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.
Reasons for the name vary
Legends says that when viewed from the south, the landform known as the ‘Turtle Mountains’ appeared to the Anishinaabe as a turtle on the horizon with the head pointing westward and the tail to the east.
Another legend says that the Turtle Mountains were named for a man named “Mickinock” (turtle) who walked (or ran) its entire length in one day.
Other names given to the Turtle Mountains include Makinak Wudjiw (Turtle Mountain in Ojibwemowin), LaMontagne Tortue (Michif for ‘Turtle Mountain’), Turtle Hill, Beckoning Hills, and the Blue Jewel of the Plains.
Patrick Gourneau, in his book History of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa explained why “Turtle Mountain” is not “Turtle Mountains.” He states the following:
“The naming of Turtle Mountain goes back a long time, versions from white men and Indians. To mention only three Chippeway versions, it indicates that it was the early Chippeway migrants from the woodlands of the east who named it Turtle Mountain. None of the three versions carry the name Turtle Mountains. As far back as my memory goes, I have not ever heard a full-blood term the hills as Turtle Mountains, and same applies to the “Mechifs.” The Chippeway name is “Mekinauk Wudjiw” (Turtle Mountain). If it was Turtle Mountains it would be “Mekinauk Wudjiw wum” (plural).
History of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians Paperback – 1989 by Patrick Gourneau
Traditional Ojibwe CHildren's Game
The Windigo Game or “cannibal game” was the most exciting game played by Ojibwe children.
This name implies all that is fear compelling, as the windigo were said to be terrible beings who were cannibals. If a stranger came to a lonely wigwam he was closely watched as he “might be a windigo,” and if he stayed all night someone sat up and watched him constantly. The children absorbed the idea and made it into a game.
Here’s how it was played: One child was chosen by drawing lots (or guessing numbers) to play the part of the windigo. Four sticks were prepared, one longer than the others. These were held in the hand with the tops even and offered for choice among the older children, the one who drew the longest stick acting the part of the windigo. If the child could, they would wear a mask, or would otherwise alter themselves (make faces, etc.) to give themselves a monstrous appearance.
The windigo would hide in a clump of bushes or somewhere else. The other children then formed in a long line, each holding the belt of the child in front of them. A large child was chosen to lead the others and he carried a club.
When they came near the windigo's hiding place the child playing windigo would rush out with fearful yells and wave their arms. The leader would have to play fight with them, and the younger children would be scared and scream to each other. Sometimes the windigo child would seize a child and pretended to eat it.
This game was a favorite among the children.
Cultural sharing between the Ojibwe and Cree
Although there was much sharing of culture between the Ojibwe and Cree, the most extraordinary sharing that occurred during the early to middle 1800s was not just of natural resources and subsistence practices, but of religious beliefs and ceremonies.
At this time, some Ojibwe started to adopt the Sun Dance as a central ceremony, although the Midewiwin continued to be practiced and even spread to the Cree. Cree oral tradition includes a story about the adoption of the Midewiwin by the Cree. A Cree man is said to have gone to the Ojibwe to obtain medicines and had taken with him two horses loaded with fine clothes. The Ojibwe were especially glad to get the horses, for they had very few. They took the Cree man into their Midewiwin lodge where they taught him the use of many plants as medicines.
Adapted from Peers, Laura L. (Laura Lynn). 1994. “Ojibwa Of Western Canada, 1780 To 1870.” Manitoba Studies In Native History. St. Paul: MNHS.
The Deer Clan was destroyed by Kitche-Manitou
According to historian Edward Benton-Benais, the Deer Clan was known as the clan of gentle people. They were the pacifists. It was said that the people of the Deer Clan would not even indulge in using harsh words of any kind. They were the poets of the people.
However, it is said that the people of the Deer Clan once violated the natural law established by Kitche-manitou and began marrying within their clan. The Deer Clan people were sent warnings. Their children started to be born with defects and abnormalities. They made no correction in their ways. Finally, the Creator was so disturbed by this departure from the way of harmony that he destroyed the Deer Clan in its entirity. For this reason there are no members of the Deer Clan among the Ojibway people today.
Benton-Banai, Edward. 1979. “Mishomis Book: The Voice Of The Ojibway.” [St. Paul, Minn.: Indian Country Press].
By: Alanson Skinner
The following stories were obtained by Alanson Skinner in 1913 at Crooked Lake, Cowesess, Sakimay, and adjoining reserves in Saskatchewan. They were mainly narrated by Kene, Andrew and Jacob Bear, and were published by the American Museum of Natural History.
By: Alanson Skinner
Plains Ojibwa Tales is an article from The Journal of American Folklore, Volume 32. It has a variety of interesting stories and legends associated with the Plains Ojibwe people.
The Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe people are values based on centuries of cultural traditions that reinforce the wisdom and faith of our ancestors who came before us. Each teaching honors one of the basic virtues to help us to live a full and healthy life. Each of these Teachings is represented by a different animal and provides practical and positive character traits for use in our everyday lives.