Midewiwin Roots

In Turtle Island (North America), the last 60 years have been monumental in terms of Indigenous (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit) participation in all sectors of the greater non-Indigenous society and in the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and governments. 60 years ago Indigenous people were not considered citizens of the country, despite the fact we fought in World Wars 1 and 2. We were also severely impacted by various policies designed to assimilate and remove all components of our respective cultures. Policies of colonization such as the pass system, enfranchisement, residential schools, and the 60s scoop, effectively marginalized our populations. The 1970s, however, saw a large revitalization and a renewal of our cultural ways and traditions correlating with the Civil Rights Movement and the continual protection of our ceremonies, traditions, and languages by our Elders.

We began to utilize our own cultural understandings and teachings to empower our communities. There was also encouragement for our people to understand and become educated in the Euro-Canadian society. As this movement continued, we entered into the educational systems in greater numbers. While we were educating ourselves within the structures of Canadian society, we also returned to, reclaimed, and revitalized our own cultural teachings to help address the colonial legacy our people were dealing with and are still dealing with today. Fast forward to 2017 and we are returning to our full conceptualization of who we are as Indigenous people; we are also experiencing reconciliation with non-Indigenous peoples and governments, not just within the scope of the residential schools, but within all areas of our now recognized shared society. We have become increasingly valued as contributing members to the overall economic and social well being of the country. Our current revitalization and resurgence is in part due to the reinvigoration of our traditional ways of knowing and being in the world expressed through traditional Indigenous spiritual and medicine societies like that of the Midewiwin held and kept in secrecy during the times of prosecution our people faced.

Minweyweywigaan Lodge

Minweyweywigaan Lodge or the “Good Sounding Lodge” is made up of Indigenous people from various Indigenous Nations across Canada and the United States who are a part of a larger group of Anishinaabeg (Ojibway people) known as the Midewiwin (The Way of the Heart/ Grand Medicine) Society. We have two physical locations: Our Western Doorway at Roseau River Anishinaabe Nation in Southern Manitoba on the traditional Ceremonial grounds of Roseau Rapids and our Eastern Doorway is at Wiikwemkoong Unceded Anishinaabeg Nation on the traditional Nimkii Bineshi Kaaning (Thunderbird Park) Powwow grounds. We are still one Lodge, however, from East to West and we are dedicated to the preservation, regeneration, and transmission of Anishinaabe spirit, language, and culture

Ogimaa Mizhakwanigiizhik (Clearsky)/ Nibidekwaneb (Feathers in Row), Charlie Nelson our current Head Lodge Keeper was born into the Midewiwin Society. His father, grandfather, and generations of his people were Midewiwin. Ogimaa-Kwe Asinii-Kwe (Spirit in the Rock Woman), Edna Manitowabi is our other Head Lodge Keeper and her history as a leader in the promotion of Anishinaabe language, culture revitalization, and education is widely known. They were both at the forefront of the Indigenous cultural resurgence movement that began to occur in the 1970s after the disruption to our respective Nations from colonial impositions.

With many Indigenous people actively returning to their traditional ways, Midewiwin Lodges were resurrected in a more open, public fashion. Our leadership has roots within one of the most largest and known Lodges, Three Fires. Ten years ago, there were more and more people seeking that Mino-Bimaadiziwin in the West. With Charlie and Edna taking up Ogimaa re- sponsibilities, the Midewiwin Lodge at Roseau River emerged again. Our leadership decided upon the name Minweyweywigaan Midewiwin Lodge, that “beautiful/good sounding” Lodge, to shelter Anishinaabeg cultural and traditional ways in a safe and kind environment.

As an entity, Minweyweywigaan Lodge is continuing to expand as more of our own people recognize the inherent value of our traditional ways in addressing the various issues facing our communities, from suicide to addictions, to parenting, to violence and abuse. We have seen the benefits of our Ceremonies in concrete ways, but the most telling sign is our growth. In 2014, for instance, we had 45 Lodge Members; in 2022, we now number over 600 Midewiwin in both East and Western Doorways with approximately 70 new initiates every year. Many Midewiwin are successful in all areas: we have professors, lawyers, business people, educators, language specialists, nurses, accountants, and doctors amongst us as well as traditional counsellors and traditional medicinal practitioners.

Minweyweywigaan Midewiwin are committed to serving their people in various ways including conducting ceremonies such as water, grief, naming, adoption, fasting, coming of age and others. We offer guidance and counsel to help others understand Anishinaabe ways of being in the world and to learn how one might apply those principles in their day to day life to achieve success. The Midewiwin seek to practice and live the Original Teachings that have been handed down for generations, such as that of the 7 Grandfather Teachings: Nbwaakaawin (Wisdom) Za- agidwin (Love) Mnaadendmowin-(Respect) Aakdehewin (Bravery) Gwekwaadziwin (Hon- esty) Dbaadendizwin (Humility) and Debwewin (Truth). Each Lodge Member works to continually stay on the path of Mino-Bimaadiziwin, the Good Life, and to be representatives of that life way for others and for the generations to come. The Midewiwin Society, itself, is open to anyone who is of Indigenous ancestry. If someone wishes to become a member, they come and visit the Lodge over a number of seasons, putting their “hands on the work.” When they are ready to commit to Mino-Bimaadiziwin, they “initiate” into the society in a year long process. Once they are a member, they are so for life and continue to attend “Ceremonies.”

In the pre-Covid19 context, Minweyweywigaan Midewewin Ceremonies were held over our 4 days, 4 times a year seasonally with anywhere between 400 to 1500 visitors. While only Indigenous people can initiate into the Society and become Midewiwin, the Ceremonies are open to Indigenous people who are not Midewiwin, community members, and others who might need our help or wish to learn about our society and practices, including non-Indigenous people. Anyone who desires to attend is welcome to do so. Everything is free of charge.

During spring and summer, people have had the option of camping right at our site. We have another building we use during the winter; most people end up securing hotel rooms from surrounding area businesses during the colder seasons. At all seasonal sites, we provide access to bathroom facilities, and food in the form of feasts two times a day for the 4 days. If we have enough, we provide breakfast and snacks. We also purchase wood, water, fuel and other items as needed based on funds available. As a grassroots Indigenous organization, we have no political or economic affiliation and are completely self funded. Lodge members and visitors donate and/or give food or whatever is needed. We have various grassroots funding projects like our “Mide Mart” which is essentially a store we operate during Ceremonies in addition to Facebook auction site known as Indigenous Sweetgrass Roots created for the 2017 For the Earth and Water Walk. The Facebook Auction site is now utilized as an Indigenous grassroots funding option for families in need, communities facing crisis, Indigenous grassroots organizations, and for the Lodge.

The fact we receive next to little support from non-Indigenous people, businesses, and governments is a reflection of our current realities as still oppressed Nations living within colonial states. The reluctance by the non-Indigenous society to fund us in equal fashion to other non-Indigenous institutions is tied into the capitalist economy and the reliance on resource extraction. Our Lodge creates healthy Indigenous people who, in turn, do the work to create healthy families, communities, and Nations. There is a vested interest in ensuring we do not return to our full capacity as Indigenous people; healthy, thriving Nations threaten the core of the colonial state. For us to return to our full capacity, “Canada” would not be able to exist as it does today.

Like other Midewiwin Lodges, we are an Indigenous grassroots, spiritually centred organization who have sustained ourselves for decades, drawing upon the long history of our Ancestors. We will continue to do so into the future as we have many young people growing up in our Lodge and, like those Ancestors, we are adaptive, resilient, and innovative. While colonization was a severe interruption to our Indigenous Nations, and we continue to deal with the fall out in addition to new challenges like Covid19, our Old Ones ensured they kept our bundles safe and they have given us the keys to ensure we continue to carry their knowledge into the future for our next seven generations and beyond; reimagined, perhaps, but viable, nonetheless.

In the Midewiwin Lodge, there are pathways and doors that can be opened, but there is only one road. It stretches from the past to the present and into the future. When we are only a thought in the universe, we can still see this road. We are told we have agency and some of us find it before we are even born. Biidaasige-ba Mandamin’s path was through the Lodge and into the Water.

The Water Walks emerge from the Midewiwin Society and the Water Bundles carried by the Grandmothers and Grandfathers of our respective Lodges. There are multiple Midewiwin Lodges throughout Turtle Island who helped protect, hide, and preserve the Water teachings. Biidaasige-Ba and the other Grandmothers who were a part of the original Water Walks all emerged from the doorway of Three Fires Lodge. The Water Walks, although open to everyone from all cultures and traditions including Indigenous people from different spiritual societies, are rooted in the Midewiwin tradition. The cultural protocols and teachings cannot be divorced from the Midewiwin; to do so would be a grave injustice to all those Old Ones who carried the spiritual responsibility of the Water Bundles, including Biidaasige-Ba.

Written by: Bimosay Aki Kwe, (Tasha Beeds), nêyo nakiwin Ndoo-njibaa Makwa N’doodem, Niizhoo Mide ndaaw, nêhiyaw iskwêw ndaaw. If there are any errors, I take full responsibility for them.

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