Living with Animals: Ojibwe Spirit Powers

Living with Animals: Ojibwe Spirit Powers

Weight 0.00 lbs
By Michael Pomedli
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2013
World Rights
384 Pages 117 Images
ISBN 9781442614796
Published Feb 2014
Online discount: 25%
 $38.95    $29.21
ISBN 9781442647015
Published Feb 2014
Online discount: 25%
 $85.00    $63.75
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442667051
Published Feb 2014
Online discount: 26%
Full purchase $38.95

Within nineteenth-century Ojibwe/Chippewa medicine societies, and in communities at large, animals are realities and symbols that demonstrate cultural principles of North American Ojibwe nations. Living with Animals presents over 100 images from oral and written sources – including birch bark scrolls, rock art, stories, games, and dreams – in which animals appear as kindred beings, spirit powers, healers, and protectors.

Michael Pomedli shows that the principles at play in these sources are not merely evidence of cultural values, but also unique standards brought to treaty signings by Ojibwe leaders. In addition, these principles are norms against which North American treaty interpretations should be reframed. The author provides an important foundation for ongoing treaty negotiations, and for what contemporary Ojibwe cultural figures corroborate as ways of leading a good, integrated life.

Michael Pomedli is an emeritus professor of Philosophy at St Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan.


  • Challenging Western thought
  • The power of bear grease
  • Bears as persons
  • Transformative possibilities make definitive judgments difficult


  • Scope of this book
  • Geography of the Ojibwe
  • Goals and methodology
  • Use of terms; spellings, illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Genesis of this book
  • Permissions

Chapter One: The Grand Medicine Society, the Midewiwin

  • Membership
  • Wabeno, Jessakkid, and Midewiwin
  • Origins of the Midewiwin
  • Cosmic ordering
  • Nanabush
  • Health and the Midewiwin
  • Functions of the Midewiwin
  • Sound of the drum
  • Medicine bags
  • Birch bark scrolls, the lodge, teachings, ceremonies
  • Midewiwin and rock art
  • Bear, the “guiding spirit of the Midewiwin”
  • Megis/shell
  • Midewiwin and leadership

Chapter Two: “Paths of the Spirit”: Moral Values in the Writings of Four 19th-Century Ojibwe in the Spirit of the Midewiwin

  • Peter Jones: Like the “red squirrel” who stores nuts, store works of the Great Spirit
  • Andrew J. Blackbird: “The Great Spirit is looking upon thee continually”
  • George Copway: “I am one of Nature’s children.”
  • William Whipple Warren: ”There is much yet to be learned from the wild and apparently simple son of the forest”

Chapter Three: Otter: the Playful Slider

  • Physical otter
  • Otter as representational
  • Otter as patterned
  • Otter and Ojibwe standards of life

Chapter Four: Owls: Images and Voices in the Ojibwe and Midewiwin World

  • Classification and characteristics of owls
  • Owl as bad luck, bad medicine
  • Owl as protector and healer
  • Owl as a teacher of altruism
  • Owl and directions, winds and seasons
  • Owl and the dead
  • Owl and conservation
  • Owl and origin of day and night
  • Representations of owl

Chapter Five: Omnipresent and Ambivalent Bears

  • Bears’ anatomy, physiology, and behavior
  • Ojibwe relationships with bears
  • Representations of bear in ceremonial performances
  • Near identity of bears and Ojibwe
  • Bear in the Midewiwin ceremonies
  • Totems/dodems, clans
  • Evil bears
  • Bear as archshadow
  • Bear as celestial
  • Bears and visions of sound
  • Bear as medicine and healer: following the bear path
  • Bear as patterned
  • Bear as child abductor
  • Bear as environmental guardian, mother
  • Games
  • Bear and greed

Chapter Six: Water Creatures

  • Harmful creatures
  • Snakes and the afterlife
  • Helpful creatures
  • Women, water and snakes
  • Sea creatures and copper
  • Sea creatures and silver
  • The Little People

Chapter Seven: Thunderbirds

  • Thunderbirds as givers
  • Interrelationships among humans, sky and water creatures
  • Birds and play
  • Thunderbirds and Ojibwe life
  • Thunderers as communicators and protectors
  • Thunderbird symbolism


Appendix A
Leadership among Ojibwe

Appendix B
The sweat lodge

Appendix C
Bear as celestial

Appendix D
Ojibwe historical relationship with copper

Appendix E
Lacrosse and war




“Pomedli’s book is a work of careful, well-documented scholarship on animal symbolism in the Ojibwe Midewiwin, an important topic which has not been much addressed by earlier scholars. The author has clearly done an enormous amount of careful research, gathering information from many kinds of sources, including traditional narratives, birchbark scrolls and petroglyphs, and textiles and other media.”

Lawrence Martin, Professor Emeritus of American Indian Studies, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

Living with Animals is the work of a mature scholar, based on years of experience in the field. Pomedli’s unique methodology has applications in Native Studies beyond the discussion of Algonquian culture.”

J. Douglas Rabb, co-author of 'Indian from the Inside: Native American Philosophy and Cultural Renewal'

‘This engaging and engrossing study focuses on the cultural forms of Native expression in 19th-century Ojibwe medicine societies and communities… Living with Animals offers an impressive amount of meticulous data—including traditional narratives, scrolls, textiles, and petroglyphs.’

A.R. McKee, Choice vol 52:02:2014

‘An impressive piece of scholarship and it breaks new ground regarding the Midewiwin or Grand Medicine Society… Living with Animals is a welcome resource for students and scholars and I also highly recommend to general readers who have an interest in native spirituality.’

Lawrence T. Martin, Prairie Messenger July 2, 2014

‘This book makes a unique contribution to the literature on Ojibwe culture by emphasizing the place of animal and spiritual beings in nineteenth-century Ojibwe ontology, behavior and world view.’

Darrel Manitowabi, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies vol 34:02:2014