The story of Michabo

“New Myth for a New Earth” by Mark Nadjiwan, indigenous visual artist from John’s home town of North Bay.


cultural values guide our science

Michabo is a regional linguistic variation of “Nanabozhoo” one of the principle cultural figures/heroes of the Anishinabek Nation that is located primarily in Ontario, Canada. The ancient flood/creation story of the Anishinabek features the two principle characters from the original myth: Muskrat (Wazhashk) and Nanabozhoo. Nanabozhoo is rendered here in his persona as the Great Hare – hence his large ears! In the original myth, the world is flooded by the Great Spirit who has become disillusioned with The People who have gone astray. Nanabozhoo and Muskrat are afloat on a log when suddenly Muskrat dives into the depths to retrieve some earth from the bottom. He succeeds in bringing back a small amount of dirt from which he and Nanabozhoo are able to re-create the world anew.

In the “new” or modern telling, the floodwaters on which these two are adrift is the man-made flood of chemicals that are suffocating and destroying the environment. This is represented by the dark and turbulent waters as well as the dead, barren landscape to the right of Nanabozhoo. Using the various cultural tools available to him, along with the modern sciences, Nanabozhoo once again re-creates the world and holds this “New Earth” above him. We can see the restoration of health and goodness by way of the green of the land and clean blue waters. The modern sciences are represented through the inclusion of both the birch tree and the water flea (Daphnia). Can you find Daphnia? (Click on the artwork!) Each of these organisms function as the “canary in the coal mine,” as the quality of their health provides us with important clues about the health of the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The canoe, in this modern telling, represents the cultural retrieval that Nanabozhoo undertakes in his quest, fashioning it from the birch log on which he and Muskrat are floating. Thus, we can see how the lines of the birch tree morph into the canoe where Nanabozhoo is seated, hoisting the New Earth aloft into the sunlight.

by Mark Nadjiwan