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Enmegahbowh Feast Day

By June 13, 2024No Comments

Enmegahbowh’s feast day is June 12. We remember this man because he was a peacemaker, and a as his name foretold, was a man who stood before his people. In the Anishinaabeg tradition, he was an Ogitchidaa, a warrior who stood between his people and evil. From the start, the namer of the village of Rice Lake in Ontario must have been given a vision that he would, indeed, be an Ogitchidaa and stand before his people to protect them from evil. Enmegahbowh’s father was a leader and medicine man and taught the boy Enmegahbowh about being an Ogitchidaa. After training in a Methodist “seminary,” in his later life Enmegahbowh said this tradition was very similar to the Christianity that he embraced and served for over 50 years. In Bishop Whipple’s biography Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate, he alluded  to the storytelling skills of Enmegahbowh. If truth be told, it was Enmegahbowh who was primarily responsible for allowing Bishop Whipple to engage and evangelize the Ojibwe that were so important  in the early days of the Diocese of Minnesota. They were also both avid fishermen, and in their canoeing to reach roadless villages, my guess is there was a bit of fishing going on.

Much of what is taught in the Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society of the Ojibwe) is not publicly shared. But snippets of those teachings which helped shape Enmegahbowh’s theology and ministry are known. While we do not know whether Enmegahbowh would have preached the creation story of the Midewiwin, I would venture with some certainty that he did. Here is a portion of the creation story of the Anishinaabe that I have come to believe the people in those isolated villages would have heard. Listen with the ears of your hearts, because there is much wisdom in that tradition that could guide us today in a Diocese where Bishop Loya has called us to follow the “Way of Love of Jesus.”

Gitchi Manido, the Creator, sat alone in the dark, dreaming of the bright and beautiful world that was to be. And because Gitchi Manido was so full of love, that love flowed into the infinite variety of creatures and growing things that came into being. The great forests were made from dreams of green—and you can almost touch the Creator’s dreams as you walk through them, with smoky light filtering down from the heavens. The bright sun of the day and the gentle light of the moon…all were made out of the Creator’s love. What had been dreams was made real as the Creator named and blessed each thing made; the mizzizbing (the great rivers); the zaagigan (the lakes teeming with life); migizi (the eagle who soars); the wawashkeshig (the swift and elegant white tail deer) ; amik (the industrious beaver); even the binayshig (the little song birds whose songs lift our hearts). All were named and blessed with unique and wonderful gifts by Gitchi Manido, just as each one of us are unique and gifted.[1]

This was the beautiful Ojibwe culture that leaders like Enmegahbowh shared with all who would listen. Because patron saints are chosen for their teachings, we must learn and follow Enmegahbowh’s teachings of peacemaking through the theology of love. He was Ogitchidaa and stood bravely despite threats on his life and the life of his family, between the Ojibwe community and one of its own powerful war leaders, Bugonigshig (Hole in the Day). Bugonigshig was attempting to lead the Ojibwe to join the Dakota in 1862, to drive all the Chemokomon, Europeans, from the land. Enmegahbowh convinced the vast majority of the Ojibwe to keep the peace, knowing that the Dakota would suffer hugely because the US army would, and did, kill and capture many who fought for the Dakota people. They did so out of desperation because they were being treated unjustly and may of the children and elders were starving. But the result of the Dakota Rebellion was the death of several thousand people, and the largest mass execution in American history, when 38 Dakota warriors were hung in Mankato. The death count would have been many times greater if Enmegahbowh’s peace initiative had failed. But patron saints inspire others and I want you to know on whose shoulders we stand in this diocese. These Indigenous church leaders had boldly become Ogitchidaa when they were called to be peacemakers and to witness to Jesus’ way of love.

There was the Rev. George Smith, grandson of Enmegahbowh, who was the first recipient of the Whipple Cross, the highest honor the Diocese of Minnesota gives. (In my opinion, we could call it the Whipple and Enmegahbowh Cross). Despite being so poorly paid early in his ministry that his hunting and fishing skills had to augment his meager salary to feed his family, he became the foremost leader in Native ministries in the Episcopal Church and a founder of the National Committee on Indian Work.
Then there is The Rev. Johnson Loud Jr., a Red Lake Ojibwe who is arguably the premier muralist in Minnesota, who wrote the Icon of Enmegahbowh that hangs in many of our churches. He was called to a Dakota parish which was riven with strife and division, and with humor, love and patience over many years, brough peace and comity to Prairie Island.

The Rev. Gary Cavender, a Dakota, was the founding priest of Ho Waste (Good voice/news) mission in Shakopee. Gary felt called to risk bodily harm to calm the warring factions in the community. One evening the rivalry between two factions boiled over and led them to take over the tribal offices. Seeing what was happening, Gary vested, got three brave parishioners to volunteer as two torch bearers and a crucifer, and holding the Gospel book high, they marched into the middle of the fray just someone was swing a heavy chain to break the windows in the tribal offices. Gary was accidently struck and knocked to the ground by the  chain. Bloodied but still conscious, he rose to his full six foot two and in a loud voice said “The Lord be with you.” And without pause, all the people, on both sides, responded “And also with you.” They had a Eucharistic celebration on the spot, with both factions becoming one community again. The Way of Peace, the Way of Love triumphed once again.

The Rev. Marvin Red Elk helped to found The New Visions Treatment Center which uses Native culture to help people reach sobriety. He also was instrumental in launching All Saints Indian Mission where many of you have helped the people there serve those in need at First Nations Kitchen. At the time of his tragic death, Marvin had helped to start an Anglican Studies program at United Seminary of the Twin Cities and was a trustee of Seabury Western Seminary. Many times Marvin stood between factions, and between police and Native communities.

All these Ogitchidaa helped people to follow the Way of Peace and the Way of Love. The model of their ministries was that of our Patron Saint, Enmegahbowh, the One Who Stood before his People. As Minnesota Episcopalians, I believe that we, too, need to follow the Ways of Peace and Love that Blessed Enmegahbowh taught, and whom so many have followed.

Howie Anderson

[1] Anishinaabe creation story I learned from my years serving on White Earth among the Ojibwe people.