The Four Evil Gifts

In the Anishinaabe Migration Story, alcohol is the last and most evil of the four evil gifts that Short Bear Ribs brought home from his trip back east, where he met two ugly, smelly “red-face bear men.” who had built a square wigwam made of tree-trunks. (The first white men ever seen by the migrating Anishinabeg, red-faced from cold & alcohol & wearing dirty, shaggy coats.) They persuaded this hungry, stupid young man to feast on a bear (his clan) that they had killed (this is considered cannibalism).

They told Short Bear Ribs to take the four evil gifts as “sample trade goods” back to his people. He didn’t know what that meant, but he took the four evil things as gifts, which everyone understands, or so they think.

Short Bear Ribs returned to the sacred island with the four evil gifts; a mirror (encouraging self-centered vanity, instead of seeing your appearance reflected in the smiling eyes of a friend or beloved): red calico (signifying that the land would be traded for worthless colored rags); a gun ( the means of the new type of devastating warfare the people would conduct against their fellow, Dakota inhabitants of the lands the Migration was moving into); and last; the most evil: alcohol. Its evilness was proven by what was immediately done with it on Moningwaakunig (Madeline) island, WI, where the 5th fire of the Migration had been lit.

Elders pondered whether this drink might be poison? and found a friendless forlorn old woman who had no relatives left to look after her. “Drink this” they said and waited to see if she would get sick or die, or whether it would be safe for them to drink. She began to fling her creaky old bones around, to scream and sing in her old lonely voice that no grandchildren listened to, to screech and laugh where she had softly wept from hunger when no one remembered her after a hunt.

“Oh, this is good stuff!” the elders said and began grabbing and drinking from that big jug. From this, what those supposedly wise leaders did, you can see: it is not alone alcohol, but that this poison attacks people through existing weaknesses of spirit. Those elders were not wise; those people had not cared for that lonely old woman. They made both a deadly experiment and a mockery of her when she had no one–they should have been the ones–to protect her and take care of her. Through these weaknesses of theirs, the poison of the 4th evil gift took over. But everyone has weaknesses; this poison can always find something to work through.

Soon the sacred island where the big Midewiwin lodge had first been raised, where the Bear had given secrets of new medicines to the people, had become a riotous, dangerous, disgusting place. People were fighting, killing each other, talking loud & senseless, vomiting and pissing on the medicine ground, the arbors, the Fifth Fire. Sober people–quiet sad families carrying their wounded, their passed-out or sick drunks–left the island. And from the drunks who stayed there drinking, arose within them those corrupted spirits who do much evil, who love death, dig up graves, threaten people with death unless those people do whatever evil the bear walker wants, kill people with poisons (both alcohol which they are always offering and other poisons which matchi-manitou taught them to make). They commit atrocious crimes, even to their own young daughters and their sisters.

All these consequences and the spreading poison, a spirit-poison (the white man used to call alcohol “spirits” knowing that about it: that is a spiritual poison as well as physical) has weakened the people, has left our path a bloody and misery-haunted chaos, has left us awaiting the true kindling of the purifying Seventh Fire. We no longer know where. Once we were going there, many others would have met together there, but we don’t now where it is we were supposed to go to anymore.

Through this poison of alcohol, the path and the grand destination were destroyed among us. Much suffering over this 300 years since the 5th Fire was put out by the 4 evil gifts has had to be endured even by those who themselves never touched the poison.

The 4th evil gift is a racist weapon that has been mounted against the survival of Indigenous people. We must help our young people find ways to combat it.

We must show them by our example how to value each other and to want to give to others rather than to grab, to buy, to accumulate possessions. Mahpiya Luta (Red Cloud) tells us that “love of possessions is a disease among them.” Whether their ancestory kits are “formal dance gowns” or PowWow regalia, kitchen kits or tipis, bows or guns, horses or cars, it doesn’t matter. The lesson is the same: buy, buy, buy, gain status by what you can buy and keep. Young children need to be taught how to love, not to be consumers.

– This story was taken from a post on an old AISES bulletin board.
It was submitted by Paula Geise.

Painting by: Mark Anothony Jacobson
Artist Link:

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