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.
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 Anishinaabe and Haudenaussaune. What follows are 'abridged' versions
some of which were originally quite long and intricate.
ORCA - 'NEEXL
"Tsimshian Orca Clan Story goes like this: I used to be a beautiful white wolf; Noo Halidzoks created only one of me because she thought I was the most beautiful of the four-leggeds. I wandered throughout the world looking for someone like myself because I was really lonely. I came back very unhappy because my quest confirmed I was the only white wolf. I fell into a deep sleep. I had a terrific vision and when I awoke I rushed to find Noo Halidzoks. "Ts'i'is (Grandmother), I have had a great vision; it calls for me to go below the great waters and sing the history of the world. I am so very lonely in my present form." Noo Halidzoks was sad, but realized the power of my vision and turned me into a shiny black whale. To remind me that I used to live on land as a wolf, she painted the white markings on my sides. I sank below the great waters singing my song and all the other swimming creatures rushed to greet me as their new family member..
"I am also held in great awe for my power and size, it was believed I could capture a canoe and take it underwater to transform the occupants into Whales. Thus even to this day a Whale near the shore is considered to be a human transformed and trying to communicate with his family. You will recall the story of Luna. In 2001, he became separated from his pod in Nootka Sound on the west coast of B.C. He arrived on the eve of the death of Chief Ambrose Maquinna of the Mowachaht-Muchalath First Nation. The MMFT believed that Luna embodied the spirit of their deceased Chief and was given the name "Tsux'iit", in honour of the late Chief. He stayed for four years until his untimely and unnecessary death.
I am also a popular symbol for romance as I mate for life and look dashing in my black and white tuxedo, I'm hard to resist by the ladies! Like wolf, I stay with my family and travel in pods."
Story: Natcitlaneh was abandoned on an island by his brothers-in-law who were jealous of his prowess as a hunter. He was rescued by the Sea Lions and taken to their village in a cave where he healed their Chief. In gratitude, the Sea Lions gave him supernatural powers which enabled him to carve eight wooden Orcas. These Whales came to life when they were placed in the sea and avenged him by killing his brothers-in-law.
As a mark of respect, Natcitlaneh built a house and named it Orca House. According to the legend, the ancestors visited the house located at the bottom of the ocean to obtain rights to use the Orca as a crest.
"I am a powerful symbol of the feminine. I am grace, empathy, gentleness, laughter, curiosity. Do not take me lightly for I am a powerhouse of positive thinking and action. I am independent and dance to the music of my own life and my own beliefs. I am confident in my appearance and intelligence and in my ability to walk lightly on Mother Earth and in a good way. I streak smoothly through my world, not jealous, not judgmental. My purpose is to elevate the world in an uplifting way. I am agile, swift, strong, protective - I am WOMAN!"
"I am also called 'Night Eagle' and traditionally sit in the East, the place of illumination on the Medicine Wheel. Since time immemorial, many two-leggeds have been afraid of the night, the dark - in other words, the unknown. Night is my friend. Some Native people are fearful of me and call my feathers "deceiver feathers" - because my feathers are silent - you cannot hear me when I fly or strike my prey. I am powerful medicine - the old adage 'wise as an owl' is very true. I may be silent, but I sees and hear everything.- where others are deceived I clearly understand and therefore do not see myself as a deceiver unless I choose to live my life in this negative way, Instead, I choose to see and know what is out there in a good way. I speak meaningful speech when it matters and when it will be heard. I am the totem of mystics, medicine and spiritual leaders, clairvoyants. I cannot, therefore, be a deceiver for these powerful people carry integrity, courage, leadership, wisdom, honour, respect, love and humility."
"I steal softly and silently through my world pausing for a moment from time to time to sniff the air. My blackness blends with the inky stillness of the water and trees. Slowly I looks around, my powerful citrine eyes, fasten on the yellow moon. I need only blink once in acknowledgement of that connection. I give a soft sigh of contentment, for where I am standing at this moment in time in this place is where I am supposed to be. Slowly I move on feeling the branches of the trees brush softly against my gleaming coat. I need only blink once to feel that connection. I am at peace in my world. I roam Turtle Island under different names: Melanistic Puma is one such name (melanism meaning the depth of black colouring in my coat). I am quiet, mysterious, but when I am in female form I will fight fiercely in the protection of my family. There was a time on the Pacific Northwest coast when I was a powerful guardian spirit. I did not speak often, but when I did, the Tsimshian listened. I also understand that living in the present, although there is risk, is where I am happiest. The past is gone, the future is waiting, the present is now. I need only blink once in acknowledgement of those connections."
RABBIT - STUKWLIIN
"I have no natural defense system because I am a nervous "prey" animal. I carry the specter of fear always and am so frightened of being preyed upon, that I use the very energy I am afraid of to bring such attitudes and actions to me. I am always at risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, I understand that fear is something to be acknowledged and dealt with, not to be buried deep into the recesses of the ancient brain so that it informs all my daily actions and decisions.
My teaching is to tell you to breathe the fear out, start journaling, find a way to get them out of your system so that you are not weighed down. I am a burrowing animals; find a safe place to burrow so that you can clear your thoughts and open your heart to new possibilities and use your ears to listen, really listen."
Story: Years and years ago, an Elder once asked Thunderbird, "Why do Rabbits have such big ears?" The Answer: "In order to listen hard at what was around it, so that it would be able to survive another day without becoming someone else's lunch!" The Elder laughed. It was also a way of telling Thunderbird to shut up and listen, which she took to heart!
RAVEN - GAAX
"To West Coast Native people, I represent the symbol of creation, change and adaptability.
SALMON - HOON
Instinct, Persistence, Determination.
"The Pacific Northwest Coast people believed that I was actually human with eternal life and I lived in a large house far under the ocean. In the Spring, I put on my Salmon disguise and offered myself to the villagers as food. How unselfish am I! The People believed that when my entire skeleton was returned to the sea, my spirit would rise again and change into Salmon people. In this way, the cycle could begin again the following year. This is a true story, when I am respected I come back.
I am considered to be the staple food of many coastal communities and I was brought to the rivers and seas by Raven because he was worried the humans would go hungry. Nice guy, Raven! The Haida tell of how Raven stole me from the Beaver people by rolling up their stream and landscape like a carpet and flying away. It was so heavy that he could only fly a short distance at a time. He would stop wherever there was a tree to rest. The Beaver people transformed themselves back into Beavers in order to stop him. They would gnaw down the trees that Raven stopped at and each time some of the water and me would escape the rolled up landscape forming great streams and rivers of my people. Cool story."
"I am powerful and teach about change, about
creativity, In the ssss-pring, I shed my ssss-kin and looks forward to the year with a changed mind and heart.
I am al about healthy
sexual, physical, spiritual, and emotional energy. It is the energy of wholeness,
spiritual knowing, and the ability to experience anything willingly and without
resissss-tance. I am very powerful medicine because I teach you that
we are universal beings with ability to 'shed our skins' and experience new
ways of being in the world. Transsss-mutation is my life. Ssss-it
with me in the rays of Grandfather Sun and hear my ssss-tories."
SPIDER - SGYET
"I wove the fabric of the universe. My red children refer to me as 'Many Legs' (Spider) and I connect the past with the future, creating endless possibilities. I am female medicine and as Spider-woman I am a major Pueblo goddess. I am a skilled and powerful weaver and weave the patterns of destiny. My web contains its dreams, its future, its past and present. I am the weaver of fate. I am wise, creative and have much divine inspiration. I can shape shift because I understand the patterns of illusion and get along well with Dragonfly. I am the quintessential female energy for the creative force of life and very, very powerful. Dream with me, for I will hold your dreams in my web."
SWAN - GAK
"Some folks thought I was born looking like an "ugly duckling", I thought I was kinda cute and I didn't let the unkind words of others get to me. My gentle nature and belief that there was a plan for me did not cause me to question my looks. Instead, I accepted the way things were and that my life would be a noble one. Eventually, my patience paid off and I was transformed into a beautiful white swan. Listen to me, wherever it is you are at this moment in time is where you are supposed to be. Do not deny who you are, what you know or what you feel, for these are the messages from your Ancestors. Acknowledge your feelings and float on the heartbeat of Mother Earth's blood."
TURKEY - K'ASK'OOSM WAHUU
"Okay, so like Frog, I'm not the best lookin' dude in the photo album, but like Tatanka, Buffalo, I am very generous by giving my life willingly to humans so they can live another day. That's really has to count for something! My INNER beauty is in my generosity and willingness to provide food for sustenance. All I ask in return is to use my beautiful feathers to honour and respect my sacrifice and my caring. Hence. it is gratifying to see my feathers are often found on regalia and headdresses of Mother Earth's Red children (Haudenosaunne). In other words, it ain't always about Eagle! My meat is one of the sacred foods eaten at great ceremonies all across the world."
TURTLE - MIZHEEKAY (OJIBWA)
"I am the oldest symbol on Mother Earth according to both Haudenausaunee and Anishinabe teachings which tell us that North America was created when tiny muskrat brought some earth from the bottom the ocean and placed it on me because I had the strongest and widest back. I often bury my thoughts, like my eggs, in the sand, and allow Grandfather Sun and Great Mystery to hatch new ideas. I teach you to bring your ideas out into the light. If you align with the Hare, bigger, stronger, faster does not always lead you where you really want to go, because by the time you arrive you might not always remember why you are there, or even how you got there, for that matter. My well developed and deliberate thoughts are best. My slow, steady pace gives you time to learn life's lessons and enjoy the journey while being grounded in the rhythms of the Earth Mother.
My shell was also used as a calendar by Mother Earth's Red children with the thirteen large patterned squares counting out all the full moons of the year. The 28 small squares on the outside counting the days of each lunar month. There are teachings everywhere in Mother Earth's world."
"Okay, okay, I agree, I'm not even up there with Frog and Turkey in the looks department! It's not my fault that I have a sad and homely look about me. Did it ever occur to anyone that I have a really, really thankless job. Huh, didja? Looks can be deceiving and I remind you that exterior beauty is fleeting, that it is the whole person that needs to be accepted and embraced, I have my own strengths. I carry very powerful medicine because I literally clean up after you! We all need people like me in our lives. I'm patient, I wait for my changes, I don't not intrude or pass judgment. I simply wait for the opportunity to help clean up a mess. It doesn't get much better than that to have a good, solid citizen like me to help you out when you need it, so get over how I look!"
WHALE - LBUUN
"I sing the history of Mother Earth. My characteristics are similar to the wolves for they are my immediate earthly family. They raise and protect each other's young an communicate their thoughts to the world, so do I. Overall, I still have my connections to the land because I must come to the surface to breathe. My songs are about the relationship between the Universe and Mother Earth. My medicine asks you to find and acknowledge your own personal history, and to recognize and to honour what you know. Look to your past find my song that will release the music to sing your memories. Do not be afraid, because to visit your memories is to reconnect to your whole self (past, present and future), and to bring your spirit into harmony with Great Mystery."
I have many definitions, almost as many as there were Native Tribes before the Europeans came to this continent. I AM AN ACTUAL ANIMAL. Only a powerful medicine man or woman could destroy me because I could not be killed with conventional weapons."
WENDIGO - THE SPIRIT OF THE LONELY
I sometime acts as a protector because a powerful medicine woman or man has intervened and caused me to swoop down down to attack evil-doers; legend states I drag and force evil-does to run until his feet catches fire. At that point, he is either taken up into the sky or keeps running until he dies; in either case, he is never seen or heard from again thanks to spirit doctor intervention."
AN INTERVIEW WITH THUNDERBIRD ABOUT WINDIGO
the word come from:
Windigo live primarily?
a malevolent creature?
any changes to the understanding of what Windigo is?
WALRUS - T'IIBN
"Okay, so I belong in the not so pretty section of Mother Earth's photo Album, there are a lot of us come to think of it. I ain't purty, but I am a sacred staple of the Mi'Kmaq people of the east coast and the Inuit of the north. I am a huge animal weighing up to 4000 pounds (only elephants are larger), that can feed many people for many days. I am a strong with a relatively easy going personality. Alas, as a mainstay of the local diet I am becoming scarce. I need to be looked after. I am also a shape shifter because I do change colour from the grey to a pinklish hue. You don't have to be gorgeous to be magical. I am strong, and a protector of my kind."
WOLF - GYIBAAW
I am a fierce protector and will protect pups that are not my own if a sister has been killed. Mother Earth's Red children learned from me in this regard and in the old tribes the children were raised by the entire tribe and any adult would have laid their life down for any child. Why? Because they were the future. I am also the land manifestation of the Killer Whale as they both mate for life, protect their young and do not separate from their families. The Wasgo is a combination Wolf and Killer Whale."
Story: The Wolf crest (Tsimshian) is a result of an ancestor who visited the houses of the wolves where he was taught certain songs and dances. Upon returning home, he discovered that he had been away for four years, although he thought it had only been four days. He found that he was possessed by the spirits of the Wolves. Of all the animals, Wolves have the strongest supernatural powers. They are the most proficient hunters of land animals and were greatly respected for their cleverness. Since Wolves might bestow this hunting prowess on people, they were often called upon as spirit helpers. As Wolves mate for life and live in close family units usually travelling in packs, they are regarded as a family-oriented symbol in West Coast Native culture.
There is an unspoken conversation with death between me and my prey. The outcome of the hunt is usually settled in the first moment, the moment of eye contact between us. What transpires between those moments of staring between predator and prey is a complex exchange of information regarding the appropriateness of a chase and a kill. This encounter is the conversation of death.
The conversation falters noticeably when I encounter domestic stock, animals that have had the language of death bred out of them. The domestic horse will almost always panic and run. It will always be killed. When I encounter a herd of sheep, I kill in anger and frustration, because there is no fight to live. Therefore, I have not accomplished anything.
There must be that ritual and choice. There is nobility in such a death. I grow strong eating an animal that knows how to die with it's whole heart. I waste away on the flesh of animals that do not know how to live or how to die.
Predator and prey
grow stronger together by means of a series of tests, through all the years
of their lives; tests that pit them against each other at both psychological
and psychological levels; tests that weed both culturally and genetically.
This story is also a metaphor use it wisely."
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.
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