There was once a young man named Sikihpsis, who was out hunting with his older friend Meschakanis. It was early winter and the ground was dusted with snow and it was easy to track deer and moose. They were deep in the woods and on the trail of what looked like a huge moose when a sudden snowstorm swept in. They soon became lost and were terrified that they might die if they couldn’t find shelter soon.
As they staggered around in the blinding snow, Meschakanis spotted a wigwam in the distance. They lost sight of it several times in the whiteout, but eventually they made their way there and entered the door. The lodge was empty and looked like it was abandoned many seasons ago, but it offered them shelter from the storm and they soon had a warm fire going to warm themselves. Eventually they fell asleep.
During the middle of the night, Sikihpsis was awakened by an intense chill. He wondered if the fire had gone out and he sat up to get more wood and rekindle it. To his horror he saw a strange woman with black hair and white clothes kneeling over his friend Meschakanis’ body. Her hair draped around his face and she was making a horrible sucking sound!
As she sat up from Meschakanis’ body, Sikihpsis noticed that his friend looked like he was frozen as ice. The woman turned to Sikihpsis and crawled forward towards him. She pushed him down on his back and soon her face was so close to his that he could see her terrible black eyes and his face was surrounded by her hair. As she stared into his eyes, she suddenly stopped and sat back. She said to him, “My, aren’t you a handsome young boy. I would kill you as I did your friend, but it would be a shame to waste such beauty.” She continued, “I will spare your life, but you must never tell anyone what you saw here this night, or I will kill you.” With that, she turned from Sikihpsis and crawled out of the lodge, leaving him frozen in fear. Sikihpsis soon rekindled the fire and was sad for the death of his friend. The next day he made his way back to his village and slept for several days. He never told anyone what he saw. When asked what happened to his friend Meschakanis, Sikihpsis said that he had fallen through the ice and was lost.
That spring, Sikihpsis was out hunting for ducks when he happened to run into a strange and beautiful young girl. She was not from his village and when he asked her who she was, she said that her name was Keewatin, and that she was on her way to visit her relatives on the other side of the lake. They began to talk and soon they were happily gazing into each other’s eyes and Sikihpsis forgot all about hunting ducks that day. Sikihpsis asked her to come visit his mother and to take a rest for a while, as the walk to the other side of the lake would take a long time and she should rest before she undertook such a journey. She accepted and his mother was very taken with Keewatin. After a few days, Keewatin seemed to forget all about her trip to visit relatives and eventually Sikihpsis and Keewatin married.
Years went by and Keewatin gave Sikihpsis ten beautiful and strong children. She was a loving wife and he was a loving husband to her.
One cold and blustery winter night when they were sitting in their lodge, Sikihpsis thought of the night when his friend Meschakanis was killed and he was spared death at the hands of the ice witch. He looked at his beautiful wife, to whom he had always told the truth, and a sudden urge came to him to tell her about that night. She was peacefully sitting next to the fire sewing. Sikihpsis sat down next to her and said, “My wife, I have never told anyone what I am about to tell you.” He continued, “Once, on a night just like tonight, I encountered a witch who killed my friend with her cold breath and who spared me.” Keewatin looked at him and said, “Why do you tell me this?” Sikihpsis said, “I love you and you are my closest confidant. I feel that I must tell someone, or else I may go mad.”
Keewatin stood up. She turned to Sikihpsis and he saw that her eyes were the cold, black eyes that had stared into his all those years ago! Keewatin screamed, “Why did you speak of that? Why did you speak of that night? I should kill you for that, because now I cannot stay with you any longer!” She seemed to radiate cold and Sikihpsis shivered and shrank away from her. She said, “Sikihpsis! Now I must leave, but again I will spare your life! Our children need a father, but you have robbed them of a mother by speaking of that night. You have broken the spell and I must now return to the forest where I must haunt the trees during the winter.” She then turned and rushed from the lodge and Sikihpsis sat alone, cold and crying for Keewatin.
From that day forward, every winter, Sikihpsis searched the forests around his camp whenever a snowstorm blew, hoping to see his beloved Keewatin. He sometimes thought he heard her voice in the wind, or caught a glimpse of her through the driving sleet, but he never saw his beloved wife again.
Ojibwe Flutes were for making the music of love
After the drum, the other traditional instrument found most commonly in Ojibwe culture is the wooden flute.
The flute was generally about 15 to 20 inches long, usually with six holes, and constructed of cedar. Its tone is regulated by a carved, movable block. Melodies are often love-songs. Oral history states that young men would alternate singing songs and playing slow flute melodies to court a potential partner.
During an interview with a Red Lake elder, Sister Inez Hilger was informed that flutes were quite popular long ago. The informant stated that, “…the pretty tunes of the flute were used by young men to make girls aware of their presence. Flutes were made of cedar twigs or sumac stalks”.
Trader Thomas McKenney, en route with Governor Lewis Cass during a trip through Minnesota in 1826, heard such a flute and wrote:
“Nothing can be more mournful in its tones. It was night, and a calm rested on everything; and it was moonlight, all of which added to its effect. We saw the Indian who was playing it, sitting on a rock.… We afterwards learned that this Indian was in love, and that he would sit there all night indulging in this sentimental method of softening the heart of his mistress, whose lodge he took care should be opposite his place of melody, and within reach of his monotonous but pensive strains.”
Today knowledge of flute playing is still strong and a number of expert flute players are passing their teachings to new generations.
Adapted from Hilger, M. Inez (Mary Inez). 1951. “Chippewa Child Life And Its Cultural Background.” Bulletin. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
Cloud Catcher, a handsome youth of the Ojibwa, offended his family by refusing to fast during the ceremony of his coming of age and was put out of the paternal wigwam.
It was so fine a night that the sky served him well as a roof. He had a boy's confidence in his ability to make a living, and something of fame and fortune, maybe. He dropped on a tuft of moss to plan for his future and drowsily noted a mysterious face in the bright moon.
He suddenly awoke to find that it was not day and the darkness was half dispelled by light that rayed from a figure near him. It was the form of a lovely woman.
"Cloud Catcher, I have come for you," she said.
As she turned as if to walk away, he felt impelled to rise and follow. But, instead of walking, she began to move into the air with the flight of an eagle, and endowed with a new power, he too ascended beside her. The earth was dim and vast below, stars blazed as they drew near them, yet the radiance of the woman seemed to dull their glory.
Presently they passed through a gate of clouds and stood on a beautiful plain with crystal clear ponds and brooks watering noble trees and leagues of flowery meadow; birds of brightest colors darted here and there, singing like flutes; the stones were agate, jasper and chalcedony. An immense lodge stood on the plain, and within were embroideries and ornaments, couches of rich furs, pipes and arms cut from jasper and tipped with silver.
While the young man was gazing around him with delight, the brother of his guide appeared and reproved her, advising her to send the young man back to earth at once. But she flatly refused to do so. Relenting to the wishes of his sister, the brother gave a pipe, a bow and arrows to Cloud Catcher as a token of his consent to their marriage. Her wished the couple happiness.
Cloud Catcher could hardly look at the brother who was commandingly tall and dazzling in his gold and silver ornaments. The brother could not be seen most of the day while his sister was absent part of the night.
One day, the bother permitted Cloud Catcher to go with him on one of his daily walks. As they crossed the endless and beautiful Sky Land, they glanced down through open valley bottoms on the green earth below. The rapid pace they struck gave to Cloud Catcher an appetite and he asked if there were no game. "Patience," counseled his companion.
On arriving at a spot where a large hole had been broken through the sky, they descended from the sky and reclined on mats. A silver ornament on the brother's dazzling regalia came off and he flung it into group of children playing in front of a lodge. One of the little ones fell and crying as he was carried inside the lodge.
Upon hearing of the incident, all the villagers left their sports and labors and looked up at the sky. The tall brother cried in a voice of thunder, "Offer a sacrifice and the child shall be well again."
So a white dog was killed, roasted, and in a twinkling it shot up the feet of Cloud Catcher, who, being empty, attacked it voraciously. Many such walks and feasts came after, and the sights of earth and taste of meat filled the mortal with longing to see his people again.
Later Cloud Catcher told his wife that he wanted to go back to the earth. She consented after a time saying, "Since you are better pleased with the cares, the ills, the labor, and the poverty of the world than with the comfort and abundance of Sky Land, you may return; but remember you are still my husband, and beware how you venture to take an earthly maiden for a wife." She then rose lightly and clasped Cloud Catcher by the wrist and began to move with him through the air.
The motion lulled him and he fell asleep, waking at the door of his father's lodge. His relatives gathered and gave him welcome, and he learned that he had been in the sky for a year. He took the privations of a hunter's and warrior's life less kindly than he though to, and after a time he enlivened its monotony by taking to wife a bright-eyed girl of his tribe. In four days she was dead. The lesson was unheeded and he married again. Shortly after, he stepped from his lodge one evening and never came back. The woods were filled with a strange radiance on that night, and it is asserted that Cloud Catcher was taken back to the lodge of the Sun and Moon, and is now content to live in heaven.
From Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.