A - M
Native People come from an Oral Narrative Tradition. Storytelling was a "sacred" process because it provided The People with social, cultural and historical contexts. In other words, the oral narrative acted as a social cohesive for the entire tribe and constituted the 'cultural grounding' of Indigenous people for thousands of years. Speeches/Stories were a crucial part of ceremonial occasions. Often long and complex, they covered a variety of moods and issues thus constituting one of the most important links in an oral tradition designed to pass on knowledge to succeeding generations. There are a lot of similarities in story content from tribe to tribe. During celebrations, ceremonies and gatherings, stories were shared among tribes; often even given as gifts much like songs were given as gifts. The stories would then be revised according to the region from which the tribe came. If, for example, a gift of a story was given from the Plains to a coastal tribe, the creatures would become water creatures as opposed to flat land creatures such as buffalo. Also there are shared stories, for example, Great Flood stories such as the Women Who Fell From the Sky is both Anishinabe and Haudenaussaune. What follows are 'abridged' versions some of which were originally quite long and intricate.
"I am the 'worker bee' or carpenter of the animal kingdom. My medicine is in tune with water and earth energy. I have a strong sense of family and home. I also leaves itself plenty of escape routes from my home which is a lesson that teaches you not to paint yourself into corners. Linear thinking does not always allow for creativity. To not acknowledge alternatives is to 'dam' the flow of experience in our lives. Honour the power of attaining a sense of achievement."
Tsimshian legends tells of a woman who dammed
a stream to create a swimming pool to escape the constant nagging of her
husband because she was not seeing to her wifely duties. She was a dreamer
and preferred to be alone with them The more he
nagged the longer she remained in the pool until one day she became covered
with fur. Her heavy leather apron turned into a flat tail which she
slapped on the surface of the water as she dove.
"I am the power of introspection. I sit in the west on the medicine wheel. I enter the dream lodge to digest the year's experiences. It is in the Dream Lodge that my Ancestors advise me (and you) regarding alternative pathways that will lead to your personal goals. Female Bear medicine, in particular, is powerful medicine and also protects and helps to calm internal chatter so that your path can be walked in knowing silence."
Story: In West Coast cultures, there are several legends telling of a Chiefs daughter being abducted by a bear. The high ranking woman had been out in the woods picking berries and stepped on some Bear dung and began to curse out loud, insulting their cleanliness. Two Bears nearby heard her and decided they would not tolerate such insolence. They felt the disrespectful woman had to be punished. To do this, one Bear transformed himself into a very handsome man who approached this woman, and lured her to accompany him to his mountain home. When she did, she fell in love with him and became partially Bear-like herself.
She later married him and had twin cubs. Their children were born as little creatures that resembled bears who could transform themselves into human form like their father.
The woman's brothers eventually found her and, in an unequal contest, killed her husband. They returned to the village but the two bear sons did not feel comfortable and eventually left to return to the forest. All Bear Clan members are descended from this woman and her two sons.
Bear used to strut through the forest showing of his beautiful, elegant and bushy tail. He told anyone who would listen that he had the most beautiful tale of all the animals. Fox tiring of all the vanity and boasting lured Bear out onto the ice with the promise of a huge, fat salmon waiting for him to eat. Bear soon grew bored waiting for the salmon to appear and fell asleep beside the hole in the ice; Fox quickly stuck Bears tail in the ice; the ice froze. The next morning Fox raced up to the sleeping bear and yelled in his ear causing him to leap to his feet. Bears beautiful tail snapped off; that is why to this day bear has a short tail. Ah, the folly of vanity!
BUFFALO - TATANKA
Shoshone Legend has caterpillar man dying leaving caterpillar woman grieving. She grieved for a year until Great Mystery, said that it was time to stop at which point she was turned into a magnificent butterfly which brought beauty, colour and grace to the world. Women's Fancy Shawl powwow dance reflects the teachings of butterfly and is patterned after the movements of butterfly.
"I am the great sacred "medicine dog" and "culture hero" of the Plains; among other tribes. I have great magical powers, but they do not always work in my favor. Unfortunately, my own folly sometimes fools me. It just shows that I am human and can teach you about your own foolishness. I often cannot see the forest for the trees, or until the tree is lying on top of me and I wonder how it got there? I help humans to "lighten up" when the world becomes too serious. Remember, if you cannot take ownership of your foibles and ideosyncracies and laugh at yourself, then living in a good way is lost; humour is half the battle. I've often thought that I am a very misunderstood culture hero! I did not create the world, just like my culture hero brothers like Raven and Glooscap, I came to help organize it. Please do not call me a trickster, it sounds malicious and I am not a malicious person, I was sent to help the humans not hurt them!"
STORY: (Kittitas Legend) A long time ago, the animals decided to climb to the land of the stars from the top of Huckleberry Mountain to find the secret of fire. When they arrived, they found two sisters who had been kidnapped by the Star people. When the help of the sisters, the animals made a long rope of milkweed and thistle stalks and slid down to the earth. While each of the animals tried to bring fire with them, every spark went out except for one live coal which Beaver kept alive in his paw by fanning it with his big flat tail. The animals were very happy to have obtained fire to cook with and to keep them warm.
The fire was kept alive by the animals for a very long time. They covered it every night with ashes and kept careful watch to make sure that it did not go out. But after many moons had come and gone, the animals became careless. One morning when they got up and poked the ashes, they could not find a single spark. They were very upset. Each blamed the other for letting he fire go out.
They scolded and argued with each other until wise old Bull Frog said, "Why don't we select the best runners and ask them to run in the direction the wind blew? If they hurry, they may be able to catch the fire. "Who can run the fastest?" asked Mole.
Some animals believed Jack Rabbit was the fastest, while others believed that it was Deer. In the hope he might be chosen to chase the fire, Coyote began showing off to the other animals. Coyote was sleek and muscular. The sun reflected off his smooth and glossy coat. He was sure that if anybody could catch the sparks from the fire, it would be him. Then, without waiting for the other animals to ask him, Coyote took off through the woods faster than the wind had ever blown. His big, bushy tail could hardly keep up with him. After he had run for many miles, Coyote became tired. His tongue hung out and the froth from his mouth covered his sides but he kept running. Many hours later, Wildcat happened along. Suddenly, he heard a faint noise and heard Coyote gasp for breath. Wildcat walked toward the noise and saw Coyote. "Why are you so tired?", asked Wildcat. "I'm trying to catch up with the last sparks of fire", whispered Coyote, who was now only a shadow of his former self and was limping along on three legs.
As soon as Wildcat learned what Coyote was after, he started to run after the sparks. Coyote, with his last big of strength, caught Wildcat by the tail and held him back. "Let go of my tail", cried Wildcat. Coyote held on tight to the tail because he knew he was close to the sparks and he wanted all the glory for himself. Wildcat saw a big spark of fire just ahead. Coyote saw it too, but he was too exhausted to run any further. He wound himself around a small tree and held on to Wildcat's tail with all his might. Wildcat struggled hard and was able to break free, but only by leaving his tail behind.
Wildcat caught up with the wind and snatched the spark of fire in his mouth. When the fire burned him, he wrinkled his noise and turned up his lips so he could place the spark between his teeth. He returned the fire to the other animals and was a big hero. Ever since that day, wildcats have had a bobtail and wrinkled nose. Coyotes have never recovered their good looks for their shining fur. To this day, they are as slim as shadows.
CRANE - K'ASKOOS
"I am a symbol of leadership, solitude and independence. I seldom speak for I prefer to be quiet, thoughtful, watchful. My heart is acute, however and even though I am quiet I know what is going on around me. In those rare moments when I do speak the world stops to listen for mine is a voice worth hearing. I choose my words carefully. I am not, in other words, someone who "waits to speak" but one who gathers together all the relevant information before I make my views known. This is hoe it worked for thousands of years in the tribes. I am a much revered clan among the Anishinaabe people."
STORY: Puyallup (Washington) Legend)
A long time ago, Crane was known by all the animals as a great fisherman, although he was only able to catch fish in shallow water. Little Diver was also skilled at catching fish, but did all her fishing in deep water. Crane admired Little Diver, both for her fishing ability and for her slim, glossy, and graceful neck. Crane fell in love with little Diver and asked her to be his wife. Since Little Diver thought it would be great fun to be Crane's wife and have him fish for her while she kept house and enjoyed herself in the company of other birds, she consented to marry him. Crane thought he and Little Diver would live happily together. He believed that she would continue to dive after fish in deep water, and he would continue to wade for fish in shallow water. This would allow them to always have a good supply of food.
Arrangements were quickly made for the wedding. Birds from far and wide were invited. After the marriage ceremony was over, a big dinner of many varieties of fish was served. On the morning following the wedding, Crane, as usual went fishing. He only caught enough fish for himself, expecting his wife to catch her usual supply. Much to his surprise, his wife went swimming instead of fishing. Before Crane left home the next morning, she told him very plainly that it was the duty of a good husband to provide food for his family and that she did not feel that it would be necessary for her to help him. Poor Crane had to fish twice as hard to catch enough for the two of them.
The following morning, Crane's wife told him that one of her relatives would be having dinner with them that evening. This meant that poor Crane had to wade in deeper water and work three times as hard as he had ever done before he was married. Worse still, his wife's relative did not leave after dinner. A few days later, another relative of his wife came to live with them. Crane said nothing about his increased responsibilities and instead worked harder and harder. In order to catch more fish, Crane had to fish in water so deep that he had to stand on his tiptoes while he was fishing. To make matters worse, his wife's relatives continued to arrive. They never helped him fish and greedily ate every morsel he caught.
To catch enough fish to feed such a big family, Crane needed to have longer legs so he could wade into deeper water. He began to lengthen his legs by pulling and stretching them as far as he could. As days passed, Crane kept stretching his legs. They gradually became longer as well as bluer from wading in such cold water. Finally, there was no flesh left on his legs at all; they were nothing but long bones covered with scaly skin. Crane has never been able to wade out far enough to catch enough fish for is wife and her relatives. That is why, even today, Crane always has such a forlorn and worried look.
DEER - WAN
In the beginning the Deer had no horns, but his head was smooth just like a doe's. He was a great runner. Rabbit was a great jumper, and the animals were curious to know which could go farther in the same time. A race was decided and a large pair of antlers would go to the winner.
On the day fixed all the animals were there, with the antlers put down on the ground at the edge of the thicket to mark the starting point. While everybody was admiring the horns the Rabbit said: "I don't know this part of the country; I want to take a look through the bushes where I am to run."
They thought that all right, so the Rabbit went into the thicket, but he was gone so long that at last the animals suspected he must be up to something. When the Rabbit came out at last the animals accused him of cheating, but he denied it until they went into the thicket and found the cleared road. They agreed that Rabbit didn't deserve to race Deer, and the horns were given to Deer who has worn ever since.
They told the Rabbit that as he was so fond of cutting down bushes he might do that for a living hereafter, and so he does to this day.
Story: One day fawn heard the soft, beckoning music of Great Mystery calling her to come. Fawn was not aware that a huge ugly demon was guarding the pathway. Demon did not want anyone making connections with Great Mystery, this way Demon would be the powerful one because everyone would would be afraid. Fawn was not at all afraid. Demon breathed hell-fire and brimstone trying to frighten fawn. Instead she look at him with her huge loving and compassionate eyes and eventually melted Demons heart who let her pass.
"I am innocent, playful, much like my cousin the seal. I am very devoted to my family and a fierce protector when called to do. Humans are also my family and if you are in trouble when in my domain I will try to help you. I am non-judgmental and have a powerful way of changing negative energy to positive energy by just one big, embracing grin. I come to you without criticism and without fear, please treat me with love and respect. I know who I am and stand in my own truth joyfully while living life to the fullest. I am also the keeper of dreams. Listen to my song and remember your forgotten dreams."
Story (Tsimshian): "A woman wandered listlessly to the edge of the great water. She was a dreamer and unable to do much else. Her people became impatient with her seeming lack of willingness to help in the day to day life of the tribe and so she became an outcast. She had wandered for many days before arriving at the edge of the world. Her clothes were in rags, her hair tangled and she was starving. She found a little boat made of cockle shells and slipped into it. The boat launched itself into the big water and floated out to sea. Suddenly she heard clicking noises and raised her tired eyes to look over the side of the boat. She looked into a pair of the most amazing, sympathetic eyes she'd ever seen. "You are one of us," Blue Dolphin said to her. "Come with me, your dreams are safe in my world." Without fear she slipped over the side of the boat and into the vast ocean where she was greeted by many blue dolphins and for the first time she was blissfully, free and her dreams about connectedness to the water, kindness and protection came into their fullness and beauty.
DRAGONFLY - GYILATS'I'TS
"The Zuni people place
great store in the mystery and magic of me. I
symbolize whirlwind, swiftness and activity. My wings
are transparent suggesting that change can be an illusion.
In other words, if you remain stuck in your ways believing that
it is the right and safe route, you may be missing the wonders of
another way of thinking or being. I do not fly
in a rut, nor should you. Don't get caught up in the facade of
trying to prove yourself to your detractors. Never underestimate
what you inherently know, everybody knows something, and all
knowledge is valuable; believe in yourself. Take action,
the sanctity of who you are as a child of the universe depends
I am connected both to both the Universe and to the Earth. I am a sacred symbol of courage; that is why my feathers are such powerful tools for healing, and why there are special ceremonies for them. I teach you that it is okay to combine wisdom and courage -- it is okay to be wise enough to know that a change needs to be made in your life and then finding the courage to execute the change. It is okay to gather your courage, for the universe presents you with opportunities to soar above the mundane levels of life; the test is the power to recognize opportunities. Do not, in other words, be afraid of the unknown.
Embracing wisdom and courage means to fly above life's difficulties and smell the tobacco from the sacred pipes!"
"I am strength, agility, freedom, power and nobility. These are powerful medicines and must be used wisely with great compassion and intelligence. I am a quiet but strong leader among my people. I do not use my size to intimate but to protect. I do not take freedom for granted for I know that in a heartbeat it can be taken from me. I appreciate and celebrate every day that I walk upon Mother Earth and I will never bow my head before any conqueror."
Yakima Story: A hunter killed a great elk and stretched the skin to dry by driving wooden stakes through it. Afterwards he threw the skin into the sky (Cassiopeia) where the light above shines through the stake holes forming stars.
FACE MASKS - AMIILK
"I am wily and clever. I am not very big, and therefore must rely on other attributes to keep myself safe. I am one of Mother Earth's original "street smart" family members. I am always able to sniff out potential danger and then use the agility of my intelligence to get myself out of trouble. My great strength is my chameleon appearance - beautiful red, silky fur that blends into the forest in the spring, winter and fall, and then turning snowy white to vanish into the whiteness of the winter months. My ability to quiet my inner chatter in order to be watchful, and change colours by adapting quickly makes me a natural protector of my family. I have the ability to insinuate myself into any situation without drawing undue attention. My Native two-legged cousins learned a lot by watching how I blended into my environment, how I was able to outsmart enemies more powerful than me. But watch out for because I am watching you as I figure out your next move!"
FROG - GANAW
Tsimshian culture, the Frog is known as the communicator between Mother
Earth and humans. Frog is considered the only child to Mother Earth.
There is a
story about Volcano Woman. Her only child, the Frog, saw evil men hunting
her earth creatures for pleasure rather than necessity. When the men noticed
Frog, they knew they would be found out so they killed him. Volcano Woman
erupted and destroyed the earth in her sorrow and fury. She cried great tears
of lava. The earth was destroyed but in time would be born again even
stronger and more fertile.
A long time ago, in a Hopi village, there lived a little boy. His mother loved him so much that she dressed him in a pretty shirt and embroidered moccasins.
One day the boy wandered away from the village, over the plain, and a band of Navaho swooped down and carried him to their camp, where the women took his shirt and moccasins and gave them to the Chief's son. The boy was forced to work all day with little to eat; in a few weeks, he grew thin and sick.
Now, near the Navaho camp a kind-hearted Hawk lived on a high bluff. It often flew over the camp, and saw the boy working hard, and never playing with the other children. So one day, when all the Navahos were gathered together at the Chief's lodge, the Hawk flew down and hovered over the boy's head.
"Oh, do not kill me!" begged the boy.
"I am not going to hurt you," answered the Hawk, "I am sorry for you. Jump on my back, and hold on to my wings, and I'll carry you away."
The boy jumped on its back, and held on tight, and Hawk passed over the place where the Navahos were gathered; when they saw the boy on the back of the Hawk, they were filled with rage and wonder.
Hawk flew the boy to his home, and then went back to the camp. It swooped down on the Chief's little son, and pulling off his embroidered shirt and moccasins and carried them back to the boy. The Navaho were terrified and quickly packed and left the camp.
The Hawk dressed the boy, fed him on Rabbit-meat, and other good things. After that it flew him back to his mother. Then, without waiting to be thanked, Hawk flew back to its home.
"A Greek poet named Archilochus contrasted me with Fox in metaphor. He said that Fox knows many things, but I know one great thing." Well, that's always been enough for me!
In other words, there are humans who delight in trying to find an explanation for everything, and run hither and yon trying to discover a wide range of explanatory tactics, it helps with insecurity issues. I, on the other hand, use a strategy of trying to render all the overt varieties of nature into one all encompassing truth. I am also called the "American porcupine", but I was Hedgehog before I was American! I am female medicine and teach about innocence and good will; although when threatened and backed into a corner, I will come out quills blazing! Generally speaking, however, I have a pretty easy going personality and have a great interest in the world around me."
"I am Power,
Strength and Freedom. When I arrived on Turtle Island in the 17th
century, brought by the Spanish conquistadors, I quickly became esteemed and much coveted by the
tribes, particularly the Plains. One of me could replace a dozen
dogs, and made travel much easier. Once humans tamed me and
clambered up on my back, freedom and speed flooded their souls; new
and exciting journeys of discovery were underway. I bring strong
medicine in this regard. I am willing to accept the weight of humans
on my back; in return humans need to accept the weight of balance and
responsibility. I am also a prey animal and this I understand about
myself. However, I do my best not to let others prey upon my good will
and kindness. I remind you that your earth walk is a loving, balanced
and harmonious totality, a complete circle of the medicine wheel. Wisdom
remember, power is wisdom
and with it comes accountability. Compassion, love, sharing,
caring and giving freely that which has been given to you are the
benchmarks of my true power."
HUMMINGBIRD - K'OGIGAWS
"I exist only in the western hemisphere. I love it here. Mayan legends explain that the reason I am so tiny is because I was created out of the scraps of feathers left over when other flying creatures were made. I like that story and there is enough of me to be able to retrieve lost souls because I can quickly fly undetected into small spaces and bring back a soul. I am extremely adaptable because I can hover, fly up, down, backwards, forwards with great speed. Generally speaking I am quick thinker, problem-solver and bring joy, happiness, good luck and light to the world. I speak to the heart in all of you and tell you that a closed heart shuts away life's radiant energy and colour. Do not judge, assume, make conjecture about others, rather, laugh, sing and celebrate differences. In doing so you will elevate the world.
Legend says that
put the twinkle in the stars, and that if you catch me I will guarantee your choice of a mate."
"Tsimshian (Pacific Northwest Coast) legend tells a story that I used to be a small girl and boy who, as they swam further away into deeper water laughed and jeered at their frightened mother standing on shore. Raven took pity on the weeping mother and changed her children into me; to this day my sad call is a cry to come home.
I mate for life and my medicine teaches loyalty, caring, close companionship and family. I share my life experience with you through my song in the mists of each new day. I have a vital role to play yet do not consider myself superior to anyone. I am powerful medicine in times when negative perceptions and stereotypes are emphasized.
The Ojibwa call me "Mang" or "the most handsome of birds." They thought my haunting cry was an omen of death. For the most part, I am a bird of magical powers, in others a messenger or a symbol of the power and strength of family."
THE LOON'S NECKLACE - TSIMSHIAN
On the bank of the Nicola river, in the Native village of Shalus, there lived long ago an old blind man named Kilora. Though he called himself a medicine man, he did little but dream, day in and day out all the while sitting in front of his house basking in the sun. His wife was impatient with him, snapping at him for his laziness and refusal to help with procuring food and other supplies. "There are other blind men in the world they have baskets to make, beads to polish and twine to spin and you sit there grinning at the sun."
"When some poor sick fool comes to you after ever doctor within three days march has failed him you say. Take four sweat baths, fast four days, pray to the four directions, Four of this and four of that, his wife fumed. "Any fool can give that kind of advice and get more for the giving of it." The Old Man did take any offense at his wife's nagging, and continued to dream. Only one sound was certain to rouse him, the cry of the Loon and when he heard it a strange restlessnessness overcame him. He would fumble for his walking stick, and grope his way up the trail toward the sound and Mammoth Lake.
Sometimes he would be gone for days. One year snow and bitter winds ushered in the coldest winter the village had ever known. The hunters returned with empty hands, and so it was day after day they were unable to find food. The people were starving and the women mourned their sobbing hungry children. Even the youngest and strongest of the warriors returned empty handed. Famine threatened the village.
The chief and medicine men debated whether they should send their young men to nearby Kamloops and Lillooet with articles to trade for food. The next day Kilora warned that the wolves were hungry and they would venture into the village and attack the children. Everyone thought he was a crazy old man, including the village idiot, and they all laughed at him, until at dusk they heard the howl of the wolves and the cries of the children as they were attacked. Kilora decided he had to use his magical powers to save the village.
He'd spent many days alone in his youth communing with the spirits of nature. He dawned his dentalion shell necklace, along with his magical bow and his sacred songs. He shot an arrow from the magical bow at the wolves and it did not fail to find its mark. The wolves did not come again and there was peace in the village.
When spring finally came, Kilora was determined to go once more to the hilltop to seek his father, the loon. All day he wandered listening for that stirring cry but hearing it not.
Still he set out on his quest. As he felt the glow of the setting sun on his left cheek, he knew the little lake was ahead of him. He was plagued by mosquito, startled by the harsh cry of the night bird. The night winds swept the forest bringing a thunderstorm. Quickly the storm was over and the pale moon sailed across the sky.
"Oh my father, the loon help me yet once again."
Father Loon floated over. "What is it that my son desires?"
"I am blind my father, would that I could see."
"Climb upon my back." Kilora did as requested and loon dived below the waters and swam swiftly and strong toward the far shore.
"Can you now see, my son?"
"Yes, I can see, but not as a man should see. There is still a thick fog in front of my eyes." Four times the loon plunged down and swam below the surface.
"Now I see, I can see!" Kilora gave thanks to his Father the Loon. Nothing but the dearest of his treasures would suffice as a gift. He drew of his collar of dentalion shells. He tossed it gently to the Loon and it settled around his neck; a few of the shells broke free and scattered across his back. As sure as it was day, the Loon received his necklace.
can be headstrong, unstoppable and ambitious. I also have longevity.
Therefore, to counter my sometimes aggressive style I also have in equal
portions integrity and an understanding of my own value and the value of
others. In the past it was thought that if respect were shown to
me, the hunt and hunter would be successful. This is true and it
is as a metaphor for how you should be treating each other. In
other words, there is nothing wrong with being confident, firm,
decisive, what makes these gifts magical is when they are combined with
ABOUT THE INDIGENOUS ORAL NARRATIVE: AN OVERVIEW
Father Sky continued to turn (meaning as the years went by) more and more technology has entered the lives of humans, and my role as a keeper of sacred knowledge began to fade. It all started "back in the day" with the invention of the printing press which started the erosion of the oral narrative. The stories became words in books, but the subtle nuances, understandings and knowledge were lost. They became 'stand alone' narratives and the connections to the culture from which they originated was irretrievably severed. Moreover, the Internet has shrunk the planet even more and people can move around wherever they desire even to the most remote places with the simple click of a mouse. It seems that this encroachment into unfamiliar territory includes collecting and retelling cultural histories without a real understanding of the culture from which the narratives come. And....we no longer have the patience to sit quietly and listen to the truth.
Unfortunately, today the modern teller is seen merely as an entertainer primarily for children, who works for very little (expectation usually being no payment) and simply recites words. A far cry from the once important person who had professional status in the community.
As a chronicler of Indigenous culture, I am reclaiming the honour and professionalism as a cultural guardian charged with the responsibility of being a powerful voice of change within the modern world. This vital aspect risks being lost in the mists of time as the world speeds up and our attention spans wane.
The true role of the Narrator is to teach about our cultures cultures, morals, spirituality, laws, and social values, that govern a community. Using the Oral Narrative as the forum, knowledge, values and beliefs are passed to future generations. Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations.
For a variety of stories and meanings
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