Wednesday 19 May 2010

Copper Thunderbird - The Silver Curse (1969) Norval Morrisseau

The Silver Curse
Norval Morrisseau

Norval and I come from Thunder Bay, Ontario. The "Bay" is actually formed by a natural rock peninsula in the shape of a giant sleeping person that juts out into Lake Superior. To the Anishnaabe the Sleeping Giant is Nanabijou, the legendary "Spirit of the Deep Sea Water" who out of love for the Ojibway gifted them with the location of the North's richest silver mine. Using their silver the Ojibway created beautiful ornaments and tools that made the people wealthy. Nanabijou told them to never reveal the location of the mine or Nanabijou himself would be turned to stone. As the story goes one night the secret was disclosed and the intruders along with those who revealed the secret were drowned in a fierce storm. When the storm finally ended Nanabijou had turned to stone and the "Sleeping Giant" we see today was left behind.

Hiding 15 miles behind the Sleeping Giant is the second largest island archipelago on the Great Lakes. Now it is called "Isle Royale". Before that it was known as "Copper Island". To the Ojibway it is "Minong" meaning, "a good place to live". Scientists have been exploring multiple, massive "native (pure) copper" mines on Ojibway land there. They have dated wood foundations in the mines to six thousand years ago. According to Morrisseau the Ojibway have been there for at least 12,000 years. In this place where trout, whitefish, sturgeon, herring, suckers, pike, woodland caribou, beaver and loons were plentiful was the world's richest treasury of pure copper. It was also the Island paradise of a shamanic brotherhood called the Midewiwin or Grand Medicine Society who organized to share and protect the medicinal and magical knowledge of the Anishnaabe.

I believe that the Nanabijou legend of the Sleeping Giant tells an insignificant story of secret silver mines in order to better hide the greater secrets of Copper Island.

The Sleeping Giant of Lake Kitchi-Gummi
Foreground, pure "native" copper from Copper Island

Copper Nugget weighing 5,720 pounds found at a depth of 16 1/2 feet
 in a pit dug by prehistoric Indians on Copper Island.
Notice multiple hammer marks.

The copper found around Lake Superior was the purest and most important copper found in the world and was exported to the Mexican Toltecs and civilisations further south.

Ojibway legends describe the mines as being worked by “light skinned men”, who were able to identify the mines by throwing magical stones on the ground, which made the ores that contained copper ring like a bell.

A 30 cm copper statue discovered in 1660 by a missionary, Allouez, depicts a man with a beard – the native Indians do not have beards. The Anishinaabe chiefs kept special o-za-wa-bik (copper medallions) in sacred Mide bundles that were handed down from generation to generation. Each time it was handed down a new notch was carved. “In this way records were kept of the generations of Ojibwe.

In the case of Lake Superior, powerful mythic underwater creatures or manitous were believed to control copper and other resources, including animals used for food, good weather for fishing, etc., which were dispensed or held back depending on immediate circumstances, those being the negotiated terms of exchange with humans. Power was also believed to reside in copper itself, according to the Ojibwa. Copper was powerful medicine that brought wealth, health and well-being

Copper Thunderbird, Grand Shaman of the Mide, loved to wear copper ornaments and bracelets and would often speak of copper's special healing properties. He understood its significance as he was one of a long line of guardians who have succeeded in preserving 60,000 years of human pre-history. Once every seven generations a Grand Shaman is born to reinvigorate the lineage, regenerate the people, renew the environment and record the sacred scrolls. The last Grand Shaman was Badasan who in 1825 passed on his scrolls stretched out on 17 feet of birchbark.

In 2007 Norval Morrisseau passed on a legacy of thousands of shamanistic images. To all of us he left the task of understanding his visions as magical blueprints and tools provided to guide and assist humanity in completing the circle and finding our way home.


1 comment:

  1. I sure would love to visit, hike, camp and explore this remarkable place. National Geographic did a piece on it. When the water froze on superior, moose and wolves cross from the mainland, creating an incubator for interaction studies. There was no mention of the secrets that lie here. Hey...wanna go on a road trip?