""Anishinabe" means "the people" in the Algonquin language. The Ojibway people of Canada who live in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba (east of Lake Winnipeg, the interlake area, and parts of the northern prairie region), and Saskatchewan use the word to refer to themselves.

Sky stories of the Anishinabe are part of a complex system of spiritual beliefs. Knowledge of the stars is found in many aspects of culture including storytelling, symbolism and religious traditions.

Some spiritual leaders have special knowledge of the stars and the planets. In ancient times, these indigenous astronomers used this knowledge to help guide the day-to-day affairs of their communities.

The Anishinabe have been given ways of communicating with the powerful heavenly forces. The oral teachings and stories which flow out of this communication between mortals and the spiritual world have been passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of time. For example, one of the most powerful symbols for the life force is the Sun. The need for its presence for survival is stressed in the ancient story called "Snaring the Sun." Read More
""Anishinabe" means "the people" in the Algonquin language. The Ojibway people of Canada who live in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba (east of Lake Winnipeg, the interlake area, and parts of the northern prairie region), and Saskatchewan use the word to refer to themselves.

Sky stories of the Anishinabe are part of a complex system of spiritual beliefs. Knowledge of the stars is found in many aspects of culture including storytelling, symbolism and religious traditions.

Some spiritual leaders have special knowledge of the stars and the planets. In ancient times, these indigenous astronomers used this knowledge to help guide the day-to-day affairs of their communities.

The Anishinabe have been given ways of communicating with the powerful heavenly forces. The oral teachings and stories which flow out of this communication between mortals and the spiritual world have been passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of time. For example, one of the most powerful symbols for the life force is the Sun. The need for its presence for survival is stressed in the ancient story called "Snaring the Sun."

To this day, the stories of the Anishinabe of Central North America featured in this project are remembered and told by respected storytellers. With the coming of the first snow, families gather around their elders during the long winter evenings, and the time for storytelling begins. In the summertime, when the plants are awakened and the animals are roaming about, these stories are not told, as the plant and animal "beings" might hear and be offended. The storytellers speak of these things only in the winter when the spirits are resting.

In our Anishinabe culture, only our "stargazers", some of whom are known as the Wabeno-innin, the "Morning star Men" or "The Men of the Dawn", are privileged to have a full knowledge of the Sky world. Much of their knowledge is sacred in nature and is used only under special circumstances associated with religious matters.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Story telling around a campfire

The Anishinabe of Central North America

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


According to the teachings of the Anishinabe culture of central North America, the first of all the mothers, Nokomis or Grandmother Moon, dwells in the heavens near her daughter, Mother Earth. From there, Nokomis keeps watch over her children, gently leading them through the night. Mother Earth nourishes and cares for all her children in the plant, animal, and human worlds. Just as life comes from Mother Earth, it returns to her, completing the circle of life. Each day, Grandfather Sun, the "one who brings morning", gives light and warmth to his children. Together, Mother Earth and Grandfather Sun provide the gift of life to all. The heartbeat of Mother Earth is echoed in the drumbeat of the Anishinabe. Even Wolf, who sings to the Moon, bids us not to forget our beginnings with Nokomis, our Grandmother.
According to the teachings of the Anishinabe culture of central North America, the first of all the mothers, Nokomis or Grandmother Moon, dwells in the heavens near her daughter, Mother Earth. From there, Nokomis keeps watch over her children, gently leading them through the night. Mother Earth nourishes and cares for all her children in the plant, animal, and human worlds. Just as life comes from Mother Earth, it returns to her, completing the circle of life. Each day, Grandfather Sun, the "one who brings morning", gives light and warmth to his children. Together, Mother Earth and Grandfather Sun provide the gift of life to all. The heartbeat of Mother Earth is echoed in the drumbeat of the Anishinabe. Even Wolf, who sings to the Moon, bids us not to forget our beginnings with Nokomis, our Grandmother.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Kiwetinanang, the Guardian North

Kiwetinanang, the Guardian North, brings winter and old age.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


Wapananag, the Guardian of the East

Wapananag, the Guardian of the East brings new life, rebirth and healing with the sunrise and the beginning of a new day.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


Zhawananang, the Guardian of the South

Zhawananang, the Guardian of the South, brings regeneration, nourishment, and warmth.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


Ninkape-anang, the Guardian of the West

Ninkape-anang, the Guardian of the West brings wisdom and aging.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


The Moon

Gravity holds the Moon in orbit around the Earth.

NASA / U.S. Geological Survey

© NASA / U.S. Geological Survey


The Earth

The Earth

NASA

© NASA


Seven sisters ignore their father’s instructions and descent to Earth in a basket.

The Anishinabe of Central North America believe that seven sisters ignored their father’s (the Moon’s) instructions and descended to Earth in a basket to dance and sing when their father was "low in the sky." On one of their visits, one of the young women was captured by a human being and fell in love with him. The couple was taken to the Sky world in a basket lowered to Earth by the bride’s sisters. While Grandfather Sun disapproved of the marriage, out of his love for his daughter he permitted the couple to visit on Earth from time to time. As for the remaining sisters, Grandfather Sun sent them to live further from the Earth, and to this day, they can hardly be seen.

One storyteller from the Fort Alexander Reserve in Manitoba, Canada, has explained the seasonal appearance and disappearance of the Pleiades with the story of seven children who loved to dance and play.

According to the Anishinabe of Central North America, seven children loved to dance and play, rather than help their parents in camp. The children’s mother we Read More
Seven sisters ignore their father’s instructions and descent to Earth in a basket.

The Anishinabe of Central North America believe that seven sisters ignored their father’s (the Moon’s) instructions and descended to Earth in a basket to dance and sing when their father was "low in the sky." On one of their visits, one of the young women was captured by a human being and fell in love with him. The couple was taken to the Sky world in a basket lowered to Earth by the bride’s sisters. While Grandfather Sun disapproved of the marriage, out of his love for his daughter he permitted the couple to visit on Earth from time to time. As for the remaining sisters, Grandfather Sun sent them to live further from the Earth, and to this day, they can hardly be seen.

One storyteller from the Fort Alexander Reserve in Manitoba, Canada, has explained the seasonal appearance and disappearance of the Pleiades with the story of seven children who loved to dance and play.

According to the Anishinabe of Central North America, seven children loved to dance and play, rather than help their parents in camp. The children’s mother went to seek advice on this problem and was told to place stones on their food. It was hoped that the children would appreciate the value of hard work if they were forced to remove the stones from their food before they could eat it. Unfortunately, this plan did not work. One day, the children danced so hard, they danced up into the sky where they can be seen to this day. Although you can clearly see them in the winter, they cannot be seen in the summer. It is believed that during the summer months, when ceremonies and dances are being celebrated by humans, the children join them, returning to the heavens with the onset of winter.

To the Anishinabe, the Pleiades is also known as the "Hole in the Sky" and is closely connected with religious beliefs.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

The seven daughters of the Moon and the Sun

The seven daughters of the Moon and the Sun.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


One of the seven children that loved to dance and play

One of the seven children that loved to dance and play.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


The Pleiades

Sometimes, especially in the later stages of a star's infancy, a few remaining wisps of nebula reflect the light of their stellar offspring: These are known as reflection nebulae.

Robert Gendler

Robert Gendler © 2002


The story of Fisher is unusual because most Anishinabe stories about the Big Dipper describe it as a Great Bear. The Fisher is a small fox-sized animal related to the weasel.

Fisher was a great hunter. He lived in the winter world with humans, birds, and other animals. Many times the winter was so severe that they would run out of food.

The Anishinabe of Central North America say that many animals perished from the cold and the lack of food during winter. One day he decided that their only hope was to go to the summer world and bring back the warm weather. But the villagers and animals of the summer world were not willing to share summer, so Fisher called all the winter animals and birds together to discuss what should be done. Muskrat, who lived between the two seasons, was the only one that knew summer was hidden on a faraway island. In the centre of this island, there stood a lodge and on the wall of this lodge, hung the bag of summer. No one could get near it, for it was closely guarded by Sandhill Crane and Frog. Even when all the summer creatures went out to hunt, these two guardians always stayed behind. If anything was seen approaching the island Read More

The story of Fisher is unusual because most Anishinabe stories about the Big Dipper describe it as a Great Bear. The Fisher is a small fox-sized animal related to the weasel.

Fisher was a great hunter. He lived in the winter world with humans, birds, and other animals. Many times the winter was so severe that they would run out of food.

The Anishinabe of Central North America say that many animals perished from the cold and the lack of food during winter. One day he decided that their only hope was to go to the summer world and bring back the warm weather. But the villagers and animals of the summer world were not willing to share summer, so Fisher called all the winter animals and birds together to discuss what should be done. Muskrat, who lived between the two seasons, was the only one that knew summer was hidden on a faraway island. In the centre of this island, there stood a lodge and on the wall of this lodge, hung the bag of summer. No one could get near it, for it was closely guarded by Sandhill Crane and Frog. Even when all the summer creatures went out to hunt, these two guardians always stayed behind. If anything was seen approaching the island, all the hunters jumped into their canoes to go and see what it was. It would be extremely difficult for the winter animals to obtain the bag of summer.

A plan was created, and the time came for Fisher and his friends to make their move. Owl flew towards the lodge where Crane and Frog sat guarding their precious treasure. Owl landed and peeked inside to see where the bag was hanging. Next, Muskrat was sent to gnaw the hunter's paddles to the breaking point. The strongest swimmer of all the long-legged animals, Caribou, started to swim towards the island. As soon as the hunters spotted him, they jumped into their canoes and began paddling towards him. Caribou swam as fast as possible away from the island until the paddles broke and the hunters were stranded on the lake. Caribou then doubled back in to the lodge, catching Frog and Crane by surprise. He quickly grabbed the bag and ran until he met the winter animals. They took turns carrying the secret bag of summer into their world. When the summer animals finally drifted to shore, they began to track the winter animals to recover their secret bag of summer, finally catching sight of Fisher, who was now carrying the bag. Fisher took to the trees to flee from the summer animals, but he could not climb high enough to escape the hunter's arrow, which struck him.

The arrow took him clear into the dark northern sky, along with the secret bag of summer. Ever since that time, the summer and winter animals have agreed to share the seasons. Each would have six months of winter, and six months of summer.

The Creator knew that Fisher wanted to protect his friends from starvation and death, so he prevented Fisher from falling to Earth and placed him among the stars. Every year, Fisher crosses the sky. When the arrow strikes him, he rolls over onto his back in the winter sky, and when winter is almost ended, he turns over onto his feet and starts out once more to bring warm weather back to Earth.

Such teachings remind us that the harmonious survival and well-being of all creation is dependent upon the sharing and respect for the Great Laws of Nature.


© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Animation

Animation of the Fisher story

Flash Video

The story of the Fisher constellation is a favorite among the Anishinabe and is often told by grandfathers who live their lives as hunters and trappers.

The story explains the origin of the seasons and stresses the importance of cooperation, determination, self-sacrifice, and sharing for survival.

It also teaches us that each part of creation has its own special gifts for the well-being of all.

The story of Fisher is perhaps unusual in that most stories related to the Big Dipper describe it as a Great Bear.

In reality, the Fisher is a small fox-sized animal related to the weasel.

Fisher was a great hunter. He lived in the winter world with humans, birds, and other animals. Many times the winter was so severe that they would run out of food.

Many perished from the cold and the lack of food. One day he decided that their only hope was to go to the summer world and bring back the warm weather.

But the villagers and animals of the summer world were not willing to share summer.

So, Fisher called all the winter animals and birds together to discuss what should be done.

Muskrat, who lived between the two seasons, was the only one that knew summer was hidden on a far away island.

In the centre of this island, there stood a lodge and on the wall of this lodge, hung the bag of summer.

No one could get near it, for it was closely guarded by Sandhill Crane and Frog.

Even when all the summer creatures went out to hunt, these two guardians always stayed behind.

If anything was seen to approach the island, all the hunters jumped into their canoes to go and see what it was.

It would be extremely difficult for the winter animals to obtain the bag of summer.

A plan was created, and the time had come for Fisher and his friends to make their move.

That night, Owl flew towards the lodge where Crane and Frog sat guarding their precious treasure. He landed and peeked inside to see where the bag was hanging.

Next, Muskrat was sent to gnaw the hunter’s paddles to the breaking point. The strongest swimmer of all the long-legged animals was Caribou.

He started to swim toward the island and as soon as the hunters spotted him, they jumped into their canoes and began paddling towards him.

Caribou swam as fast as possible away from the island until the paddles broke and the hunters were stranded on the lake.

Caribou then doubled back into the lodge catching Frog and Crane by surprise.

He quickly grabbed the bag and ran until he met the winter animals. They took turns carrying the secret bag of summer into their world.

When the summer animals finally drifted to shore, they began to track the winter animals to recover their secret bag of summer.

They finally caught sight of Fisher who was now carrying the bag.

Fisher took to the trees to flee from them but he could not climb high enough to escape the hunter’s arrow which struck him.

The arrow took him clear into the dark northern sky, taking with him the secret bag of summer.

Ever since that time, the summer and winter animals have agreed to share the seasons.

Each would have six months of winter, and six months of summer.

The creator knew that Fisher wanted to protect his friends from starvation and death, so he prevented him from falling to earth and placed him among the stars.

Every year, Fisher crosses the sky; when the arrow strikes him, he rolls over onto his back in the winter sky.

When winter is almost ended, he turns over onto his feet and starts out once more to bring warm weather back to earth.

Canadian Heritage Information Network

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003


For the Anishinabe people of central North America, one of the most powerful symbols for the life-force is the Sun. The need for its presence for survival is stressed in the ancient story of The Snaring of the Sun.

This story was related to early European explorers and is still told to this day in Manitoba, Canada.

According to the Anishinabe culture of Central North America, a long time ago, when animals reigned on the Earth, an orphaned sister lived on the edge of the forest with her tiny brother whose name was Pikojigiiwizens. The sister looked after her brother carefully, as he was so little that a bird could have flown away with him. One day, she made him a bow and some arrows and told him to shoot some Wabanagozi or snowbirds, so that she might make him a fine coat. Some time later, while she was out walking through the forest, the little boy followed a path that his sister had warned him to stay away from. He soon became tired and lay down on a knoll where the Sun had melted the snow. He fell fast asleep and, while sleeping, the hot Sun shrunk his bird skin coat. When the boy awoke and saw the damage to his coat, he became angry with the Sun.
Read More
For the Anishinabe people of central North America, one of the most powerful symbols for the life-force is the Sun. The need for its presence for survival is stressed in the ancient story of The Snaring of the Sun.

This story was related to early European explorers and is still told to this day in Manitoba, Canada.

According to the Anishinabe culture of Central North America, a long time ago, when animals reigned on the Earth, an orphaned sister lived on the edge of the forest with her tiny brother whose name was Pikojigiiwizens. The sister looked after her brother carefully, as he was so little that a bird could have flown away with him. One day, she made him a bow and some arrows and told him to shoot some Wabanagozi or snowbirds, so that she might make him a fine coat. Some time later, while she was out walking through the forest, the little boy followed a path that his sister had warned him to stay away from. He soon became tired and lay down on a knoll where the Sun had melted the snow. He fell fast asleep and, while sleeping, the hot Sun shrunk his bird skin coat. When the boy awoke and saw the damage to his coat, he became angry with the Sun.

"Do not think you are too high", he warned, "I shall revenge myself". The sun shone brightly into his eyes and burned him. For 20 days, the little brother, mourned the loss of his coat and would not move or eat. Finally he asked his sister to make him a snare for he meant to catch the Sun. A mass of bright threads were braided into a cord. The little boy set his snare on the exact spot where the sun would strike the land as it rose. The Sun was trapped in the snare, and although it tugged and tugged it could not get loose.

When the Sun did not come up, the animals became frightened. They called a council meeting to decide who might go and cut the cord. This was dangerous task, since the Sun was sure to burn whoever came near. Even the little brother, Pikojigiiwizens tried, but the Sun was too hot. Then a tiny mouse offered to help. The animals were amused with this little mouse, but they finally agreed that it should try. The mouse climbed up the snare wire as close as possible to the Sun and to chew the cord. The mouse’s coat, eyes, feet, and hands were burnt by the heat, but finally, the snare broke. The sun rose up in the sky; light and warmth once more covered the Earth. When the mouse descended to Earth, the animals saw that it had turned into a mole - its eyes were nearly closed from the blinding rays of the Sun.

To this day, the mole prefers to live in darkness.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Snaring the Sun

A mass of bright threads were braided into a chord to make a snare to catch the sun.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


Snaring the Sun

When the mouse climbed up the snare wire as close as possible to the sun, it began to chew the chord.

The Manitoba Museum

© The Manitoba Museum


Animation

Animation of the bear story.

Flash Video

Nimishomis, my grandfather, where do the moon and stars come from? Who puts them there? Grandfather, please tell me about them.

Noshins, my grandson, I don’t know everything there is to know; but I know the things that were taught to me by my Elders. I can tell you some of the stories now, as it is winter.

In the summertime when the plants are all alive and the animals are roaming about, we cannot talk about these things, of the spirits of all living things might hear me and I might say something that could offend them.

We can speak of these things only in the winter when the spirits are resting.

Tell me about the stars Nimishomis, how did they get up there?

A long time ago, Noshins, there were no stars. There were only two moons and the sun.

There was a young boy, named Little Bear, who lived with his grandfather. His father was Big Bear, who lived in the Sky world.

One night as they sat around the fire, as you and I are doing right now. Little Bear asked his grandfather about the two moons.

I wonder if anyone lives on those moons? Why do we have two moons when one is enough?

As grandfather placed an offering of tobacco, into the fire in honour and respect for the spirits, given to him by his grandson, he began to tell Little Bear about the two worlds, each with one moon.

Long ago, we shared the sun with the other world, as everything was equal and people lived in harmony with each other.

In time, things began to change and the evil soon took over the world.

The good people fled and came to our world, but the evil followed.

Evil tried to control our lives and our world, so our people prayed to the Creator for help. The Creator took pity on us and sent the evil people back to their world, far away from the sun. He took away their moon and left them in darkness.

The Creator then told our people that one day a child would come who would have the power to make a place in the sky for all of us.

After his task on Earth was finished, the child would be given a special place in the heavens beside his father, Big Bear.

Little Bear was fascinated and he could not forget this story. One night he had a dream about his bow and arrow. The dream disturbed him very much.

The next morning, Little Bear asked his grandfather the meaning of the dream. Grandfather did not reply for a long time – finally he said:

Noshins, you must prepare yourself for what is to come. Neither you nor anyone else can change what is destined for you.

One day, Little Bear felt compelled to go to the big hill which stood outside his village.

Picking up his bow and arrow, he kissed his grandfather good-bye, and began to climb to the highest point on the hill.

Little Bear stood up tall and with his arrow, took careful aim, at the brightest of the two moons.

With all his strength, he pulled back on the bowstring as far as he could.[24]When he released it, the arrow sailed into the sky and hit the moon. There was an enormous explosion and the moon shattered, like broken glass, into millions of pieces.

Little Bear was stunned with amazement when he saw the sky filled with new stars. It was at this moment that he realized the meaning of his dream.

For the last time, looked down at his grandfather’s lodge and whispered…

Good-bye, grandfather.

The excitement he felt made his heart beat faster and faster as his spirit rose up into the sky towards the stars and his father.

Canadian Heritage Information Network

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Be able to relate stories from Anishinabe culture about objects in space
  • Appreciate the importance of astronomy to the Anishinabe
  • Comprehend and interpret stories communicated through text, images, and audio media

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