When I was working on my dissertation, I asked Elder Edna Manitowabi about the term Anishinàbe and where she thought it came from. She spoke to me for 2 1/2 hours about that one term. She told me that the term Anishinàbe is a reflection of the relationships that are embedded in the Creation of the earth as a living entity and the role and responsibility that humans have in maintaining balance in our actions and behaviours in the world.
If you break down the word, as Edna did for me, you can begin to see what she meant and that there are stories embedded in this term that you don't immediately understand just by speaking the term or seeing it printed on a page. For instance, "Ani" refers to "Aaniin" which denotes where something occurred. The term also contains "Anish-na" indicating that someone is being lowered, and "àbe" referring to the male energy or men.
Edna shared with me that the term is a reflection not only of the act of lowering Original Man to the Earth but also of the relationship that was established with human beings upon the arrival of Original Man in the physical world. The physical world already existed at this point and the term reminds us that we have responsibilities to carry forward in our lives and with our children and grandchildren the the nature of that relationship established so long ago.
In that Creation parts of the Earth were taken and folded and shaped to make human beings. Breath, rhythm, and pulse, along with will were intertwined within human beings by the Creator. The Creator took four parts of the Earth and blew into these human beings using a sacred shell. From the union of the four sacred elements and the Creator's breath, humans were created.
Edna shared that even in the act of breathing we are enacting that Creation from so long ago. Int he Creation Story in the act of blowing air there is a recognition of giving life. This act is continually reenacted in the first breath every baby takes upon their birth into this physical world. Likewise Edna shared that in the act of touching the forehead in ceremonies, this is recognition of the mind, intellect, and will that humans possess. Human senses are gifts and that all of our senses, everything about us, are a part of the original Creation Story.
The Creation Story provides us with the opportunity to envision Creation and to have a sense of what was felt by Original Man as he was lowered onto the Earth. Without this added understanding of what the term Anishinàbe means, it would be difficult to really comprehend the nature of those relationships that emanate from Creation itself. To understand as Edna shared that this Earth as a spiritual entity was complete without human beings. Edna shared that as Original Man was lowered to the Earth, he saw this, he recognized that she was full and complete. He recognized at that moment that he was only a small part of a larger Creation and felt a great sense of humbleness.
Anishinàbe, then is not just a descriptive term for a particular population, it is full of stories and narratives about our long history and connections within our homeland.