Birch symbolizes truth, new beginnings
and cleansing of the past
Ojibwe folklore has it that birch trees are immune to lightning strikes,
and that therefore these are good trees to take shelter under during
"How the Birch Tree
Got It's Burns" : an Ojibwe legend retold by Aurora Conley
The Ojibwe people always had stories to tell that had a moral. A main
character who was always used was Waynaboozhoo. But it is told that
you cannot tell a Waynaboozhoo story in the spring, summer, or fall,
only when there is snow on the ground or it is said that a frog will
be in your bed. You can put down cedar and ask to tell the story and
nothing will happen to you or your bed. This is what I am told. Now
this is the story about how the birch bark got its burns. Often stories
have different morals or different explanations so this one may be somewhat
different from others that you have heard.
It was wintertime and Waynaboozhoo's grandmother called
him to her. "Waynaboozhoo, omaa bi izhaan!" she called. "Come
here. It is cold and we have no fire for warmth or to cook and prepare
our food. I ask of you to go to find the fire, ishkodence, that Thunderbird
has in the west."
"Grandmother," Waynaboozhoo replied. "I
will go and look for the great ishkodence for you." He disguised
himself as a waboos, a little rabbit, and headed off to the west looking
for the fire.
When Waynaboozhoo finally reached Thunderbird's
home, he asked, "Please share the warmth inside your home. I am
cold and lost. I will only stay a little while, for I must be on my
The Thunderbird agreed and allowed Waynaboozhoo
to enter his home. Inside, Waynaboozhoo saw the fire and waited until
Thunderbird looked away. Then, Waynaboozhoo quickly rolled in the fire
and took off running toward his home with the fire on his back!
Thunderbird flew behind Waynaboozhoo throwing
lightning flashes at him! Waynaboozhoo grew tired and yelled for someone
to help him. "Widoka! Widoka washin! Help me!" he cried.
Then omaaî mitig, the birch tree, spoke.
"Come, hide beside me my brother. I will protect you." The
little waboos hid beneath the tree while Thunderbird flashed and thundered,
angry that Waynaboozhoo had stolen the fire. The lightning bolts missed
Waynaboozhoo every time but they hit omaaî mitig. Dark burn marks
scarred the white bark of the tree. That is why the birch tree now has
burn marks on its bark.