An old woman lived alone in the woods. One night she was at home and the wind whistled and the trees shook. She had a bad feeling that someone (or something) was coming to her cabin.
She went to her bed around midnight and soon she heard the sound of loud footsteps and heavy breathing circling her cabin. She heard banging on the sides of the cabin and the door was jiggled and pulled on, as if someone was trying to open it.
The person went around the cabin three or four times doing the same thing. The old woman, terribly frightened, grabbed her small axe that she used to split wood into kindling and opened her window. The next time that the intruder circled the cabin, she reached out and hit it on the head and knocked him down. Instead of a man, she saw a creature that had a man’s body but the fierce head of a wolf. The creature lay there for a while; then it staggered up and ran off.
The next morning the old woman saw blood on the ground where the creature had fallen.
That day she left her cabin and went to her son’s home a few miles away. She told her son that what happened and she refused to return to her home. She lived for another few years, but all the while that she stayed with her son she was troubled by the narrow escape she had at the hands of a rugaroo.
There was once an old woman who was a witch. She was well known for her evil magic and she used the fear that she created to make herself wealthy. At her lonely wigwam in the woods, she had a small graveyard of people who she had killed. Whenever she went to the village, people would give her things like food, clothing, and other items if she would promise not to use her magic on them or their family.
One day when she was visiting the village and collecting things from people, she saw a very handsome stranger. He had a beautiful black dog with him. The woman wanted the dog for herself, so she went up to the man and said, “You! Give me your dog or I shall curse the village and five children will die before the month is up!” The man looked at her and stood up. He said to her, “Know you that I am Gaagaagi (the raven). I am no stranger to magic woman. I will not give you my dog and you will not kill any children here.”
The old woman became angry at this. She shook her rattle and said some words to create her curse. She said, “You have sealed their fate young man!” At this she jumped into her canoe to leave. The man calmly took out his pipe, lit it, and offered the smoke to the manitous. He told the old woman, “Before you make it to the next shore, you will rot and be covered in bugs.” Scoffing, the woman left in her canoe.
When the old witch got half-way across the lake, she heard a sound like the humming of a bee. She yelled, “Whoo, whoo, whoo!” and blood ran out of her ears, nose, and mouth.
A few days later her canoe was found floating in the middle of the lake. She was covered in bugs and had met her end. None of the children died and the village was free of her evil magic.
A healing dance of the Plains Ojibwe
Among the Plains Ojibwe, the Buffalo Dance was held to heal the sick and to bring the buffalo in times of scarcity. It was also a dance that was done to prepare for poundmaking.
Certain men who had dreamed of the buffalo had the right to hold the Buffalo Dance.
In preparation of the dance, a feast was prepared. Afterwards, four men wearing buffalo head-dresses or buffalo masks danced while four others sang the songs for the dance with various breaks to smoke the pipes of the singers and dancers. Eight women also took part in the ceremony.
During the dance, a small buffalo bull skin cap, made in representation of a spike horned calf, was brought out by the buffalo dreamer and used on the sick person (to be healed) and the buffalo spirit was prayed to so that it might cure the person.
The dance was an important group healing ceremony. (A Buffalo Dance song is provided below)
POLITICAL ORGANIZATION, CULTS, AND CEREMONIES OF THE PLAINS-OJIBWAY AND PLAINS-CREE INDIANS. BY ALANSON SKINNER, NEW YORK. 1914.
Why we leave part of our kill for the wolves
The old man was laying on the floor of his lodge. He knew that the end of his life was near, so he called for his two eldest children to come to him. Holding their hands, he spoke: “My son…my daughter. My ancestors are calling to me and I must soon go.” He gathered his strength and continued, “If you wish to honor me, after I am gone you must look out for your younger brother Ma’iingan . Be kind to him for my sake. He is small and doesn’t yet know how to set the trap or to hunt. Therefore he needs your love and guidance since I will not be here to pass my knowledge on to him. Do your duty and help him.”
The old man soon died and there was great mourning in the village.
For a while the brother heeded his father’s words and did his best to care for little Ma’iingan. But after a while the responsibility became too much for him and he said to himself, “I am a young man and should be going to war, hunting with the men, and being free, not caring for a child who cannot even help himself.” He then left his lodge, took his finest horse to a man whose daughter he had long desired before he had to abandon his dreams to care for Ma’iingan, and took the girl for his wife. The elder brother and his new wife soon left to go trapping in the woods, leaving little Ma’iingan all by himself.
The elder sister, recently returned from berrying with the other women came home to find her elder brother gone and poor Ma’iingan alone and crying. Ma’iingan told her that for many days he had been alone and scared. The elder sister wept for Ma’iingan more than for herself, but soon she realized that it would be entirely up to her to care for Ma’iingan.
For many long months the sister hunted wide and far, caring for little Ma’iingan tenderly. But soon the loneliness and burden of caring for him all by herself grew wearisome. She sighed and said to herself, “Is this what my life is to be? Must I work all day and abandon hope of finding a husband and having children of my own?” So she put on her finest clothes, reddened her cheeks, and went forth and made eyes at the young men. One of them decided to take her as his wife, and soon, like the elder brother, she quite forgot about little Ma’iingan and her father's dying request.
Little Ma’iingan was left alone within the lodge. He waited and waited with a shrinking heart. Every time he heard a leaf rustle or a twig snap, he was sure it was his sister come home to hug him and cook him supper. Whenever he heard the wind he thought that maybe it was his brother returned to teach him to hunt. But it was not.
Soon his hope grew less and less, and then went out entirely. The sounds he thought were his brother and sister returned changed from hope to fear. In his frightened mind, the snapping twigs were monsters creeping up to grab him; the blowing wind was the Wendigo calling his name before coming to devoir him. Soon what little food his sister had left him was gone. He made due by digging for roots and gathering nearby berries. But Winter came at last, and, when the snow heaped on the lodge he was fast becoming ravenous from hunger.
Late in the Spring, the elder brother had returned from his trapping and was curious as to how his brother and sister were faring. He was walking up to the edge of the clearing where his family's wigwam stood. As he came into the clearing, he heard a low moaning noise that sounded half like a child and half like a wolf. Something in his heart said, “It is my brother Ma’iingan’s voice!” Searching the area he soon spotted a shape that was, from the neck down gray with shaggy hair. The face was that of his brother Ma’iingan, but it was maddened and the eyes rolled in his head. The elder brother cried, “Oh Ma’iingan! My brother, speak to me! Do you not know me, that I am your brother? Come to me, little Ma’iingan, I have come to care for you and I am sorry that I left.”
Ma’iingan was silent for a time. It was as if it was difficult for him to summon up a human voice. Then he spoke in the raspy voice of a wolf: “I know you not, and you are not my brother!” Ma’iingan continued, “I have no other brother than the wolves, and until your heart changes and the hearts of the people change, you are unworthy of calling the wolf your brother.” Ma’iingan then groaned and turned entirely into a wolf that ran away.
From that day forward the brother always made sure to leave some of his kill to offer to his brother Ma’iingan and the other wolves. He instructed the other Anishinaabe to do the same thing. In this way, we apologize for how Ma’iingan as neglected and ask him and the wolves to be our brothers once again.
An Ojibwe Legend
One day, old Nokomis was sitting by the fire, cooking a meal for her family. Her young grandson asked her to tell him a story. She paused for a moment, collected her thoughts, and calmly started…
"When the Earth was very young there were four brother manitous (spirits): Ningaabii'an-noodin, the mighty West Wind; Waabani-noodin, the gentle East Wind; Giiwedin-nodin, the blustery North Wind; and Zhaawani-noodin, the lazy South Wind."
"When the wind brothers grew up they had to leave home. Zhaawani-noodin was sad to part from his beloved brother Giiwedin-nodin. “Farewell, Brother,” roared Giiwedin-nodin! “I know you will miss my cooling breath in your hot lands to the south, but I will always remember you.” But the lazy Zhaawani-noodin gave no answer. Instead he hung his head in sadness and slowly made his way to the southland, where he built his lodge of branches."
"There, in the flowery tangle of the forest, Zhaawani-noodin sat sleepy and lazy in his lodge. He did not seem to notice the bright birds and beautiful flowers. He did not feel the pleasing scents and wonderful sounds. Instead, he looked toward the north and longed his brother. When he sighed in the springtime, flocks of birds flew northward. In the summer when he sighed, the hot winds rushed to the North to ripen the waiting ears of corn and to fill meadows and woods with flowers. And in the autumn when he sighed, a golden glow drifted northward and caused Indian summer to drape the hills with warmth."
"Too sad to do anything, Zhaawani-noodin just raised his arms to the heavens and sighed with longing - creating his warm winds for the world. "
"Then one spring, while looking sadly to the north, Zhaawani-noodin saw a beautiful girl standing in a grassy meadow. Her clothes were green and waving; her hair was as yellow as gold. Zhaawani-noodin whispered to himself, “Tomorrow I will seek her out.” The next morning he saw her again, but was too afraid to approach her. In his uncertainty he said to himself, “Tomorrow I will be brave, go to her, and win her for my bride.” But the next day and every day after that, he just looked at her longingly, sighed, and said, “Tomorrow I will go.” But, sleepy and lazy as ever, he never left his lodge to travel northward to get her."
"One morning as he went to look at the maiden he saw that her hair was no longer yellow, but was fluffy and white like snow. Full of sadness, he gave out many short and rapid sighs. Suddenly, the air was filled with something soft and silvery like thistledown, and the slender maiden vanished. Zhaawani-noodin cried in sadness for his lost love."
"As he sat in sadness, his brother Giiwedin-nodin appeared, laughing and laughing. He slapped Zhaawani-noodin on the back and asked him why he was so sad. Giiwedin-nodin said, “Brother. My beautiful maiden has vanished!” Giiwedin-nodin, doubled over in laughter at this. When he recovered, he said through eyes wet from laughter, “No brother. That was no maiden that you pined for. That was just a Dandelion waving in the meadow."
"Zhaawani-noodin returned to his lodge and lazily as ever, he returned to his endless sighing."
A Cree Legend
Before Creation the world was a great and unending lake with no shore. There was no light upon the earth because Pîsim the sun would only visit when it wanted to, so everything was cold and mostly in darkness. Because he was tired of living in darkness and anxious to keep the sun from wandering away, Wisakedjak constructed an enormous snare trap to catch the sun.
The next time Pîsim came near the earth he was caught in Wisakedjak’s trap. Pîsim struggled in vain to get free, but the rawhide cords of Wisakedjak’s trap were too strong. Pîsim grew angry and he flashed and raged. Because he was so close to the earth, his fires threatened to burn everything up. Wisakedjak worried that the waters would turn to steam, so he decided to make a deal with the Pîsim, because although he was frightened of Pîsim’s fires, he still wanted his light and warmth.
Wisakedjak told Pîsim that he would give him his freedom back, but that he must come to the earth as often as he left the earth – creating a morning when he came; a day while he was here; and an evening when he went away. The night would be the time when Pîsim was free to go elsewhere. Pîsim agreed to do this if Wisakedjak would set him free.
But now another difficulty presented itself. Pîsim could not free himself from the trap, and Pîsim’s intense heat and fires prevented Wisakedjak from getting close enough to untie Pîsim. Wisakedjak asked all of the creatures if they could untie Pîsim, but as each one went close to Pîsim his heat and fire would burn them terribly and they could not do it because they feared to die.
Of all the animals, the Amisk the beaver was the last to try. Amisk was an ugly creature, having big, flat teeth in his head and ugly fur that was all coarse and bristly hair like that of a pig. Using his teeth, Amisk chewed and chewed at the rawhide snare. All the while Pîsim’s fires burned Amisk’s fur, which was smoking and curling away from the heat. Eventually, Amisk succeeded in chewing through the cords, and Pîsim rose from the earth and took his rightful place far away (but not too far) from earth
Seeing that Amisk no longer had any fur – having it burned away by Pîsim’s fires – Wisakedjak called to Amisk and thanked him for his service to the world. Wisakedjak rewarded Amisk by giving him the most beautiful, soft coat of fur. Even though he had a new fur coat, Amisk found that his teeth had turned a brown color because they were scorched by fire. Amisk asked for new teeth, but Wisakedjak told him that he should wear his teeth as a badge of honor, showing the world that he once saved them from the fires of Pîsim.
This is how the beaver came to have the most beautiful fur and their distinctive brown teeth.
An Ojibwe Legend
An old man sat in his wigwam door and smoked his pipe while a crowd of children begged him to tell them a story. The children brought him tobacco and sage as an offering, so he told them a story…
“There was once a time when the world was filled with happy people. There was no war and no sickness. Plenty of deer and fish could be found, and everyone was satisfied and well-fed. The animals loved the people because they gave offerings to them before they hunted, and it was always warm. The trees gave a bounty of berries to the people and flowers bloomed everywhere. The earth was a paradise and man lived in tranquility.”
“There were so many people that we roamed at will over the forests, lakes, and prairies…millions of us! We made prayers to the Great Spirit and honored the manitous.”
“One night a star shone strangely bright, out-shining all the rest. At first the people deemed it far away, but then they realized it was just over the tree-tops. A council was called and the wisest men came together to discuss this phenomenon. They decided to go to the star and found that it was hovering just above the trees and they feared that it was an omen of something bad to come: a war or some other disaster that could befall the people. One month passed and nothing bad happened.”
“One night, a warrior had a wonderful dream. In this dream a beautiful woman came and stood by his side. In a beautiful voice she called his name and told him that she loved the beautiful lakes and bounty of his people and their land. She told him she came from the sky above to live among the people. She then requested that the man ask the elders in what form she should appear to them.”
“When he woke the man called for the elders and warriors to join him in the council lodge. He told the story of the strange woman and it was decided that the five bravest and noblest warriors would take a pipe and meet the strange woman.”
“That night, she came to them and took the pipe. She asked them, “Tell where I shall live, and what form now must I assume.” The men could not decide and told her to choose whatever form she wished, as they did not want to lose her wisdom by choosing wrongly.”
“I know where I will live” she said. “I shall live where the canoes of the people travel. Dear children I will kiss your cheeks as you sleep by the lakes and there I will make my home.”
“I will be the water lily!”
“The next morning, a thousand water lilies covered the face of the lake.”
Love and death leaves its mark on the priairies
St. François Xavier, also known as Grantown, was one of the main Red River Metis settlements and was famed as the starting point for many buffalo hunts that went west from here. This place overlooked a unique cultural place with a unique name – White Horse Plain.
White Horse Plain is the gateway to the west and was a gathering place for indigenous people for hundreds and hundreds of years. Celebrations took place here; ceremonies were conducted; and massive expeditions staged here before leaving for the season.
White Horse Plain took its name from a Cree legend. The legend goes (more or less) as follows:
Before the coming of the white man to the prairies, the Cree were being pushed westward by the encroaching settlers and by their traditional enemies, the Sioux. After several years of fighting, the Sioux had gained a foothold in the lands around Lake Winnipeg and the Cree were being pushed towards starvation as their hunting grounds were overrun by their enemies.
Salvation came when the first European traders started to arrive, bringing with them guns and ammunition which allowed the Cree to make effective war against the Sioux – driving them back to the south into their own territory. Because of the newfound strength of the Cree, the Assiniboine made peace and became allies with them. This was a peaceful time for both tribes.
Early one summer in the 1690s, a large band of Assiniboine was camped on the banks of the Assiniboine River about ten miles west of the site of present day Winnipeg. This band was under a chief who had a beautiful daughter. Two suitors came to his lodge to ask for her hand - a Cree chief from Lake Winnipegosis, and a Sioux chief from Devil’s Lake.
The Cree was the favored suitor. He was offering a unique white horse in exchange for his intended bride. The horse was a special horse that came from the Spaniards to the south and was swift as the wind and strong. The horse was known to be able to outrun and outlast any other horse on the prairies. The gift of the horse was so impressive that the Chief accepted it and sanctioned the proposed marriage.
While the Chief was happy about the upcoming nuptials, not all the Assiniboine shared his joy. A powerful medicine man who held a grudge against the Cree protested. He yelled at the Chief, “Is it not enough that you should make peace with the enemies of our forefathers? Now you will disgrace us by mingling our blood with that of our foes!” The Chief was not moved by his words, so he used his magic and his words to poison the camp and stoke hatred against the Cree. When his words and magic didn’t work, he sent word to the Sioux Chief that his offer was rejected and that he should make war on the Cree suitor in revenge.
On the wedding day the Cree bridegroom arrived from Lake Winnipegosis mounted on a fine grey horse, leading the white horse loaded with gifts for his prospective father-in-law. He presented his gifts and the fine white horse. These were accepted with great acclaim and a feast and celebration started. Everyone was happy except for the Medicine man.
Suddenly, the celebration was cut short and the alarm was sounded: the Sioux were coming to attack! The camp exploded in fear and confusion. The Chief cried to his new son-in-law, “Mount your horse. Ride away. It is your only chance!” At this, the Cree bridegroom ran with his bride to the tethered horses, helped her mount the white horse, jumped on the back of the grey horse, and they fled quickly to the west of the camp. The Sioux chief and his war party saw them leave and followed them.
For a while they were able to escape their pursuers – hiding in the ravines and in dense brush – however, once they went out on the open prairies the white horse was easily spotted. They tried to ride away again, but the grey horse could not keep pace with the white one, and the wife did not want to leave her husband to the Sioux attackers. She slowed her horse to stay with him, but they were eventually surrounded by the Sioux and were killed by enemy arrows.
The Sioux captured the grey horse, but the white horse was too swift and it escaped into brush. For years it roamed the plain – giving rise to the name White Horse Plain. It was believed that the soul of the girl had passed into the body of the horse and that the ghost of the girl and the horse still haunt the prairies.
The place where the lovers were killed was a point just east of St. François Xavier. A statue of a white horse commemorating the legend can be visited to this day.
Read more: The Legend of the White Horse Plain by Margaret Arnett MacLeod, Manitoba Pageant, Volume 3, Number 2, January 1958
They come in the spring and bring the birds home
The Thunder Birds (Animikii) are the creatures that cause the sound of thunder when they flap their wings; lightning is caused when they blink their eyes. The slow, rolling thunder we hear during the coming of a storm is that of the old Thunder Birds flying very high in the sky. The sharper thunderclaps are made by the wings of the young Thunder Birds who flap fast and violently.
It is said that Thunder Birds are like a great Eagle or Hawk, with a curved beak and clawed feet. Like birds of prey, they kill snakes and were the creatures that fought the underwater panther (Mishipeshu) and other great snakes that used to plague the earth. The Thunder Bird motif figured prominently in almost all ceremonies and was the symbol that unified the Anishinaabe. The sweat lodge represented the overturned nest of the thunderbird, with the hot rocks symbolizing the eggs of the Thunder Bird. As well, the teaching in the lodge revolved around the purifying and strengthening power of the Thunder Bird. Both the Midéwiwin and Wabanowin paid homage to the Thunder Bird. Even the Sun Dance, learned after moving to the Great Plains, was linked to a person’s dream or vision of the Thunder Bird, and one the chief purposes of the ceremony was to communicate with the Thunder Birds to bring rain to cleanse the world
It is an old tradition to give Thunder Birds an offering of tobacco when they come, offering words and asking that the Thunder Birds go easy on the Anishinaabe when the storm comes.
The Thunder Birds are migratory and are only heard from late spring until early fall. It is they who lead the other birds during the spring and fall migrations, and the constellation Cygnus – viewed as a long-necked swan by the Greeks – signifies a giant Thunderbird when viewed the opposite direction as the Anishinaabe do. This constellation is visible in the northern hemisphere from early May until late October, peaking in the summer sky during June and July. It is visible in the north-eastern sky from around 9 pm each evening during this time and by 2 am is directly overhead, staying high in the sky until daybreak comes in spring and leaves in fall, just as the birds migrate to the north and leave to the south before winter sets in.
An Ojibwe Legend about Corn
After man was created, he was lonely, so the Creator gave him a sister to keep him company.
The man dreamed that five manidoo would visit his sister and want to marry her. The dream told him that she should reject the first four and marry the fifth suitor.
The first four suitors to arrive were Tobacco, Squash, Melon, and Bean. On being rejected by the girl, they each fell dead. The fifth and last suitor was Mandaamin, or Corn.
The girl took Mandaamin for her husband and he buried the other four suitors. From their bodies grew tobacco, squashes, melons and beans.
All Anishinaabe people are descended from the marriage of the Ojibwe girl and Corn.