THE STORY OF CONSTANCE
A journey to connection and transformation
Constance is in her mid forties. She is almost six feet tall and can appear somber or stern. She is neither. Constance is a full blood Omaha Indian from the Omaha tribe in Nebraska. Her aunt is the former chief of the tribe and her mother is a very powerful and respected elder. Constance comes from a long line of powerful women and as it turned out, she is no exception.
When I first met Constance in 2007, she had left the reservation on a trip to Minneapolis to be part of a Spirit Run. (This is a spiritual practice when runners run across country to carry a special message.) That evening we were all gathered for a dinner and social time at the Indian Center. Throughout the evening, Constance sought me out dispelling any impression I might have had of her being aloof or stern. Throughout our conversation, I was struck by her awareness, sensitivity and sparkling wit in the face of the life situation she proceeded to share with me. I learned that she had just left a painful marriage and that her four children were temporarily with her husband in South Dakota. She was in a lot of emotional pain and was struggling to regain some self esteem which had been severely battered by a cheating husband who had left her for another woman.
As the evening progressed, Constance told me about the education model she had created, based on the four directions, the earth beneath and the sky above. She wondered if her attraction to Minneapolis had something to do with her desire to develop this school eventually on her Reservation. We both wondered about her strange attraction to Minneapolis and how she felt it was so important to live here for awhile even though she had no job or source of income. She confided that she felt guided to be here but had no real idea why. Although Constance seemed depressed, a little lost and not sure of where she fit in the world, there was something special about her. Although my family and I had vowed to never allow anyone to live with us again, after some bad experiences, I found myself inviting her to do just that!
A week after Constance moved in, she got a job working in education and through that channel, was invited to a funeral of a very prominent Indian leader. She came home from that event thrilled that she had been invited to a Midewiwin ceremony in Northern Wisconsin for the following weekend. She knew very little about them or what to expect but knew it was meant to be, that it was the next step on her path. In some ways, I felt like a mother sending my kid off to summer camp. Neither or us had any idea what was to follow.
The name Midewiwin or Midewin, is the term for the Grand Medicine society of the Indians of the Great Lakes Region. In this area, it is practiced primarily by the Anishinabe, also known as Ojibwe. The name Midewiwin means mystically powerful. This society is only open to initiates who must go through a process of acceptance. Their ceremonies have a strong emphasis on healing but their ancient rituals are mostly secret and well guarded. It is not known when exactly the Midewiwin came into existence but below is a description of their creation story with a significant reference to the “mi’gis”, white shell which will re-occur throughout this story.
According to the Ojibwa (Hoffman, 1891), the Midewin came into existence when the servant (Mi’’ nabo’zho – Great Rabbit) of the Good Spirit (Dzhe Man’ido) saw the helpless condition of the A-nish’-in-a’-beg (the original people) and wanted to give them the means to protect themselves from hunger and disease. He chose to communicate with the people through an Otter, which subsequently became a sacred spirit of the Midewin. An Otter Pelt was often used thereafter as a medicine bag, which contained the sacred curing items used in the healing ritual. The Great Rabbit gave the Otter the sacred drum, rattle, and tobacco to be used in curing the sick. Through song, he related the wish of Dzhe Man’ido (Good Spirit), that the original people be spared from hunger and have long and comfortable lives. The Great Rabbit conferred upon the Otter the secrets and mysteries of the Midewin, and with his Medicine bag “shot” the sacred mi’gis into the body of the Otter. The mi’gis was a white shell that was sacred to the Midewin, and the Otter, having been ‘shot’ at with it gained immortality and the ability to pass on the secrets of the Midewin to the A-nish’-in-a’-beg, the original people.
THE PROPHECY OF THE SEVEN FIRES:
The people were visited by seven prophets who revealed seven messages referred to as fires. The first prophet told them that they must leave their homes on the East coast and follow the signs of the mi’gis (conch shell) West until they found a turtle shaped island. They were instructed to search for the water upon which grew food. (I am assuming this refers to wild rice which grows plentifully in Wisconsin and Minnesota.) They were told that if they did not do this, they would be destroyed by other nations. Each subsequent prophet or fire, guided them to the next part of the journey and exhorted them to turn away from materialism and stay on the path of the spirit. There is a significant reference to the “light skinned ones” who would appear and if they came with a pure heart and brotherhood, the two races of red and white would unite with the other two races of black and yellow and a harmonious world of peace would reign. If however, the light skinned ones come with death in their faces symbolizing greed, it would bring about the destruction of the waters, air and land.
The seventh prophet was younger than the others and it is told that he had a special glow in his eyes. He would teach the people how to return to the gifts that had been left on the side of the trail. In other words, they would remember the original instructions and help bring about peace on earth. They were told that at this time, the white race would have to make a choice as to which path they will follow: Materialism or spirituality. What ever choice they made would have consequences for everyone. The seven fires describes a very powerful journey both physically and spiritually, of a people with one foot in the past and one foot in an uncertain future. These prophecies are very similar in spirit to many other tribal prophecies I have heard.
This brief description of the seven fires is woefully simple but hopefully, it is able to give one an appreciation of the basic myths and principles governing the world Constance was about to step into.
Five o’clock on Monday morning, I was sound asleep in bed when I heard my name being called. Groggily, I realized it was Constance who was not only calling me but nudging me to move over so she could lie down. As she began her story, I snapped awake to grasp every word. Constance described how when she got there, she was informed that this was a ceremony where initiates appealed to become accepted into the society or more commonly referred to as the lodge. Everyone assumed that was what she was doing there and so when they called on her to stand up and state her case, she did. She laughed when she told me how her knees were shaking so badly it was hard to stand up. She was worried because she was the only Omaha in the place and was well aware that she didn’t really know what it was all about or why she cared so much. She stood and told them how she had been guided to come to Minneapolis and how she had followed her heart here and although she had no real idea what the implications were, she felt that these teaching were calling her. At that point, she sat down, shaken and blushing. She was told later by some of the women that the council would have a private audience with each applicant in the morning to tell them of their decision.
The next morning, Constance was called right away. When she realized that she was the first one called, her heart sunk. She thought it must be to tell her the bad news. When she entered the council chamber, she could not make eye contact with anyone and sat patiently staring at the floor while the Grand Chief spoke for a long time in Ojibwe, a language Constance did not understand. The Grand Chief, is a well known Native leader, an author and an educator. Constance had never met him before but knew of him. She had great respect for this man and found it intimidating waiting for him to address her. Finally he turned to her and in English, said “I am going to tell you a story which will explain what you are doing here.”
He began by telling her about the time in the fifties, he had visited her reservation in Nebraska to attend a sun dance. While there, he was invited to a secret meeting with people of the Shell Society. Constance explained to me that this was an ancient religion that was dying out amongst the Omaha, that her grandmother had belonged to it but Constance knew very little about it. The Grand Chief went on to explain that during that ceremony he was given two sacred sticks with petroglyphs on them. These were Midewiwin.
He went on to tell Constance that centuries before they had left the East coast and journeyed West as described in the prophesies, the Omaha and Anishinabe were one tribe. Each had settled in a different area once arriving in the mid-west. Constance found this information amazing! Nowhere in her knowledge or in any of the recorded history does it talk about the two tribes being one. There is mention of the Omaha and Quapaw being originally one but not the Anishinabe. The Grand Chief continued and explained to Constance that one of the oldest prophecies described how one day in generations to come, a child of the Omaha would find the Midewiwin and this would be one thread of the promised reunification. This reunification would symbolize the commencement of the “mending of the hoop”, a phrase used to describe the coming together of the human race. He then looked deeply at Constance and said, “That is who you are and that is what you are doing here.” “You are the bridge we have been praying for and that woman who gave me the two sacred sticks years ago was your grandmother.” At this point he began to weep as did Constance and together they wept tears of joy, humility and wonder.
It is time to talk with our Brothers and Sisters of other nations, colors and beliefs. The ideas and philosophies of yesterday may be the key to the world family’s future.