When Mashé Manido, the Great Spirit, first made the earth, he also created a large numbers of manidos or spirits. Some of these spirits were benevolent, but many were malevolent, and they went to live beneath the earth. Kishä Manido, the Good Spirit, was one of these spirits.
He took a bear who lived near where the Menominee River flows into Green Bay and Lake Michigan and allowed the bear to change his form. The Bear, pleased at this gift from the Good Spirit, came out of the ground and changed into the first human.
Bear found himself alone and called to an eagle to join him. The eagle descended from the sky and took the form of a human too. Bear and Eagle were deciding whom else to ask to join them when a beaver came by and asked to join their tribe. Beaver too became a human and, as a female, became the first woman.
When Bear and Eagle came to a stream, they found a sturgeon, and Sturgeon became part of their tribe as well. It is from these early people that the Bear, Eagle, and Sturgeon clans of the Menominee originated.
One day when Bear was going up a river, he got tired and stopped to rest. As he was talking to a wolf, a crane flew up to them. Bear asked the crane to fly him up the river, promising to take Crane into his tribe in return.
As Crane and Bear were leaving, Wolf asked if he could join them, both for the trip and in their tribe. Crane took both of them on his back and flew them up the river, and this is how the Crane and Wolf clans came into the tribe of Menominee people.
Manabush, the Good Spirit
Bear took the name Sekatcokemau. He built the first wigwam for his people, and built a canoe so that he and his people could catch fish like sturgeon. The Good Spirit provided the people with corn, and with medicinal plants.
However, the Good Spirit realized that the Menominee were afflicted by hardship and disease from the malevolent spirits. To help his people, the Good Spirit sent his kindred spirit Manabush down to earth.
Once there was an old woman named Nokomis who had an unmarried daughter, and the daughter gave birth to twin boys. One of the boys and his mother died. Nokomis wrapped the surviving boy in dry grass and put him under a wooden bowl to protect him while she buried the other boy and his mother.
When she returned, she picked up the bowl and found a little white rabbit. She raised the rabbit, and he became the Great Rabbit, which is “Mashé Wabösh” in Menominee, or “Manabush”.
Grand Medicine Society of the Menominee
When Manabush came of age, he had his grandmother make two drum sticks with which he drummed to call the people together to a long wigwam he had built. He taught them many useful things and gave them powerful medicines to cure diseases.
He gave them medicine bags that were made of the hides of mink and weasel and rattlesnake and panther. From that first meeting comes the Grand Medicine Society of the Menominee today.
Manabush went on to accomplish many great feats for his people. Once there was a great water monster who killed many people, especially fishermen. Manabush let the monster eat him and then stabbed it from inside and killed it.
To get his people fire, Manabush went far to the east across the water to the wigwam of an old man and his daughters. The daughters found a little rabbit shivering outside their wigwam and took it in to warm it by their fire. Manabush grabbed an ember from the fire and fled back with it across the water, bringing fire to his people.
Once he climbed a mountain and stole tobacco from a giant who kept it there, and he had to flee from the giant to bring tobacco back to his people. As he fled, he hid himself just before a cliff, and the giant ran past him and over the cliff.
When the giant climbed back up the cliff, bleeding and bruised, Manabush grabbed him and threw him to the ground, making him the grasshopper that today can only chew at the tobacco plants in the fields.
Once Manabush was out hunting and deceived some birds into singing with him. When they were close, he caught a swan and a goose on a sand bar and killed them for his dinner. However, by then he was tired, so he buried the birds up to their necks in sand, built a fire around them to cook them, and lay down to take a nap.
When he awoke, he was hungry, and so he went to get his cooked birds. When he pulled at the necks, he came up with the heads and necks, but the bodies of the birds were missing. He ran out on the sand bar just in time to see people in canoes disappearing around a point of land.
Realizing they had stolen his meal, he ran after them yelling “Winnebago! Winnebago!”, which is the name the Menominee have used ever since for their thievish neighbors to the south.