Origin of the Midewiwin

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Commonly among the Anishinaabeg, Midewiwin is ascribed to Nanabozho as its founder. However, among the Abenakis, Midewiwin is ascribed to Mateguas, who upon his death and needing to comfort his brother who is still alive, bestowed the Midewiwin to his grieving brother Gluskab. Here is the creation story.

In the beginning, Gichi Manidoo made the mide manidoog. He first created two men, and two women; but they had no power of thought or reason. Then Gichi Manidoo made them rational beings. He took them in his hands so that they should multiply; he paired them, and from this sprung the Anishinaabe.

When there were people he placed them upon the earth, but he soon observed that they were subject to sickness, misery, and death, and that unless he provided them with the Sacred Medicine they would soon become extinct.

Between the position occupied by Gichi Manidoo and the earth were four lesser manidoog with whom Gichi Manidoo decided to commune, and to impart to them the mysteries by which the Anishinaabeg could be benefited. So he first spoke to a manidoo and told him all he had to say, who in turn communicated the same information to the next, and he in turn to next, who also communed with the next. They all met in council, and determined to call in the four wind manidoog. After consulting as to what would be best for the comfort and welfare of the Anishinaabeg, these manidoog agreed to ask Gichi Manidoo to communicate the Mystery of the Sacred Medicine to the people.

Gichi Manidoo then went to the Sun Spirit and asked him to go to the earth and instruct the people as had been decided upon by the council. The Sun Spirit, in the form of a little boy, went to the earth and lived with a woman who had a little boy of her own.

This family went away in the autumn to hunt, and during the winter this woman’s son died. The parents were so much distressed that they decided to return to the village and bury the body there; so they made preparations to return, and as they traveled along, they would each evening erect several poles upon which the body was placed to prevent the wild beasts from devouring it. When the dead boy was thus hanging upon the poles, the adopted child—who was the Sun Spirit—would play about the camp and amuse himself, and finally told his adopted father he pitied him, and his mother, for their sorrow. The adopted son said he could bring his dead brother to life, whereupon the parents expressed great surprise and desired to know how that could be accomplished.

The adopted boy then had the party hasten to the village, when he said, “Get the women to make a wiigiwaam of bark, put the dead boy in a covering of wiigwaas and place the body on the ground in the middle of the wiigiwaam.” On the next morning after this had been done, the family and friends went into this lodge and seated themselves around the corpse.

When they had all been sitting quietly for some time, they saw through the doorway the approach of a bear, which gradually came towards the wiigiwaam, entered it, and placed itself before the dead body and said, “ho, ho, ho, ho,” when he passed around it towards the left side, with a trembling motion, and as he did so, the body began quivering, and the quivering increased as the bear continued until he had passed around four times, when the body came to life again and stood up. Then the bear called to the father, who was sitting in the distant right-hand corner of the wiigiwaam, and addressed to him the following words:

Noos gaawiin anishinaabewisii, ayaawiyaan manidoo ningwisis.
My father is not an Indian not, I am a spirit son.
Bi-mayaa minik niiji- manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-gi-aawiyan.
Insomuch my fellow spirit clearly now as you are.
Noose, zhigwa asemaa ji-atooyeg. E-mikondem mii eta
My father, now tobacco you shall put. He mentions of that only
aabiding ji-gashkitood wenji- bimaadizid omaa agaawaa
once to be able to do it why he shall live here scarcely
bimaadizid mii omaa; niiji- manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-giiweyaan.
he lives thus here; my fellow spirit clearly now I shall go home.

The little bear boy was the one who did this. He then remained among the Anishinaabeg and taught them the mysteries of the Midewiwin; and, after he had finished, he told his adopted father that as his mission had been fulfilled he was to return to his kindred manidoog, for the Anishinaabeg would have no need to fear sickness as they now possessed the Midewiwin which would enable them to live. He also said that his spirit could bring a body to life but once, and he would now return to the sun from which they would feel his influence.

This event is called Gwiiwizens wedizhichigewinid—Deeds of a Little-boy.