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Native Languages of the Americas:
Ottawa Legends, Myths, and Stories

This is our collection of links to Ottawa stories and folktales that can be read online. We have indexed our Native American legends section by tribe to make them easier to locate; however, variants on the same legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to each other, so you may also want to visit our page comparing the stories from the Anishinaabe tribes (which include the Algonquin, Chippewa, Potawatomi, and Ottawa Indians), since the traditional stories of those tribes are very similar.

Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Ottawa legend for this page or think one of the ones on here should be removed, please let us know.

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Important Ottawa Mythological Figures

Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Ottawa mythology.

Nanabush (also spelled Nenabush, Nanabozho, Manabush, Manabozho, Manibozho, Nanahboozho, and several other ways.) Nanabush is the benevolent culture hero of the Anishinaabe tribes (sometimes referred to as a "transformer" by folklorists.) His name is spelled so many different ways partially because the Anishinabe languages were originally unwritten (so English speakers just spelled it however it sounded to them at the time), and partially because they are spoken across a huge geographical range in both Canada and the US, and the name sounds different in different dialects. In the Ottawa dialect, it is usually pronounced nuh-nah-boash or muh-nah-boash, but sometimes the pronunciation can vary from storyteller to storyteller. Nanabush shares some similarities with other Algonquian heroes such as the Wabanaki Gluskabe, Blackfoot Old Man, and Cree Whiskey Jack, and many of the same stories are told in different Algonquian tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing.

Gchi Mnidoo: This means "Great Spirit" in the Ottawa language, and is the Ottawa name for the Creator (God.) Gchi-Mnidoo is a divine spirit with no human form or attributes (including gender) and is never personified in Ottawa folklore. The name is pronounced similar to gih-chee muh-nih-doh.

Nookmis: Nanabush's wise old grandmother, who raised him. Pronounced noke-miss.

Windgo (also spelled Windigo, Wiindgoo, and other ways): An evil man-eating spirit. Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some Ottawa Indian stories; in others, Ottawa people who commit sins (especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into Windigos as punishment. It is usually pronounced weend-goh in the Odawa language.

Bgwajinini (or Pahiins): Mythological little people of the forests. Their name means "wild man" and is pronounced similar to buh-gwuh-jih-nih-nee. In most Ottawa stories, they are portrayed as mischievous but generally good-natured creatures.

Memengwesi: Small riverbank-dwelling water spirits. They are also generally benign, but sometimes blow canoes astray or steal things when they are not shown proper respect. The name is pronounced similar to may-main-gway-see in Ottawa.

Water Lynx (Mshibzhii in the Ottawa language): A powerful mythological creature something like a cross between a cougar and a dragon, also known as the Underwater Panther in English. It is a dangerous monster who lives in deep water and causes men and women to drown. The name is pronounced similar to muh-shibb-zhee in Ottawa.

Mshignebig (also called Kchiknebig): An underwater horned serpent, common to the legends of most Algonquian tribes. Its name literally means Great Serpent, and it is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans. The name is pronounced similar to muh-shigg-nay-bigg in Odawa.

Nimkii or Bnesi (also spelled Nimki, Animikii, Nimki, Bneshi, Binesi, and other ways): Thunderbird, a giant mythological bird common to the northern and western tribes. Thunder is caused by the beating of their immense wings. Although thunderbirds are very powerful beings, they rarely bother humans, and were treated with reverence by Odawa people. Nimkii, which means "thunderer," is pronounced nim-kee in Odawa, and Bnesi, which means "great bird," is pronounced b-nay-sih.

Bboon (also known as Winter-Maker): The spirit of the North Wind, who brings winter to the land. His name is pronounced similar to puh-boon or just poon.

Ottawa Folklore

    Article on the Ottawa culture hero.
*Nanabozh Stories * History of the Anishinaabek:
    The Ottawa Indian creation story.
*Ottawa Flood Myth:
    Ottawa Indian legend about the flooding of the earth.
*Ioscoda and His Friends:
    Folktale about an Ottawa Indian boy's trip to Europe.
*Arch Rock on Mackinac Island:
    Ottawa legend about the day the sun fell from the sky.
*The Union of Corn and Bean:
    Ahnishnahbe legend about why corn and beans are always planted together.
*Thanksgiving Feasts, and the Feasts of the Dead:
    Tales of traditional Ottawa feasts and how they began.
*The Legend of the Birch Tree:
    Odawa legend about a young man who became the first birch tree.
*Nanaboozh and the Turtle:
    Ottawa legend about how turtles got their shells.
*The Legend of Nanabozho & Animoshak:
    A humorous Odawa folktale about Nanabozho and the tails of dogs.
*Origin of the Trailing Arbutus:
    Legend of the Potawatomi/Ottawa tribal flower.

Recommended Books on Ottawa Mythology
Our organization earns a commission from any book bought through these links

Odawa Language and Legends:
    Compilation of Ottawa Indian dictionaries and traditional texts from the 1800's through the present day.
Ritual and Myth in Odawa Revitalization:
    Interesting book on the importance of traditional Ottawa spirituality to the people today.

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Additional Resources

 Ottawa beliefs and rituals
 Anishinaabe traditional beliefs
 Native Indian religion
 Ottawa Indians
 Anishinabe words
 Canadian languages
 Woodland tribes
 Algonkian people
 List of American Indian tribe names

Learn more about the Odawa tribe
Buy books by American Indian writers
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