From the Ojibwe perspective, which is still Anishinabemwen

Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) is the most-spoken indigenous language in the Great Lakes basin. Charles Lippert, a speaker of Anishinaabemowin, has helped tremendously by researching the lakes and translating into Anishinaabemowin. Below are the translations for all the Great Lakes:

Nayaano-nibiimaang Gichigamiin: The Great Lakes (The Five Freshwater Seas)

Anishinaabewi-gichigami: Lake Superior (Anishinaabe’s Sea)

Ininwewi-gichigami: Lake Michigan (Illinois’ Sea)

Naadowewi-gichigami: Lake Huron (Iroquois’ Sea), also known as Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami (Great Crosswaters Sea)

Waabishkiigoo-gichigami: Lake Erie (Neutral’s Sea), also known as Aanikegamaa-gichigami (Chain of Lakes Sea)

Niigaani-gichigami: Lake Ontario (Leading Sea), also known as Gichi-zaaga’igan (Big Lake)

Gichigami (Sea) literally means “big (gichi) liquid (-gami)”. Gichigami can also refer to the Saltwater / Bitterwater Sea (i.e. ocean) — zhiiwitaagani-gichigami

The St. Louis River (MN / WI), St. Mary’s River (ON / MI), St. Claire River (ON / MI), Niagara River (ON / NY) and the St. Lawrence River (QC / ON) are all called Gichigami-ziibi (Sea River), as they all drain into or out of a Great Lake.

*A note on the compass – The Anishinaabe traditionally orient themselves to the East. Because the standard orientation is different in European and Anishinaabe cultures, we’ve included the English word “North” and the Anishinaabemowin word “Waabang,” meaning East, on the compass. The compass rose itself is in the form of a medicine wheel, an indigenous symbol used across the continent to denote the four directions.

A big thanks to Charles Lippert for supplying the following Anishinaabemowin place names:

Biiganaki-ziibiing: St. Louis, MO (By the Blackfoot River)
Aasamadinaansing-waakaa’igan: St. Charles, MO (Fort on the Little Sloping Hill)
Agaaming: East St. Louis, IL (On the Other Shore)
Mitigwaki-ziibiwishenying: Wood River, IL (Forest River)
Misi-ziibi: Mississippi River (Great River)
Biiganaki-ziibi: Missouri River (Blackfoot River)
Ininwewi-ziibi: Illinois River (River of the Illini [Plain Speakers])
Maanamego-ziibi: Meramec River (Catfish River)
Ikagookaawi-ziibi: Cahokia Creek (River of the Cahokia [Abundant with Geese])
Waawaabamowi-ziibiins: Silver Creek (Looking-glass Little River)
Gete-biskitigweyaang: Horseshoe Lake (The Old River Bend)
Zhedeg-minis: Pelican Island (Pelican Island)

Šikaakonki – Chicago, Illinois

Šikaakwa Siipiiwi – The Chicago River

Kihcikami – Lake Michigan

“Šikaakwa Siipiiwi in the Myaamia name for the Chicago River.  It was named for the abundance of Allium tricoccum (wild leek) which grew along its banks.  In the 1600s, the French called this plant “wild garlic” and for this reason, sometimes the river is mistakenly called the “Wild Garlic River.”  For more on this place name see Michael McCafferty, “A Fresh Look at the Place Name Chicago,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 96, no. 2 (Summer 2003), 116-29.  Other tribes have similar names for the river and the place, though they have different stories explaining the origin of the name.  While linguists and historians might be able to determine ultimate origins of the name, we do not believe that our understanding excludes alternate perspectives.” –

To learn more about the Myaamia language and culture, visit and

Author: neaseno

I was born on Powers Bluff in Wood County, Wisconsin, into a traditional community of Neshnabek. I was raised speaking only native languages, and learned to speak English upon entering school at the age of 6. As of this writing, I am one of 5 remaining Heritage Fluent Speakers of Potawatomi.

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