The Headwaters of the Mississippi River in Ojibwe

Wenji-maajiijiwang (From Where the Waters Start to Flow) - The Headwaters of the Mississippi River - in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), by Charles Lippert and Jordan Engel
Wenji-maajiijiwang (From Where the Waters Start to Flow) – The Headwaters of the Mississippi River in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), by Charles Lippert and Jordan Engel

Where a river begins and ends is not decided by nature. Rather, it’s a subjective process that often varies between indigenous and colonial cultures. For instance, American settlers understand that the Allegheny River flows into the Ohio River at Pittsburgh, while the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) understand them as one river, called Ohí:io. And what settlers call the Tennessee River actually has many names in Yuchi – Chaovannon, Kallamuchee, Kaskinampo, Callamaco, Cootela, Hogohegee, Pellissippi, Nonachunkeh, Euphasee – depending on which tributary is honored as the main branch.

Settlers say that the source of the Mississippi is Lake Itasca in Minnesota. Between Lake Itasca and the Gulf of Mexico, there are six distinct names for the river in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe). They are:

* Omashkoozo-ziibi (Elk River) – The Mississippi River between Lake Itasca and Lake Bemidji
* Bemijigamaag-ziibi (Traversing Lake’s River) – The Mississippi River between Lake Bemidji and Cass Lake
* Gaa-miskwaawaakokaag-ziibi (River abundant with Red Cedar) – The Mississippi River between Cass Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish
* Wiinibiigoonzhish-ziibi (Little Stagnant Murky River) – The Mississippi River between Lake Winnibigoshish and the Leech Lake River
* Gichi-ziibi (Big River) – The Mississippi River between the Leech Lake River and the Crow Wing River
* Misi-ziibi (Great River) – The Mississippi River between the Crow Wing River and the Gulf of Mexico

Other names on the map:
* Omashkoozo-zaaga’igan (Elk Lake) – Lake Itasca
* Bemijigamaag-zaaga’igan (Traversing Lake) – Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving. These are considered a single lake in Ojibwe.
* Gaa-miskwaawaakokaag-zaaga’igan (Abundant with Red Cedar Lake) – Cass Lake
* Wiinibiigoonzhish-zaaga’igan (Little Stagnant Murky Lake) – Lake Winnibigoshish
* Ozagaskwaajimekaag-zaaga’igan (Abundant with Leeches Lake) – Leech Lake
* Ozagaskwaajimekaag-ziibi (Abundant with Leeches River) – The Leech Lake River
* Gaa-mitaawangaagamaag-zaaga’igan – Big Sandy Lake. For the Gichiziibiwininiwag (Mississippi Ojibwe), Big Sandy Lake is a culturally important location.
* Gaagaagiwigwani-ziibi (Raven’s Feather River) – The Crow Wing River

***A note on the compass – The Anishinaabe traditionally orient themselves to the East, which is why East appears at the top of this map. 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.

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