- Marked by FireAnishinaabe Articulations of Nationhood in Treaty Making with the United States and Canada
Nenabozho was being brought up by his grandmother.1
And so by and by he said to his grandmother: “Don’t you know of a place where there are some people.”
“Yes,” he was told by his grandmother. “In yonder direction on the farther shore of the sea are some people.”
“I am curious to know if they do not possess fire.”
“Yes,” he was told by his grandmother; “they do possess some fire.”
Upon this revelation, Nenabozho said that he would go and try to fetch some of that fire. His grandmother warned him that it would be a difficult task, one that he would likely not succeed in. But Nenabozho was determined.
Now this was what he then said afterward: “I will that the sea shall freeze, as thick as the birch-bark covering of the lodge so let this sea freeze.”
It was true that it happened as he had said.
“Now, this is the way I shall look,” he said. “I will that I become a hare.” So accordingly that truly was the way he looked.
Nenabozho had conjured a method for acquiring fire. Across the water, an old man sat constantly working on his net. As the old man had two daughters, Nenabozho thought he would transform himself into a hare, knowing the young girls would take to him in that form. And with this thought, he willed it to be. Then he thought that the lake would freeze, and thus it was so. Nenabozho ran across this lake. He willed those young girls to come find him and to take him into their home. And so it was. The girls placed Nenabozho by the fire so that he could dry. Yet their loud giggling alarmed their father, who came to investigate what his daughters were up to.
“Beware!” they were told by their father. “Have you not heard of the manitous how they were born?2 Perhaps this might be one of them.” [End Page 119]
When he heard these words of caution, Nenabozho knew he needed to act quickly. He willed a spark of that fire to jump onto him, and so it was. And thus he leaped out the window and began running across the frozen lake. The old man pursued him, but to no avail. Nenabozho ran quickly and soon returned home. But he was much on fire. He pleaded to his grandmother to rub the fire off of him, and she did. And thus they had fire. Yet Nenabozho was marked by this quest. His white fur had turned brown, scorched from carrying the fire across the lake. And so Nenabozho proclaimed, “Therefore such shall be the look of the hare in the summer-time.”3
Marked by Fire: Defining Anishinaabe Nationhood
The story, known as “The Theft of Fire,” illustrates numerous meanings and teachings crucial to understanding Anishinaabe nationhood. This story contains two discernible points. First, it reveals how the Anishinaabe obtained fire.4 Fire, ishkode, is a central element in the Anishinaabe worldview. Ishkode is the force of the creation of the Earth, reflected in the Earth’s molten core. This relationship of fire to creation is, furthermore, mapped in the sky by the northern lights—“jiibayag niimi’idiwag” (they are the northern lights).5 The northern lights are considered to be reflections of the ancestors’ fires, illuminating the path of souls traveling to the land of the deceased.6 Anishinaabe folk etymologies have often identified ishkode as the heart of the Earth and of the people and point out its apparent inclusion of the morpheme ode’, meaning “heart.”7 Thus fire appears as a central element that begins with the creation of the Earth, becomes the heart of the nation, and lights the way “home.”8 Fire, then, appears throughout the cycle of creation, or life.
The centrality of fire within the Anishinaabe worldview is illustrated by its importance in ceremonial practices. Fire is a vital component in many ceremonial practices, which begin with the lighting of a fire and end with its extinguishment. Fire also serves...