The Anishinaabek were always well acquainted with the world around them. They would find their directions using a variety of ways to navigate the forests and prairies where they hunted and lived.
During local travel around a new camping area, men out hunting might break branches along the way to mark their passage in a quick and easy way to facilitate their return travel. A woman going only a short distance from home to gather berries or other resources might break little twigs, one at a time along the way, and several at a turn in the direction in which she turned, so that she would know the way again.
When the Anishinaabek were in an area that they were not well acquainted with, they would mark their trail in order to make return possible, or would make marks so that others who followed them would know where to go. In doing this, the first ones would chip bark off the trunks of trees, often marking them with symbols (clan markings or general markings known to all), If the direction was to change, a tree might be marked on two sides, one chip in line with the direction from which the family came and the other in line with the direction to which they had turned. If the distance to be traveled was long, and it seemed unreasonable to mark trees along the way, a small piece of birchbark might be fastened to a tree with instructions engraved on the birchbark in a sort of map.
On the prairies where it was difficult to find brush, sticks might be driven into the ground and rags tied to the upper ends as a form of flag, while the position of the sun (Giizis) or of the North Star (Giiwedin'anung) were used to find general bearing directions on long-range travels.
Although it would rarely happen, sometimes people might become lost. In such cases a fire might be made on an elevated area and covered with a buckskin, thus smothering the flames and at the same time preventing smoke from rising. When the time was ready for signaling, the buckskin would be lifted and the smoke allowed to ascend. Immediately afterward, green grass would be thrown on the fire to smother it and it would again be covered and released, creating a large cloud of smoke that would be noticed. Such signals were usually based upon an agreed upon signal before families separated to hunt and gather in a new location.
W.J. Hoffman (1888) Pictography and Shamanistic rites of the Ojibwe. Smithsonian Institute
Hilger, Sister M. Inez. (1951) Chippewa child life and its cultural background. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities