Tag Archives: traditional stories

Written in the Stars: Celestial Origin of Maya Creation Myth

Written in the Stars

Celestial Origin of Maya Creation Myth

by Richard A. Wertime and Angela M.H. Schuster

The three hearthstones of the Maya creation story are found in the constellation Orion, according to the Quiche Maya of highland Guatemala. They are Alnitak (the southernmost star in Orion’s belt), Saiph, and Rigel. At the center of the triangle formed by these celdestial bodies is the Orion nebula, the mythical hearthfire. According to the myth, First Father, the maize god, was born from the cracked shell of a tortoise, perhaps a Maya constellation within Orion. Teh two piglike peccaries in the eastern part of Leo are a Maya constellation and figure prominently in the creation story. The glyph for star, shown three times, often accompanies depictions of the peccaries in Maya artwork.

Just after sunset on August 12, creation eve, the Milky Way stretches from east to west across the night sky. To the Maya this position of the galaxy represented a great  canoe paddled by gods who take First Father, the maize god, to the place of creation where he is reborn from the cracked shell of a tortoise. The piglike peccaries located in the eastern part of Leo are an important Maya constellation. A late seventh-century vase from the Peten region of Guatemala, below, depicts the paddler gods and First Father after their arrival at the place of creation. Two attendants prepare First Father for his rebirth.

Over the course of countless nights ancient Maya astronomers considered long and hard the movement of the stars and planets. Living in a world without light pollution, these gifted observers beheld a sky that was as limpid as a mountain stream. The nearness and the brightness of the celestial bodies led them to read in their movements significant elements of human history, including the miracle of creation itself.

Scholars have had only a fragmentary understanding of these matters in the past. Now, for the first time, they are beginning to comprehend the intricate connection between Maya creation myth and the movements of the stars. It is a remarkable story being pieced together by a cluster of scholars who have patiently decoded a complex legacy of Maya writings and artworks.

The interconnections between the observable sky and Maya creation myth find expression in surviving Maya codices, in important sacred texts such as the Popol Vuh, in hieroglyphic inscriptions, and in a vast range of artworks—carved bone, ceramics, murals, and sculpture. Says epigrapher Linda Schele, “We used to view Maya iconography as a collection of discrete units. Now there’s a whole pattern to it; all of the parts are related to phenomena that can be observed in the sky by anybody who lives away from the light of the modern world.”

What makes these interconnections particularly exciting is that they are supported by ritual practices and religious beliefs of the modern Maya. There is compelling evidence for strong cultural continuity between the Maya and their modern descendants. Mayan artisans, like their ancient counterparts, express their cosmic vision through almost every conceivable medium: in the patterns of fabrics, in the hearthstones of the traditional household, in the temporary shrines built to invoke the rain gods—shrines whose form mimics the cosmos.

Some of the early pioneers in Maya studies had intimations of what is now being forcefully argued. Herbert Spinden and Sylvanus G. Morley—early students of Maya art, writing, and calendrics—suggested that the Maya creation myth was linked in deep ways to Maya astronomy. In time, however, there was a reaction against such cosmological interpretations. “Astronomy was banned,” recalls Dennis Tedlock, an ethnologist and translator of the Popol Vuh. By the 1950s and 1960s ethnology was also discounted as a reliable source of data. But all this began to change in the 1980s when archaeoastronomy emerged as a new subfield in archaeological studies. “In the New World,” says Anthony Aveni, an archaeoastronomer at Colgate University, “we seem to be developing an anthropology of astronomy rather than a history of astronomy. It deals with the complex relationship between astronomy and politics, economics, and cultural history.”

By Dawn on August 13 the western portion of the Milky Way drops below the southern horizon. The three hearthstones and the tortoise shell from which First Father is reborn appear just east of zenith. According to Maya myth, the canoe bearing the paddler gods (the Milky Way) sinks after delivering First Father to the place of creation. The constellation of the two peccaries appears just west of the Milky Way. First Father’s rebirth from the cracked shell of a tortoise is depicted below on a Classic-period ceramic plate from the northern Peten.

At dawn on February 5 the Milky Way—the Maya World Tree—arches from north to south across the sky. The ecliptic, or path of the sun, moon, planets, and constellations of the zodiac, lies perpendicular to it. According to the Maya creation story, First Father raised the heavens on February 5, 542 days after his rebirth. With this act, he linked Earth to both heaven and the underworld (Xibalba) by erecting a World Tree, whose roots lay deep in the southern sky. A representation of the World Tree appears on the sarcophagus lid of the Emperor Pacal of Palenque, below. In this rendering, the roots of the World Tree are shown as the jaws of a crocodile while the ecliptic is depicted as a double-headed serpent bar crossing the World Tree at right angles.

This past year has seen major breakthroughs in the drawing together of Maya creation myth and astronomy, and in the linking of the work done by epigraphers, art historians, ethnologists, archaeologists, and archaeoastronomers. At the annual Maya Meetings at the University of Texas, Schele proposed a major new synthesis, one that links critical passages from the creation myth of the Popol Vuh to artistic, hieroglyphic, and ethnographic information contributed by a host of colleagues in the field. She argues that the story of Maya creation was mapped in the night sky, that acts critical to the world’s creation in Maya mythology were all elaborately played out in the movements of the Milky Way and a host of constellations including the Big Dipper, Scorpius, Orion, and Gemini.

The Maya story of creation, as written on a stela at the site of Quirigua in highland Guatemala, begins, “On the night of 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk’u [August 13] …they, the paddler gods, made the image of the three [hearth]stones appear…” According to this account, as interpreted by Schele, with the lighting of the hearth First Father comes into the world, reborn from the shell of a tortoise. Exactly 542 days later [February 5] he raises the sky and creates the World Tree, which takes the form of a vast crocodile at the center of the cosmos. With this act First Father divides earth and sky into eight partitions, sets time in motion by turning the heavens about a central poin, and links the earth to both the heavens and the underworld (Xibalba) with the World Tree, whose roots lay deep in the southern sky. The World Tree, according to Schele and others, takes its form as the Milky Way. As a canoe bearing the paddler gods, it transports First Father to his birthplace. As the road to Xibalba, it conveys the dead to the underworld.

The night of creation begins with the Milky Way/canoe stretching from east to west across the night sky. By dawn on this night, explains Schele, the three hearthstones are at zenith whithin the constellation Orion and are represented by the stars Alnitak (the southernmost in Orion’s belt), Rigel, and Saiph. At the center of the triangle formed by these three celestial bodies is the Orion nebula, alight with the glow of newborn stars—the hearth fire. The hearthstones are once again at zenith at dusk on February 5. During this night, the hearthstones sink toward the west, preceded by the Pleiades, a star cluster in the constellation Taurus that represented to the Maya a handful of maize seeds to be planted in the earth. Around midnight, the seeds bear fruit and the World Tree—the Milky Way—rises in the night sky.

themes in Maya art no doubt originated from celestial observations of this sort. Scholars like Schele note that the ecliptic—the path of the sun, moon, planets, and the constellations of the zodiac—is represented in Maya vase paintings by a double-headed serpent that crosses the World Tree at right angles on the night of creation. When the Milky Way lies in a north-south orientation on creation night, the ecliptic intersects it at similarly precise right angles. The double-headed serpent probably reflects the Maya observation that certain constellations like the zodiac undulate throughout the year, imitating the movement of a serpent.

“It’s like being able to read Genesis in the heavens,” says Schele, “Astronomers use mathematical formulas to describe the movement of the cosmos…the Maya used mythology. The texts carved on Maya vases are not just quaint stories told by an ancient people but rather precise descriptions of how the heavens changed throughout the year.” Some advocates of the new thinking like Barbara and Dennis Tedlock caution against excessive enthusiasm. Says Dennis Tedlock, “When the smoke clears, we’re going to find that some of the astronomy got pushed a bit too far.” He thinks Schele’s interpretation of the Milky Way as the World Tree is very much on target, as is her suggestion that the double-headed serpent depicted in Maya art represents the celestial path of the sun, moon, Venus, and the constellations of the zodiac. But Tedlock remains unconvinced that the Milky Way so clearly doubles as a celestial crocodile (a configuration for which, according to Schele, there are ample Aztec sources) and the canoe that carries the Maize God to the place of creation. Schele’s arguments do confirm what Barbara Tedlock has been suggesting for some time: that the Maya weren’t limited to “horizon-based astronomy”—calculations of celestial motions dependent on the horizon—but had fully mastered star-to-star astronomy, or “relational astronomy” as it is technically known.

Schele and others are also beginning to pay more attention to ethnography. “I think there is a tremendous amount of this ancient heritage that still survive,” she says. “The way in which the modern Maya organize their world is not some hybrid overview inherited from the Spanish; it comes from a very ancient stratum of indigenous thought. The Maya understanding of how the world works has millennia behind it. That may not seem a miracle to us, but for people who have had their history appropriated by others, who have been told that they exist only as a by-product of what the Spanish made them after the Conquest, that’s a bloody miracle!”

One thing is certain. Maya calculations were extremely accurate. In their fables they plotted t he stations of Venus over periods of 104 years or longer. Their almanacs indicated planetary cycles, lunar phases and eclipses, solstices and equinoxes, and a host of celestial motions by which they regulated their lives. Unfortunately, the burning of quantities of Maya literature in 1562 by the Spanish missionary Fray Diego de Landa leaves many questions about the  nature and practice of Maya astronomy unanswered—like how many and which gods were associated with the stars and constellations and how the various planets such as Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars were tracked.

Perhaps even more important than the recent discoveries is the larger frame of reference that archaeoastronomy is beginning to unfold. Says Schele, “It seems that the interaction of astronomy and mythology was common in other cultures as well. Scholars working in South America have found similar kinds of systems in the Amazon. There may be something like it in Pawnee lore, and perhaps the Hopi have something resembling it. The Maya may have been using a way of thinking about the sky and using it in their mythology that was very ancient indeed. I’m even prepared to accept that much of the cosmology/mythology came straight across the Bering Strait, and that it may be 10,000 or 15,000 years old; it may be 20,000 years old. I think it may be possible that we have tapped into a very ancient stratum of human thought. If it did come across with the first Americans, then we may be in touch with one of the two or three great human intellectual traditions that we as a species have ever evolved, part of the fundamental ‘software’ that all the peoples of the Americas and Asia have utilized.” Schele cautions that proving such an hypothesis will be difficult, maybe impossible. Nonetheless, studies are under way.

The new thinking will no doubt spawn heated debate among archaeologists for years to come. For Mayanist Peter Mathews, the connections now being made between Maya myth and cosmology “open up a whole new world of discovery. We stand on the threshold of something truly new.”

Mediators in a Universal Discourse

by Anthony F. Aveni

Ancient Maya notions about the cosmos were quite different from those to which we subscribe today. They rested on a broader kind of faith; that the everyday human world was intimately related to the natural world and that these two worlds functioned in harmony. The universe was a distinct whole, with all parts intricately laced together, each aspect influencing the others. Nature and culture were one. Sky myths explained the unfolding of history, politics, social relations, and ideas about creation and life after death. The Maya forged links between the sky and just about every phase and component of human activity—what we call astrology. And they celebrated this knowledge not only in texts but also in art, architecture, and sculpture. Their universe was animate—breathing, teeming, vibrant, and interactive. The Maya talked to the stars, listened to the planets. They commended and evoked, restrained and constrained, made incantations, pressed their ears to the oracle. They saw themselves as mediators in a great universal discourse. At stake was the battle between fate and free will, between body and soul.

The Maya were motivated not by a desire to express the workings of nature in terms of inert mathematical equations, but rather by the need to know how to mediate an alliance between knowledge and human action. Today we might attribute a planet’s change of color to an atmospheric effect, a shift in position to a dynamic effect, an alteration in brightness to a distance effect. The Maya would carefully watch the color, brightness, position, and movement of the planets because they believed all of these properties considered together were indices of the power of the gods, whom they hoped to influence through dialogue. Maya cosmic myths like the Popol Vuh may strike us as amusing stories, but behind the planetary, solar, and lunar alliances lie real people asking the kinds of questions we no longer ask of the sky” What is the origin of gender and sex? Where does fertility—or for that matter any power—come from? Where do we go when we die? How can we know the future? Answers to many of their inquiries were framed in the metaphor of visible planetary characteristics and changes: descent and resurrection (particularly for Mercury and Venus), dyadic and triadic bonds (sun, moon, and Venus). No wonder all these concepts were so prevalent in the early sky mythologies that grew up in both Old and New World civilizations, for the planets look the same the world over.

Which came first, the myth or the sky observation? No one can really say, but I think watching the movement of lights in the sky surely must have served as a very early practical timekeeping device, at least for those cultures like the Maya who invested a great deal of effort in looking upward. Naming the phases of the moon for human activities that accompanied them, or associating the course of the sun across the zodiac or the orientation of the Milky Way with seasonal activities—these habits date back into history farther than any document can reach. Marrying the act of telling stories about everyday affairs to witnessing changes in the world of nature would be a logical way both to embellish life and to lend a meaningful structure to time. With the process of storytelling came the expansion into more fundamental and speculative questions: Where did we come from? What will happen to us in the future? Inn some instances, especially in highly structured societies like the Maya, the relationship between people and the sky became formalize through the ruling class. Cosmic myths expanded to extraordinary proportions and so did the temporal cycles that framed them. Scholars may debate where myth and history intersect in the writing they decipher on the Maya stelae, but we can be sure the rhyme and meter of these texts have their origin in the cosmos.

Haines Respiritualization Meeting, May 17, 18, 19, 1985

Original Transcription

Haines Respiritualization Meeting

May 17, 18, 19, 1985

Persons attending: Donald Peter, Anchorage; Dr. Pam Colorado-Morrison, Juneau; Eber Hampton, Boston; Bella and Simon Francis, Ft. Yukon; Jonathan Solomon, Ft. Yukon; Howard Luke, Fairbanks; Paul Olin, Galena; Blake Jones, Hydaburg; Matilda Lewis, Haines; Austin Hammond, Haines; Helen Andon, Anchorage

Guests: Doug Patterson, Juneau; Tommie Jimmie Jr., Haines; Mr. and Mrs. Peter Charles Johnson Sr., Haines; Dr. James Matthews, Fairbanks

May 17, 1985

Meeting begins with prayer by Austin Hammond

Our Father we are looking up to you this morning as we gather here as a family. We need your help, what we will say and what we need, we are asking you to give it to us. The word we use for each other that we could learn from each other, so we are here together. So pour thy blessing upon us and be with us. That I ask in Jesus name. Amen.

Pam: This is our third meeting, and final meeting of the task force. We have some nice things planned for this meeting. Austin is going to see to it that we can get out to the Chilkoot camp site while we are here. It is a really nice day, so it would be good if we could try to get out there this afternoon. Blake Jones is here from Massett, B.C. and he has brought a really good tape with him. He has helped set up and run the ReDiscovery program down there. It is a survival camp and it has been going since 1978. He is here to offer his help in any way that he can for those of us who are trying to get camps going and also to share his tape with us. It is really well made. I think we have (Ha-sha-goon) here too. It is Austin Hammond’s tape. It gives us the background on what happened before this camp got set up. We probably want to spend some time talking about where everybody is with their camps, how far along we are, and what the plans are for the future. We are supposed to have a guest drop in today, Dr. Matthews who is with the University of Alaska, Cooperative Extension. He is the director of the whole thing. He has been hearing a lot about these task force meetings and a lot about the spirit camps. So he should be by sometime today. The final thing before we break up, Don and I would like to talk with everyone here about a meeting we are getting ready to go to next week regarding the future of these camps, and maybe some funding and support. That’s about it, what I have taht needs to be discussed. Do you have anything else, Don?

Don: I appreciate you all coming down here. Some of you came a long ways. I’m kinda excited, and not excited about going to Paris next week, but I think we need to set down some facts about how to deal with those people. Maybe we can do that this afternoon like Pam said. Dr. Matthews, who sits on my policy board for my office, is coming down this afternoon. We are saying this will be our last and final task force meeting, but I doubt it. I see us getting together 2-3 times a year. I think this group gives us a lot of strength and setting down our objectives and goals for the respiritualization project. I keep telling Pam that we keep getting calls all the time from people who are interested in this project. I feel that something will come out of it. I look at 1991 as a last chance for Alaska Native people. I think we need to work with our own people to set their minds on who they are so they can deal with these different issues that are coming up, to determine their destination. In 1991, we will be the same as anybody in the State, hopefully. The resolution that AFN is taking to Washington D.C. to get some amendments on the land claims act, that will open the land claim act up to everybody. Anybody that wants something to do with Alaska, the different societies, organizations, they all want to put their two cents in there. It is possible, if they open up the land claim act that it might go on for another 10-20 years, but we don’t know that. I guess you don’t know at the AFN special convention, Ft. Yukon was probably the only one that voted against all the amendments. The people had a meeting up there and they said they want to take their chances and leave it like that. They are trying to get some education to deal with those 1991 issues. To deal with the issues, we need education. A lot of our people are getting that, becoming attorneys, and entering different fields where we need them at. We also need something from down here to work on these different issues and I think that is what we are getting at with these spirit camps. A lot of things are falling into place, like Pam said. There are probably some monies available from BIA and we have some monies available too. This is a start. It will be interesting to see what happens in Paris next week when we meet with UNESCO. Maybe they will have their checkbooks open, I don’t know. Also, I was talking to Gary King, from the Kellogg Foundation. They have been pretty good to us. They have been supporting our project for the past 2-3 years, with 2-3 million dollars. He told me that if we go to Paris and it really doesn’t work out, he actually said they have an open checkbook for us. They give out about 450 million dollars a year in grants and funds to especially to projects like this. I think the last thing, like Pam said, the weather is pretty nice so maybe we can go to the Chilkoot camp. We have a couple of hours to get some of our feeling across and talk about what we need to talk about.

Matilda: At our last meeting in Ft. Yukon, we talked about a helping hand, and the times we have mentioned that you might be able to help us. I think right now our main concern is our building. Next month our cultural program starts and we still haven’t move our building. We just never seemed to get the money from somewhere to help us move it. It will be the quarters for the young people.

Don: Well, Pam and I have been talking about that and we think we will be able to come up with some things. We will work on it.

Pam: Woody was saying today he was going (we wrote a proposal for subsistence and one of the items was to cover that for sure) to add two additions to Raven———-, with luck we should know about that in a couple days. If not, then Don will see what he can do, but it has to be done fast.

Don: That was Dr. Matthews who just drove up. His wife is with him, he will bring her in and introduce her and then she is going out shopping. But he wants to sit in and see what is going on. He makes a lot of the monetary decisions for my office so he is pretty vital.

You know, the Cooperative Extension Service, for the last couple years has spent more in the State of Alaska than they have ever done in their existence. I give credit to few organizations for doing that. They work with everything in the villages from gardening to tanning to developing educational curriculum. The legislature is looking at them as a vital entity in the State and it is developing the whole State. That’s why Dr. Matthews is here, he is interested, he is not a nosy white man.

Introduction of Dr. Matthews and Barbara Matthews, and the task force members.

Don: Dr. Matthews is interested in things like this with Alaska Natives and that is the reason I asked him to come down.

Pam: I wanted this morning to look at Blake’s tape.

Blake: The equipment is still coming down. Tome went to get it. The paper I have here is about the program in B.C. on the ReDiscovery project, so we will have a copy for each of you take back with you. After we see the video, you can read up on this. It is good to have this paper, if you are going to get a copy of the video. It tells what our camp is all about.

We started this camp in 78, in Massett because we found that we were having a lot of trouble with juvenile delinquents in the court house. We started off with, every two weeks we would have six kids out with three guides. Now our camp has expanded and we have six guides, two cooks, and maybe 3 or 4 volunteers every two weeks and we have 14 kids out there. Plus we have about 3 or 4 elders fly out to our camp and spend 4 or 5 days with the kids. They talk about the old villages around where our camp is set up. They teach them basket weaving and some of the old guys would talk about the carvings and old petroglyphs that we have around the old village sites. Since we started this program, like I said, our court rate, 40% of the list was juveniles. But since we started our program our court rate went from 40% to 18%. So we dropped it to half for juvenile delinquents in our village. Besides having this summer program, we have a follow-up program in the winter in the youth center. That includes all the elders of the village teaching them button blanket making, carving, there are some wood carvers and some of the guys carve in argillite, and basketweaving. We also use the elder’s homes when we get fish and stuff, we show them how to preserve the food. The way that works is, what our kids do in the village is, half of what we can up or preserve for winter, half will stay with the ReDiscovery program and the other half will be distributed in the village to the elders that can’t go out and get the stuff themselves. We have a big list in the office of the elders and we will distribute it out. It is hard to describe the program until after we see the tape, but out at the camp it is a wilderness survival camp and cultural heritage. What we are trying to do is bring back the heritage that the elders used to have. We are getting it back slowly into our village now. We teach kids how to survive. We tell them when the tides out, your table is set. When we first talk about it, they don’t understand but after 3-4 days with us they finally get to see what we mean the tides out, your table is set, because there is so much food out there. Plus in the forest there is so much stuff that they can pick and use for food, and build shelter out of driftwood on the beach. A couple of you read this article yesterday. The camp we have has a few simple basic rules that we use. We tell the kids what you kill, you have to eat. At our camp, we tell them that if you need any building materials, don’t cut any live trees down. Go down the beach and take the driftwood up and start building your campsite out of that. Instead of cutting live trees, even cutting the branches down, we don’t cut anything up. We try to keep our camp as natural as possible. On this program, we have a 35-mile hike down the west coast. The funny thing about this hike is that, our Armed Forces people did this hike one way, 17 miles for them. They were carrying a small day pack, a canteen of water and trail mix. It took them 3 days to do that hike. When they got back into Massett they wrote up a report for the government and they said this hike is not recommended for amateurs. Since we started doing that hike, we have 4 hikes down the coast every year, on the whole thing we have never had an accident on the hike. In our camp the only thing we had was a twisted knee in the 7 years we have been operating out there. The Attorney General and Social Service agency has given us a number one rating for summer camp and for helping out with the younger people. The social services use us in the summer. If they are going to put someone in a foster home and they don’t have a home right away, they refer the to our program and the kid will come with us for two weeks. It give the social service time to find a new home for them. If they can’t find a home, they ask us if we can keep them for another session, and we say —Sure, no problem, we will keep them for another session. It is for both Native and non-Native, this camp we have. Since the Armed Forces moved in we have a lot of their kids come out. When the Armed Forces first moved to Massett, we had a lot of trouble trying to adjust to them and them trying to adjust to us. We could feel the prejudice between the Armed Forces and the Natives in the community. But now that we have this program, we go up to the Armed Forces when they get new people into the village and we talk to them about our summer camp and about the people in the village, orientate them to living in a small town, how to act around us. If we say “Hi” to them, to stop and talk or something. Before we started doing that, when we used to say “Hi” to them they would just walk away with their nose up in the air. We finally started getting mad at them and told them—We’re here, and we have been here longer than you so don’t try to pull that high and mighty stuff on us. For awhile there were a lot of fights between the Armed Forces and the Natives. But now that we started orientating them, some of the people have been coming to our camp as volunteers.

Don: I think one good point that Blake was talking about is that the spirit camps have to include everybody. You know we have to work with groups here in Alaska, it doesn’t matter if they are white, blue, green or yellow. When 1991 gets here, they will work with us. We even have a couple Outside Indians here to work with!!, or Dr. Matthews!

Paul: Ever since I went to the meeting in Ft. Yukon, I have been thinking about how can we start one over there in Galena or Ruby. Yesterday when I was getting on the plane, I heard one of my friends tried to shoot himself, and he shot his arm off. Two weeks before that I had another friend who shot himself. It is a problem, to me it is a problem. To the elderly people, it just tears the hell our of them, the suicide. I am very much interested in Blake’s tape. There has to be a way to help these troubled individuals.

Don: It is good to hear about different aspects of camps around the state and around the country. The good thing about it is we can use it for our own camps. We have to realize when 1991 comes, those kids will be 21-25 years old, leaders.

Blake: What we found in our program is that for the staff and participant ratio is 2 participants for 1 staff member. You find with that ratio that you have more personal contact with the kids. We divide them up in groups, there will be a junior guide and a senior guide with four kids. When we do it that way, by the end of the two week session, there is such an attachment between the youth and yourself as a guide. They will come to you and talk about problems they have in town. You have been out in camp, but you also know what has been going on in town. You can take them aside and talk to them. There is one part in our program. We call it the Wanagun Spot, what we do is, every morning after breakfast, we give the kids pen and paper and tell them to go out there and find a nice quiet spot and stay there for 15-20 minutes by yourself. Write down your thoughts or even make a drawing of the spot you picked. We make them do that every day and then we look at it and get some of their stuff written down and use it in newspaper articles and magazine articles. On the last day we make them do it, we give them a pen and paper and an envelope. We say—Write down your thoughts or make a drawing, seal it in the envelope and put your name and address on there, figure out where you will be two years from now. In two years we will mail you what you wrote. What we try to do is not have too many kids come back every summer. There are so many different youths on the islands, we try to get them to go one year and take one or two years off and then come back. We found that it seems to work real good. We get new kids every summer. I have seen some of our staff, senior guides, that big macho ones in camp who are looking after them all, but when it is time to leave, I have seen those big macho senior guides with tears in their eyes because the kids are leaving. They grow so attached to each other in the camp. After that, when you get back into Massett, we’re out all summer, an d the mail is stacked in the office from kids who have been in the program.

Austin: Since I came from Ft. Yukon, I have been going to that elders meetings that we have in Juneau. The time when I came back I went to the Governor’s Mansion. I think you all know that they gave me the honor for what I am doing. We had it the Governor’s Mansion and then the ANB Hall, same thing. All this what we try to do for the children, I tried to explain, not only for this camp I am working for. I work in Juneau at the school with Julie Folta. She is teaching the small children. This is what I was talking about. Something we have to think about for the children. They need to learn what we know. The paper on the wall, my grandfather’s name on it: Jim David and Joe Whiskers. They are the ones who told me stories. They talk to me about the time coming, when they call on me. Grandson, sit by me. The story we been telling you since you were 9 years  old, I want you to pass it on to your children and your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, they have to know it. If you don’t tell that story with the children, when you die, everything is going to die, what we are telling you. So pass it on, so they could learn it. This is what I am doing in Juneau, when I am talking to the teachers over there in a meeting. I told them, I need your help, you are teaching my grandchildren. What I have to say. I told them how the Tlingit work together. When I was sitting there, like what Don has here (tape recorder) put it down. And I don’t have nothing. I am just talking. How they train me through my grandfathers when they teach me what to do. That’s when they tell me about the little baby, you are going to have children. You have to talk to them. I got all girls. So what they tell me, I talk to them. When you talking to the newborn baby, just leave it in your arm and talk to them, before you drink water, before you wash your mouth, just talk—You are going to be a girl, you will become a woman, a married woman, you will have children. You have to listen to whoever is talking to you. This is what they tell me, even the boys side—You will be a man when you grow up. You will learn how to work for your children. All this, what they tell me, it is inside of our heads, it is stuck like glue. When that little baby listen, it stays there, everything what we say. Anytime when you start talking, everything is going to come out in front of you, like the tape when it starts talking. That’s the way it is. That is the reason why we have to talk to our baby, newborn baby, so it will stay inside the brain, what we try to teach. So this is what they do with me. I didn’t write it down. I didn’t go to school. I am just learning from what we are doing with each other. I never used to talk English. When I am working, I am learning. It stays with me, what they tell me. This is what I am doing with the children. The way I put it out in front of the teacher. These trees we see all around us, the roots are together. Spruce, hemlock, pine tree, birch, everything. What is growing under, some berries, salmonberries, raspberries, everything that is growing has roots. All the roots stays together. Then the grass grows and the flower grows. Right now you see the trees that are coming out now, just like a newborn baby they start growing and coming out. Our grandchildren now, they are just like a flower growing under the trees. Anyplace where you look there are different colors. When I opened the camp here, they asked me—What are you going to do, just the Tlingit, you are going to teach them? I told the—No, that is for everybody. From Hoonah, they told me I am crazy. I told them maybe I am crazy. We used to be crazy ourselves. We used to fight with our white brothers. Now we adopt them, different colors. My son was married with white girl. My daughter was married with a white. Some of them are married with the Filipinos. They are all different colors. This is what the flower is. All different colors, what is growing. This is the children, they are growing as the grass and the flower. They are newborn babies, they have to learn.

When I was talking there, the teachers were listening. This is what I want my grandchildren to learn, everyone of them. Like what I mention, all these different trees; we are all in the family. The trees have a life like we are, anything that is growing has a life, even the grass. My grandfather used to tell me—This grass growing, it is nothing to you, but to us, there is something in there that will help us. Any sickness that we get we will pick it out what will help us. So you have to respect it, just like you respect the one sitting next to you. All the flowers, the trees, you have to respect. Before you drop, you have to talk to that tree. Where you are going to drop it, you have to put something there, so it won’t break. Then you talk to the tree—I have a bed for you now, to lay down on it. Just to help us out, lay down on it. We need you. When it drops, it don’t break. Some people don’t do it, they just drop it. If they drop it on a rock, it will break. They have a spirit just like we do. This is what I am teaching at the school. All the salmon, all the seal, all the animal on the mountains, they are like us. So I told them—God create us in this world. Different place where we stay, we have to work to take care of it. If we go someplace, like I went to Arizona, they have the flat country. They have all different kinds of animals to take care of. This is the reason why I really started this place, I have to tell my grandchildren all what we have on the mountain.

There is a story about mountain goats. He (a man) got stuck on the mountain. He was chasing the mountain goat. Where it went there was a little trail. He followed it. There were a thousand feet to fall and that man got stuck. He just start shaking. He said the mountain goat has to go back. The mountain goat is eating it and he picked it out and give it to that man who was stuck there. So he start eating it. The man was stuck there. To him where he got stuck, it just flattened out for him. He has to stand up and the mountain goat has to go back with him until they get in a safe place. The mountain goat walked, and he didn’t kill it. So this is the story we have to learn together with our white brothers, whoever they are. We have to respect everything, like that tree when you are going to drop it. After you kill the bear, you can’t just take the knife out and skin it there where the sand is or the mud. The spirit is always watching you. This is what they are telling me. Stand behind you from that bear. If you fix it, put the branches and roll it and put another on the other place. When you are cutting the meat, you have to put something there again. When the spirit goes back, like us sitting here if somebody comes through the door—How did they treat you. Well, they treat me nice, the way I was laying down. They put some bed under me. The way they put everything there. Then they tell it, now you hear that, you go to that man. But if we don’t take care of it, if he tells we don’t take care of it right, then they will tell it—don’t go there. This is the reason why we got lots of killing from hunting, if we don’t take care of it. So this is what I have been teaching to the children, even our village. Tell the story about where you are born, what you know about the village, let them know it. I hear brothers talking about 1991, what they are going to do. Now the ones growing, if we don’t tell the story, like what I am saying now, if the time comes, if they need it, what they going to bring it up if we don’t tell the story about our land. I got a box there, there is a Chilkoot blanket in there. It is not writing like this. The Raven show us how to put it on. That is our history that I have there. We learn it from the Raven. This is what we have to teach the children. Our land, now that blanket I was talking about. That is a Chilkoot story on it. If I bring it out, if you see it. I don’t know if you can tell me the story on it. But we know it. Because we don’t tell you the story  you can’t learn it until I tell the story with you, then you know it. I got quite a few of them in there.

So it is good to talk about the camp, about where he is teaching. Now this mountain I was talking about, the mountain goat. Some man is going to come up to teach the kids how to go up on the mountain. This is what we need in Alaska. You can see how high the mountains are, with the snow. This is what I was talking about, the mountain goat. Mountain goat they call them, but they don’t stay in the mountain in the winter time. They have to come down to the shelter, under the tree. I went hunting over there. That is when I see a place where the mountain goat gets together like we are. There is a lake there. They could see the sign of the mountain goat, the way they have been sitting around the lake. They get together, they are learning what we are learning.

tape 1, side 2

Austin: Brown bear, big ears. They could hear when we are talking about them. If I say something bad about the brown bear, I am not going to go very far. They will get after me. All these things what I try to tell. They know it. They are learning more. Even the fish. A long time ago, we used to use linen driftnet. Now we use nylon, all different colors. Now if I put linen in there, I wouldn’t catch any fish. They already know it. Our people used to live with the fish for one year under water. How many white people live with fish for one year? This young man, when he came back to his hometown, he became a Shaman. He is the one who told us how the salmon live. We know all the animals, all the fish, how they live. So this is what I was telling the white people when I go to the meetings. So they listen to me. We were talking about our subsistence. Right now, today, I was supposed to be with the Governor, but for this meeting, I have to come over. But I told Woody Morrison about it, my feeling, and he will be there. What we need to learn together, like what I said, there are all different kinds of flowers growing. Our people, our children, grandchildren, they are going to grow together. They have to know the feeling with each other when they are growing together. My grandfather used to tell me that story, I know it. They call me all in Juneau—Grandpa, even here in town. A little girl came to me, a white girl—Grandpa, you have to sit by me. This is what I am doing. I don’t want to push anybody out. I want them to be in, to work together. So we are here, and we have to learn from each other. That is what I want to talk about. Thank you.

Simon: I never been to school. I was raised out in the woods. At that time there was no school. But today I have a carpentry job, a good job. I like to learn at this meeting. I like to help people from other villages. We need help, a lot of people need help. A lot of teachers need help. We do things that look hard, it’s hard for us, because we don’ t know, but not hard because we find a lot of good things. From this meeting, a lot of things are going on stronger. We need peace. Maybe, someday someone will come in and thank you for helping. That way we learn. Since the Ft. Yukon meeting, I think about it. I like to help my people. My wife feels the same way too. When I was raised out in the woods, a lot of times my father went fishing and hunting every day. What my father catch we eat everyday, fish or meat or rabbit. We never see that kind of life nowadays. It is so easy. A lot of kids just don’t know, they need help today. I am glad I came on this trip. I feel good this morning. The weather is so nice. I hope God be with us. Thank you.

Howard: It is like Austin was saying. It is a good thing. That is what I am doing too. There is a story behind everything. Like the birds. Just like the dance, you know the twist. Everybody figure the twist came from the white people, but it didn’t. That is what I tell people. I work in the schools in Fairbanks. I don’t care who they are, I am willing to teach them. Some of the kids ask if I get paid for this. Some I do get paid, some I don’t. They are honest about it too. I tell them right from the bottom, I don’t leave nothing out. I go right straight through, how I learn and what I learn from people. I learn quite a bit from you people, how you are talking. I was here last summer and I learned quite a bit. Everywhere I go, someone has my work. Everywhere I work, I leave my work. Like these things here, the fishwheel and snowshoes. I leave my work. This way they remember, and they say—Where did that come from and they say—Oh, Howard Luke made that for me. Therefore they can follow it, they can see how it is made. Now that I am trying to do now, I have one kid to teach this summer. I am going to take him all over with me and I am going to teach him how to cut birch and how to bend it. I am going to tell him stories and tape it. He is from here, he is Tlingit, but he is going to talk mine. That is what I want. He wants to learn. A lot of people want to learn, but they just don’t know how to go right. It’s just like the drinking problem. I had my problem. I go around too, and tell people and talk to them about how it was done. I go over to the University once in awhile and talk to people about how it was done. What I say, I say—Nobody can help you, it is just on your own. You got to take it on your own. that is what I did. I just went out on my own. I was losing my friends. The only time I had friends was when I had money. My mother told me—Now is the time you better step forward. I won’t be living with you all the time. What I taught you, you got to pass it on. Pass it on to your nephew, to everybody. So that is what I would like to do. I work mostly around Fairbanks, but next winter, I will be travelling around to most of the schools. Whoever wants me to work in the schools, I will work there. That is what I will be doing. I would like to take that kid with me, but he has to go to school. In 1991 these kids, the younger generation, some of them won’t be able to speak for themselves. So I want to try to tell them to teach the young generation. Where I work, they listen. Last year there was a Spirit Days in Anchorage. I talked, I made everybody make speech. Nobody said nothing. I talk everywhere I go. So I said—Everywhere I go, I always talk to young people. People said—Oh, the young generation, they don’t listen. It’s not what I’m saying—they are listening. After I got through talking a young girl got up and said we are listening. We will use what you are telling us. It is a good thing too. These things you got to carry on. I tell a lot of my people that too. In Minto and Nenana, that is practically my hometown. I try to tell them that. I told one old man down there. He said—I try to, but they don’t listen to me. I tell him they are listening, but they aren’t going to tell you right away. He said—I learned the hard way so they have to learn the way I learned. I said, It’s not the way to look at it. I was brought up poor. My mother was the one that taught me all this stuff. How to cut birch, and all of that. I hunt for old people and they teach me how to do these things—when the moose is going to lay down. I tell the young kids that too. It is a good thing, so these things will carry on just like the dances and stuff like that. Some of them up there, it seems like they don’t want to carry it on. This year is the first year I am going to miss that meeting in Holy Cross. I wanted to go down there, but I don’t think I can make it. That is what I bring up at the meetings. I talk about these things. Some of them say they are going to start one down in Minto, last spring. They have a school everynight, but they don’t have a survival camp or nothing. If I start my camp around there, I don’t know where I am going to get, I guess most of the kids will come from Fairbanks, but I want to get them from all over. That way they will learn. I want to get a kid who knows how to do these things, so they could carry on. This kid that I am going to teach, that is what he will be doing too. Seems like he is going to catch on right away, the way he act. I know it will be good for them. That’s about all I got to say.

Dr. Matthews: I have listened and read the report of your earlier meetings and talked to a lot of people over the years and you have a very eloquent statement of concerns and trying to figure out how best to do something about it and striking on some way that makes a lot of sense such as the camp ideas where people can learn things and pass on traditions. It is a way of doing it that makes a lot of sense. It is one way and there needs to be, I think, lots of other ways like Austin was saying, getting more into the schools so that different settings for the stories so that young people could be exposed to different ways to do things. Not only in the schools, but university settings too so that there will be a broad understanding of some of the concerns. I think trying to figure out how best to put an educational setting together, I think the way you are doing it here is a good start. How to bring it about and extend into other structures is a real challenge. I’m interested in seeing how that will all come together. I think the next step is to bring people from those kind of structures into the sessions. I know, Don, we have talked about that. It is very, very important to move slowly and steadily I guess. I like the idea you had for camp, the results you have with young people by giving them positive experiences.


Don: The information we can talk about, what we need for our trip.

Pam: This afternoon, or tonight, I want to talk to you folks and get your ideas. When we go to Paris, one of the things they want to discuss with us is how do we know that what we are doing is working, how can we tell other people, in other parts of the globe, who are indigenous people trying to face the same situation with forced rapid change and problems with alcohol and drug abuse. They want to know what we are doing, and how we know what we are doing is working. I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. I have some ideas, but I would really like to have a discussion about it. That is the main thing on my mind for this evening as far as getting us ready to go overseas. Two years ago, two women from Ketchikan went over the United Nations office. They were from the Health Systems Agency in Ketchikan I had worked with them on other projects. It sort of threw them the way I got to know Don and how we came to form this support team and task force. Well, the women went to Paris and met with people at UNESCO and started talking about the idea of a cultural spirit camp. At that time, there were two officers within UNESCO who were really interested in this idea. They said they would like us to submit a proposal last fall. Of course, we weren’t even a task at that time, it was too soon for us. Now we are a task force, we are pulled together, but in the meantime something happened. The President of the United States pulled the United States out of UNESCO. So the meeting that we are having in Paris is called a informal meeting because that is political protocol. In reality we are meeting with a fairly high-level person there. They moved us up one level from last year in who we are talking with. Instead of calling it a formal meeting it is called an informal meeting. Maybe we just break even on that, I don’t really understand.

I think it will be good after we see this tape, we can get an idea of how after seven years a camp operation looks. tomorrow, we need to hit hard on what people are doing and what the status of all the camps are.

Dr. Matthews: One of the things I was thinking about while you were talking, and also listening to Howard is that camp is a real learning setting for Indian people, traditionally. In another perspective a camp is more of a recreation activity. How can we best describe camp as a very high potential learning kind of a situation so it means what we are trying to do with it. What I have heard from listening to Don talk about it, it seemed like a very interesting idea, but I didn’t really appreciate the significance of it.

Jonathan: Nobody does. You are learning by just being there. It doesn’t have to be an organized camp. Even if you go on the Yukon River and go to any fish camp it becomes a spiritual camp when three people speak their own language. Of course, when three people speak their own language, the Indian spirit is there.

Pam: It occurred to me last night that when we have been talking about camp, we have talked as though they all have to look the same way. Originally, when we were discussing this, we never imagined that every place that had a spirit camp would all be the same. Howard, when we were in Ft. Yukon, you talked about taking 2 or 3 young people as apprentices. That i a kind of a camp too. And what Jonathan was saying about dropping people off at fish camp, they don’t have to be formal, organized camps. It seems that the conversations we have been having are carrying us this way. I don’t want to close the door to other ideas especially since each community will have to come up with what will work best. That is the only thing I was thinking we have to cover in the next day and a half. Do you have anything that you would like to see added into our discussion?

Don: I would like Eber to speak about some of the the things we heard this morning from Austin and Howard and Simon and Blake.

Eber: I was telling Don when I was listening to people talk this morning it seemed like I heard different strengths and different approaches in different places that are all necessary and valuable. When I was listening to Austin, I heard that the stories are strong teaching stories. They teach values, identity, the basics of teaching a person how to live. Because our ethics or our values or the choices we make—whether to sell the land or not to sell the land, or to fish in one way or to fish in a different way—those things are not just in our minds, but also with our feelings. How we feel about the animal stories, or the land. So I heard that coming through on the stories and then when I was listening to Blake, I heard a different way of teaching. He was talking about the experiences, and the students writing a letter to themselves to read two years late. It seems like there was a different kind of survival skills that he was talking about. They were survival skills not just for wilderness, but survival skills for living in non-native society as well. When Howard was talking, I heard the Native technology, Native skills, Native arts and crafts—how we actually do these things. It seemed like for a cultural camp that all of those three were a necessary part of that for the learning. That is what I was thinking about when various people were talking. I was also remembering something about how do you get the camp manager. Or how do you find the right manager for the camp, how do you get the teachers, and the right staff. That seems very important. What Dr. Matthews was saying—how do you teach the teachers, or how do you get into the school. There needs to be some way of, maybe in the places where there is a camp going now and it is working well, maybe to bring in a few people to be teacher trainees or camp manager trainees. They could have the experience of actually seeing how it is done in a way that works.

Matilda: I think it is like what I said in Ft. Yukon. We had the same questions—where do we find all these people to teach the children. In looking at our own people we found that we didn’t have to look far. We found out our own people had a talent that they could offer. We found a survival skills consultant, a silver carver, a wood carver, a drum maker, a storyteller. We got a Raven and a Eagle storyteller on a volunteer basis. All the teachers we needed we found among our own people. So we have the ability to teach the young people ourselves. After all, the idea is to pass on to them what our parents taught us. I was just trying to imagine in my mind the kind of camp that Massett, ReDiscovery camp has. I still can’t untangle it in my mind yet, but in my mind I can see a camp. It is hard for me to visualize. I would almost have to go there and spend two weeks. I am camp manager here and I am still learning. That is the only way our people can be teachers now as far as taking it upon themselves to help the young people. Everyone here has an ability that some of us don’t have. I think it has been good for us to use our own people because in turn, it helps them too because they are helping Indian people. At lot of times, most of out teachers were senior citizens. When you get that old, and they feel they have nothing to do, they are put on a shelf. Well, that is not so because their mind is so full of ideas and things that they can pass on to the young people. I sure would like to go to the ReDiscovery camp. I learn more by seeing.

Jonathan: I agree with her. You can go to any village in interior Alaska and the resources you need for a camp is walking down the street. If an Athabascan woman can’t run a camp with 12 children, she is not an Athabascan woman!

Viewing of ReDiscovery Video Tape

Austin: Story about the dream.

Come out by the table there. We will find out why you are here. He doesn’t have anything in his hand. So he let me sit on the corner like this. In the middle he put his hand. He is talking in his own words. I don’t understand what he is saying. Then he turned around. there is nothing against you, what you are doing to help the people. So there is nothing that you are doing wrong. I woke up and I told my wife. When I fall asleep again, he came to me again, that man, a second time. He told me—Now this time you go up on that big table there. For sure we will find out. So I got up there, same thing he was doing. Everything was on that big table. It was full, there were a lot of people sitting around it. He was putting his hand on it. He came to me again. For sure there is nothing against you. All that is on this table belongs to you, whatever you want to do. So I have to stand up and pass it around. This is the reason I am not afraid of doing all this here. When I woke up I told my wife again about the dreams. When I got through, the last one, when I fall asleep, the same man came to me. This time he told me to go on the platform up there. We will give you something that you could go with it. So he came with a big box, square and high. You take this and look for the manager and the coach and give it to him. So I went and I keep asking—Do you know where the manager and the coach is? He is way over there. I keep walking. All the people are around. When I keep asking, they told me—Well, they are standing there. So I bring that box to them. They told me, they sent me with this box, to give it to you. I don’t know what’s in it. I give it to them, they opened it. There was a little piece of paper in there and they read it to me. Then they turn it over to me. When they opened the box and took that out, it is a catcher’s glove. It is all gold and shiny. The man who put it on told me, anyplace we are we are going through the whole States. Your name is going to be all over the world. What you give it to us. That is what they told me. This is the reason why I am not afraid to fix this one (video tape). I talked to my dancers and song leader about what we have to do. So this is what we got on the tape. That is why I send it all around. Some people buy it. So the children could see what we are doing here. So they will show you what I am talking about. That is the Chilkoot. That is what we fix about it, we talk about the subsistence, our landmarks. When we go up there, I will show you the other one since the flood. What lies there. It is there, up on top the mountain. I could show you that one.

Viewing of Austin Hammond’s Tape

Don: Films like this is really helpful for us to understand people from around the state, how they live and what they are asking for. I appreciate something like this. It gives us a better insight while we are down here and when we go out to Chilkoot camp. It helps us to understand things like this. It’s the same way people in Elutna are doing, and people losing their land in the North Slope due to oil. I wish we could do something like this for all the different areas around the State. I know that Dr. Matthews appreciates this. Being a non-native and a outsider!

Raven, The Original Scientist

Raven, The Original Scientist

Written by Dr. S. Kounosu, PhD

Edited by Dr. W.F. Morrison, JD. (Haida)


Among Haida there is a story of how Raven brought Light to the World. I found it to be an intriguing story, for it takes us to the beginning. This is but one variation of many, many stories of Raven and, like the others, it teaches us many things. Often the things learned are not only the result of things heard, seen and remembered but also things felt. This story tells you and me what we might remember when experiencing problems.

Today this telling of Raven’s story is a story about Science and Scientists. There are many kinds of science; all peoples have their own, but I am a scientist in the “western” tradition. That is why I choose to tell the story in this way. I have a scientists interest in understanding; not only in understanding science but also understanding myself as a child of the universe.


This tale of Raven begins in a time when Earth was covered by a blanket of darkness, either there was no Sun or Earth was covered with a blanket of clouds so thick that almost no light penetrated the darkness. Shapes, like faint blurs, were discernible but without definition. It is entirely possible that millions of years ago this phenomenon actually occurred.

Western scientists have found evidence that in geologic times many disastrous things had happened to Earth. In recent news we learn that scientists from Alberta (Canada) went to the Gobi Desert and there discovered a dinosaur graveyard. Today the Gobi is a very dry area, too dry to provide the habitat for the dinosaurs of prehistoric times. But, millions of years ago the area was a big, warm swamp. In any event, at one time in history the area harboured herds of dinosaurs. Those Canadian scientists think that the Gobi dinosaurs were related to the ones that once roamed the Alberta seashore. The are we now call Alberta was once covered by a body of water now called the Gulf of Mexico. Dinosaurs are, of course, now extinct. But, locating the remains of prehistoric creatures in an area that today could not support those life-forms tells us that the climates of Earth, at different times, have been quite different from that which we are now familiar. Maybe this “Dark-time” of the Raven story is the one that killed off the dinosaurs. Who knows?

Raven, the Original Scientist*

Without the Sun to give heat and light, all was cold and dark. Imagine it being like a cold, starless winter night all of the time. People did not like this very much. Raven the Scientist was not happy either. So what did Raven do? Raven was a scientist, so turned it thoughts to the problem. But, more than merely unhappy and hurt by the suffering resulting from the dark and cold, Raven was driven to respond; this was Raven’s domain. Thus Raven was obliged to find a solution to the problem. Raven the Scientist thought long and hard, “What can be done to remove this blanket of darkness and cold from the World?”

Raven’s name (Nang Kilst laas) describes a spirit-being who is able to assume whatever physical shape and substance appropriate for the occasion. When assuming the Raven (bird) shape, Raven’s feathers are pure-white and, Raven’s power is derived from the ultimate power of Creating. So Raven is not “all-seeing” and “all-knowing” in the sense of the Christian God. Instead, Raven travels, watches, listens, and senses. Then, whenever encountering a disturbance of any sort Raven assumes the appropriate form, one which carries with it the knowledge, wisdom and specialized attributes of the thing into which it has changed. Thus when the “blanket of darkness” enveloped Earth, Raven had to “consult” al the knowledges and wisdoms contained in its ability to transform. This could be like many, many scientists combining all of the knowledge and information at their disposal for the purpose of finding a solution to the dilemma.

In the darkness Raven encountered difficulties. It was like a group of people trying to organize in the dark; bumping into one another, arguing and having difficulty in determining the order of speakers. Thinking was also difficult in the darkness; the mind wanders trying to see in the dark.

*An adaptation of an original Haida story of how Raven, a supernatural, spiritual being got the Sun, Moon and Stars.

Often when we know that something is wrong but cannot identify the nature of the problem our minds wander. The “Darkness” meant “Ignorance”. So, the manifestations of Raven had to do a lot of blundering and groping around. Even today, scientists do the same. Some people say that blundering and groping are the essence that makes Science. They say, “Trials and Errors” make science. I might add that the arguing/fighting are also important. For, we must talk with each other to make Science; no one knows everything. The Haida story simply says that “Raven bumped into things in the dark.” But I think it means that there were a lot of difficulties even in figuring out what was the problem.

Int the blundering around Raven the Scientist learned to be patient. Then, while casting about, attempting to understand the nature of the problem, Raven, from the corner of its eye, saw in the distance a small flash of light. Raven thought maybe it was something in the eye – trying so hard to see in the dark that – it created its own light. But rather than pass it off as something “in-the-head”, Raven focused on the spot where the light “may” have shown itself. Raven then, without rest, for fear of losing focus on the spot, moved slowly and carefully in that direction. This is the same way today’s scientists work. the little flash of light could mean a “flash of intuition”; something that the Scientist must have. Almost none of the important discoveries were made without it. Like Raven the Scientist, today’s scientist must focus on it and hold that focus, not letting anything interfere with it.

As Raven neared the spot where it seemed that the light had shown itself, instead of finding Light, it heard a small voice singing. This often happens in science, and if one is not careful, one misses important clues. You do not send off a large number of questionnaires, collect responses and find the answers in statistics. You have to go to that place, or, like Raven, a true scientist is “driven to respond”, though you do not know where it is taking you. You discover unexpected, and expected, things at totally unexpected places. And, listening to the “small voice” is all important.

The small voice was coming, Raven the Scientist later discovered, from an old man in a big, cedar-plank longhouse. He was singing:

“I have a box, and inside the box is another box, and inside it are more boxes, and in the smallest box of all is all the Light of the World. It is mine and I will never give any of it to anyone; not even to my daughter. Because, who knows, she may be as ugly as a sea-slug. And neither she nor I would like to know that.”

The old man, out of fear of the unknown, chose to keep himself in ignorance. You must understand one thing here. It was Dark, the daughter could be seen only indistinctly and, she might also have been as “beautiful as hemlock fronds against the Spring sky at Sunrise”. The “Dark” here may also mean “in doubt”. The old man must have had good reason to have become nasty, devious, stingy and lonely. He had all the Light of the World, but he did not want to share it with anybody; even deprived himself of the Light. One might suspect that the Darkness may be referring to the demented state of the old man’s mind. The Light may be intelligence, but he suppressed it deep inside the “box inside a box, which was inside a box, which was inside…”. People do this. They may have a beautiful thing in their minds, but keep it secret from everyone else. And, by doing so, they themselves do not see it either.

But, Raven the Scientist did not give up easy. He began planning his strategy for acquiring the Light for People. It would be difficult. According to the Haida story, Raven himself had doubts. Then, he noticed the old man’s daughter, the one in the song, who was living in the house with her father. He began to think about her. He could have been falling in love. But, it occurred also to him that she might be as “ugly as a sea-slug”. “on the other hand,” he thought, “she might just as well be as beautiful as a hemlock frond against a bright Spring sunrise.” The uncertainty of what her appearance might be kept Raven the Scientist in anxious ambivalence. And, like any young man who thinks he might be in love, the possibilities stirred Raven’s imagination. Science textbooks do not tell you, but this “stirring of imagination” is  a very important element of science. If you do not have it you cannot do science. You can do routine technical works and “fake-it” as if you are really doing science, but that does not create anything new.

The Haida story tells that “in idle speculation”, stirred by thoughts of the daughter, Raven formulated an idea. Other versions of the story tell that Raven the Scientist tried many tricks and failed each time. This is also important. In science, you fail 10 times before you succeed once. You try and fail. You think again and fail. But Raven the Scientist did not give up; he was persistent. Any young guy can be romantic, but persisting in Love is not a usual quality among that age group. “Romantic” ideas in science are the same thing. The one who is persistent will usually get results.

In many ways Raven was tricky. He often tricked people. But, we forgive Ravens for those times because even when Raven does not mean to do so, he does many good things for people. In this case, tricks or shortcuts would not work. So, Raven decided to put the plan he had formulated into action. He figured out a way to get inside the old man’s house where the “boxes” were kept.

Raven noted that at regular intervals the daughter would go to a small pool of water, fed by an underground stream, to drink. In doing so, she would kneel at the edge of the pool, put her lips to the surface of the water and suck the water into her mouth and swallow. By drinking in this manner, the daughter could not see what she was drinking and, she was blind to whatever might be happening around her. Armed with this knowledge, Raven waited for his opportunity. From this incident, Haida learned a number of lessons; rely on “underground” water for your water supply, it does not freeze in the winter; do not lower your head to drink but bring the water up to your lips (incidentally, if a Raven’s feather is dipped into the water and the water beads up and drips off, the water is pure. But, if the water clings to the feather, it should not be drunk); and, a woman (for the above and other reasons) is never supposed to get water after dark.

Raven, in carrying out the plan he had formulated, waited for the daughter to go for a drink. He waited until after she had knelt at the water’s edge and began lowering her head. He flew up to her, transformed himself into a hemlock needle and dropped to the water’s surface, directly below where her lips would touch the water. And, as anticipated by Raven, she sucked the needle up and swallowed it with the water. The hemlock needle is soft and pliant and easy to swallow.

The story goes on that Raven “slithered down deep into her insides and found a soft, comfortable spot, where he transformed himself once more. This time into a small human being, an went to sleep for a long time. During his long sleep he began to grow.” You can guess that he became a baby for the young woman.

She did not know what was happening to her; something was growing inside her and, later, she could feel the thing moving. the old man, because of the darkness, was unaware of what was happening to her body. But, in due time, Raven, preceded by a gush of water, was born as a human grandson to the old man. The story says that he was an ugly, noisy boy, crying all the time; like Ravens do. the grandmother, suspecting that this “baby” was Raven, made a bed for him from moss, like the Raven’s nest.

The old man grew to love this new member of the family; he made toys for the boy and played with him. Today, that same relationship is enjoyed by Haida grandparents and their grandchildren. But, whatever the old man’s reasons for shutting the Light “inside a box, inside a box…” and his refusal to share this gift of life were, the key to unlocking the old man’s heart was Love.

Raven is a powerful Supernatural being. He could have simply taken the Light by his power, or transformed himself into a powerful human and simply wrested the boxes from the elderly man. I would imagine, if Raven was a scientist of the Euro-American type, he would have used force and took possession of the Light. But he did not force the old man to give up the Light, even for the good of the World. Rather, Raven the Scientist went through an elaborate strategy of gaining the Love of the old man. Had Raven simply used Force, the gift to people would have been flawed. In any event, it took a very patient effort over a long time period. That is the way of Native science.

As the story goes, Raven the Scientist gained the love and trust of the old man, one box at a time. This is also the way of Science. You do not come to know the heart of things all at once. You study things and find out one level of understanding before moving on to the next. You may be happy for a while with the Discovery, achieved by much love and devotion, but there is the next box to discover. “Discovery” means, “Take the Cover Off”, that is, “Open the Box”.

Raven the Scientist, discovered a box inside a box one by one. The “learning” took a long time. And, eventually, only a few boxes were left. Finally, Raven was down to the last box. A strange radiance began to show from inside this last box, and it gave off a wondrous warmth. Raven the Scientist/Grandson begged his grandfather to let him hold the Light with the heat for just a moment. Of course, the old man refused Raven’s requests.

In a way, the old man was not consistent. If you remember, the old man actually let Raven the Scientist know the Light was in the box by his singing. He meant to give the Light, otherwise he would not have sung his song. Often the older generations are funny in giving wisdom to the younger generations. They wish to give all they have to the young, but it cannot be given. They have to let the young learn.

For example, just before his death, Chief Dan George wrote a poem which reads;

“My grandchild … you carry my blood

and shelter my Hope.

There is wisdom in youth and there is

wisdom in age. One is loud and seeking,

the other is silent and true.”

This is a near universal feeling of the older generation. But the many pains in life, humiliations, and disappointments make the old look “nasty”. And the youth cannot see what is hidden “inside the box”. We the young say, “that drunken old Indian don’t know anything, let alone science”. By that, instead of opening one box, we put it into another box. Eventually we put the whole thing in a coffin box and bury him six feet deep, not knowing what is in it.

Well, the story of Raven the Scientist, however, has a happy ending. Raven finally succeeded in his efforts to persuade his grandfather to give the Light to him. Raven the Scientist carried the Light to the people and removed the “blanket of darkness” from the world. He may have employed “tricks”, but his Science was for the people. That is how people came to have Sunlight, and we have the Daylight, Moonlight, and Starlight today.


I think there was real astronomical phenomenon corresponding to the story, but the story of Raven the Scientist is not told for the purpose of asserting the truth of the matter. It is but one of the stories of Raven, which tells how people came to learn their Science. Incidentally, in the Light, the daughter turned out to be beautiful, as beautiful as a hemlock frond against a spring sky at sunrise.

Children of the Dawn: Return to Turtle Island – Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth

Return to Turtle Island

Children of the Dawn

Knowledge Wisdom and Truth

[Stan Nolton, Blackfeet, Circa 1990]

Return to Turtle Island – Knowledge, Wisdom and Truth –

-Introduction –

Throughout the course of recorded history, humanity has taken upon itself the responsibility of establishing a world order of social harmony and personal fulfillment. Although the virtues of this noble concept are worth striving for, most of the directions taken to this point, have also proven to be a significant factor for human conflict. As the global population approaches the threshold of another era, it does so wielding all the power and might that only centuries of physical experience could muster. Yet, deep from within humanities obscure beginnings which to a large part remain locked in mythology and speculation lays the veritable source of the natural Wisdom and Knowledge to have properly accomplished the task.

For as long as “Aboriginal” people can remember, the primary goal of Western civilization has always been to provide humanity with a uniform social conscience that would allow for the development and perpetuation of a single society. From this unified culture it was proposed that humanity could reach the pinnacle of its progression if unobstructed by the burdens of war and misery. Although one societal concept has emerged from the rest as the proclaimed model worthy enough to carry and interpret the collective skills of the species, it has in the process of of accomplishing this, compromised certain intrinsic values, that according to “Aboriginal” people, they should have been preserved. As a result, the turmoil, confusion and strife this world order was suppose to eliminate has inadvertently created further problems to solve.

With this world order now stumbling around beneath the weight of its synthetic inhibition, and, with no clear direction on how to reach the next level of development, all that there is to sensibly hold on to is the past.

As far as this situation goes, there is an old story among the “Blackfoot” people, that when translated, describes how as people, we all need to learn from our mistakes. In this old story, “Aboriginal” people are portrayed as existing in an unbroken, circular continuum of reality, never really progressing; yet, always remaining in a constant state of motion. This large circle of life, is compared to the greatest circle of the Sun. In the beginning, it is said, that all life came into being in the morning of creation. As far as progress was concerned, this perfect balance was the height of civilization. However, as some of the first people became too comfortable with perfection, a kind of disenchantment soon set in. Some people grew restless and thought they might like change. These people are known as Napi Kwan (The Changing People). Others were content and preferred things in there originality, for this they were named Ni Tsit Ta Pe (The Real People).

The Creator, seeing the discord among the people and their ways of thinking offered up a challenge to both. To each group of people there was given a gift, and set of rules or a constitution to live by for the duration of the contest. To the restless, the Creator gave the gift of change. To the content, the challenge of maintaining what there was in the face of change. For this contest the Creator provided one complete day which would start with the sun at high noon and end sometime after sunrise the next day. At the completion of the contest, the participants would again sit and evaluate what they had learned.

For the restless people the gift of change would be in the form of fire and would be used to litht their way; but, because of its limited intensity they would not be able to see beyond the light that they made for themselves. For the content however, the sun, moon, stars and the light of that first day would always shine brightly in their minds to guide them through their journey which would take them through several generations. As each generation would come into being as a part of the Great Circle of Life, they would mark the position of the sun for the contest and assume the responsibility of their particular period.

Although, this is only a condensed version of a more elaborate story which was last told in its entirety by a “Blackfoot” Elder who was of the generation known as “The Children of the Dusk,” it nevertheless bares a striking resemblance to what is happening today. As each generation has a different responsibility for maintaining the continuity, this Elder fulfilled his part by conveying the message from the “Children of the Setting Sun” to “The Children of the Night” and “The Children of the Dawn.” Since this story was told by the Elder, another generation has since entered the Great Circle of Life. Without a clear understanding of how all people form an important link in the Great Circle of Life, can we afford to negate our responsibility because we no longer appreciate the value of the old stories?

– The Perspective –

As a person belonging to the generation known to the “Blackfoot” Elder as “The Children of the Dawn,” I am also a product of the “Children of The Night.” What ultimately distinguishes night from dawn is the distance that a person is able to see. Having said this, it is not to say that one generation is any better than the next; but rather, it simply means that each generation has a different responsibility for maintaining the continuity of the Great Circle of Life.

After surviving the great period of darkness, I can only be thankful to “The Children of the DArk” and the previous generation for having seen to it by their enormous sacrifices and endurance that we, “The Children of the Dawn” have arrived.

The period of darkness which was marked by the reservation system and the apparent removal of our ability to see who we really are, has given way to a period where what we thought we had lost, was in fact only temporarily obscured by the night. This new period which we have now entered will be marked by a time of unprecedented, renewed excitement. Just as the birds are aroused into a singing frenzy each day in anticipations of the first rays of light; so to will it be with the “Children of the Dawn.”

After a short time of jubilation, there will be much work to do. Even though this period will be one of the most exciting times to live it will unfortunately be one of the hardest; for, in the period of darkness which we have come through, various nocturnal creatures scattered pieces of our belongings over the face of the earth. Therefore it is our duty as “The Children of the DAwen” to go out and put things back into their rightful order. Although we may not know what some items are, or, what they are for, the time will surely come when all will be answered.

As “The Children of the Dawn” it is our responsibility to prepare for “The Children of the Rising Sun.” As the enlightened generation, they will understand who we are and see how all people fit into the Great Circle of Life. Once again, just as the first people had seen clearly in their day, we will also understand what our purpose is. Not only will we clearly see who we are, but we will also see where we have come from and to where it is that we all go. Together, at the “Grand Sunrise” all generations will gather in celebration of completing a magnificent journey through the Great Circle of Life.

-The Assemblage –

As “The Children of the Dawn” it is with great honour that we have the responsibility of awakening our people. Although some may not wish to be disturbed at this time, it is important that they are at least given the opportunity to be properly reminded of their duty and reassured by our actions that it is alright to be who they are.

For most of “The Children of the Night,” the reservation system and the boarding school syndrome has taken a heavy toll. The people traumatized by these extreme forms of conditioning were effected to such an extent, that for some, reality goes no further than what they were taught. Although descendants of these people may speak a variation of their original language and claim to represent the position of their Elders before them, to a large part, there is little correlation between what was said in the past and what is actually happening today. Although “The children of the Night” are essential carriers of information vital for future generations, their vision seldom persist beyond the limits to which they were confined. What unfortunately resulted from the time of the forced indoctrinations was that a psychotropic wedge was temporarily driven between their original thought process and what is considered to be the spoken part of the language. However, with proper commitment and the right healing process, our societies can be restored back to their rightful position.

It has only been until very recently that “Aboriginal” people on the reservations have been permitted to leave their reserves. As more and more people become confident enough to reacquaint themselves with the land, the stories of the old people will slowly begin to take on a renewed reality. This relationship or bond connecting the “Aboriginal” people to the land and their environment, can be best described as a type of sacred constitution. It is from this constitution that everything which contributes to the identity of the “Aboriginal” people emanates. Whether its their lines of communication such as language, song and dance, ceremonies or, whether its their circuits of knowledge and wisdom concerning Geography, Astronomy, Philosophy, Sociology, or, what ever names they may go by today, what is known for cetain is that the entire being of the “Aboriginal” people has emerged as a direct result of the close, personal relationship they have with the environment through this constitution. Furthermore, from this constitution, it is the environment and not the people that determines who they are.

To date, “The Children of the Dawn” have converged on a massive campaign of utilizing the combined wisdom and knowledge of all our previous Elders to reestablish and appreciation of our original constitution. Although, the focus of this movement is to bring into question the perceived truth of our present existence, this can only be done by removing and carefully examining the layers of prevarication that accumulated during the period of darkness.  What is rather unfortunate about the whole process is that it can not be done without offending cerain certain people who are determined to forget about the past. However, because we are confident that the culture of our constitution is based on the values of equality, sharing and understanding, the potentially disruptive problems that currently exist can only be resolved once the balance of the original “constitutions” or “thought patterns” are restored; for, without truth, there simply can be no knowledge or wisdom.

What ever the popular ay of thinking may wish the “Aboriginal” people to be, what is certain is that an entire society of people, complete with their own distinctive institutions, existed relatively undisturbed for thousands of years in what is now known as the “Americas.” Although it may be the consensus in some academic circles that the “Aboriginal” people have lost, or, are in danger of losing their identity, for most of the people of this continent who chose to store the information of their identity in the huge, living, storehouse of the environment instead of in print, their identity is still very much alive. As a result everything from the very minute up to the most significant features of the environment still have a purpose and reason for being. In practically every instance where a particular name was used to describe something, it also serves as the means to access  other information vital for all people.

Therefore, in order to fully understand the Pe Ka Ne people, it is important to understand all the other “Aboriginal” people of the “North American” continent as well. In order to understand the it is imperative to know the continent first. However, in order to know the continent from the proper perspective, a person must be able to see beyond the countries, provinces, states, and cities which disguises what is actually there.

Before there was such a thing as “North America,” this land was known to most of the inhabitants as Turtle Island. With a little imagination it is not too difficulty to see why this would be. Alaska, is said, to represent the left front flipper of what resembles a huge turtle. Baja California is said to be the back left flipper, Mexico, is the tail, Florida, the back right flipper, Labrador, the right front flipper and the Elsmere Islands in the North are the head. As is the case with all turtles, the back or shell is divided into thirteen large areas which are then surrounded by numerous smaller areas. As with the real turtle, all the parts or areas of the turtle are what contributes to what it is. So too is it with all the areas of Turtle Island; in fact, this relationship is the basis of what determines the parameters for the sacred constitution of Turtle Island.

Within one of the thirteen areas on the turtles back which now takes on the present countries of Canada and the United States, the “Blackfoot” people still occupy one of these specific territories. As with all the other areas, the “Blackfoot” People have a responsibility of maintaining and protecting their area for future generations. This protection is more than just a matter of defending the area against outside intrusion, it also involves providing a mechanism for preserving the knowledge and wisdom from whatever adverse influences might occur.

For the “Blackfoot” people, Geography is far more than just a vast, open, empty area waiting to be discovered. Everything from the mountains, rivers, trees and rocks is considered to be a sacred keeper of knowledge. Within the area of Turtle Island which the “Blackfoot” people still inhabit, the land holds all the knowledge and wisdom as to who they are, their responsibilities as people and their relationship to past and future generations. As a living entity capable of such a feat, the land is respected and treated with the utmost honor. Despite the numerous attempts made by early “Blackfoot” people to demonstrate the integrity of their position, the difficulties in transferring the information from this medium to a print has proven to be one of the greatest obstacles to overcome. As a result, a large percentage of the common knowledge open to all people remains trapped in a metaphysical state of limbo.

It is only after careful examination of how the “Blackfoot” and English languages correspond with each other, does it then become obvious just how incompatible the languages really are. this in turn has a tremendous impact on the ability of the different has a tremendous impact on the ability of the different people to communicate. Although there has been an extensive amount of dialogue taken place in the past, for the most part, the communication that occurs remains at a very superficial level.

A good example of how this language distortion can be physically demonstrated is by simply observing the differences in nomenclatures used by the “Blackfoot” and the non-native people to describe the same geographical areas. For the non-natives, place names have little significance other than to identify a certain place or a particular feature. As a result there is Alberta, Calgary, the Bow River, the Elbow River, the Belly River, the Old Man River, the Rocky Mountains, the Nose Hill and so on. Without a map it would be very easy for a person to become disoriented and to eventually get lost. Place names are given so little consideration that they can be easily changed as the need arises; such as the case when the Belly River became the Old Man River in 1914.

For the “Blackfoot” people, place names are a manifestation of the special relationship that exists between the two legged and the rest of the universe. In the areas which include South Western Alberta and Northern Montana, the “Blackfoot” people consider this area to be the land of the Old Man. Just as Turtle Island is divided into specific areas, so too is it with the Old Man The Rocky Mountains of Alberta are said to represent the back bone of the Old Man. The Nose Hill in Calgary is the centre of his face, the Elbow River is a part of his arm, The Bow River is his bow, the Little Bow used to be his arrow, there was the Heart River, the Belly River, Chief Mountain was his organ, there was the Thighs River, the Knees River and down by Missoula, Montana there still is the Blackfeet River.

Further to this, there is the Old Woman with all her body parts listed in the vicinity of the Milk River, and in addition to this there is a whole collection of birds and animals arranged in a definite pattern throughout the whole region of what is now known as Alberta, Montana, and parts of Saskatchewan. From this mosaic of esoteric beings which holds the autobiography of a group of people from Turtle Island, lies the key for understanding the otherwise mythological world of the “Aboriginal” people of Turtle Island and other “Aboriginal” people around the world.

Epilogue –

Since the time when the “Children of the Night” were confined to reserves many changes have occurred to the environment, the people and to the land. This in turn has had a significant impact on the thinking process of the people. From actual geographical alterations to simple changes in names, the entire continent of Turtle Island has become a corporate empire of Canada, Mexico and the United States. Although each have their own economic agenda, “Aboriginal” people have had little or no input into these changes which have greatly effected their lives. Although a lot of our knowledge is preserved for us in the stories of our Elders, many of our people who still remember these stories have never actually had the opportunity to personally experience the areas where certain events important to their culture were supposed to have occurred. For those who have venture out to look for these sites, there is the increasing problem of accessibility to many of the sites from development.

As “The Children of the Dawn” we have a duty to see that the knowledge from these stories are once again connected back to the Earth to become living parts of our identity. To accomplish this task, it is necessary to completely return to Turtle Island and do a comprehensive examination of how all “aboriginal” people relate to each other and access the impact of how progress has effected their relationship and understanding of the Universe from how they originally knew it. This journey to Turtle Island, although totally mental in nature, will nevertheless be an exercise in repatriating the mind, body and spirit with a place that actually exists. As such, it has to be remembered that as of now, we are only visitors to this foreign place which has a completely different set of rules or constitution from that which we are familiar with. This journey which is essentially the same as taking a trip to Asia or other parts of the world has in itself certain conditions that must be followed.

That a Universal Constitution exists for the continent of Turtle Island complete with its own institutions.

Recognized that the territory of the “Blackfeet” is only one part of Turtle Island and others exist.

That the original institutions were excepted as the legitimate pillars which contribute to a distinctness of the society and therefore served a specific purpose.

That these societies still exist as distinct societies and must be respected.

Now that we have a partial map and a definite direction to follow, we the “Children of the Dawn” would like to resume the journey to Turtle Island. In the territory which is held under the responsibility of the “Blackfoot” People it is essential that all place names and original nomenclature be restored to there original title. Eventually, as we pass through each area to be visited, a more detailed map and understanding of Turtle Island will appear.

Come, let us walk together as one people on this journey.

The Algonquian and the Iroquoian of Ontario: The Beginning

The Algonquian and the Iroquoian of Ontario

The Beginning


O Jist Duu Yee How Aay

Pamela Colorado, Ph.D.


K’aw Daa Gangaas

Woodrow Morrison, J.D.

Stony Lake—Near Peterborough, Ontario

It is dawn, to a soft sunned Ontario summer. Like dark fingers, the night shadows retreat, tracing ancient symbols carved into coarse crystalline grey rock. Approaching the ancient site, silence and the scent of pine embrace the pilgrim.

The sound of water, moving deep within the rock, soothes the worries of everyday life and invites the pupil to listen, to learn, and to participate in the lessons of the land. The Ojibwa call this place Kinomagewapkong, the teaching rocks. It is here, and at similar prehistoric rock sites of knowledge that history is being opened up to us today.


Human and Ecology

Within the province of Ontario are located two different “types” of indigenous peoples; Algonquian and Iroquoian.

The Algic or Agonuian speakers in Ontario include the Algonquin, the Cree, the Nipissing, the Ojibwa, and the Ottawa (and one Potawatomi Reserve). The other group, the Iroquoian speakers, includes the Cayuga, the Huron, the Mohawk, the Neutral, Oneida, Onondaga, Petun, Seneca, Tobacco, and the Tuscarora.

The arrival of the first of the two linguistic groups, the Algic, into the Great Lakes area, began possibly as early as the 13th Millennium B.C.; the Iroquoian speaking peoples not appearing in the area until approximately 10 millennia later. Although their cultures, languages and origins are profoundly different, the cosmology of both of these aboriginal groups include “Beings” of critical importance to their survival; the Thunderers. In a sense, these “Thunderers” are the result of a very complex eco-atmospheric system that, in large part, has given life to that region and provided the laws to guide their different life-ways. Hence, rather than attempt to “fight” or resist the ecosystem (their habitat), it was necessary to adapt; to fit one’s physical and spiritual presence into an accommodation with the system.

“…Today, when a storm approaches an Indian community and someone places the proper offering on the ground in a respectful way, the storm will separate and go around the village.”

In the Great Lakes region, tribal “eco-atmospheric” behaviour is necessitated by its wide range of weather conditions and temperature variations. This central northern Canada region is isolated from both Pacific and Atlantic moisture sources by a remarkable series of interrelated topographical factors. The mountain ranges of Western Cordillera, Baffin Island and Labrador serve to channel continental air masses north and south over Canada’s relatively dry interior. As a result, total precipitation in Northern Ontario is rather small (about 60 cm.), of which most, peaking in July, falls during the summer months of thunderstorms. Snowfall, on the other hand, has its primary peak in November with a secondary one in April, both occurring during periods of shifting frontal zones, changing winds and unsettled conditions. Cool Spring and late Fall temperatures turn the tail ends of these precipitation periods into a large portion of the area’s snowfall.

Also, the region experiences pronounced seasonal temperature cycles; minimum daily temperatures range from a monthly means of 29 degrees C in January to 11 degrees C in July. And, maximum daily temperatures rise from a low of -19degrees C in January to 21 degrees C in July. Thus, it was necessary for the region’s inhabitants (including human) to develop a flexibility suited to that broad spectrum of change.

Despite the close physical proximity of Ontario’s two neighbouring people to one another, we find wide variations in their social and cultural practices, and in their economies. The differences are further heightened by the fact that the Algonquian live directly within the eco-atmospheric system described above, while the Iroquoian’s northern boundaries lie along the southern and eastern fringes of the system. Also, both derive from vastly different histories.

The Histories

The origins of Ontario’s Native people and their development and emergence as distinct Iroquoian and Algic or Algonquin speaking peoples spans a vast period of time and space approximately, some linguists say upward to 20,000 years. Such sweeping histories have great relevance for today because they include critical information about the environment, about the nature of human development and consciousness and, they call for a new working order between Native and non-Native people. Ancient though these histories are, and remote may be the records left by the ancients, the evidence and knowledge can be understood. The key is to recuperate information about the migrations that brought both peoples into the area.

The Algonquian and The Iroquoian of Ontario

Western science tells us that the Human specie of mammal evolved from mouse-sized primate of the Tardier family. Further, archaeologists found skeletal remains of such an animal in Africa which was subsequently dated as having lived 35 million years ago; thus concluding that the origins of the human specie lies somewhere in central Africa.

But then, in January 1991, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania reported that between 1984 and 1987, they unearthed skeletal remains of that same specie of primate. This one, found in United States (Wyoming), dates back 50 million years. And, as reported in the British Journal Nature, “…challenges conventional wisdom by suggesting that man may have evolved in North America.” This is consistent with the histories of nearly all the tribes of North and South America.

The Oral Tradition

Native American histories portray a far more complex picture of the past forty to fifty millennia than most western scholars might possibly imagine.

Although not commonly known by western scholars, within all tribes, the transferring of history from one generation to the third, involves a rigorous process; one in which history is taught by the grandparents to the grandchildren (grandmothers to granddaughters and grandfathers to grandsons—the history of the origins of women and origins of men are not the same) with the generation between listening until the grandparents ahead of them are gone or are not capable of carrying on. Then the formal training of the next generation begins; it is a life-long process rather than simply an avocation or career choice of self-appointed individuals.

The histories of the origins of the various tribes are individualistic; although they may have aspects in common, they do not tell of one common creation. Some point to a specific locale within their present territory and say, “This is the place we came into being.” Others tell of origins that go so far back into the dim reaches of human history, so far back as to make it difficult in today’s terms, to identify the situs of that origin However, those origins are recorded in, as we shall see, “non-language” forms.

Oft-ties the oral traditions tell of the origins of a people’s migration as having begun at a much greater distance away from present locations that indicated by the boundaries mapped by western science. A common variation of tribal history tells of the arrival of people different from themselves, into their homelands migrating from some unnamed origin. A third scenario is one wherein one people tells of another people within their territory leaving for unnamed destinations. Such is that of the Hopi.

In 1947 Hopi Elder, Thomas Bnyacya, was appointed by a Council of Hopi Elders to be Spokesman for the Hopi Nation (Arizona, U.S.A.). One of his first assignments was to contact a people who migrated out of the south-southwest and failed to report back, those people were today’s Ontario’s Iroquoian people, with whom the Hopi had lost contact thousands of years earlier. Yet, through their annual ritual reading of their petroglyphs, the Hopi remembered who had (migrated away) and who had reported back. Elder Banyacya was spared the trip North when a delegation of Six Nations Chiefs literally appeared at his door, about fifteen thousand years late for the meeting!

The Bering Land Bridge migration theory is extremely problematic, for like the “ice-corridor,” it is too narrow.

Even if Native people had run across the Americas, there would not have been sufficient time for them to have populated the continent to the extent estimated by western science (100 million by the year 1492) nor to have diversified into such a vast array of distinct language and cultures that were present to greet the new arrivals from Europe in the 15th and 16th Centuries, A.D.

The last retreat of an ice age; one emptying the Bering Straits of sea water between Siberia and Alaska, occurred only 15,000 years ago (the current estimate is that there have been approximately ten ice ages every one million years, or one, on average, every 100,000 years.). Such vast time periods, as those lapsing between ice ages, are understood widely by tribal peoples; Algonquians refer to the ages as “Fires.” Hopi describe them as “Worlds” and the ProtoIroquoian as “Suns.”

In western terms a “World” (or “Fire” or “Sun”) is 26,000 years; a period measuring a complete cycle of the Precession of Equinoxes. Early Native scientists were so attuned to the natural world that phenomena such as this “wobble” in the Earth’s rotation was perceived and entered into their mathematical calendrical calculations.

Tribal histories almost invariably present accounts of supernatural origins…stories which, to the western mind, are without this sense of time. Tribal languages do not discuss history from the perspective of “time” but in terms of “distance,” hence, are timeless stories. The events chronicled in song, chant, and/or story might have taken place in “this world” (26,000 year cycle), or in other worlds which the People described as timeless, pre-time.

Non-Language Messages

When the migrating tribes arrived in their new homelands, each group began a curious undertaking, that is the creation of a new form of information — carving and painting of ideographs on rocks. Unlike the phonetic alphabet of Europe, ideographs, these designs are highly developed picture writings that convey “abstractions, subtleties and multiple associations.” The powerful psychographic information encoded on rocks ensured that the message recorded would be recoverable for thousands of years. Moreover, a message, written in ideographic form, is independent of a particular spoken language, i.e., non-Language form. Generations born millennium later, who might not speak the language of their ancestors, could still access the knowledge — but only if they had matured into and mastered the “good mind” or the authentic Native mind.

The “Dark Sun”

It is probable that the most recent migrations were responses to their prophesies o the “Dark Sun”; and event that was more than a Spiritual or psychological prediction, it was an actual physical phenomenon recorded in rock records. The year zero, or null-year time, i.e., around the time of the birth of Christ, forward to the end of the first millennium, A.D., marked an epoch of intense solar activity. Enormous solar flares, visible to the naked eye, created great black splotches across the face of the Sun. It was a terrifying an experience then as it would be today; and the impact was profound not only on human beings but on the climate itself, of North America.

The Nine (9) Hells — 468 Years

Life-ways decisions, based upon thousands of years of keen observations, and a very precise knowledge of complex planetary movements and weather patterns, were implemented with a very high degree of confidence. So high a degree of confidence that when the decision was made to leave home, the people picked up their belongings, left, and set out on journeys exceeding the life-spans of several generations of their people.

An example of this knowledge involves the Aztecan people of Mexico (cultural-linguistic relatives of the Iroquois) who view great spans of time (as stated above) as “Suns” which, like the Hopi “World,” equals 26,000 years. Approximately 1,000 years before the time of the birth of Christ, Aztec scientists began to predict a Dark Sun, which would conclude in Nine Hells, a span of 9 Aztec centuries of 52 years each or 468 years. During the period of these Nine Hells, (or negative energy) hardship, suffering and great death were anticipated.

Native peoples began to prepare. Representatives from all of Anauak (a pre Columbian name for North America, literally, the land of the wind or eagles) met at Tenochtitlan where they arrived at the following directives designed to protect the knowledge of the Americans:

The sacred sites of learning including the pyramids, would be closed. This would prevent power and knowledge from falling into the hands of people who were not prepared.

The people who would be arriving from the East would be greeted in friendship, this would be in the long-term interest of the land and future generations.

Knowledge would no longer be written or recorded; except through oral tradition.

The North American leaders discontinued their meetings in Mexico.

Only two communications systems were to remain opened — the Native languages and the direct communication with the Great Spirit.

These precautions were not taken only because European people would be arriving but because it was the time of the dark sun — a necessary fluctuation of negative energy which would be balanced in 1987 with the New Sun.

Beginning in1519, consciousness (represented by the Sun) entered the darkness. the yellow-pelted Jaguar with its black spots symbolizes this epoch and appears everywhere in pottery, rugs and art from this period of Aztecan history.

It was at this time when Cuauhtemoc, nephew of Montezuma addressed the assembled Iroquois and Azec leaders (recorded by a Spanish priest):

Cuautemoc’s Consignia

Our Sun has hidden,

Our Sun has disappeared from sight.

And in complete darkness

It has left us,

But we know that it will return again,

That once again it will emerge,

And will shed its light on us anew.

But while it is there in the place of Silence,

Let us quickly reunite, let us embrace one another.

And, in the center of our being let us hide

All that our heart loves

And which we know to be a great treasure.

Let us hide our sacred spaces and grounds

to the Spiritual Creator,

Our schools, our Ball Courts,

Our centre’s for the youth,

Our houses for song and play,

Let our homes seclude us,

Until emerges our New Sun.

Dear fathers and mothers

Never forget to guide your youth

And to teach your children while they live.

How good She has been,

Until now, our beloved land Anauak,

the shelter and protection of our destinies.

Which our ancestors received

through their great respect and good behavior

And which our dear fathers very wisely

Instilled in our being.

Now we will advise our children

Not to forget to tell their children

How good She will be,

How She will rise up and gather strength,

And how well She will fulfill her great destiny,

This our beloved Mother Earth Anauak.


August 12, 1521

Proto Algonquins Begin to Arrive

The Algonquin, whose name means “they are our relatives,” can be traced to an early people — the Proto Algonquins — who moved into and populated much of Eastern Canada shortly after the retreat of the East Glacier around 15,000 years ago. Based on their own history, these are the only North American Indian people to have originated somewhere in the Atlantic, then move westward up the St. Lawrence and into the Great Lakes area.

By 6,000 B.C., the great earth mounds that characterize this early populace were already covering the banks of the waterways of Southern Ontario. Along Lake Erie, the oldest existing mound systems are found clay and artifacts from distant reaches of North America. Other mounds contained burials and some, by their location and design, speak to educational purposes. These recent discoveries, although “new” to the “Scientists,” have long been an integral part of the “story”; part of oral tradition of Algonquian peoples who say the well-developed trade routes and communication systems established this area as a major sphere of intellectual and economic activity. But the movement westward did not stop with the mounds.

Two of the three branches of the Algic language group, the Yurok (now thought to be extinct) Wiyot, continued westward and settled in Northwestern California. The third branch, the Algonquian speakers, remained within the general area of the Great Lakes.

In terms of territorial distribution, it is difficult to pin-point the exact geographic boundaries within which these peoples were distributed but, that distribution appears to have been bounded by natural forces, i.e., eco-atmospheric system. In any case, the linguistic group was numerous and dispersed widely enough by the end of that first millennia to begin developing separate linguistic traditions. But, evidence derived from the oral traditions of the people themselves, and some provided by archaeology, and from linguists indicates that the territory occupied by this group was quite large.

The territory occupied by this group was quite large, perhaps from Lake Huron to some distance down the St. Lawrence River. In fact, the northeastern (and Eastern/Northern Carolina Atlantic coast) languages (Abenaki, Beotuk and Micmac) were at one extreme end of the resultant dialect chain. Algonquians are also found (west of the Mississippi River) as far south as Kansas and Oklahoma. Curiously, it appears that culturally this group is more closely identified with those of the East and Northeast than with the others.

The Mound-Builders, Adena, Hopewell and Mississippian Cultures

Oral history says that the Iroquoian people moving northeast encountered Proto Algonquin and helped to build effigy mounds, including Ohio’s serpent mound. Subsequent arrivals from the southwest would create elaborate platform mounds and finally pyramids, as far north as Wisconsin.

Hundreds of these sites literally dot the landscape, beginning at the mouth of the Mississippi River, travelling up the Ohio River and terminating in Southern Ontario.

Although much is unknown about these ancient efforts, today’s archaeologists refer to the ancient mounds as spheres of interaction. At these sites fancy symbolic goods were produced and exotic trade items and other highly prized materials came from great distances and were exchanged. These newcomers and their great earthworks also brought new ideas and technology which triggered a profound shift away from hunting and gathering towards an economy of horticulture.

As this way of life grew larger, more stable communities developed with increasingly substantial housing. A golden age of social and community development was at hand when suddenly development stopped. Early historians speculated some type of cultural decline that the mound builders culture fell apart and that people reverted to simpler ways of life, but contemporary scholars contend that the new way of life had simply diffused among the population thereby rendering the mound complex obsolete.

Aztec, Iroquoian history states that this phenomena represented the scattering of the knowledge to the four directions — the ultimate sacrifice of a people determined to survive the coming age of darkness.

Proto Iroquois

The Proto Iroquoian people linguistic relatives of Mexico’s Aztec, like the Proto Algonquin, also migrated to Southern Ontario. But, unlike the Algonquin, they originated in the Southern or Southwestern part of North America.

this move North occurred over a period of time exceeding, perhaps 15,000 years during this period, the tundra of Southern Ontario was changing and evolving into the mixed woodlands — we associate with the area today. The warming of the climate meant that agriculture, never before possible, could now eventuate in the North. Responding to this new change in the environment, the Iroquois moved, not so much for new opportunity, but out of the perceived need to maintain balance. The move up the Mississippi was hazardous and demanding. The people were moving across a land that not only they had never seen before, but had not even known of its existence. In order to travel safely and with confidence, these early people created maps of many types and practiced the indigenous science and art of wayfinding.

Through wayfinding, the Native traveller relied on all senses and drew upon years of rigorous study and practice in order to successfully negotiate vast distances of land and water, knowledge of the stars and their movements, ability to read weather patterns and mastery of oral traditions which contained survival information was necessary. Because the knowledge was so complex, numeric devices including notched and painted sticks, wampum and woven belts were created to aide the memory of ancient travellers. Many of these artifacts exist and are used today.

The Contemporary Algonquin Arrive in Ontario

About 7,000 years ago, the ancestor’s of today’s Algonquin speaking people began to arrive in southeastern Ontario, Beuton tells us that “the people were so many and so powerful that if one was to climb the highest mountain and look in all directions, they would not be able to see the end of the nation.”

Clans and bands were widely distributed and highly specialized. There were: berry pickers, wood carvers, fisherman, canoe makers and stone carvers, others called Gi-t-gay-wi-nini-wug, keepers of the creators garden, raised and gathered food. Trade and communication, as in Proto-Algonquin days, was active and highly developed. The early Algonquian used the waterways to travel by canoe, and dog sleds and teams to travel in winter. According to oral history, life was good for the people — the clan system and government were strong; there were plenty of food from the land and sea. The groups grew and diversified.

Historically there was a continuous shifting of kin-related groups of Algonquian-speaking peoples who resided along the north shore of Lake Huron and Superior, from Georgian Bay to the edge of the prairies. The high mobility inherent in the migratory and relocation patterns of these peoples resulted in small scattered sites concentrated in areas of great faunal variety and density. Areas such as edge zones and small discrete natural communities of the northern forest. Generally, these settlements consisted of relatively small habitation sites and associated hunting camps. The movements tended to be restricted by eastern arctic weather systems to the north, and those of the “mild Pacific” to the south and by their neighbours to the east and west. In short, they moved in a relatively homogenous environment and seasonally coalesced around locales dictated by Spiritual guides.

The tribal cultures encountered by the early European arrivals had existed for a considerable period of time. It seems to have been a modified continuance of a somewhat more complex Algonquian culture, which developed south of the Great Lakes, and was in place before the Iroquoian migration into that Eastern region (nearly caused total isolation of the eastern Algonquian from their western kindred).

Before the projection of this Iroquoian wedge into the regions bordering the Lakes Erie and Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River, the eastern outpost of the outer fringe of this group of people whose more “complex” culture we have already mentioned, and whose derive shaped burial mound building activities centred in Ohio, entered and occupied a large portion of New England. There seems to be little doubt that they belonged to the great lakes Algonquian.

Ottawa (Outaouakamigouk)


The Ottawa tend to be concentrated primarily on Manitoulin Island; chiefly in coastal and riverine regions of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and adjacent parts of Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin (arrived later in Kansas and Oklahoma).

It is sometimes difficult to separate Ottawa territory from that of their linguistically close related neighbours. Seventeenth Century sources apply the term Ottawa not only to a local group otherwise known as Sable but also to both the total totemic or local groups that together formed the tribes (Kiskakon, Sinage, Sable, Nassauakueton and, later, others) and to all other “Upper Algonquians,” including possibly the Ouacheskesouek.


The physical environment of the Ottawa was mostly wooded except for small prairies in southwestern Michigan; hardwoods predominating in the south, while in the north mixed conifers and hardwoods. Fish, fowl and mammals, especially beaver, were present in great variety while the temperate, humid climate with annual growing seasons of up to 180 days easily permitted the cultivation of corn and other crops.


An Algonquian-speaking people whose homeland was the Lake Nipissing region of Ontario. The language of this group is clearly related to that of the Algonuin, Ottawa and Ojibwa dialects.

The precise limits of Nipissing territory are not known; they seem to have been neighbours with the Temiskaming and Temagami on the north; the Ottawa, Bonnechare, and Kipawa Algonquian tribes to the east; Huron to the south; and the Amikwa and Achiligouan Ojibwa to the west.

Their territory all lay within the glaciated “Canada Shield,” within the mixed coniferous-deciduous forests of the Great Lakes — St. Lawrence River region, and at or near the northern limit of maize cultivation. As with the territory of the Ottawa, thre was an abundance of fish, waterfowl and mammals.

Unlike the other Algonquian-speaking peoples who spent time cultivating the land, the Nipissing were primarily hunter-gathers (fishers) who moved according to their Spiritual guides instructions.

Algonkin and Cree

Along the Ottawa river and adjoining the Montagnais in the east were the Algonkin proper who gave their name to the entire group of people. By now, the culture of the Proto Algonquin shaped by its “old copper,” technology and its focus on mound building had with changing climate, become wild rice country. The region, filled with countless lakes and marshes of menominee or wild rice held skies filled with waterfall. The region teemed with people.

To the North, the cultural and linguistic relatives, the Cree had moved into the spruce for country that ran all the way to the Hudson. Centering largely upon hunting, trapping and gathering, small family units of Cree distributed themselves across vast areas of boreal forest. The board pattern of dispersal was critical for it provided sufficient area for triplanes; permitted generations of a single family to live in one area over hundreds of years. The stability of Cree society promoted knowledge of medicinal plants, and animal behavior which cannot be matched even by science today.

The stability of Cree society and the demands of the northern climate produced deep knowledge of medicinal plants, northern meteorology and animal behavior. What Cree people learned of boreal ecology is so profound that the slightest change in environment can be detected even today.

Such breadth and accuracy was developed and maintained through a vigorous spirituality which created in its disciples, the ability to receive lucid dreams; the ability to wayfind — to project one’s consciousness in order to see what can’t be seen while simultaneously remaining alert to ordinary reality — qualities essential for mapping and hunting in vast spaces. Jung describes this as accessing the collective unconsciousness. In any event, the Cree so valued this ability that it became institutionalized through shaking tent ceremonials. Through such processes individuals received knowledge, often in the form of animal images,that empowered or healed people and allowed them to live in balance with the land.

Ojibwa — The Final Arrivals and Message

Ojibwa (Last syllable pronounced “way,” refers to the peculiar puckered seam of their moccasins; Europeans garbled it into Chippewa and stuck to it so persistently that many Ojibwa today call themselves Chippewas) made up one of the largest nations north of Mexico.

The Ohio Valley, the centre of the Hopewell Mound Builders some centuries earlier, had become very sparsely populated due to diffusion and absorption of knowledge created through these centers. The Miami Confederacy of Indiana and environs (one of their villages was called chicago, meaning “Skunk Place”) and the somewhat more populous Illinois Confederacy to their west were growing in number (These people were of the Algonquian language group, while the Erie to their east, below Lake Erie, were Iroquoian speakers.)

The history of the Ojibwa, handed down to us by elders tell us that seven major prophets came to the Anishianabe in prehstory. They came in the time when people were living full peaceful lives on the eastern seaboard. The prophets gave the people seven predictions, each prediction was called a Fire which refers to a particular time and space. These seven Fires instructed the Ojibwa to:

leave the seaside and migrate west following the sacred megis shell, to a place in the west where food grows on the water.

Organized and lie the teachings of the spiritual Midewiwin Lodge.

Prepare to receive the coming light skinned race which could come carrying either good technology and ideas or wearing the face of death. The face of death would be known when rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat.

The fourth Fire warned of a great struggle that would grip the lives of Native people if Ojibwa reached out for a false promise of great joy and salvation.

The fifth Fire predicted that Native children would be taken away and that elders would close their reason for living. “The cup of life will almost be spilt. The cup of life with almost become the cup of grief.” (Beuton).

In the sixth Fire visionaries came among the people and the Ojibwa joined the Aztec and Iroquois in hiding the sacred scrolls. Like cantemocs message, it is said that “the teachings of the elders were hidden out of sight but not out of memory. It was said that when the time came that Indian people could practice their religion without fear that a little boy would dream where the ironwood log full of sacred bundles and scrolls was buried. He would lead his people to this place.”

The seventh Fire says that Native people will reawaken and retrace their steps to find out what was lost. The light skinned race will be offered a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road then:

“the seventh Fire will light the Eighth and Final Fire, and eternal Fire of peace, love, brotherhood and sisterhood.”

If they make the wrong choice, the destruction will come back to them and cause suffering and death to all the earth’s people.

Based on the prophecy of the Fires, the Ojibwa moved up the St. Lawrence and took up residence in the areas that Europeans found them in. As they arrived the knowledge of the Fires and other essential information was encoded in petroglyphs.

By the time the Europeans arrived, all of Ontario’s Native people had undergone profound changes in anticipation of the Dark Sun. Villages had become stockaded; Indian versus Indian  wars erupted; and, in the final moments the Ojibwa forged the three Fires confederacies of Algonquin Nations which would unite and strengthen people for the difficult times ahead.

Contemporary Iroquois

“…our beginnings were toward the setting Sun, where the grass grew tall, where the buffalo lived.”

Around the time of Clvasts birth, the Iroquois headed up the Ohio River towards the Great Lakes. The halcyon days of social political, cultural and spiritual evolution through wayfinding and monumental architecture was over. The Dark Sun neared and Native societies grew restive.

As the final southwestern people arrived, one band of Iroquois crossed the Great Lakes and settled on Georgia Bay. They are known as the Thastchechi; the Huron. South of the settled the Tionontati, the Tobacco people.

A third band of the Hotinonsonni settle along the shores of Lake Erie; they are the Gaguagaono — Erie people. Still another band, the Hatiwaterunh — the Neutral people — settled along the Niagara River. To the southeast of this group settled the Wenrohronon (Wenroe) band while, along the Susquehana River is found the Kanastoge people. To the west of them, a seventh band, along the Upper Ohio, the Honiasontkeronon (Black Minqua) built their towns.

The Nottoway and Meherrin people migrated up the Kanawha River. And, far to the south, across the Appalachian Mountains migrated the Oyatageronon, the Cherokee people.

The main band continued down the St. Lawrence River. There they met the Adirondack people; a people different from themselves. These people were physically smaller than the Hotinonsonni, but there were more of them. They were hunters, while the Iroquois were more or less farmers. The Hotinonsonni noticed that when these people cooked their foods, they flavoured them with different kinds of bark. So, the Hotinonsonni called these people “Adirondacks” or porcupines, meaning literally the Eaters of Bark.

The Iroquois did not get along well with the Adirondacks; and oral history records many battles with the “Bark Eaters.” In time they were defeated by the Adirondacks and forced to pay tribute. After many years of planning and with secretly-store provisions, one dark night they left their village and silently paddled their canoes up the St. Lawrence River.

They looked back and saw specks on the waters. These distant specks were the canoe of the Bark Eaters. The Hotinonsonni know that the Adirondacks, not being burdened with women and children would catch them before they could land. The Adirondacks overtook the Iroquois near the mouth of the Oswego River. A great battle took place.

For a time it looked as if the Iroquois would be wiped out. The Thunder People heard their cry of distress and sent a great storm. In the confusion, the rough waters and high winds, many of the Adirondack canoes overturned. Those who survived, turned and headed for home.

War in the European definition was virtually unknown on the North and South American continents. Raids that are today referred to as “wars” usually involved only a fraction of the available fighting men and those only for a very brief period. Utterly defeated nations were assimilated rather than annihilated. Nevertheless, after the Iroquois were established in the Finger Lakes region of New York and southern Ontario, they began to stockade and fortify their villages as did the Algonquin.

the life lived by these woodland people in their stockaded towns had sudden storms of terror and violence but was not one of constant strife.

The Iroquois Evolve and Diversify

Following the fight near the mouth of the Oswego River, the Hotinonsonni landed and built their village prospered and, soon their population reached a point where it was necessary for the people to begin moving to other village sites.

So from their adopted homeland along the Oswego River, they trailed to the south, the east, and to the west. The Flint People or, to others, the Mohawk settled along the Mohawk River.

The People of the Standing Stone, or Oneida, built their villages along Lake Oneida while, those called the People of the Hills, or Onondagas, settled along Onondaga Creek. To the west, the Great Pipe People, or Cayuga, erected their towns along the shores of Lake Cayuga.

The Seneca, People of the Great Mountain, settled along Canadaigua Lake. Another band, the Akotaskarore, or Tuscaroras, travelled far to the south.

Now, they, the one band of Hotinonsonni, like a nuclear family, had become six separate bodies. To the east was the Hudson River running eastward into the Atlantic Ocean. To the west stretched the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. North was the Adirondack Mountain region and south were the Finger Lakes.


Collectively, the Huron called themselves Ouendat…their confederacy consisted of five tribes; the Attignawantan, the Attigeenongnahac, the Arendaronon, Tahontaenrat, and the Ataronchronon.

Generally, the southern frontier of the Huron territory, defined in today’s terms followed the regional strongholds and principal villages; Ossossane (La Conception), Scanonaenrate (Saint Michael), Teanaustaye (St. Joseph II), and Contarea (St. Jean Baptiste).

To the northeast, vast swamps stretched along the contact line separating the rock-knob area of the Canada Shield from the arable uplands of the Huron territory. The southwest was sharply defined by the tangled cedar and alder swamps of the Nottawasaga lowlands. ONly along the southeastern frontier between Orr Lake and Lake Couchiching were the swamps more discontinuous. The Huron homeland was in fact an upland area of arable soils surrounded by water and swamp.

The climate in pre-contact times (say 16th century) seems to have been similar to today’s 20th century climate. Winters were a bit longer, long enough to hinder tobacco growing but not corn; a growing season of approximately 140 days. Huron corn matured in 90 to 120 days.

Although the extent of the forest cover has changed greatly, the dominant species are the same; maple, beech, and bass wood. White pine, hemlock and elm are also common, particularly in the moister soils. And, there is no doubt that cedar and alder swamps were at one time extensive, as was the abundance of surface water.

Social Organization

Descent and inheritance was matrilineal. Children did not succeed to their father’s property, but to that of the mother’s brother.

They were monogamous and formed nuclear families…the matrilineal extended family was the fundamental social and economic unit. The Huron society was divided into clan units; Turtle, Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Hawk, Porcupine and Snake.

To the Huron, there was no concept of animate-inanimate; everything had a soul or Spirit. The more powerful of these spirits, those that exerted control over the daily affairs of humans were called “Oki.” The most powerful “Oki” was the sky because it controlled the seasons, the winds, and all natural phenomenon. The Sky “Oki” was invoked at special occasions such as the conclusion of a treaty, the healing of the sick, or the giving of a promise. Feasts were given in its honor, and tobacco was offered as a sacrifice.

Since animals also had spirits, the people were careful not to offend them. Animal and fish bones were not burned nor were they fed to dogs. Fish nets were never left in the presence of the dead and, to ensure a good fish catch the nets were married at the beginning of the fishing season to two virgins. While fishing, prayers, were offered to the fish and tobacco offered as a sacrifice to the Spirit of the waters.

Some of the more important Spirits could appear in human or semi-human form. Ondoutachiae, part human and part turkey cock, was the Spirit of Thunder, Lightning and Rain. After the Sky, the two most important Spirits were Ataensic, a woman identified with the Moon, and her grandson Iouskeha, who was identified with the Sun. Iouskeha made the lakes and rivers, freed all the animals from a great cave, made the corn grow, provided good weather, and passed on the secret of fire-making to humans. All living things were in its care; Ataensic had fallen from the Sky to become the Mother of humankind.

It was Ataensic who made people die, was in charge of their souls, and continuously tried to undo the good works of Iouskeha. Both Spirits lived very much like humans but could rejuvenate themselves once they got old.

Khionontateronon (Petun)

The Petun was located about 26 miles southwest of the western boundaries of Huron territory. The occupied portion of the Petun territory lay below the Niagara Escarpment and generally above the major recessional shoreline of Glace Lake Algonquian in what are now Nottawasaga and Collingwood townships, Ontario.


Unless it be the degree of specialization in growing and trading tobacco, the Petun did not appear to have possessed a single trait not shared completely or in some degree with the Huron. The same can be said of all the Iroquoian speakers and, the same homogeneity is found in the Alquonquian cultures.


While a barter economy existed between Huron and non-Huron, there is no evidence of any kind of barter system among the Huron themselves. In fact, there is no evidence that goods and services were redistributed within the Huron society through commercial transactions or any kind of marketing system. Within the kin sphere, goods and services were simply shared. Beyond that system, goods diffused through ceremonial exchanges (“give-away”), such as name-giving ceremonies, burial ceremonies, and through gift-giving such as marriages.

Everyone within the kin sphere was related; traced back to common ancestors. And, when gifts were given, the value of the gift was dependent upon the view of the worth or “standing of the donee by the donor.” Hence, in this system, one’s reputation, in a society wherein secrets were few, determined the stature of an individual, family, or clan and, accordingly, provided the motivation to be a person of stature.

Hoarding of goods and stinginess met with strong village disapproval and could lead to unpleasant accusations and to banishment, while liberality was highly valued and received strong social approval.


Some, notably the Huron, north and east of Lake Ontario, practiced elaborate mass burial ceremonies when the collected bones of the deaths of 10 or 12 years were formally interred together with mountains of rich funeral gifts; from furs to beautifully worked tools and arms.


The southern ball game, with racquets was played—La Crosse. An east coast innovation was introduced in the centuries following the decline of the Hopewell world, was in widespread use; sea shells (actually the hinges of the shells) strung on strings or beaded into belts, used to record history, and exchanged between nations at diplomatic councils as solemn promises of earnest intent; Wampompeag, in the Algonquian language—Wampum to the English.

The final policy meeting of North American leaders, in Mexico City, triggered profound changes in Ontario Native life. Five Iroquoian nations inhabiting all of central New York, from the Genesee River to Lake Champlain, organized themselves into a Confederacy. They were from west to east, the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and the Mohawk; the League of the Iroquois.

North of the Five Nations were the Huron, a populous confederacy made up of five aristocratic tribes, richest in tradition and ceremony of all of the Iroquoian, and a number of dependent groups; one an Algonquian community.

To the west of the Five Nations was the Iroquoian State that became known as the Tobacco Nation and the Iroquoian confederacy that came to known as Neutrals.

Southwest of the Five Nations were the Erie, also known in their Iroquoian language as the “Cat Nation,” from the full meaning of their name, “People of the Panther.” South of the Five Nations, in central Pennsylvania and adjacent regions were the Susquehanna, also known as the Connestoga or Kanastoge.

The League of Iroquois was organized by Huron statesman Daganawida and assisted by a Mohawk named Hiawatha, put an end to the conflicts between the Five Nations and established a universal peace based upon harmony, justice and a government of law; The Great Law of Peace.

The Confederacy, still active today (the oldest living democracy), is composed of a Grand Council of 50, made up of the Head Councillors of each of the Five Nations. The “Sachems” wer selected from specific families by the Clan Grandmothers, and were appointed for life—although the Clan Matriarch of his clan could have a Sachem deposed if he turned out to be a bad choice (not taken lightly).

A second level of Sachems, known as “solitary pine trees,” to which anyone could aspire by merit rather than by birth. These Pine Tree Chiefs had the right to speak in Council and made up a House of Representatives, so to speak, as against the Senate of hereditary chiefs.

The League, or the Great Peace, has these many centuries kept the peace among its members. Its great Council held each summer at the principle Onondaga town provides an impressive show, instilling a feeling of unity, as it continues year after year, generation after generation, century after century. The joy and strength of friendship was established, the deep conviction that “…come what may…” one’s nation does not stand alone; that all the ay from the Seneca to the Mohawk, the west wind streams over a forest of family.

To enhance the feeling of family, the political structure of the Confederacy paralleled the Longhouse. The Mohawk became the eastern door, the Seneca the west. The Onondaga who most resisted Confederacy were granted the central fire. Moreover, the methods and means of building a Longhouse mirror, the way Iroquoian sentences and thoughts, are constructed. This, politics, architecture and language were synchronized and created a powerful psychological construct that would serve to protect and maintain the people through the forthcoming holocaust of Invasion by Europe.

Kinomagewapkong—What do the Rocks Teach us Today?

The tribal “chronicles” of Peterborough and all of the Americas are important not only to the people for whom they were recorded but also for the rest of humanity. The reading of petroglyphs corroborated in oral histories permit the participants, a hundred generations, later, to “experience” the events of ancestors. They also provide us with a picture of what the original ecology of our planet was like, at least during the last few hundred centuries. Also, they may also serve as sources for important environmental and species survival purposes.

The rocks in the Americas are beginning to reveal new information. Elders have begun to notice and are travelling across the continent to interpret these messages. Western scientists have also become interested.

Barry Fell was one of the first western scientists to state that the North American rocks contain a record of Celt, Basque, Libyan and even Egyptian visits and colonies dating back 2,500 years. Fell’s interpretation of history provides an image of peaceful, productive relationships between Native peoples and Europeans which was sustained over a long period of time. Needless to say, mainstream historians were skeptical and continued to hold to the linear impoverished Bering Strait’s theory.

From a Native viewpoint, Fell’s work is important because it  begins to bridge the chasm that has existed in the knowledge systems and relationships of Native and non-Native Canadian. Fortunately, there is a growing interest on the part of established scientists such as Mavor and Dix from Harvard to build on the foundations revealed by Fell. This is crucial because Native knowledge systems hold a key to long-term environmental and species survival. Cross-cultural scientific communication and collaboration is essential if our children and their children are to continue.

The future calls upon the people of Ontario to address and find creative solutions to major human and ecological issues such as further development of hydroelectric power and proposed clear cuts. Left unattended, these contentious and vital decisions which are dividing Native and non-Native people out of the hands of science and concerned citizens and into the hands of politicians and vested interests. Unfortunately  these groups rely on approaches which evolved out of the epoch of the Dark Sun and produce Burttuo conflict and confusion.

The other avenue is a wholistic approach, articulated in quantum physics and carried in the wisdom of informed Native Elders. One immediate way, to comprehend this life sustaining approach and to access vital information on a timely basis, is to visit the ancient universities like the rocks at Peterborough. As we study and begin to make sense of the messages left for us, there we also discover the deep meaning and the great potential of the western person in Native North America. It is the dawning of the New Sun—let us begin.

Traditional Advisors

Xilonem Gavcia, Aztec Elder

Mazatl Galindo, Aztec

Mary Jones, Choctaw Elder

Thomas Banyacca, Hopi Elder

Jake Thomas, Six Nations Chief

Field Work Sites

Teotichuacan, Mexico

Giza, Egypt

Poverty Point Mounds, Louisiana

Big Horn Medicine Wheel, Sheridan, Wyoming

Aztalan Mounds, Greenfield, Wisconsin

Respiritualization Project (Fairbanks)

Respiritualization Project (Fairbanks)

January 22, 1985

Persons attending: Don Peter of Anchorage; Eber Hampton of Boston; austin Hammond of Haines; Matilda Lewis of Haines; Pam Morrison of Juneau; Bella Francis of Ft. Yukon.

Background of project:

DONALD: Last year, Pam and I got together and we talked about 1991 and the restrictions which would be lifted off the land claims act and the land. we thought about it and realized Alaska Natives don’t really know who they are right now, the younger people. They are the ones getting into the leadership positions and running the corporations and city governments, even the legislature. Since they don’t know who they are, we need to put some kind of a project together like the NANA Corporation up i the Kotzebue area put together a Spirit Movement camp. People go in there and learn about the Inupiat culture and values. There is no way to get out of it. The elders teach the younger people how it used to be 100 years ago. Before 1971 and the land claims, we were content, we survived even without money-we had the land. Well, the land claims was one to make us fail. We knew that a long time ago. What we need to do is put these Spirit camps around the state-in places like Haines or Bethel. We wrote up a proposal and gave it to the Kellog Foundation. I think we got $45,000 and we have until April to put this thing together into a proposal so we can get it funded by UNESCO or one of the funding sources. What we want to do is get our thoughts down on tape and reach our people through here and getting to find out who they are. There are a lot of things that deter us from thinking the way we use to do. There is alcoholism, white man’s way. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. We want to know why all this is happening. We are calling this whole thing a Respiritualization Process. When we spend summers in Ft. Yukon, my son learns a lot. I think other kids can learn too, from the elders.

I put together a proposal and submitted it to the legislature for a state-wide youth program. It’ for a half million dollars. Senator Sackett reviewed the proposal and he feels it is right down the line of the Governor’s speech—alcoholism, drug abuse, sex abuse. If the money goes through, it will be distributed around the state to different agencies with the youth camps. Along the same line, we get the Spirit camps going together with the youth camps, maybe we will get something tout of it. Maybe we will save something spiritual, since there is a Higher Power somewhere. Like the Outside Native people who lost almost everything, but they didn’t lose their spirituality.

PAM: We have two or three proposals to try to get money and so far it is working out pretty good. Five different people from different parts of the state feel that we could just make plans for people. Some of you know how I got interested in this. I grew up in a white way, except for my Grandfather who passed away when I was 12. When I was younger, he told me to be sure to get a college education. Just before he passed away, he talked to me and said I should be sure to follow the pipe, and for my people that means the traditional Oneida spiritual way. I really didn’t know what that meant. I was a young woman, and I already had my first child. My life was getting confused, I was getting involved with drugs and couldn’t seem to get relationships with people to work right. At that time I was living in Milwaukee because my folks moved down there when I was in high school. There were a lot of Oneida people and people from different tribes in the city. We found out that a lot of us were lost. I was working in an alcohol treatment program and it was when the American Indian Movement was strong. We organized and met with the bureaucrats and demanded money to treat our people with traditional Indian methods. They funded our alcohol program. It was one of the first funded in the country, in 1970. It took a year or two before we had to face the fact that we didn’t know what traditional Indian treatment was. We did not have any people who were practicing traditional healing ways. We didn’t know a lot of songs or dances. We started looking for what it meant to be Oneida in 1971-72. We went to Canada to find traditional Oneida people. They didn’t know what to do with us. They never encountered people like us before, people who were lost. They tried to be helpful, but there were many problems. In the next ten years we got help from other tribes. The (   ) people who lived next to us in Wisconsin came and helped us. We started using different ways in the alcohol treatment program. We still used western ways like the counseling and hospitals. Then we started using the sweat lodges which were a part of our culture a long time ago, but we had forgotten it. We began to see changes. I began to see changes in my life and I started to learn how an Oneida woman does things, how to relate with the land, how to sing songs and do dances. The people started to change. There still weren’t a lot of jobs there and we can’t promise people a very good life. It was not like Alaska where people could hunt or fish, they just had to do without a lot of the time. But it pulled us together somehow, pulled my own life together. Now I can look at my own children, ages 14, 7, and 4. They are so happy and comfortable when they do traditional things. It gives them a good foundation for life in the future. Whether the Oneida people lose all the land or not, my children will be prepared. I am married to a Haida. When I moved up here, I saw a lot of suffering in Hydaburg, but I understood that because I could remember how it was when I was young. That’s why I got interested in this. I thought maybe every tribe, every village, every person has to seek and find what is going to work for them. Anything that I can do to help young people up here. My children are now young people and I want them to understand when they get older. That’s why I got interested and contacted Don. Everyone is trying on their own, but if we come together and talk it through, we can come up with some ideas.