Keewaydinoquay Pakawakuk Peschel

Photo courtesy of Wendy Makoons Geniusz, with permission from the Miniss Kitigan Drum.

Native American (Anishinaabe), Ethnobotany

Keewaydinoquay Pakawakuk Peschel


The Aadizookaanag, our ancient stories and teaching spirits, are living beings. Keewaydinoquay’s storytelling clearly demonstrated the veracity of this Anishinaabe teaching. As she told stories, deep, “booming” voices of the Aadizookaanag echoed through the room as she spoke through her hand drum.

Raised in an Anishinaabe village on Cat Head Bay, on the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, Michigan, Keewaydinoquay was approximately nine when she began training to be a medicine woman under Nodjimahkwe. She also learned from other village elders. By the time she realized the extent of the knowledge that she had learned from them, her mentors had already passed over. Sharing this knowledge was her means of thanking them. Keewaydinoquay was a long-time educator, having taught in Michigan public schools for over 40 years before earning a MEd at Wayne State University and beginning doctoral coursework in ethnobotany at the University of Michigan. She later taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and founded the Miniss Kitigan Drum, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Anishinaabe culture. She said that she did not know her birth year, although census records suggest 1918 or 1919. She wanted people to understand that records of Indigenous births were not always made. She also taught that Anishinaabe people do not speak of “death.” Instead, we describe “passing over to the other side.” Keewaydinoquay passed over in 1999.

Puhpohwee (1978/1998), her most widely available publication, is an eclectic combination of materials related to fungi, including stories, teachings, medicinal and culinary recipes, and Keewaydinoquay’s drawings. In an interview, Keewaydinoquay explained that she wrote the original monograph after finding an academic article on mushrooms in a dentist’s office:

It said we Native Americans hate them, never use them, won’t walk near them, and don’t even look at them.  Scholars were quoted. I read it in disbelief. I wrote a letter disputing the article. A reply came back asking, “How do you know?” I wrote back saying that I am an Ojibway and a medicine woman.

A Harvard mycologist came to visit her, and she eventually published the first version of Puhpohwee. She later expanded it into a book edition (1998) containing more information and illustrations. When teaching, sharing one’s own lived experiences of working with knowledge, or sharing those experiences of a close relative or mentor, is crucial to Anishinaabe cultural protocols. A person without such stories is not reliable. Throughout her writings, Keewaydinoquay shares many stories of working with the knowledge she describes. As with the oral stories told in our communities, her stories are memorable and include specific instructions.

Among her works of interest to folklorists are:

Puhpohwee for the People: A Narrative Account of Some Uses of Fungi among the Ahnishinaabeg / Keewaydinoquay. [Second edition] (1998)

Wendy Makoons Geniusz