For Men and Women
Spiritual Presence, Connectedness,
For men and women, who often lived on the margin of existence and worked on the border of hardship and danger in the midst of plenty, the presence of Gitchi Manito and other manitos was immediate. Their experiences as hunters, fishers, and harvesters constantly reminded them that the success of their expeditions and the yield of their crops depended not so much on their skills or experience as on such intangibles as chance, the goodwill or ill will of the manitos, and the efficacy of their medicine.
If success depended solely on skill or patience, the outcome of every
expedition would have been assured, but human experience taught them that this was not so. Some hunters consistently returned from the forest empty-handed, while others came back with more than they could carry or consume. How were these outcomes to be explained? What did the one hunter possess that the other did not? Both used similar weapons and had similar skills and opportunities, yet one emerged from the woods with his back bent under the weight of meat, whereas the other returned with nothing for his children.
How could one account for such occurrences except in terms of the
sanction and will of the manito guardian who presided over the well-being of his hunted-animal victim? The successful hunter had gained the goodwill of the manitos and ultimately of Gitchi Manito by petition, the performance of rituals [ceremony], and the exercise of due respect for the remains of the victim.
The expression of thanksgiving in words and in the offering of
tobacco represented not only the hunter's gratitude but an admission of his dependence on the good will of the manitos and Gitchi Manito. The victim, whether a deer or another being, was humankind's cotenant on Earth, with its own purpose, existence, time, and right of place and life. Neither men nor women had the right to take it and had to ask permission of the manitos and of Gitchi Manito on behalf of the needy. And when the deer drew within range of the hunter's arrow, it was a sign that Gitchi Manito had granted the hunter to take the victim's life. When the victim fell, the hunter apologized, but the words and sentiments went beyond the expression of remorse; the hunter was declaring a universal truth and reality, that of human being's utter dependence on their cotenants on Earth for life, growth, and well-being.
If survival and dependence did not serve as reminders of the
presence of Gitchi Manito, then humankind's disposition to learn and
question would not allow anyone to forget. The young wanted to
know what it was that called from the depth of the woods in the
middle of the night, where babies came from, and where the dead
went. And the answer to the inevitable question of the origin of things
was Gitchi Manito.
From the beginning, men and women of all races and nations have
borne out the reality of their dependence upon plants and animals
represented in the Anishinabe story of the great flood by constructing their dwellings and villages in or on the fringes of those areas where there is vegetation in the form of forests, oases, or plains and where birds and animals abode. Most peoples who have survived the melting of glacial ice or experienced the periodic overflow of great rivers in the spring have their own versions of the great flood.
Just as food is meant for every living being, human and animal, so
Gitchi Manito set aside and appointed a place and a time for all beings to
make homes for themselves and their offspring wherein they could seek
shelter from the wind, rain, and snow and take refuge from their enemies. No one was granted primacy or dominion over the Earth or another species.
Indeed, if there is a primacy of any kind, it may well be that birds,
animals, insects, fish, and even plants possess a primacy to a greater degree than do human beings, by virtue of their capacity to fend for themselves without assistance from other beings, human or otherwise. With the exception of corn (maize) and perhaps dogs, no animal or plant needs anything from humankind. No such claim can be made of human beings. Having no need of human beings and endowed with their own natures, attributes, and independence, eagles, bears, butterflies, and whitefish, representing various species of the Earth, are humankind's cotenants upon the land, sharing the yield and fruit of Mother Earth. Such was the order of life that Gitchi Manito's vision intended and ordained.