"When I was nineteen. I became very sick. A woman that was interested in me had given me this potion to drink. I went to see the doctor, because at first it was just like an ordinary sickness. It was like a pain in the chest. The doctor couldn't understand what was happening to me so he gave me some kind of pills....
Finally, I was going down and down. I was getting sicker and sicker, with nosebleeds. It's a nice way to die; you just float away. I certainly thought I was going to die because of that Indian medicine that had been administered to me. You see, this woman that wass interested in me, her mother was a medicine-woman, and the mother gave her the herbs. All because I refused her advances.
After about ten days of losing weight, I Was like a skeleton. So my mother got a very good medicine-woman for me. She came to look at me. She talked to me. She had already befriended me many times before. Then she performed the sucking ceremony, sucking out the objects or the medicine that was lodged somewhere in my insides. She would put these things out and there would be a good feeling
And then she did something special. You see, this is the custom of the Ojibway Indians when everything is hope less, when even the Indian medicine is hopeless...
... This is the highest sort of power that can be given to any one that is sick; and that is to give him a new name, a powerful new name. It is just like administering extreme unction, like the Jesuits do almost like a last rite.
So at that special moment she gave me a new name, the name of Copper Thunderbird. That was a very, very powerful new name and it cured me. From then on I changed, because that was a name whose power you could actually feel....
My name was changed to Copper Thunderbird. I sign my paintings Copper Thunderbird."
Excerpt from Norval Morrisseau Shaman Artist National Gallery Show Catalog 2006
More than a name, Copper Thunderbird is his artist identity. He renders this name on his paintings in Cree syllabics, which he learned from his former wife, the late Harriet Kakegamic. He was drawn to the simplicity and beauty of the syllabics after feature not only for Morrisseau, but also for other Anishnaabe school artists. having seen Inuit artists use them to sign their art. This practice became an identifying feature not only for Morrisseau, but also for other Anishnaabe school artists.
In the mid-1950s, Morrisseau spent a year in a Fort William sanatorium being treated for tuberculosis. There he met his future wife Harriet who regularly visited her father David Kakegamic, who was also a patient. During his recovery in the infirmary, he had a dream that enabled him to challenge the fears against giving form to oral legends and ultimately set him on his life mission:
Excerpt and personal conversation between Norval Morrisseau and Greg A. Hill Norval Morrisseau Shaman Artist National Gallery Show Catalog 2006
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