Gii Dodaiminaanig, Our Clan System


By Dave Matrious, February 2, 2015

Since time immemorial, Indigenous nations of North America have had a spiritual connection to the natural laws and the environment of this beautiful continent. The Great Spirit bestowed upon the Anishinabeg a beautiful language and a system of governance — Gii dodaiminaanig, our clan system.

Oral traditions tell of six mystical figures emerging from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Each of the first five beings explained their purpose to the spiritual leaders of the Ojibwe. The sixth being, whose powers were too great for the people to comprehend, was sent back into the depths of the Great salt waters. From these original five clans came the basis or core of most Ojibwe communities (or nations), many of which still exist today.

This system of clans has been used to govern our tribal nations, keep harmony in our community, and build intellect in our people. Awaysiag (animals) were chosen by the Great Spirit to teach the Anishinabeg many disciplines or life skills, such as oratorical, leadership, military, medicines, teaching, economics, and agriculture. The traits that these clan animals exhibit can also manifest itself in those members. Everything that the people needed to know can be found in the Gii dodaiminaanig, or clan system.

The five original clans have evolved into many sub groups over time. During early formation of cultural anthropology, early American anthropologists William Warren, Frances Densmore, John Tanner, and Henry R. Schoolcraft documented the 32 subgroups that are represented in this art piece.

The art piece was the result of collaboration between Jerry Windorski, a retired welder and craftsman, and myself, a Mille Lacs Band Elder from the Aazhoomog community. Jerry’s interest in Ojibwe culture began while visiting the Northwest fur trade outpost near his home in Pine City and the Fort Folle Avione Post in Burnett County, Wisconsin. He has recreated many items used by the French traders using semi-precious trade silver metal. Jerry is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps (1966-69) and lives with his wife, Joy, near Pine City, Minnesota.

Related: 2015 State of the Band Address: Protecting the Gift