The move from the great water took 500 years
When the seven prophets came to the Anishinabe, the nation was living somewhere on the shores of the Great Salt Water in the East. The nation was so great that if one was to climb the highest mountain and look in all directions, they would not be able to see the end of the nation.” The prophets told the Anishinabe that it was their destiny to leave that land. Many did not want to leave, but the prophets told the people: “If you do not move, you will be destroyed.” It would later come to pass that most all those who stayed behind had their cultures virtually destroyed or were absorbed by the light-skinned race.
The prophet spoke then of a turtle-shaped island that would be the first of seven stopping places during the migration. Such an island was finally found in the St. Lawrence River, a short way northeast of present-day Montreal where the St. Francis River runs into the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. This is the only river of the region that flows to the West. At the place where this river joins the St. Lawrence there is a small island. This island was the first stopping place of the migration.
After some time, the people resumed their journey to the West. They were told that along their journey they would have to stand and protect themselves from attack by other nations. They were not to advocate war or violence, but when faced with conflict, they were not to shrink from it. This was the time when the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy warred with the Anishinabe.
Some of the Anishinabe had different interpretations of the prophecies. These people decided to stop along the way of the migration and set up permanent camps for their followers. Those that stayed behind were given their own flame from the original Sacred Fire.
Next the people moved down the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. Their second major stopping place was at the Ani-mi-kee' wa-bu (the place of the Thunder Water), or the place called Kichika-be-kong' (Great Falls) where water and thunder came together here and made a powerful place. The Sacred Fire was moved to this location for some time. This place is known today as Niagara Falls.
From here, the people moved to a place identified by one of the earlier prophets as “a place where two great bodies of water are connected by a thin, narrow river.” Many lives were lost in crossing this river. This place is where the Detroit River connects Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron in the North to Lake Erie in the South.
At this time and pace, three groups began to emerge in the Ojibwe nation. Each group took upon themselves certain tasks necessary for the survival of the people. There came to be a very strong spiritual sense that bound these groups together.
One of the Fire people were called the Ish-ko-day'-wa-tomi (fire people) were charged with the safekeeping of the Sacred Fire. As the people moved on the migration, this group guarded the coals of the Sacred Fire as it was carried along. These people were later called the O-day'-wa-tomi: the Potawatomi.
Another of the Fire people were called the O-daw-wahg' (trader people) were responsible for providing food goods and supplies to the nation. They took charge of the major hunting and trading expeditions. These people were later called the Ottawa.
The last of the Fire people retained the name Ojibwe were the faith keepers of the nation. They were entrusted with the keeping of the sacred scrolls and Water drum of the Midéwiwin.
The people picked up the Water drum and continued westward. They were attacked along the way by the nations later called the Sauk and Fox. They pushed on until they came to a large body of fresh water. Here, the Sacred Fire rested for a long time. This is the place that was referred to in the prophecy of the Second Fire (Lake Michigan). At this point many people drifted off by groups to look for a place to cross the great water. They knew that their journey must take them to the West, but some of the people traveled South in an attempt to go around the water. Some of the people became lost and started villages here, but those who listened to the prophesy followed the rivers to the North to an island that is known today as Walpole Island.
The people then continued following the river further and came to the northern sea of freshwater. They followed its eastern shore until they discovered a series of islands that led across the water. On the largest island the people gathered. This is the island known today as Manitoulin Island. Here, the Anishinabe gathered until Manitoulin Island became known as the capital of the Ojibwe nation. The Midéwiwin grew in following and the Clan system flourished. For some time the main body of the migration stayed on this island.
Nearby, there was another small island here where powerful ceremonies were held (Sault Ste. Marie). The fishing was excellent in the fast water and skilled fishermen could run the rapids with a canoe while standing backwards in the bow. By using a net on the end of a long pole their canoes would be full of beautiful whitefish. There was so much food in the village that this place came to support many families. Many years later, this place would become an important trading center between the Anishinabe and the Light-skinned Race.
By moving the people by canoe the people found the path to the west to where they were promised they would find “the food that grows on water”. However, along the way the Anishinabe were attacked by the people they called Ba-wahn whom they fought fiercely. The Bawahn' were later called Dakotas by the Light skinned Race.
While moving west, the northern group of Anishinabe carved muz-i-nee-bi' ah-sin' (rock markings) and symbols on the huge rock cliffs that led down to the great water. They marked sacred places and made records of their journey on the rock walls. They went all the way to the western end of the water. They named the bay there Wee-kway-doung'. Here they settled on an island (Spirit Island) at the west end of Lake Superior. The southern group eventually came to this place, too, and they also left carvings on the rocks along the southern shore of Lake Superior. It was near Spirit Island that the words of the prophets were fulfilled and the Anishinabe found “the food that grows on water.”: Ma-no'-min (wild rice).
At Spirit Island the elders of the Midéwiwin Lodge sensed that the long journey of their people was near its end. But something was missing. One of the prophets long ago had spoken of a turtle-shaped island that awaited them at the end of their journey. The southern group had seen an island fitting this description that lay in the water off of a long point of land. The people sought out this island and placed tobacco on its shore. The Sacred Shell rose up out of the water and told the people that this was the place they had been searching for. Here, the Water drum made its final stop. The Sacred Fire was carried here and here it burned brightly. This island was called Mo-ning-wun'-a-kawn-ing (the place that was dug) by the Ojibwe. It was later called Madeline Island. This name has survived to this day. The main body of the Anishinabe people gathered here and they became strong and powerful.
It is thought that the migration started around 900 A.D. It took some 500 years to complete. The descendants of these great people are where they are today because of a great prophesy and the struggles of their ancestors to find a promised land.
Further Reading: Edward Benton-Benais, The Mishomis book: the voice of the Ojibway. St. Paul, Minn.: Indian Country Press], 1979. v, 114 p.: ill.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities