The first person I ever heard this story from is Lee Maracle. It's a starting out sort of story, and it goes like this. You see, there's a clam shell laying there, just on the beach. And if you get close to it, you can hear all sorts of voices in that shell, all these voices all at once, asking questions, complaining a little, you name it. You can imagine some of the questions they're asking – there are lots of voices. Like the Keystone cops I guess! Anyway, these voices, you can hear them asking questions.
"Are we there yet?"
"When can we get out?"
"Should we go out?"
"Do you think Raven will come and get us?"
"Nah, she's got better things to do, anyways, who needs to wait around for a girl?"
This question caused some silence.
"I just mean that one, just Raven! Come on!"
"Wait!" somebody else said. "What's a girl?"
Finally, Raven comes along, and she has a bundle, a good-sized one too. She's been looking around for a good long time, and she's starting to feel impatient. She's got a long list of things to do, getting the world ready. Finally though, she sees that clam shell. She goes right on up, and peers underneath, you know how ravens can do.
"Hey, what are you all doing in there? Isn't it crowded?"
"No, no, it's fine. Anyways, we're just hanging out here, waiting to be people."
"Oh, riiight. Hey, you're just who I came to see! Now it just happens..."
"Never mind that, we're fed up with waiting. We're going to head out and be people, I'm ready to be a man, what about the rest of you?"
Well, there's lots more talking, and in the end, the spirits who are going to be men, they head out in a big hurry. Why, they head out so fast, they just about flip that clam shell wide open. Raven watches them go by, and shakes her head.
"Anyways, I came out this way because I have something for you. Trust me, you'll want them later." Then Raven hands the spirits that bundle.
"Really, what's in here?" Those spirits ask, the ones getting ready to be women.
Source: Lee Maracle, most excellent storyteller.
Victoria Callihoo, a Métis who lived through the transition from native to non-native control of the plains with its related changes in the economy, provided an account of the details of the Edmonton bison hunt in an unpublished essay later quoted by Frederick C. Jamieson in his 1953 paper on that event. Some of that account follows.
"The Edmonton Spring Hunts were made to get dried meat, pemmican and hides to sell, and the Fall Hunts chiefly to prepare for the winter the food and hides that would be needed. The operations of hunters from the Red River area and the Edmonton area cannot be classed with the organized killing or commercial killing on the American side of the line, especially when railways became available for shipment.
The Edmonton hunts were organized with a captain, lieutenants, soldiers, [and all the rest]. The leader had the flag flying on his cart. The hunters had as many carts as they could afford but seldom less than three, but probably an average of six.
The names of some of those leaders from the Edmonton district were Edward Boucher, William Campion, Pierre DesSault, Michel Arnot, Goulette, Ladoucer, Beaudry, and the famous Gabriel Dumont, who was not an Edmonton man, but was often the head-general out on the plains.
Although these hunts were carried out in a sort of military manner, it was not for wanton destruction of the bison, but mainly for the protection of the hunters and their families from enemies – the Blackfeet especially, who often came across their usual boundary, the Red Deer River.
It was not safe to go hunting alone. Traders who went alone seldom returned. Since the caravan was large, the orders of the leader were obeyed. They had to be so that plans could be properly carried out.
All the meat was used from every buffalo killed by Edmonton hunters. The chaplains always told the people not to waste any meat. They used to say, 'Buffalo will go some day when more white men come.' We now see that day. It is claimed that ninety per cent of hides, dried meat and pemmican taken by the Edmonton hunters was used at home or sold to the Hudson's Bay Company at Edmonton and the remainder taken to Red River or sometimes Saint Paul."
Source: Callihoo, Victoria
This is Marie-Louise Perron's Retelling of 'The Origin of Grey Ducks', drawn from Métis Legacy, Volume II. She explained that the story has been handed down traditionally in Marguerite St.-Arnaud's family, from woman to woman, mother to daughter; she was born in Fort Good Hope, and later left there with her family to live in St. Norbert, Manitoba.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, when all the birds and animals could still talk together and understand each other, there was a race of ducks of the most common kind who all lived together in harmony.
When the time came for their children to marry, all found excellent matches – save one.
There was, among the clans, a family that thought quite highly of itself, nay, that considered itself better than its neighbours. This was due, in part, to the fact that unlike the neighbour's children, their daughter was of the purest white in colour. The mother therefore looked for a special suitor for the apple of her eye, a suitor who would be equal to the reputation of the family, she thought. The mother therefore looked with a jaundiced eye on any of the young bucks from the neighbourhood coming to court her daughter, since none were worthy in her eyes.
One day, a new admirer appeared. All white himself and very elegant in fancy dress with a tailcoat and immaculate white gloves. He wore his gloves all the time, even at table.
This new suitor, in spite of his elegance, attracted gossip. He didn't look like a duck, said the ducks, amongst themselves. He was too tall. And he didn't sound like a duck, they said. His voice was too hoarse. 'And why does he wear those gloves all the time?' They even went so far as to face the old duck with the question. She, nonplussed but not willing to answer such a question, stammered something like, 'Ah, he has more education than all of you put together!' The other ducks were not satisfied with this answer and set about, in their own way, to learn more about the stranger. They invited him out on the lake foraging with them, but he always evaded them on some excuse or another.
The old duck went out of her way, and at great expense held many entertainments to secure the handsome stranger for her daughter's husband. One evening during a feast, while the dancing was in full swing, the old duck decided to announce the engagement of her pretty little daughter to the handsome stranger.
Not long afterwards, they were married. What a wedding celebration it was! It was the event in the world of the ducks as far as anyone could remember for a very long time. There were many table songs sung. And the bride was made to cry at least four times. A very good sign, murmured the old ones who were still unsure about this handsome stranger.
To everyone's surprise, right after the feasting was over, the bridegroom announced to the assembled guests that he and his wife would not be taking up residence among them; they were leaving for his home.
The old duck was disappointed; after all she had done for her daughter! To be abandoned like that! But she put a good face on it, and the farewells of the pretty white duck and her husband took place in great pomp and ceremony. The bridegroom, however, had not really made known exactly where he lived.
Months passed with no news of the newlyweds and the ducks started to ask questions. The old duck said to anyone who wanted to listen that it didn't matter, that among good families, travelling far away when married was of little importance. What was of importance was that her daughter had found a good match, and that the young couple were well suited to each other. However, as time passed, even she became worried.
One night, when she was alone in the house, and it was beginning to storm, she again thought anxiously about her daughter. Suddenly, she heard a noise at the door. As she went to open it, what should walk in but a little black duck! And that one walked into the house as if she owned it! She was obviously exhausted, besides being soaked to the skin and dressed in rags. The old duck grabbed her broom. How dare she! And began to shoo the stranger out of the house when she heard, 'Maman! It's me! Don't you recognize me?'
Well, what a surprise! The little duck then told of how her mother had married her to Raven, Raven who had painted himself with lime to cover his blackness and fool them all. And the gloves he wore all the time? Those were to hide his long claws. Mortified, the old duck immediately took her daughter by the hand, beginning by cleaning her up as best she could. She was able to wash some of the blackness away, it's true, but some never came off, especially on her wings. And so it came to pass that the little white duck was the first of a line of grey ducks and her children were grey like her. But the other ducks were kind to her and took her back among them, and no one paid any more attention to the painful events that made her come back home again.
Source: Barkwell, Lawrence J., Dorion, Leah M., and Hourie, Audeen, eds.
Louis Goulet was a French-speaking prairie Métis who dictated his memoirs to a Catholic nun in his old age after he had gone blind. [pages 60-62] Here is a brief story from when he and his family are moving on to Saddle Lake, then Saint Albert for the winter. From there they plan to head to Montana to hunt bison. Right now they have been travelling for two days along the Assiniboine River, and have passed the Beaver River, still just inside Manitoba.
"Before arriving at Beaver River we'd made a little detour by way of La Coquille Pilée (The Shell Pile), to please the old folks, who called the place La Cotchille Pilée. It was a plain about a hundred or a hundred and twenty miles square, completely covered with shrubs eight or ten feet high that the old-timers called bois de graine de chapelet: bead-wood or rosary-wood.
This was a small tree with very hard wood, smooth black bark and bright silvery leaves. The seeds it bears are silvery and about the size of a yellow bean. I don't know why it was called bead-wood unless it was because of the size and shape of the seed. Because of the colour of this shrub, the English were about to change the name of La Coquille Pilée to Whitewood, its present name.
The old people wanted to go there because it used to be a popular spot for wintering over sixty or seventy years before. One year, a group of one hundred to one hundred and fifty Métis families from Red River were set up there for the winter, with a big camp of Cree Indians nearby. During the winter, the Cree camp was hit with a bad epidemic of smallpox. Dogs carried the germs of the terrible disease into the Métis winter camp, which was totally wiped out in a matter of days. Not a single Métis escaped alive. There wasn't even anybody to bury the dead who became carrion for wolves the rest of the winter and for crows in the spring."
Source: Goulet, Louis
No doubt you've heard stories about how Ottawa was made the capital of Canada, but I'll bet you haven't heard the real story of how it happened. You see, how it really happened, was this.
Word had gone out that the English had decided to call our country by the name of somebody else's country, and they were going to have a capital city. Most folks weren't too sure what the use of a capital city was, or even what a capital city was to start with, so they were skeptical. What would be the use of it? They had gone on just fine without one so far! The English people were fixed on the idea though, and it sounded like some sort of trouble.
That being the case, Nanabush, Wisakeyachak, Coyote, and Chi-Jeanne got together to figure out where the capital of Canada should be. To their way of thinking, they were always getting in trouble, and if this new city was going to be trouble, then they were experts and they should decide where it should go. So they sat down together at Chi-Jeanne's Gramma's house, made a pot of tea, raided Chi-Jeanne's Gramma's cookie jar, and got to work on the problem.
Well, those four, they talked and talked. They talked until Coyote started fidgeting and scratching. "Look, why don't we just get on with it and pick a place? It'll be easy to convince the English they thought of it themselves."
"All right then," agreed Wisakeyachak. "Let's put it out where you live, at Mochk-Kinstsis." Coyote's eyes got big as dinner plates.
"Oh no, you can't do that! Napi'll make me into a rug. I barely made it out with my ears when I accidentally spoiled his plans to make the Bow River freeze over in winter so the Blackfoot could cross it without getting their feet wet!"
Then those four started really arguing and making a racket. It turned out none of them wanted that trouble city where they lived.
"Hey, wait!" interrupted Nanabush. "Why don't we put the capital in Montréal."
"What!" blurted Chi-Jeanne. "You can't do that! That's here! Gramma's town – she's your Gramma too, you know, she's not just anybody, she's Sky Woman!" Well, now all those troublemakers' eyes were big as dinner plates. Sometimes they forgot important details like that, lucky Chi-Jeanne was good at remembering! So they argued for awhile longer, and finally agreed to gamble over where the capital city would go. Coyote sat out though, because he definitely didn't want to be a rug, and he was sure he would be if he lost. So those other three, they looked around trying to figure out what gambling game to play. It looked like it was going to be a big argument again when Chi-Jeanne shouted, "Wait! I'll ask Gramma, she'll have a good game for us."
So she went outside and found her Gramma. She was busy inventing hockey. "Gramma, whatcha doing?" Chi-Jeanne asked her.
"I'm inventing hockey." Chi-Jeanne was baffled. "But women play this game all the time. It sure is rough. Almost as rough as lacrosse. Anyways, it has a name already."
"I know all that my girl, trust me, this is a good idea. Just you wait, I'll get them to put your name on the home team's sweaters." This made no sense to Chi-Jeanne at all. Then Sky Woman chuckled and set her wood working tools down. "What do you need now? Have you and your friends already finished all those cookies?" Then Chi-Jeanne explained the problem. Of course, Sky Woman agreed that the capital city shouldn't be at her village, and she gave them a good gambling game. "It's too bad Coyote is sitting out, he'll have to watch you eat!" she laughed.
So Chi-Jeanne headed back inside, with a very special cake already cut in three pieces. "Here's the game!" she shouted. Even her cousin Wisakeyachak didn't look too sure about this. "The cake is a gambling game?" she asked doubtfully. "Oh yes, Gramma said all we have to do is each take a piece of cake and eat it. One of them will have a coin in it, like the fur traders use, and whoever gets the coin gets the capital city." explained Chi-Jeanne.
"Oh, I get it. It's one of those strange French cakes." Nanabush said wisely. "They're always putting weird stuff in their food."
"Food? You're going to eat?" wailed Coyote. But he was determined not to be a rug, and there were only three pieces of cake.
So Nanabush whose town is called Asticou, Boiler but, Chutes de la Chaudière in French, took one piece. And Wisakeyachak, whose city is called Okana-ka-asateki, Pile Of Bones, took a piece. And Chi-Jeanne, she took the last one, her city is called Rivière Rouge. They munched and munched, because Sky Woman is a marvellous Gramma, and so that was a big cake.
Then the cake was all gone. And Coyote was fidgeting and scratching again. He pulled anxiously at his ears. "Well, well?"
Chi-Jeanne and Wisakeyachak looked at each other, and then peered in each other's mouths. No coin. And they hadn't swallowed anything except cake. Finally, they looked over at their older cousin, who was their cousin eight times and three times removed respectively. Why, they'd never seen him with such a long face before. He stuck out his tongue, and there was one of those fur trader coins, with a beaver on it.
And that's how Asticou became the capital of Canada, but of course, now they call it Ottawa.
Source: Original story by C. Osborne.
Not far away from Moch-Kinstsis is a big rock, and if you look carefully, especially in early spring before the grass has really grown back, you'll see there's a whole trail of rocks behind it, big ones, medium ones, little tiny ones. Whatever you do though, don't you mess with them. That big rock is grumpy, and he'll chase you if you aggravate him. The Blackfoot taught me this, because they have a story that explains it.
You see, one summer day their hero Napi was out walking. He had on a beautiful buffalo robe. But it was a summer day, so he was sweltering. Finally he reached a big rock, big enough to provide some wonderful shade. Napi rested in the shade awhile and took a drink. When he was feeling better, he felt so grateful to the big rock, he felt he really should give the rock a gift. He laid his hand on the rock ever so gently as he thought about this, as he got ready to speak with that rock. Well, was he ever shocked. That poor rock was cold!
"My friend, here it is a terrible hot day, and you're half frozen! Are you sick?"
"No, no. I am quite well. The sun doesn't warm these old bones much." So Napi spread his buffalo robe over the big rock to keep him warm, and went on his way.
It was only an hour or two later, when a terrible storm began to blow up. The sky clouded over, lightning began to flash, and a dreadful cold wind began to blow. Now Napi was freezing, and he wanted his buffalo robe back. Without a second thought, he ran straight to that big rock and grabbed his robe. "That old fellow can't do anything about it, rocks can't walk!" he thought, and ran off.
"Hey, where are you going? That's my robe!" shouted that big rock. He might not be able to walk, but he could certainly roll, and he took off after Napi. For his part, Napi was strolling along, heading for a nice patch of trees to wait out the storm, when he heard the birds shouting to him.
"Napi, look out! The big rock!" And so it was, right behind him!
Napi took off running in earnest, but now that big rock was moving, he was catching up. Poor Napi called for help. All sorts of animals tried to help, coming away worse for wear. The beavers got their tails flattened, and the bears their noses knocked short, and the mule deer had their beautiful antler racks reduced to just a few branches close to their heads. And still that rock was chasing Napi, who was getting tired and desperate.
Just he was about to give up and resign himself to a simpler, flatter life, some chickadees flew up. "Don't worry Napi," they cried. "We'll save you!" And they flew straight to that big rock.
"What are you going to do?" sneered the big rock. "You're just wee birds. And now I'm going to punish this fellow for taking away my present!"
And those chickadees, what did they do? Why they flew up to that big rock and farted on him! And just like that, he broke into pieces, one big one and a whole bunch of others in different sizes. Even though they still all tried to chase Napi, finally those pieces of the big rock stopped, exhausted.
So that's where the big rock comes from – and why you should never underestimate the chickadees.
Source: Jessa Horsfall and Sharron Proulx-Turner, most excellent storytellers.
Basil Johnston has shared many Ojibway stories in his books, and in one of those stories he describes the quest of Geezhig, a young man who seeks out the Land of the Dead in hope of retrieving his partner, who has died unexpectedly. It is a sad and beautiful story, but that isn't the story I will tell here. Instead, I would like to tell you about my encounter with one of the paths he describes in that story, the Path of Souls.
Basil Johnston's description of this path is very clear. It is both wide and deep. Thick mist covers the trees on either side of it, and reaches across the Path. There is hardly any sound at all, just dripping water and the calls of the birds and animals whose task it is to carry messages between the Land of the Dead and the Land of the Living.
All over the Path, there are shadows walking whose faces can't be identified. They walk calmly and steadily, keeping to their own business, never faltering. The farther along the Path you go, the darker it gets. The souls say nothing. They are silent and firm in their purpose. Or content with their fate. Only they know for sure.
I was in the city they now call Kingston, and a deep fog had rolled in off the lakes. I was trying to get back to the place I was staying, but in the fog and the growing gloom, I got lost. Suddenly, I found myself on a deep, wide path, full of shadows whose faces I could not recognize, and often whose faces I couldn't see at all. Bewildered, I walked with them, hoping to see a branch onto a familiar looking street. On and on I walked, but no one spoke to me, no one even looked at me. Then suddenly, a dip in the path came into view, and the shadows began to walk down into it. An old man was standing nearby, watching.
"You!" he called. "You can't come this way. It isn't your time."
"What? What road is this?"
"It is the Path of Souls. What are you doing here?" he was a kindly old man. I explained my situation.
"Why do none of these people speak to me? I've been trying to get directions for ages!"
"They can't speak to you, they are the souls of the dead, and their business with the living is over. The Path of Souls never used to run this way." The old man sighed. "Times change, as they say." He patted me on the arm. "Turn around and go back the way you came. You'll come back to where you're staying soon enough. And don't forget the souls you saw who have no faces. Pray for them. They have lost their relatives, and it is your prayers that help them travel the Path as they must."
So I took the old man's advice, and tripped over the front steps of my hotel in what seemed like only a moment.
Source: Johnston, Basil
There's a place the Blackfoot call Estipa-Skikini-Kots, where there is a high cliff. They used to hunt bison there, by guiding them at a run right off the cliff. I've been there, and the cliff is a very strange one. If you just stand a few feet back from the edge and look at it, it doesn't look like a cliff at all, it just looks like it's the ground running off to the horizon. No wonder those bison could be persuaded to run right over it. It makes me think of a story, and it goes like this.
One day, there was a community of the people who had travelled to a new place to live, since the place they had lived before was flooded. It was a small community, with only seven small children, and everyone else adults. This meant there was a lot of work to be done, moving from the old place to the new place, and then making the new place a good home. Unfortunately, this meant that at least for awhile, the adults had little time to play with their children.
This made the children unhappy, but they decided to make the best of things, and so they went to a little spot out of the way, and had a dance. They danced and sang, and generally had a good time, although having something to eat and their parents to play with would have been even better.
The children played in this way for awhile, until one of them suggested that they ask for some food to eat after the dance. This seemed an excellent idea to the other children, so each child went to ask her or his parents for something to eat at their dance. Sadly, each parent refused. "We are too busy to make a separate meal in this way. You will have to come home to eat instead of staying out with the other children."
The next day, the children met to dance again, feeling a little sad because they had nothing to eat after the dance, and their parents still didn't seem much interested in playing with them. Still, they decided they would dance all the same, since it would raise their spirits again. And so they danced, but after awhile, several of the children began to notice that they felt oddly light. "It's nothing," they thought. "It will be time for us to stop dancing soon, so it must be close to dinner!"
Just then, some of the adults began to look around to find the children and call them to dinner. Then one of the grammas looked up from where she was working a hide. "Look!" she shouted. "The children, they are rising into the sky!" They were rising from a strange place, where there is a cliff that doesn't seem like one.
And so it was. No matter how their families called and cried, even though they brought food and promised to spend time with them, still the children rose, soaring far away, until they became a group of seven stars in the sky. But at the last moment the smallest child looked down, and tried to go back, and that's why sometimes you see seven stars, and sometimes six.
Source: Thompson, Stith ed.
Well, no, I don't know the who calls story. At least, I don't know the real version. I've heard the silly one the locals tell the tourists. Anyway, you were asking me about the graffiti on the buildings hereabouts, of the little wolfman on the rodeo stand and in other spots. No, I don't know who's been putting those out there. I sure wouldn't do it! You wouldn't catch me testing fate like that! What do you mean? For heaven's sake, haven't you heard of the roogaroo?
All right, sit down then. I had better tell you a story about it, that'll help keep you out of trouble.
When you drove into town, you must have seen the monument over by the little office building, just off Border Avenue? Across from it, there's a patch of land, carefully fenced off with another monument and a big plaque. That little yard is a cemetery, and some developers had got hold of it, and the land around. They were going to dig out all the people and put condominiums in there. Well, the Treaty folks here, they were horrified. And the Métis, they were horrified whether they were treaty or not. It was terrible. The Treaty folks, they went to court to stop the developers, but it wasn't looking so good. Those developer types, they have a lot of money. The Treaty folks have some, but not as much. And us Métis, well, we haven't got any.
One of the developers came into town, and he brought surveyors. He figured they were going to win the case, so he was going to get the surveying started for the excavations. They had a plan. They stopped in at the Squire, to have lunch and discuss their plans. Everybody knows everybody. It didn't take long for word to get back to the Treaty folks and the Métis whether they were Treaty or not. What were we going to do about it? An injunction, said the lawyers. That's what you need! Then they told us how long it would take, and how much it would cost. Bad news.
Then one of old Guillaume's kids, that boy's been listening to the Elders, learning stories. He took it into his head to try scaring the developer and his cronies with a story. So he painted up one of them little wolfmen, a roogaroo, right outside the Squire, right where they'd see it when they walked out. Of course they noticed it, if for no other reason than the paint was still wet! And our little buddy, holding the paint can and his stencil careful behind his back told a roogaroo story, with a twist.
The roogaroo manifests when a bad thing is going to be done, especially a thing that disturbs the dead, that boy said. Well, the developer laughed, the surveyors laughed. And off they went.
That night, we heard something in town we haven't heard in years anyplace let alone here. A wolf howling, right in town! The next morning, we found a couple of local pets had met something a lot bigger than them, something hungry with plenty of sharp teeth. Well, Guillaume's kid, he was beside himself. He hadn't meant to start anything dangerous, he just wanted the developers to let the cemetery alone!
What? It must have been a coyote? No! Just listen.
The next night, we head the howling again. A bunch of us were at the Squire, having a beer, just winding down. All on a sudden, we hear people yelling and hollering. Two of those surveyor types all but fall into the Squire. Their hair is standing on end, they're scared to death. "A wolf's been after us! Biggest wolf you ever saw! A wolf with human eyes!" The non-Natives laughed at them. The Native folks, well, we all got up and went straight home, and nobody walked alone. The old people started hunting for their skeleton keys, just to be safe.
The developer guy didn't believe a word of it, of course. He didn't believe it so much he went for a long evening walk the next night. Made a point of walking after midnight, which is when the howling would start. Sure enough, the howling started right on time. There's the developer strolling down Border, careless as you please, right out there, right by my front window! Then I saw it. I was so stunned, I got everybody in the house to run down and look.
We all saw it. A big wolf, a wolf with weird, human-looking eyes. I ran to the door, threw it open, and waved frantically at that crazy bigwig. He shouted at me to go to bed and lay off the booze. Shouted! Right away, that roogaroo howled, and took after him! You should have seen his face. He didn't know where to go. That roogaroo chased him right down Border, all around town, back down Main until finally he reached the police station and the cops got him inside. Two officers fired at that roogaroo point blank they said, didn't phase it.
Well, go on! They missed.
Next day, Guillaume shows up at the Squire, with a heck of a cut on his ear. We were going to ask him what happened, when the lawyer working with the Treaty folks rushed in. "The judge has blocked the developers, and they've given up their plans besides. The cemetery is safe!"
Then things were quiet. Until some fool painted a roogaroo on the rodeo stand...
Source: Original story by C. Osborne.
You know, I'm not sure who told me this story. You can find parts of it in stories Métis Elders tell, maybe that's where I heard it. It's a Wisakeyachak story. You know him don't you? He can be amazingly dumb, even though he's actually amazingly smart. Maybe he does the silly thing on purpose so we always have something to laugh about. You never can tell, he's a spirit, and there's no telling what spirits will get up to sometimes.
So, one day, Wisakeyachak was bored, and he wanted to try something new. So he popped out his eyeballs and started tossing them up and down. Then you know, he got an idea. He got a pine cone, and he began tossing around that pine cone and his eyes, trying to keep them all moving at the same time. You know, juggling. Sometimes he dropped his eyes, and then he had to clean them off and start over. Finally, he was pretty good at this juggling thing, when all of a sudden, the tree he was standing by grabbed his eyes!
"Hey, you give those back!" Wisakeyachak told that tree. That tree didn't listen. He figured, what's Wisakeyachak going to do anyways? He's got no eyes!
Well, now Wisakeyachak was mad. So he checked on the ground with his hands until he found something round he could use for eyes until he had taught that tree a lesson. He found something sure enough, and popped them in. Well, that crazy guy, he put moose turds in his eye sockets! They don't see too well as a rule, but Wisakeyachak's a spirit, so he got them to work well enough to get to work on that tree.
He gathered up fuel and piled it all around the tree, and then he got his flint and tinder ready and he told that tree, "You give me my eyes or I'll light this fire!" That tree didn't believe him. Nope. That tree wouldn't give back his eyes.
"All right, you asked for it!" And Wisakeyachak, he started that fire, but since that moose poop didn't see so well, instead of lighting just his kindling, he got some of the leaves and branches higher up burning too. Since he was a spirit, that fire got going real good.
Trees were different then, they could do some things they can't do now. This tree sure could! Why he yanked his roots out of the ground and ran for the river just a little ways away, luckily. And as soon as he got to the edge of the water, he stuck half his roots in and bent over so his smouldering leaves dipped right into the water. So that tree managed to put the fire out, and while he was at it, he threw Wisakeyachak's eyes right back at him.
Thing is, those moose turds didn't see well enough for Wisakeyachak to catch his real eyes the first time, so he spent awhile finding them where they fell. Let me tell you, aaalll the trees were happy to give him directions to where his eyes were, even the stumps and the ones who had fallen over.
At last Wisakeyachak had his eyes back, so he threw away the moose turds – they were a bit put out because he forgot to thank them – and then he marched over to that tree who tried to keep his eyes. But that tree wasn't anything like what it was, it was a weeping willow now. Wisakeyachak would never have noticed him, except that as soon as that tree saw Wisakeyachak coming, why he started to tremble all over. And all that tree's children have inherited his poor nerves. As soon as the wind blows, just a little, they tremble all over, because it might be Wisakeyachak coming!
Source: Fleury, Norman; Pelletier, Gilbert; Pelletier, Jeanne; Welsh, Joe; Welsh, Norma; DePeel, Janice; and Saganace, Carrie, eds.
This is the very first story I remember hearing about how the world down here began, and it goes something like this.
Up in the sky, there are the Sky People. When we get to see them, they seem to be a lot like us. They're spirit people though, so maybe they make it seem that way so they don't scare us silly. White people have stories about them too, but the Sky People they know don't seem very fond of visitors – they're always giants who like to eat visitors. But let's go back to the Sky People we know about.
It so happened that there was a great medicine man among those Sky People, and he was very proud as well as very powerful. One day he took it into his head that he wanted a wife, and so he asked the family of a young woman if he could have her. Well, this isn't at all like the way things work usually, especially when the man who wants a wife is much older than the woman in question. But the young woman's family was scared of him, so they agreed without telling her.
As you can imagine, she was pretty upset, and she went to her Gramma and asked her what she could do. She was a medicine woman herself, that young woman, but that old man was very powerful. Her Gramma thought about it for a long time, until the wedding feast was almost ready, practically. There's no hurrying your Gramma though, trust me. "When you find the ones who are waiting for you, go straight to them." her Gramma says.
I'm not sure how I would have taken advice like that! Anyway, the young woman, she steeled herself to be the medicine man's wife. And oh, he tried to break her spirit. But no matter what he tried, her medicine turned out to be greater than his. Then he began to get scared. He had made a big mistake! At the rate it was going, before long she would kill him off! He went off into the bush to think about this, and how he was going to get himself out of trouble.
The young woman, she watched him go. She knew he was brewing up something awful for her, and having a wife hadn't improved his behaviour toward everyone else. What was she going to do? Then she heard a voice calling her. A quiet voice that reminded her of her Gramma somehow. She followed that voice, until she came to a tree of a kind she had never seen before.
"There's a medicine, right there by my roots. Dig that out, and you'll be able to overcome the old man. Just don't forget to take me with you!" said that tree.
Pretty weird, eh? And that medicine, it was a strange plant, kind of like a turnip. The young woman started digging it up, but even though there wasn't much sticking out above ground, there sure was plenty underneath. She dug and dug, and finally hauled that plant out. And then she saw an amazing thing. She had dug a hole right through the sky, and she could see far below, a place that was all water. There were animals swimming, and birds flying. They seemed to be waiting around.
That young woman remembered her Gramma's advice, and she did an extraordinary thing. The old man was coming, he knew something had happened to that medicine plant the young woman dug up, and boy was he scared. She could hear him coming. But she wasn't scared. That young woman, she knew what her Gramma had in mind now. So she grabbed the tree, and that medicine plant, and jumped through the hole!
Down, down, down she went, head first, like a bird.
Those animals and birds on the water world they looked up.
"Hoooleee! Look at that!"
Right away, the birds all got together and rushed up to slow her fall, because they didn't know if she could swim, and they were worried she might hurt herself hitting the water. But after a little while, they called down to the other animals, "Hey listen, we can't go on like this forever, you guys had better do something!"
"If you can find some earth, and a place to put it, I will make some land." Sky Woman told them.
Loon, Frog, and Beaver all tried to bring some earth up from below the water. It was a long way down, and they just couldn't reach the earth. Loon came closest, but even she couldn't quite manage it. Then Muskrat tried, and she was gone under the water so long, the birds began to despair, and even Sky Woman began to feel worried. It was going to be a job, swimming with a tree in one hand and a medicine plant in the other!
At last, Muskrat bobbed up to the surface with one tiny handful of earth, and quicker than it takes to tell it, the animals rushed to place the earth on the back of Turtle, who was slow and steady and wouldn't cause the earth to roll off. The animals kept glancing up at their friends the birds, and Sky Woman. They weren't staying up anymore, they were all beginning to fall.
Yet as soon as the earth was ready on Turtle's back, it began to grow, and by the time Sky Woman set her feet on it, it was huge, why, it was this very place, this island. And in one hand Sky Woman had brought all the land plants, especially the ones we eat, and in the other the medicine plant that split into four, cedar, sweetgrass, tobacco, and sage.
And that's how the world began.
Source: Original retelling by C. Osborne.
In 1869, an extraordinary thing happened in Canada. A whole new people nobody in the official mainstream had taken seriously before, if they knew about them at all, seized the new nation's attention.
Recently minted by the English government from an imaginary place labelled "British North America" on a sheet of paper, Canada remained under construction. "Under construction" literally in the case of the "national" railroad, and more figuratively in the case of national identity. For those of English origin, especially if they considered themselves middle or upper class, the term "Canadian" had a problem. The term still had too much French and Indian stuff stuck to it for comfort. Then along came a bunch of Indian-French and even Indian-Scots "half-breeds" demanding responsible government and a place in Confederation if they were going to join at all. This looked nothing like the expected quiet annexation of a part of Rupert's Land. Such people weren't even supposed to exist, let alone be able to demand anything, and somehow they made the label "Canadian" positively itch.
In 1973, an extraordinary thing happened in Canada. A people nobody in the official mainstream expected to have survived after the 1885 Rebellion seized the nation's attention.
It all started when a Métis woman named Maria Campbell got some Métis contraband into a Canadian publisher's office, from which it emerged as the best-selling book Halfbreed. The term "Canadian" had finally lost its native and French accretions. Only six years before, Canada had celebrated its centennial and shown the world how excellent and grown up a country it was at Expo '67. Then Maria Campbell came along and challenged this new Canadian self-image with a book Canadian universities slurped up as quickly as possible. It didn't help. The Métis were still there, and the label Canadian still itched.
In 1982, an extraordinary thing happened in Canada. A people nobody in the official mainstream expected to hear more from now that Halfbreed was in the universities and not in the elementary and high schools, seized the nation's attention.
Native Council of Canada representative Harry Daniels managed to get some Métis contraband right into the constitution, right there in section 35. This was the second shattering blow delivered to the "two founding nations" myth of Canada. This myth was close to the heart of the man who had opened up the constitution in the first place, Pierre Trudeau. One of his goals was to at last unite Canada's two founding nations symbolically through the patriation of the constitution, but he was in knee-deep trouble and worse from the beginning. He had alienated Québec and First Nations all over Canada, and he needed the support of both. Trudeau failed to understand until too late that he also needed the Métis. Those Métis still wouldn't go away, and Trudeau's concept of multi-culturalism had helped bring the question of "Canadian identity" out in the open. It seemed the label Canadian still itched, but it was no longer itching the right people!
In 2002, an extraordinary thing happened in Canada. A people nobody in the official mainstream ever expected history books from because they weren't supposed to have a history, seized the nation's attention.
That year Olive Patricia Dickason's book Canada's First Nations: A History Of Founding Peoples From Earliest Times came out (yes, it was published five years earlier, but it really hit show time in 2002). A book written by a Métis woman, a professor of history, who got it published by Oxford University Press no less. Though not without problems, the book firmly challenges the mostly unbroken string of more or less overtly racist books that had a short chapter or two on native people in Canada before relegating them to figurative and real extinction. And it reminded some of the official mainstreamers that not everybody they wanted to stick the label "Canadian" on were interested in it, whether or not it itched. Dickason's example raised up another remarkable and disturbing idea: what if the Métis started writing their own history for real, and somebody besides them read it?
Four Times Song | Travel Layer | Place Layer | Métis Trail Layer | Story Layer | Four Times Identity
A Métis Palimpsest by Carla A. Osborne is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License.