Native Languages of the Americas: Nanabush Stories and other Ottawa Legends
This is our collection of links to Ottawa folktales and traditional stories 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 contact us and let us know.
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
Napi, and Cree
Wesakaychak, and many of the same stories
are told in different Algonquian tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing.
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.
Nanabush's wise old grandmother, who raised him. Pronounced noke-miss.
Wiindgoo (also spelled Windigo, Wendigo, and other ways):
An evil man-eating spirit. Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some legends; in others, Odawa people who commit sins
(especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into Windigos as punishment. It is usually pronounced weend-goh in the
Bgwajinini (or Pahiins):
Mythological little people of the forests. Their name means "wild man" and is pronounced similar to
buh-gwuh-jih-nih-nee. They are mischievous but generally good-natured creatures.
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.
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
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.