By: Wolf-Walker Conley, Powwaw
Years ago, a very old storyteller told me that telling a tale is like making corn soup; we add a little more or a less of the ingredients, but the soup is still corn. Our traditional stories are like soup, the teller adds a little each telling. That little addition infuses the people back into the mix, never ending, like the small creeks that feed a mighty river.
And so, I share with you a tale many moons old, yet new:
It has been told, that when the great thunder/pethakhuwe sparked the central fires of the nations, the people became unified and established the clans ensuring all the people would be honored and have a home. This was good, fire provided warmth and welcome to all.
This was long ago, and all the animals, plants, trees and creatures could talk to each other. Okwes/Fox who was very clever, thought he too should have this thing called fire. He tried to think of a way to create fire, but try as he might, he could not figure out fire.
One day, he was visiting the Opsuwiheleyok/Geese people and asked an elder if he would teach him to fly. The elder agreed to teach him; but cautioned him never to open his eyes while flying or the magic would be lost.
So, fox took to the wing with his newfound friends and learned the craft of flight. On one such journey, it became night and darkness descended quickly as they flew over the village of the Sasapis/firefly people. The geese where talking about the lack of moon light and how difficult night flying can be, especially with the clouds blocking the stars. One remarked on the light from the nearby firefly village as a great help though. Hearing that, Fox forgot his promise to keep his eyes closed while flying and opened his eyes to see the light. The magic of flight was no longer his and he fell from the sky like a stone. His fall was heart-stopping, but short as he landed in the soft arms of a sacred cedar tree. Tree people have always been of help to those in need and be it a fox falling from the night sky or not; Telala/white cedar was there to quietly help. Fox thanked cedar and gave farewell as he left the treetop and reached the safety of ground. The firefly village was not far off and fox had his eyes set on seeing their fire light. Perhaps he had found his fire the hard way, but where a fire light is seen, there must be a fire like the two-legged have.
Several kind fireflies approached fox, each gave him a blue shell necklace of welcome and asked if he was well after his fall. They asked what happened to his feathers and why he was covered in red fur, assuming he was a goose. Fox made up a story saying that his feathers were lost in the fall and cedar let him borrow a fur coat. He knew they would not believe a fox could fly. Fox hoped to persuade the fireflies to tell him where he could get some fire. They led him away from the cedar tree and invited him to their village.
When they arrived at the village Fox waited to be taken to their central fire, but as the night progressed, he saw the faint glow each firefly had on their tail end. He decided that they must be hiding their fire, so he had to find a way to sneak away when no one was looking to have a look around. Fox suggested to the fireflies, that they have a potluck gathering with all the village for dancing and food.
They all agreed that would be fun and helped gather food and summon the drummers. Secretly, Fox was planning on getting away from the fireflies while the music and dancing was underway. The drumming circle started and after a while Fox pretended to tire from beating the drum. He gave his beater to a firefly who wanted to join in and excused himself. Fox quickly left the potluck and headed towards a glowing light he saw at the far side of the village. Little did he know that the glow was coming from the village burial grounds, but he was determined to have fire and the light was promising. The firefly people’s Sachem/Chief had “walked-on” after a long life. He had served his people well and he was being prepared for burial and his glow had not left his “earth body”, that was the light young fox saw.
So straight to the burial grounds Fox ran, but as he got closer, he noticed the old sachem was the source of the light. Frightened, Fox approached the sachem in the faint glow and decided to ask him the secret of his light, “Old man, how do you carry the light within you?” now, this was no way to speak to a sachem, but fox didn’t know he addressed a great chief and continued asking about the fire secret. Fox suddenly realized he was being watched and called out; “who is there in the dark? Come out.” With that a large hand came out of the night and rested on fox’s head, fox wished to run, but could not. A voice like a deep bear growl informed fox that it was the Mesingw he spoke with and respect needed to be shown. Mesingw told fox he had come to bid the sachem a good journey and asked fox if he were doing the same. Fox explained his search for fire had brought him and asked to be forgiven for his rude ways. Mesingw thought it good that fox humbled himself and would gift him with fire, but it would be a cool fire like the fireflies.
Mesingw gathered the firefly people and told them that fox would share their gift of light, but it would only be during the warm months to honor their sachem’s passing. The fire shall be called Foxfire and unlike the two-legged one’s fire, it will be cool and light the way for those lost on dark nights. All gathered thought this was good, and the firefly people said they would join fox during the warm season to assist. Now, many years later, the faint glow of the foxfire and the dancing light of the firefly blesses the summer nights.
–Wolf-Walker, SFN Powwaw (Spiritual Leader), Tribal Council
“Foxfire is a natural phenomenon sometimes visible at night in forests. It’s caused by bioluminescent fungi in special conditions—usually on rotting bark.”
Bee Stinger Tale
By: Wolf-Walker Conley, Powwaw
Several years ago, I attended a tribal gathering. At this event I made fast friends with an old fellow that raises bees. He sells their nature sweet gold when in season and tends them when not, a natural rhythm of life. He reminded me of a tale I once heard as a child regarding bees and their stingers.
“Long ago people had the ability to speak with all creatures. The Creator saw this as a needed skill, so that all his children could co-exist in harmony. The great Creator would roam the earth, stopping to visit his various people to ensure life was good for them. The two-legged people asked the Creator one day for something that would sweeten their food. After much thought, the Creator formed the Bee and sent it down to the Mother Earth.
The Bee was unlike the bees we know today for it had no stinger and was friendly. The Bee found a huge hollow tree in which it could build a hive, make honey and feed its offspring. After building the hive, the people came to the Bee and asked for some of the sweet honey and the Bee gave each person a portion of their honey. The people greatly enjoyed the honey, devouring all that was given and then went back to the Bee for more. The Bee replied that they had no more to give until they could make more. The people became angry and they called upon Creator telling him of their plight and demanding the Bees produce more of the sweet golden liquid. The Creator was not accustom to others making demands of him, but he listened and to decided sent down the Flower People to help keep peace. The Flower People spread flowers of every shape and size across the land, thus giving the Bees all the flowers they needed to create more honey without having to travel far. The Flower People’s beautiful flowers attracted the Bees with their bright blue, red, white, orange, purple and yellow blossoms. More Bees were created to help pollinate the great array of flowers. Their hive grew to be of immense proportions. The people could finally get their desired honey again. The Bees gladly gave most of the honey to the people leaving enough to feed their offspring and maintain the hive. The people devoured the honey that was given, but when it was gone demanded more. The Bees explained to them once again that they would have to wait for more to be made.
The people were angry and yelled at the Flower People to make more flowers, thinking that this would cause the Bees to be able to quickly make more honey. The Flower People told the people that they had made all the flowers they could and they were all pollinated. “You will have to wait until Spring.” The people became extremely upset, they went back to the bee’s hive and tore into the hollow tree destroying the hive and killing most of the Bees. Their reward was but a small amount of honey the Bees had been saving to feed their young. The remaining Bees asked the Creator what to do. The Creator was angry with the people for destroying his creation, so he had the Flower People spread special briar plants to grow and instructed the Bees to eat the sharp needles of the briar plants.
The Bees did as the Creator instructed and the briars they ate turned into stingers on their bottoms. The following day the people returned demanding more honey. The Bees were threatened that the home would be destroyed again if they did not give the people the much desired honey. The Bees became enraged, recalled the senseless killing of their young the day before. The people suddenly heard a loud hum from deep inside the hollow tree and the air filled with swarming bees. The Bees attacked the people, stinging them until they were covered in welts and sent running.
Forever after that day, the two-legged people treated the Bees with respect, taking no more than they needed. Their greed became a lesson in respect and they were taught the importance of understanding the cycles of life must be honored.”
The Tale of the Mountain Ash Tree
Oral Traditional Tale as told to Wolf-Walker Conley by C. Blue-Wolf
It is common amongst many indigenous peoples to have methods of forecasting weather and other natural events. many years ago, a friend of Ojibwa decent told me a tale his people used for predicting the coming Winter’s severity. They would monitor the berry production of the Mountain ash tree during the late Fall. If it were abundant, they believed the Winter would be very harsh and long. In honor of this teaching, I planted a beautiful mountain ash tree for my daughter when she was nothing but a sapling herself. Now it is over twenty-five feet tall and a valued provider of shade, shelter and food for the local wildlife. (and my daughter has grown to young womanhood.) This year there are many berry clusters, so be prepared; firewood, good shelter and food at the ready.
This is the tale of the Mountain Ash:
Long ago, a great winter storm announced the arrival of a most cold and terrible winter. The snow piled high amongst the trees, keeping people inside their homes. The cold was unending and food supplies were used up quickly as people fought off the bone chilling winds of Winter. In one village the brave young men gathered to form a hunting party to bring home much needed food. The survival of their people depended upon their success, travel was difficult, but onward they went through the ever-increasing snow drifts. As they approached a clearing in the woods, they were amazed to find the ground covered with dead birds and an eerie silence. The birds were so numerous that even the bravest of the hunters started whispering of a great evil that must be invading their land.
That night as they gathered around their fire, it was agreed that prayers should be offered to the Creator asking for guidance. Long into the cold night their song could be heard breaking the wintery silence. The Creator heard and told them of the illness visiting their land and how to bring the world back into balance. He told them that they needed to pay respect to the trees which provides what is needed to survive. The hunters selected the Mountain Ash to honor because it provided wood for their tools, baskets and fire. Creator was pleased and instructed them to take the blood of the fallen birds and shake it onto the ash trees as an offering of thanks. They completed the task and gathered around their fire for much needed sleep. Upon waking the next morning, they were greeted by the sounds of birds busy feeding on bright red berries which now covered the ash trees. The clusters of berries had been formed from the blood offering and the trees were returning the gift. The hunters gave thanks to the Creator and in return Creator offered to have the Mountain Ash produce many berries each year before the long winter. To this day the Ash carries out this ceremony and if a large crop is seen forming, you can rest assured that it is a sign of a very cold, long winter and the Creator is providing extra food for the months ahead.
The Deer Peoples Horns
By: Wolf-Walker Conley
During a recent walk of the beautiful river bottom land behind my home, I startled a small herd of white tail.
This silent gang reminded me of a story told to me many years ago as a child.
“Long ago the deer people possessed no horns and their heads were smooth and flat like a horse, but this changed as most things do…
A small foolish rabbit loved to tease the deer that he was the fastest animal in the forest. The other animals grew tired of his bragging and decided it was time for Rabbit to prove himself. A race between the rabbit and a strong young buck was arranged.
The winner it was decided would receive a fine headdress of carved sumac antlers.
The race was to be held at an old thicket, the winner was to run to the far side and back without disturbing so much as a single leaf. The crafty rabbit knew the sure-footed deer
was better suited, so he suggested that he be allowed to check the course out before the run. They all thought this to be fair and the rabbit disappeared into the thicket.
After a long while with no rabbit returning, the animals sent a crow to check on him.
The crow found rabbit creating a path for himself by chewing off much of the
Crow returned and reported the rabbits’ doings. When the rabbit returned, the animals told him they knew of his trickery. When challenged he denied the crows’ report.
For dishonoring himself and his fellow, they sent Rabbit away and forbid him to live with all other animals. The fine headdress was given to the deer, but the humble deer said that he had not won fairly and would only wear the horns part of the year.
Rabbit went off to live a life of hiding and to this day the rabbits are nervous, jumpy things.”