Tim Yearington Public Speaker and Teacher

          Thunderbirds of the KitchiZibi 

   

A ginebig-inini or 'snake man' is a medicine person of the Thunderbird Medicine variety. During the destructive times of Christian missionaries traditional Thunderbird Medicine was accused of being Indian Sorcery. Powerful medicine ways were carried by our ancestors: The Old Ones.

These were our KitchiZibi medicine people called Thunderbirds. At one time every Thunderbird, holy man, healer, root doctor or medicine man in KitchiZibi territory was negatively called a sorcerer. And because the egocentric domination of Christianity still exists, so does the misnomer. A memory of this remains yet: The Mattawa River, which flows directly into the KitchiZibi, is still known today as "The Valley of the Sorcerers."

Snake men were medicine people who worked to rid the world of bad and intentionally malevolent spirits symbolized by monstrous serpents. Snake men practiced Thunderbird medicine ways to attract the power of the Thunderbirds for the benefit of others. But due to the ill beliefs of Christian missionaries, our snake men were perceived as being evil.

A spiritual helper, or assistant, to a medicine man is often the snake. But in Euro-Christian beliefs, snakes and serpents were seen as evil manifestations of the devil itself. So, because of this, our own snake men were persecuted as evil sorcerers and it is no surprise that soon they began to practice their powerful medicine ways in total secrecy. 

Perhaps if we take a closer look at a KitchiZibi allegorical legend we'll gain a better understanding about the sacred role of the snakes, and also the Thunderbirds (sensitive), from a traditional perspective. In the old times legends were told about 'manitou' spirits who lived here; the Snakes, the Monster Snakes, the Serpents and the Thunderbirds too:

"It is said that long ago the little green snakes were the guardians of Mother Earth. The job of the snakes was to protect all the medicines so that all the beings of the earth would live strong and be healthy. It was seen that one day the snakes might become aware of their power. And when this happened, the snakes lost their way. They began to take their power not only from Mother Earth, but also from the very beings the Great Spirit had assigned them to protect. The snakes fed on the spirits of all the beings. The more spirits the snakes took, the more they grew. Soon they became monstrous snakes and giant serpents. The beings of the whole earth came to fear the power of the giant serpents. So, to try to fix this big problem, Kitchi-Manitou - the Great Spirit - called for the Thunderbirds. When the Thunderbirds arrived, they were tremendously hungry. They used the power of their own lightning to rid the earth of the giant serpents. As they destroyed them, they ate them. The bad power of the serpents became the good power of the Thunderbirds."

Although in severe contrast to Christian ways of believing and worship a ginebig-inini - a snake man - was a very secretive, spiritual holy person. Like snakes they preferred to work alone when they sought medicine and guidance from the spirits. A snake man worked to attract the good power of the Thunderbirds. And, because of this, snake men became known as Thunderbirds too. This infuriated the Christian missionaries. The missionaries quite disliked and mistrusted the Thunderbirds. They wanted the Thunderbirds and their potent medicine ways to be gone.

But by using their own good medicine ways, it was the Thunderbirds (ginebig-inini/snake men) who worked to try and eliminate the Giant Serpents - the big human egos - of the missionaries who, with views of spiritual superiority, manipulated and intentionally consumed the spirits of our people like serpents themselves to promote their own doctrine. Quite naturally this saddened, disturbed, offended and even angered our own traditional holy people, the snake men - the Thunderbirds.

With the arrival of Christianity, the Thunderbirds (who were the snake men) were greatly feared for their powerful medicine ways. Christian thinking made all snakes evil and a representation of the devil. So, fear was utilized by the missionaries in attempts to dispel the Thunderbirds. In 1625 Brother Gabriel Sagard, a Recollet missionary, wrote of them:

"They were sorcerers, holding intimate converse with the devil. Their ability to cast spells and inflict diseases was notorious among the neighboring peoples. But apart from their magic spells and their communications with demons, I found them very kindly and polite."

But soon the Thunderbirds' beliefs and medicine ceremonies began to disappear due to being replaced by Christianity. As a result, to protect their primeval beliefs the Thunderbirds/snake men carried their ancient knowledge into the mountains above the KitchiZibi. They built big stone Thunderbird Nests atop the highest places to preserve the old, powerful medicine ways of their profound but benevolent way of life. In his 1965 book, Legends of my People, Ojibway artist Norval Morrisseau wrote:

"It is known that the Thunderbirds had a huge nest made of stones on the mountains of the earth and large blankets of clouds were always seen to cover the nest. Although the Thunderbird was never seen to come and go from its nest, it was known to be there. Lightning and thunder were heard only at these places." 

As Christianity ate the peoples' spirit the Thunderbirds were forgotten. And because of this, the serpents grew even bigger and stronger. It is believed our world is out of balance today due to the absence of the Thunderbirds and their powerful medicine ways to allay the serpents.

 

The good news is that the Thunderbirds are still here. They never left. The Thunderbirds are coming down from their nests in the mountains. Today they desire to share their medicine; their teachings and wisdom. Thunderbirds share their knowledge to enlighten and empower others. 

There are traditional places of power and sacred medicine sites still in existence here in KitchiZibi territory. There is old traditional knowledge about our original big manitous; Thunderbird, Turtle, Serpent and the Underwater Panther. Many people are now hearing the thunder as the great Thunderbirds are guiding us. Many people are now embracing the Medicine Ways and Teachings of KitchiZibi Thunderbird Knowledge.

Whether we call these people snake men or Thunderbirds, we can trust them to help us find the lost trail home to a Good Medicine Way of Life.