The Great Lakes in Ojibwe

great lakes1
Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin (The Great Lakes) in Anishaabemowin (Ojibwe). Research by Charles Lippert, map by Jordan Engel

Edit: This map has been updated. You can find the new version here.

Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) is the most-spoken indigenous language in the Great Lakes basin. Charles Lippert, a speaker of Anishinaabemowin, has helped tremendously by researching the lakes and translating into Anishinaabemowin. Below are the translations for all the Great Lakes:

Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin: The Great Lakes (The Five Freshwater Seas)

Anishinaabewi-gichigami: Lake Superior (Anishinaabe’s Sea)

Ininwewi-gichigami: Lake Michigan (Illinois’ Sea)

Naadowewi-gichigami: Lake Huron (Iroquois’ Sea), also known as Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami (Great Crosswaters Sea)

Waabishkiigoo-gichigami: Lake Erie (Neutral’s Sea), also known as Aanikegamaa-gichigami (Chain of Lakes Sea)

Niigaani-gichigami: Lake Ontario (Leading Sea), also known as Gichi-zaaga’igan (Big Lake)

Gichigami (Sea) literally means “big (gichi) liquid (-gami)”. Gichigami can also refer to the Saltwater / Bitterwater Sea (i.e. ocean) — zhiiwitaagani-gichigami

The St. Louis River (MN / WI), St. Mary’s River (ON / MI), St. Claire River (ON / MI), Niagara River (ON / NY) and the St. Lawrence River (QC / ON) are all called Gichigami-ziibi (Sea River), as they all drain into or out of a Great Lake.

*A note on the compass – The Anishinaabe traditionally orient themselves to the East. Because the standard orientation is different in European and Anishinaabe cultures, we’ve included the English word “North” and the Anishinaabemowin word “Waabang,” meaning East, on the compass. The compass rose itself is in the form of a medicine wheel, an indigenous symbol used across the continent to denote the four directions.

Map: Jordan Engel. As always, the Decolonial Atlas’ original media can be reused under the Decolonial Media License 0.1.



  1. I would love to see if any of the tribes can find out who the Whittlesey Culture was. We thought the Ohio shore of Lake Erie belonged to the Erie when whites arrived, for hundreds of years, but recent archaeology seems to show an Algonquian people who lived in longhouses & had adopted elements of Fort Ancient & Iroquoian culture into their own.


  2. […] The need to connect back to Indigenous histories is another important lens for BSAM Canada’s Earthseeds project. Andréa Williams, a Black Indigenous community educator and activist, encouraged guests to understand the interconnectedness of Black and Indigenous histories. Work needs to be made in acknowledging the land and traditional name of Lake Ontario Niigaani-gichigami. […]


  3. […] * I read that Oniatarí:i (“Beautiful Lake”) is one of several Mohawk names to reference Lake Ontario. And that in Ojibwe, this water body is referred to as Niigaani-gichigami (“Leading Sea”), and Gichi-zaaga’igan (“Big Lake”). Let us acknowledge all the names that have been lost to colonialism and also the knowledge keepers. Check out these sources for more info: 1, 2, 3, 4. […]


  4. Ojibwe is only one dialect of the Anishinaabemowin language. I hope everyone realizes that there are three nations of the Anishinaabe – Odawa, Ojibwe and Pottawattami. Lake Huron was called Odawa M’Niss from time immemorial because it was the territory of the Odawa as guardians. The Ojibwe may have had names for these lakes but that is only the Ojibwe perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s