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The Otter

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                  

The two sets of sticks (Nos. 135 and 136) near the eastern and western doors represent the legs of Makwa´ Man´idō, the Bear Spirit. When the Otter had observed all these things he passed round the interior of the Midē´wigân four times, after which he seated himself in the west, facing the degree posts, when Mi´nabō´zho approached him and for the fourth time shot into his body the sacred mī´gis, which gave him life that will endure always. Then Mi´nabō´zho said to the Otter, “This degree belongs to Ki´tshi Man´idō, the Great Spirit (Nos. 137 and 138), who will always be present when you give the sacred rite to any of your people.” At night the Midē´ Man´idōs (Nos. 139 to 162) will guard the Midē´wigân, as they are sent by Ki´tshi Man´idō to do so. The Bear’s nest (Nos. 163 and 164) just beyond the northern and southern doors (Nos. 165 and 166) of the Midē´wigân are the places where Makwa´ Man´idō takes his station when guarding the doors.

Then the Otter made a wig´iwam and offered four prayers (Nos. 167, 168, 169, and 170) for the rites of the Midē´wiwin, which Ki´tshi Man´idō had given him.

The following supplemental explanations were added by Sikas´sigĕ, viz: The four vertical lines at the outer angles of the lodge structure (Nos. 171, 172, 173, and 174), and four similar ones on the inner corners (Nos. 175, 176, 177, and 178), represent eight cedar trees planted there by the Midē´ at the time of preparing the Midē´wigân for the reception of candidates. The circles Nos. 179, 180, and 181, and the connecting line, are a reproduction of similar ones shown in the three preceding degrees, and signify the course of a Midē’s life—that it should be without fault and in strict accordance with the teachings of the Midē´wiwin. The short lines, terminating in circles Nos. 182, 183, 184, and 185, allude to temptations which beset the Midē’s path, and he shall, when so tempted, offer at these points feasts and lectures, or, in other words, “professions of faith.” The three lines Nos. 186, 187, and 188, consisting of four spots each, which radiate from the larger circle at No. 179 and that before mentioned at No. 116, symbolize the four bear nests and their respective approaches, which are supposed to be placed opposite the four doors of the fourth degree; and it is obligatory, therefore, for a candidate to enter these four doors on hands and knees when appearing for his initiation and before he finally waits to receive the concluding portion of the ceremony.

The illustration presented in Fig. 5 is a reduced copy of a drawing made by Sikas´sigĕ to represent the migration of the Otter toward the west after he had received the rite of the Midē´wiwin. No. 1 refers to the circle upon the large chart on Pl. III in A, No. 1, and signifies the earth’s surface as before described. No. 2 in Fig. 5 is a line separating the history of the Midē´wiwin from that of the migration as follows: When the Otter had offered four prayers, as above mentioned, which fact is referred to by the spot No. 3, he disappeared beneath the surface of the water and went toward the west, whither the Ani´shinâ´beg followed him, and located at Ottawa Island (No. 4). Here they erected the Midē´wigân and lived for many years. Then the Otter again disappeared beneath the water, and in a short time reappeared at A´wiat´ang (No. 5), when the Midē´wigân was again erected and the sacred rites conducted in accordance with the teachings of Mi´nabō´zho. Thus was an interrupted migration continued, the several resting places being given below in their proper order, at each of which the rites of the Midē´wiwin were conducted in all their purity. The next place to locate at was Mi´shenama´kinagung—Mackinaw 180 (No. 6); then Ne´mikung (No. 7); Kiwe´winang´ (No. 8); Bâwating—Sault Ste. Marie (No. 9); Tshiwi´towi´ (No. 10); Nega´wadzhe´u—Sand Mountain (No. 11), northern shore of Lake Superior; Mi´nisa´wik [Mi´nisa´bikkang]—Island of rocks (No. 12); Kawa´sitshiuwongk—Foaming rapids (No. 13); Mush´kisi´wi [Mash´kisi´bi]—Bad River (No. 14); Shagawâmikongk—Long-sand-bar-beneath-the-surface (No. 15); Wikwe´dânwonggân—Sandy Bay (No. 16); Neâ´shiwikongk—Cliff Point (No. 17); Netân´wayan´sink—Little point-of-sand-bar (No. 18); An´nibins—Little elm tree (No. 19); Wikup´binminsh-literally, Little-island-basswood (No. 20); Makubin´minsh—Bear Island (No. 21); Sha´geski´ke´dawan´ga (No. 22); Ni´wigwas´sikongk—The place where bark is peeled (No. 23); Ta´pakwe´ikak [Sa´apakwe´shkwaokongk]—The-place-where-lodge-bark-is-obtained (No. 24); Ne´uwesak´kudeze´bi [Ne´wisaku´desi´bin]—Point-deadwood-timber river (No. 25); Annibi´kanzi´bi [modern name, Âsh´kiba´gisi´bi], given respectively as Fish spawn River and Green leaf River (No. 26).

Fig. 5.— Migration of Âníshinâ´beg.

This last-named locality is said to be Sandy Lake, Minnesota, where the Otter appeared for the last time, and where the Midē´wigân was finally located. From La Pointe, as well as from Sandy Lake, the Ojibwa claim to have dispersed in bands over various portions of the territory, as well as into Wisconsin, which final separation into distinct bodies has been the chief cause of the gradual changes found to exist in the ceremonies of the Midē´wiwin.

Plate VI. Ojibwa Facial Decoration.

According to Sikas´sigĕ, the above account of the initiation of the Otter, by Mi´nabō´zho, was adopted as the course of initiation by the Midē´ priests of the Mille Lacs Society, when he himself received the first degree, 1830. At that time a specific method of facial decoration was pursued by the priests of the respective degrees (Pl. VI), each adopting that pertaining to the highest degree to which he was entitled, viz:

First degree.—A broad band of green across the forehead and a narrow stripe of vermilion across the face, just below the eyes.

Second degree.—A narrow stripe of vermilion across the temples, the eyelids, and the root of the nose, a short distance above which is a similar stripe of green, then another of vermilion, and above this again one of green.

Third degree.—Red and white spots are daubed all over the face, the spots being as large as can be made by the finger tips in applying the colors.

Fourth degree.—Two forms of decoration were admissible; for the first, the face was painted with vermilion, with a stripe of green extending diagonally across it from the upper part of the left temporal region to the lower part of the right cheek; for the second, the face was painted red with two short, horizontal parallel bars of green across the forehead. Either of these was also employed as a sign of mourning by one whose son has been intended for the priesthood of the Midē´wiwin, but special reference to this will be given in connection with the ceremony of the Dzhibai´ Midē´wigân, or Ghost Society.

Plate VIII. Ojibwa’s Record.
Larger Plate

On Pl. VIII is presented a reduced copy of the Midē´ chart made by Ojibwa, a Midē´ priest of the fourth degree and formerly a member of the society of the Sandy Lake band of the Mississippi Ojibwa. The illustration is copied from his own chart which he received in 1833 in imitation of that owned by his father, Me´toshi´konsh; and this last had been received from Lake Superior, presumably La Pointe, many years before.

The illustration of the four degrees are here represented in profile, and shows higher artistic skill than the preceding copies from Red Lake, and Mille Lacs.

The information given by Ojibwa, regarding the characters is as follows:

When Ki´tshi Man´idō had decided to give to the Ani´shinâ´beg the rites of the Midē´wiwin, he took his Midē´ drum and sang, calling upon the other Man´idōs to join him and to hear what he was going to do. No. 1 represents the abode in the sky of Ki´tshi Man´idō, No. 2, indicating the god as he sits drumming, No. 3. the small spots surrounding the drum denoting the mī´gis with which everything about him is covered. The Midē´ Man´idōs came to him in his Midē´wigân (No. 4), eleven of which appear upon the inside of that structure, while the ten—all but himself—upon the outside (Nos. 5 to 14) are represented as descending to the earth, charged with the means of conferring upon the Ani´shinâbe´g the sacred rite. In the Midē´wigân (No. 4) is shown also the sacred post (No. 15) upon which is perched Ko-ko´ko-o—the Owl (No. 16). The line traversing the structure, from side to side, represents the trail leading through it, while the two rings (Nos. 17 and 18) upon the right side of the post indicate respectively the spot where the presents are deposited and the sacred stone—this according to modern practices.

When an Indian is prepared to receive the rights of initiation he prepares a wig´iwam (No. 19) in which he takes a steam bath once each day for four successive days. The four baths and four days are indicated by the number of spots at the floor of the lodge, representing stones. The instructors, employed by him, and the officiating priests of the society are present, one of which (No. 20) may be observed upon the left of the wig´iwam in the act of making an offering of smoke, while the one to the right (No. 21) is drumming and singing. The four officiating priests are visible to either side of the candidate within the structure. The wig´iwams (Nos. 22, 23, 24, and 25) designate the village habitations.

In the evening of the day preceding the initiation, the candidate (No. 26) visits his instructor (No. 27) to receive from him final directions as to the part to be enacted upon the following day. The candidate is shown in the act of carrying with him his pipe, the offering of tobacco being the most acceptable of all gifts. His relatives follow and carry the goods and other presents, some of which are suspended from the branches of the Midē´ tree (No. 28) near the entrance of the first degree structure. The instructor’s wig´iwam is shown at No. 29, the two dark circular spots upon the floor showing two of the seats, occupied by instructor and pupil. The figure No. 27 has his left arm elevated, denoting that his conversation pertains to Ki´tshi Man´idō, while in his right hand he holds his Midē´ drum. Upon the following 182 morning the Midē´ priests, with the candidate in advance (No. 30), approach and enter the Midē´wigân and the initiation begins. No. 31 is the place of the sacred drum and those who are detailed to employ the drum and rattles, while No. 32 indicates the officiating priests; No. 33 is the degree post, surmounted by Ko-ko´-ko-o´, the Owl (No. 34). The post is painted with vermilion, with small white spots all over its surface, emblematic of the mī´gis shell. The line (No. 35) extending along the upper portion of the inclosure represents the pole from which are suspended the robes, blankets, kettles, etc., which constitute the fee paid to the society for admission.

This degree is presided over and guarded by the Panther Man´idō.

When the candidate has been able to procure enough gifts to present to the society for the second degree, he takes his drum and offers chants (No. 35) to Ki´tshi Man´idō for success. Ki´tshi Man´idō himself is the guardian of the second degree and his footprints are shown in No. 36. No. 37 represents the second degree inclosure, and contains two sacred posts (Nos. 38 and 39), the first of which is the same as that of the first degree, the second being painted with white clay, bearing two bands of vermilion, one about the top and one near the middle. A small branch near the top is used, after the ceremony is over, to hang the tobacco pouch on. No. 40 represents the musicians and attendants; No. 41 the candidate upon his knees; while Nos. 42, 43, 44, and 45 pictures the officiating priests who surround him. The horizontal pole (No. 46) has presents of robes, blankets, and kettles suspended from it.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

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