and I honor the memory of Elizabeth by placing flowers in the section of the unmarked graves in the Hogarty Cemetery.
My grandfather, proud of his heritage, made sure that this pride was passed on to his daughter and to his granddaughters. I credit this with helping to kindle and fan the flame of my interest in family history.
I am sure that both he, Grandma Nancy - and Elizabeth - are pleased to see that their story, which we continue to share within our family, is now part of a larger audience.
Copyright © 2008 by Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski