Just as the Anishinabeg saw the sun as a symbol of the fatherhood of man, so they saw in the earth motherhood. A woman, by a singular act with a man conceives and gives birth to new life. Thereafter she must sustain the new life.
In a similar way the earth responds. With the coming of spring and the warmth of the sun, the earth conceives and gives birth to flowers, grasses, trees, and food bearing plants. She then nourishes them.† As a woman deserves honor and love for her gift of life, so does the earth deserve veneration (worship) .In honoring the earth through prayer, chant, dance, and ceremony the Anishinabeg were honoring all motherhood in a special way.
The love and respect the Anishinabeg felt for the earth was perpetuated in the pipe of peace ceremony. The first whiff of smoke was offered to Kitchi Manitou; the second to Mother Earth. It was an integral part of the ceremony without which the ceremony would have been incomplete and, therefore, void. Such was the way in which the Anishinabeg publicly demonstrated their dependence on the earth and veneration for the primacy of womanhood.
Nor did the veneration for the earth end with the breath of smoke. There was yet another tangible way in which the motherhood of earth was venerated. In the pipe of peace smoking ceremony the four orders of life and being were represented: earth, plant, animal, and man. The earth, whose elemental substance was rock, made up the pipe; the plant, tobacco, was the sacrificial victim; the animal, symbolized by feathers and fur, was appended to the sacred pipe. Man was the celebrant.† The rock was strong and enduring. Plant beings, animal beings, and man come to an end, but the earth lives on.† Mother Earth continues to be bountiful, sustaining all beings. All else changes; earth remains unchanging and continues to give life. It is a promise to the future, to those yet to be born.
There is in addition to constancy in Mother Earth, generosity. This attribute is acknowledged in prayer and ceremony. A mother begets a child. She nourishes it, holds it in her arms. She gives it a place on her blanket near her bosom. A woman may give birth to many children. To all she gives food, care and a place near her. To each she gives a portion of herself; to each she assigns a place in her household. No child by virtue of priority of birth or other attributes may demand for himself more than his brothers or sisters. A mother gives equally to all her children, from first to last, from strong to weak. All are entitled to a place near her bosom in her lodge. Her gift does not diminish but increases and renews itself.
Similarly is the earth bounteous. Her mantle is wide, her bowl ever full and constantly replenished. On the blanket of Mother Earth there is a place for hunting, fishing, sleeping and living. From the bowl comes food and drink for every person. All young and old, strong and weak, well and ill are intended to share in Mother Earthís bounty and magnanimity.† The principle of equal entitlement precludes private ownership. No man can own his mother. This principle extends even into the future. The unborn are entitled to the gifts of the earth, no less than the living.† During his life man is but a trustee of his portion of the land and must pass on to his children what he inherited from his mother. At death, the dying leave behind the mantle that they occupied, take nothing with them but a memory and a place for others still to come. Such is the legacy of man: to come, to live, to go; to receive in order to pass on. No man can possess his mother; no man can own the earth. Men and ages linger, and then pass on. Mother Earth remains whole, indivisible, and enduring. With death ends ownership and possession. Men do not outlive the earth; earth outlasts man.
As beneficiaries of their motherís care and love, children are obliged to look after their mother in her illness and decrepitude.† Men and women owe their lives and the quality of living and existence to Mother Earth. As dutiful and loving children, they are to honor Mother Earth. The most suitable and fitting way of expressing this affection is by rendering in song and prayer the feeling of heart. Because they love her, they avoid harming or injuring the earth. The debt of life must be acknowledged from the heart and mind.
Mother Earth gave life; she takes it back. In pain, sickness, and in sorrow a child turns to itís mother for relief and comfort.† A man or woman in suffering seeks repose upon the bosom of mother. They do not go to the father but turn to a woman for solace. All beings do this. Plants in dissolution bend before they collapse on the soil.† Animal beings stricken by arrow or at last overcome by age lay down upon the ground. Men and women recline upon the earth in the final moments of life. It is then, as in birth, that children are closest to their mothers.† Symbolically then, and in a very real way, men and women give their lives back to Mother Earth. Interred in the bosom of Mother Earth with only their personal possessions, the dead find rest, and in time become part of and one with Mother Earth. At birth a man receives his life from his mother; in death he gives up his life to Mother Earth.† The Anishinabeg loved the earth, the soul-spirit of which was beauty, bounty and peace.