In First Nations’ world view, Blair Stonechild explains the natural world is populated with helping spirit beings such as the Memekwesiwak, small subterranean beings who are intimately tied to the natural world. (1) There are some stories about the little people from Norway House that talk about a certain spiritual and earthly wisdom that comes from the rock people. In Norway House, Byron Apetagon also tells stories about the Memekwesiwak or Rock people. The rock people “lived around rocky cliffs near the many rivers, lakes, creeks of the North . . . . [t]he old people believed the Rock people drew paintings on rock walls.” (2)
Apetagon explains that people made offering to the rock people to so that they could receive information for the few years, whether it be for sickness, weather, or hunting. Another time he recalls a story from others about a man and son who went to see the Rock people. As they approached the rocks, the man told his son not to be afraid of what they were going to do. . . and not to think of anything foolish. The two entered the rocks, his dad smoked his pipe. Inside they docked their boat before they followed a narrow trail. The boy’s dad sat with several men who were sitting in a circle, in a room at the end of the trail as his dad joined the men to smoke, he looked around and seen a stone table and plate and wondered where the trout’s head came from that was on the plate. One old man told him it was from the lake and they were going to eat it for supper. The boy understood why his dad told him not to think anything foolish now. Later his dad told him those were the Memekwesiwak, or Rock People. (3)
We shared a couple stories at Medicine Eagle Camp tonight, gathered around the cooking barrel fire, about my late uncle Ronald Bone and Morris Bone. I said my dad, Harry Bone- Giizhis-Inini told me about the time Ronald experienced an amoniso – it can be presence of a spirit. Ronald said what happened was, he was just waking up and he heard his door open, and he heard Morris Bone say,
“Niijaagan— my friend,” just like old times.
Something that he would always say when he walked in before they would head out for a day’s work. When he went to the front door no one was there. He was left with an unsure feeling, sensing something might have what happened. That was the morning that Morris made his way back to the spirit world. He came to say good-bye.
A daughter of Morris Bone(aban) recalled the time, probably 40 years ago when they were young, my late uncle Ronald Bone(aban) was visiting her dad and told them, and everyone else, ‘don’t swim at the bridge.’ He told them when he was walking to town, he stopped to have a smoke at the bridge. Then he heard something and saw something. At first, he thought it was a big turtle. Saw something dive into the water. It could have been a big snake, but something with a long tail. ‘Don’t swim there,’ she said remembering Ronald’s words. This story re-emphasizing Basso’s point that the is history, and lessons, embedded in Indigenous peoples’ stories about the land. (4)
Memegwesiwag – little people, are known to live in Giizhigoowining- Keeseekoowenin. My dad says the place name of the hill they used to live in Keesee is called Ganesinikaak – going over the cliff/ steep rocks. This is where the big rock is in Keesee, near Yvette’s old house, and there are more that came up since. My dad says his grandma, Mary Bone, always told him about the little person she saw there when she was down at the creek getting water, there he was, white hair down to the ground, smoking a pipe, acknowledging the water. So, she is told she saw them, and it means teachings of the pipe and water will be important and she will live a long life. (5) She was over 100. Stats Canada says she was 107, born same year I was 100 years earlier, 1880. But she was 113 I believe. That’s where they used to live, but they moved to make room for us. They still live around there, though. It’s a magic valley, Keeseesatchewan- the name of River that goes though Keesee before it became Little Saskatchewan River. (6) Indigenous writers take up the question of the dead as ancestors with continuing relationships with the living, and how such considerations give us guidance for thinking of our own work as future ancestors. (7)
I told Iskatezaaganan Midewiwin Ogimaa Ron Indian-Mandamin during my second year at the Giizhigoowining Earning Lodge, which was brought back home and led by my Nimishomis-Uncle Wally Swain for the past 5 years, while we were getting trees for the lodge, I saw a Memegwesi-little man! It was right on top of the hill. My English trained mind scrambled to find a familiar memory. I was on a quad, going up a hill, looked up the trail and he, or she, was, standing there. It looked it had fur and was color of a groundhog, maybe a little taller, but skinnier. Then it turned and walked off the trail and into the tall grass. And other people have seen them in the same area.
Indian-Mandamin explained the Memegwesi(wag) – little people can go into anything, they are able to change form – he is a form of humanoid too—the first human. Also known as Pagwajii, wild being, as nature, uninterrupted without outside influence. They remain original beings. When creator was talking to them, he asked, “who would be the one willing to hold/keep this knowledge?” The memegwesiwag said, “I would, I will record everything that they go through.” So, with that, spirit said, “I will give you this gift. You can travel quickly through earth, go through rock, travel water at will. I give you that gift. To keep care of the future. They will be a part of you and them.” In the Baagak teaching, the Memegwesiwag were consulted upon when Omagakii- frogman, a medicine person, was asking the spirits for guidance to figure out what was wrong with Baagak. The Memgwesiwag are important beings to the Anishinaabe-Oibway, and in the Baagak teaching, they create Spirit Laws – Manitou Inakonigewin and Garden Laws – Gitigaan Inakonigewin that are not to be forgotten by the people.
Come out and listen to Ron and hear and more stories, Friday, March 11, at 2:00 pm. The following day, Jason Parenteau speaks about the Roseau River First Nations Jiu Jitsu journey.
Stonechild, The Knowledge Seeker, 79.
Bryon Apetagon. “Bakahk” Norway House Anthology Local Stories and Legends. Volume III. (Frontier School Division No. 48. 1994), 35.
Apetagon, Norway House Anthology Local Stories and Legends, 39.
Miller, Ogimaag, 25.
Walter Scott, Our People of Riding Mountain House, (Brandon: Leech Printing Limited, 2002), 7.
Stonechild, The Knowledge Seeker, 45.
Last modified: March 13, 2019