Miigwech Mr Fred Kelly
Mr. Fred Kelly.
Fred Kelly is from the Ojibways of Onigaming and is a citizen of the Anishinaabe
Nation in Treaty Number Three. He is a member of Midewewin, the Sacred Law
and Medicine Society of the Anishinaabe. He is a custodian of Sacred Law and has
been called upon to conduct ceremonies across Canada and in the United States,
Mexico, Japan, Argentina, and Israel. He is head of Nimishomis-Nokomis Healing
Group Inc., a consortium of spiritual healers and Elders that provides therapy to
victims of the trauma and the horrific legacy of the residential school system. Fred
is a survivor of St. Mary’s Residential School in Kenora, Ontario, and St. Paul’s High
School in Lebret, Saskatchewan. He was a member of the Assembly of First Nations
team that negotiated the historic Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
and continues to advise on its implementation. He has served as chief of his own
community, grand chief of the Anishinaabe Nation in Treaty Number Three, and
Ontario regional director of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Fred is fluent in
Anishinaabe World View and Cosmology
In the beginning, the Creator placed the four colours of mankind in the four
directions: the yellows to the east, the blacks to the south, the reds to the west,
and the whites to the north. To each was given special gifts and instructions by
which to live in harmony with all creation. The people of the four colours would
come together and, abiding by their respective instructions, would thrive in
the collective prosperity of the human family. While distinct from each other,
they were nevertheless equal in life, in will, and in freedom before the one and
only Supreme Being; however, each one would understand the Creator.
For the Anishinaabe, life is Pimaatiziwin, and its meaning is more than
mere existence in a chronological progression of time. It is perfect, and it
is intrinsically connected to Kizhemanito, the Great Spirit—the maker of
all things. Therefore, like the Creator, life has no beginning and no end—
everything that ever was continues to be, and everything that will ever be
already exists in spirit. Pimaatiziwin, then, is the completeness and totality of
creation itself imbued with the spirit of the Creator.
In every direction of the sky is the eternal expanse of our cosmos in which, far
beyond the human mind and eye, the physicality of life began. The Creator
summoned four spiritual beings who, in their sacred essence, were in colours
we would come to see as red, green, blue, and yellow. With them, the Creator
shared his wishes for creation. Blowing a sacred wind toward one another
with such force and speed, they created the breath of life that would permeate
Sky Order Woman (Nenaikiishigok), who had been given the duty
to maintain perfect harmony in the heavens, thus assigned all starbeings to
their places. We see them even to this day and night. Then she asked others to
encircle the clearing that had been created by the swirling winds. This opening
came to be known by the Anishinaabe as Pagonekiishig, meaning “Hole-inthe-sky.”
The constellation Pagonekiishig is seen clearly as four concentric
circles consisting of eight stars in each circle. These circles would become the
life channel for life in our world, and it reveals the genesis of the Anishinaabe.
Amidst all the starbeings was the special one that we call Grandmother Earth.
At first, only the grandfathers—the mountains, the rocks, the boulders, the stones, the gravel, and the finest of sand were on Grandmother. Then soon they
wanted to share their place with other beings and asked the Creator to bring
down other life. In time, one by one, four star spirit ladies appeared.
The first one announced as she came down: “The Great Spirit has heard
your pleas. And has sent me down to you.” As she spoke, something the
grandfathers had never seen before began to trickle amongst them. She spoke
again: “That which you see among you is saltwater. The Grand Father will place
all waterbeings there, and I will look after all that. I will be with you forever.”
The second star spirit lady now made her appearance and spoke: “The Maker
of Life has heard your invocations, and I have also been sent down to you.” As
she spoke, mists of water began to rise, forming clouds that fell back upon
the rocks. “That which rises and falls upon you will cleanse and purify you
and all the life that will grow among you. I will look after the rainwater. And I
shall be with you forever.”
The third star spirit lady came down and said: “Now among you have been
placed your brothers and sisters: the trees, the plants, the winged-ones, the
four-leggeds, the waterbeings, and the crawlers. They will need to drink and
be nurtured. I will look after the freshwater of the lakes, rivers, streams, and
springs. And I shall be with you forever.”
Finally, the fourth star spirit lady came down and spoke kindly and softly:
“The Grand Father has also sent me in answer to your invocations. He has
heard you and is now preparing to send the two-legged brother down for you
to love. He will be absolutely dependent on everyone and everything else in
creation—all of us. He will carry sacred gifts of our Grand Father Creator, but
he will not know how to use them unless we show him. We will all look after
him and we will give him everything he needs. So helpless will he be that he
will need to be cradled in sacred water inside the woman before he is born.
It will be thirteen times for the Grandmother-That-Lights-The-Night-Sky to
shine in her full glory before this one is born—four times as we prepare the
woman who will carry him and nine more while he is inside the woman. I
will look after the birth water and I shall be with you forever.”
The Origin of Turtle Island
So it was that the Anishinaabe came down through Pagonekiishig and was
placed on Turtle Island, the western hemisphere. Why do they call it Turtle
Island? The Turtle is one of the most exalted spiritual healers and benefactors
of the Anishinaabe. Among his many other functions, he is the principal
messenger in the shaking tent ceremony that is used in healing. He has
sacred roles both on land and in water. The Grandmother-That-Lights-The- Night-Sky so loves him that on each occasion of the full moon, she comes to
kiss him. Now, look on the back of the Turtle’s shell (carapace) and one can
count thirteen platelets that form the shell—five down the middle and four
on each side—one platelet for each time the Grandmother has kissed the
Turtle. Thus, for the Anishinaabe, there are thirteen moons in one lunar year.
So the Anishinaabe accepts this hemisphere as Turtle Island and knows it as
his special place i n creation.
Nanaboshoo – the First Anishinaabe
The first Anishinaabe was Nanaboshoo. There are many stories of his
adventures, especially about his relationships to nature and the spirit world.
Western-oriented writers have attempted to usurp his value as the first man
by relegating him as a mere trickster in folklore and myth. But read Ronald
Wright’s views on myths in his book Stolen Continents:
The word myth sometimes has a debased meaning nowadays—as a synonym
for lies or fairy stories—but this is not the definition I intend. Most history, when
it has been digested by a people, becomes myth. Myth is an arrangement of the
past, whether real or imagined, in patterns that resonate with a culture’s deepest
values and aspirations. Myths create and reinforce archetypes so taken for granted,
so seemingly axiomatic, that they go unchallenged. Myths are so fraught with
meaning that we live and die by them. They are the maps by which cultures navigate
through time. Those vanquished by our civilization see that its myth of discovery
has transformed historical crimes into glittering icons. Yet from the West’s vantage
point, the discovery myth is true. Nanaboshoo is alive and strong in traditional Anishinaabe life. He is
responsible for the second creation after the great flood that destroyed the
earth. He is capable of transformation. He is the Creator’s baby, factually
and figuratively. He has all the gifts of the Creator, yet he is totally reliant
on nature to survive. He learned his survival skills by emulating the birds,
waterbeings, crawlers, and the animals. He named them all and gave them
their distinctive markings and personalities. His adventures are replete
with his creations and inventions. His misadventures are the source for
the Anishinaabe’s sense of humour and his ability to laugh at himself. He
discovers new ways of doing things and assumed new perspectives. He
was given all healing and medicinal powers. He named all the trees and
knew the healing powers of all flora and fauna. He was at once man and
deity with supernatural powers, but did not and still does not know quite
how to use them rightly except in sacred ceremony. Who else can this be
but the Anishinaabe? Nanaboshoo is a spiritual archetype. Incidentally,
when Anishinaabe people meet, they will greet each other saying, “Boshoo!”
This has been misinterpreted as a poor emulation of the French salutation,
“Bonjour.” The conjecture is not true. Boshoo is a contraction of Nanaboshoo— an affectionate acknowledgement of the person being greeted as a brother or
sister through a common progenitor.
The Meaning of “Anishinaabe”
The Anishinaabe is at once proud and humbled by his origin: proud that he is
integral to creation, humbled that he is totally dependent on it, and yet loved by
all spirits. The word Anishinaabe is a self-designation and has two meanings:
• The spiritual meaning of Anishinaabe comes from its two
components: niisiina means “descended,” and naabe means “male.”
Hence, “the man descended.” In the context of spiritual genesis,
this morpheme brings all the sacred nuances of man and creation
together in the one word.
• The second meaning is colloquial: anishaa means “of no worth or
value, nothing.” Combined with naabe, it means “man of no value.”
But the Creator does not make anything of no value. It simply
means that the Anishinaabe sees himself as neither above nor
below any other life form.
There is no mention of the woman. To put this into proper perspective, the
star spirit ladies who came in answer to the Grandfather’s invocations at
the beginning of life on earth are sacred. They fulfilled sacrosanct functions
and are still with us, as they said. Women, as we see them, are still endowed
with all the spiritual powers of these star spirit ladies and are, therefore,
inherently sacred. To refer to them as anishaa or being of no value like the
man would be to denigrate their sacred nature as the carriers of life.
The Anishinaabe Nation continues to occupy a vast territory on Turtle Island,
a tract that runs generally from the Maritimes in Canada and south along
the Canadian Shield, west through the prairies, on to the Rocky Mountains,
and then southeast to the present-day shores of the Carolinas. To be sure, we
share this territory with other Indigenous nations. You know us by various
foreign designations. In the Atlantic Coast, we may be referred to as the
Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Abenaki, and other names; in Quebec, we are the Innu
and Algonquins; in Ontario, we are the Ojibway, Ojibwa, or Chippewa;
in Manitoba we are called Saulteaux; in Saskatchewan, we call ourselves
Nakaini; in the Rocky Mountain country, we are the Blackfoot; in Montana,
we are the Cheyenne; the state of Illinois is named after us; in Texas, where
some of our nation has settled, we are the Kickapoos. Some of us have also
settled in northern California. The people of the nation are also known by
other names that may reflect a clan or their geography. But we are all part of
the larger Anishinaabe nation and recognize each other as such.
The Seven Laws of Creation
The Anishinaabe received the seven fundamental laws of creation to mediate
his relationship with all other life: love, kindness, sharing, respect, truth,
courage, and humility. The Anishinaabe sought to follow the meaning of
these laws and came to understand that they could be deciphered through
the sacred four that had touched him during his descent.
The Principles of the Sacred Four
Pagonekiishig: the four concentric circles of stars in Pagonekiishig reveal the
gifts that give form and meaning to the sacred four of Anishinaabe spirituality.
There are four layers of the sky: red, green, blue, and yellow; and there are four
spiritual lodges: sweat lodge, shake tent, round house, and learning lodge.
There are four drums: little rattle drum, water drum, hand drum, and
ceremonial drum; and there are four pipes: red, yellow, black, and white.
There are four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter; and there are four
stages in temporal life: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and elderhood.
There are four types of clans: winged ones, four-leggeds, waterbeings, and
These are but a few examples that are only intended to indicate why the
Anishinaabe’s fondness for doing and seeing in fours.
Spiritualities: spirituality is a personal relationship with the Creator, and
there are four principal societies through which an individual adherent
may live this relationship. The way within each society is as individual as
it is personal and is guided by its own ceremonies. But the four ways are
complementary, meaning that a person can belong to all four: the spirituality
of the east is Waabanowin; the spirituality of the south is Shaawanowin;
the spirituality of the west is Ogimaawin; and the spirituality of the north is
Midewewin, the principal society.
At the appropriate time of each season, especially in the spring, the
water drum calls toward the four directions beckoning all Anishinaabe
into spiritual council. They meet at principal places in lodges or places
specially designated for ceremonial purposes. Here the laws are recited
and feasted. Civil ceremonies are performed. Relationships with other
nations are feasted and celebrated. The well-being of the nation is
scrutinized. The state of the land and resources is analyzed. Medicines
and new therapies are dispensed. Healing ceremonies are conducted.
External threats and opportunities are considered, and internal strengths
and weaknesses are balanced.
Media of Sacred Symbols: the Anishinaabe is considered to be mostly an
oral society. As such, some of the modes used to transmit knowledge are by
means of language, song, visual symbolism, mental communication, and
practice of spirituality that do not separate the sacred and the secular in
daily life. In addition to the oral traditions, the Anishinaabe have a rich
and powerful tapestry of symbolic media. The meanings of sacred events
in their history are stored in birch bark scrolls, rock and earth formations
(petroglyphs), and painted visions (pictographs), to name some of the other
media. Sacred offerings are placed where these are found.
Language is the principal means by which culture is transmitted from
one generation to the next. It is especially vital for oral societies like the
Indigenous people of Turtle Island. The very meaning of world views and
traditional lifeways are understandable in their original languages. The
origin, the history, the peoples’ relationship to the spiritual world, and the
land are in the language. The totality of social, cultural, economic, and
political systems of Indigenous nations is also in their native languages. The
cultural nuances and intricacies of Indigenous constitutions, laws, and
governance structures must be explained and understood in the language
of origin. A language is one’s identity. A language is an inviolable gift to the
Indigenous peoples from the Creator and their ancestors.
The Spiritual Name and Identity: the spiritual name is one’s actual spiritual
identity. According to the Anishinaabe belief system, each person is a spirit
becoming manifested in bodily form through birth. A name is not selected
as a mere matter of personal or parental preference. An Elder or a respected
member of the community is chosen to conduct a ceremony. Really, it is
not so much a name-giving ceremony as it is an invocation to confirm the
spiritual identity. In effect, it is the passing on of a spiritual identity to an
individual. But it must be done lest the individual becomes spiritually lost,
disoriented, or even ill for lack of the spiritual identity.
It is not unusual for a person to receive more than one name because spirits
constitute one whole spiritual entity. Names may be given before, during, or
some time after birth, although parents are urged to have the ceremony done
as quickly as possible. Other names may be given out of love or honour, for
strength, and also for recovery from an illness. In this way, a name will heal,
and a name-giving ceremony is therapeutic to form part of one’s personal
reconciliation when it is needed.
Ndotem: The Clan System
The Anishinaabe also enjoy a spiritual connection referred to as the ndotem
system of relationship from which the word totem originates. It is told that at a time when the earth was totally covered with ice, the
Anishinaabe found themselves in extremely dire circumstances. They were
freezing, homeless, starving, and facing certain death as a people.
The White Bear (Waabimuhkwah) came down from the north and saw the
sorrowful conditions of the people. He took pity on the poor people and
adopted them. He cared for them and protected them as little brothers
and sisters, and thus became the first ndotem (clan). Then, the White Wolf
(Waabimaaingan) came down from the east and also adopted the Anishinaabe
in their miserable situation as brother and sister to become the second clan.
In like manner, the White Winged Spirit of the south (Waabibinesse) came
down in kindness and adopted the Anishinaabe. The White Buffalo (Paashkote
Pishikii) then came down from the west and adopted the Anishinaabe and
became the fourth original ndotem. In time, all other spiritual beings followed
until all Anishinaabe families were adopted forming the original clan system.
These events established the sacred lifeline to the four-leggeds, the winged
ones, the waterbeings, and the crawlers who continue to look after the
Anishinaabe. It also explains the spiritual dependence of the Anishinaabe
on other life that enabled them to survive and maintain continuity. The
Anishinaabe who seek personal healing and reconciliation must therefore
know his or her clan. It is absolutely vital to the spiritual identity