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.
An Essay into Time and Place
Jürgen W. Kremer
3383 Princeton Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95405
[Published in a slightly different version in ReVision, vol. 22, number 3, pp.29-43.
Use section numbers 1 through 48 for reference.]
As storyteller I wonder at times what it would be like to be handed a story that has been taken care of across the generations. And now, during these days tinged with millennianism, to take care of it myself, and then to pass it on to the next generations using the best of my memory abilities, and the most beautiful words I have been taught; thus telling a story which has emerged over the generations from a particular place, from observing the beings that live there, from feeding on them and making offerings in exchange; thus taking care of a story that has a certain wholeness, even though it undoubtedly has changed with each storyteller giving his or her best; and even though such wholeness can at best be transitory only – in the telling at the right moment on the right occasion.
I have not been given such a story.
I have been given storysherds. That is all I have been given to take care of. Storysherds.
The broken pot in the museum becomes “false” when curators add to what they have found during the excavation. Adding the missing pieces would mean dishonoring its maker; but more importantly, it would be dishonoring the history of its breakage. Yet, it is possible to imagine that remaking the pot might not result in such dishonor. For it to be honorable it would have to be done right. Pueblo Indians recycle potsherds by grinding them to powder, making them part of the matrix for a new pot. Or the missing pieces would have to be found, one way or the other. Maybe then the entire pot can be made new. (1)
As caretaker of storysherds I am obliged to honor the sherds at hand, not to add to them willfully by giving in to my desire for wholeness. Wholeness cannot be willed. It takes the kind of imagination that arises from time and place. I will need all my skills. I need the patience of listening and seeing whether wholeness will emerge.
The millennium is not my story, yet I am part of it. My ancestors, for reasons only partly apparent to me, came to deal with their understanding of reality primarily in linear segments and fragments. The count that defines the millennium reflects this. And it is truly but a storysherd. Or a confrontation with the uneven edges of the pot’s breakage lines.
I am not of the land where I am writing this, yet I live on it and I am becoming part of it. This is where I have settled. My ancestors are of the European lands; there they and I grew up, yet nothing but storysherds have been passed on to me from those centuries of being in particular places. Taking care of my storysherds may make it possible to re-imagine the stories from which they broke away. In order to do so in a sacred way means caring for the sherds first and foremost; taking the risk of picking up the sherds. In renewing a vessel I not only need to visualize its pattern as whole and complete, but I need to give particular attention to the points of breakage, the patterns of the broken lines. This is my obligation as storyteller. Maybe then, later, I can make one story new. And, to be sure, it won’t be the story my ancestors handed down to me. But it will.
[P30] To make stories of sherds is pre-eminently a modern endeavor, in a sense. Modernity has created so many sherds. The sherds gathered here are largely from twin stories.
So, this is a twin story, in a way.
It is the story of twin pines: The Native American tuwa, and its twin, the “digger” pine, pinus sabiniana of European perception. It is the story of particular movements in our galaxy, and the twin story of the end of the second millennium, and the beginning of the third. It is the story of a pair of twins – one afflicted by blindness, the other paralyzed – in search of their healing ceremony. It is the story of two brothers, one following instructions he has been given while the other one has yet to remember how he was and is to be. There are more twins, more pairings, masculine and feminine, male and female, that appear as I sort the sherds. The twins on the poles, one on each. And then there is Odysseus, and Odysseus Redux, for example. Sherds for a story.
This is also a story about two ways to make words, and to be made by words. Two stories colliding – one aware of the collision, the other barely noticing. One twin out of balance, split off, masculinized. Thus the balance of the other twin is affected. The balance between things is disturbed. Their internal balance is disturbed. For there to be balance the story needs to be made whole. This is a story of imbalance and imposition, and a story of healing imbalance.
These are the storysherds I have found as the millennium ends. I have gathered them in the place where I have settled in order to make sense of time and place. I am seeking for an integrity that can only exist when I am fully present to the movements of time and history as they arise where I sit. When I am fully present to all the beings around me.
Words are what make us distinctly human. But more than that: in words lie our greatest power; we are most powerful through words. Words describe, they can invoke, deny, remember, identify, disidentify. Words help us see, they guide us in what we rely on as our reality. Not having words is forgetting. When we forget a word or name then the peril of that moment may translate into annoyance or fear.
To tell a story in the proper way, to hear a story told in the proper way – this is very old and sacred business, and it is very good. At that moment when we are drawn into the element of language, we are as intensely alive as we can be; we create and we are created. … Our stories explain us, justify us, sustain us, humble us, and forgive us. And sometimes they injure and destroy us. Make no mistake, we are at risk in the presence of words. (Momaday 1997. 169)
Words originate from a matrix of place and time, from landscape, myth, and history. Even our distance from such sources places us and times us. Imagination and creativity thus have ancient ties to realms so much contested in our contemporary understandings. This is a quality of imagination alien to most of the narcissistic and willful acts that are taken for creativity in contemporary dominant culture.
We are at risk in the presence of words. Getting a story wrong can be very dangerous. Getting it right requires all our imagination and creativity. And presence to whence words arise: place and time, landscape and history. Sacred business. Even, and maybe especially, as far as the millennium is concerned. It requires the precision of sacred work as personal imagination is held by the awareness of its sources. Will is in the discipline, the intention of presence, not the willfulness of individual acts.
What I take from this is that making millenarian words without being present to their origins in land and time puts me at risk. I have no intention to do so. This is why I am telling the story in the way I do. This is why the sherds are gathered in this pattern.
The millennium is a precisely arbitrary moment, as Gould (1997) extensively and delightfully reminds us. Whichever way we look at it, arbitrariness remains as its most striking feature. As possible celebratory event of the Christian church it should already have been celebrated, given that Jesus was born 4BCE or earlier. Numerically the second millennium concludes only at the end of the year 2000, putting the beginning of the third millennium CE at 2001; this is how past turns of centuries, and even, predominantly, the one millennium of the current count have been celebrated. As arbitrary count, mostly disconnected from Christian eschatological thinking, it seems to deserve the same level of observance and excitement as the odometer of my trusty old car turning from 99,999 to 100,000 miles. Albeit rather brief, it was an exciting moment. And then, of course, this is a very European count. The Hebrew, Moslem, Mayan, Persian, Chinese, and other calendars give numbers for the same date that clearly do not suggest any millennianism.
The associated concept of Y2K, resulting from the same arbitrary count, gives rise to concerns that are, to a certain degree, clearly identifiable as technological and electronic problems. Y2K has become, at least in some circles, associated with apocalyptic thoughts arising from the ever more visible ecocide, relentless economic globalization, and other pathologies of modernity. And it has also given rise to hopes of ending these destructive trends through crisis, collapse. Hopes for the beginning of a phase of balancing and healing.
Interestingly, the millennium (of whichever actual date) and Y2K, are very close to an event that is highly observable and far from arbitrary: Many ancient and indigenous cultures have observed the precession of the equinoxes, maybe for as long as 39,000 years (2). According to various traditions, notably the Mayan, one segment in this cycle is coming to an end (in their case a whole calendar, the so-called Long Count). Of course, popular culture has already celebrated this event well in advance through the musical Hair which hailed the coming of the age of Aquarius.
The phenomenon of the precession of the equinoxes occurs because of the wobble of the spinning earth. Every 2,200 years or so a new constellation rises heliacally – right before sunrise – at the vernal equinox. It is an observable astronomical event, and it is also interpreted within the zodiacal system of Western astrology. The observability of the precession should have given it clear scientific appeal, and thus great preference over an arbitrary count based on the mistakenly calculated birth of a religious prophet. Not so. Maybe it is the association with astrology that made it suspicious, maybe it was the vastness of scale.
The reasons for this can be found, so it seems, in the unfolding of a story during this past millennium, a story that has increasingly used words separate from landscape, and separate from natural, observable time. This makes it a dangerous story, especially as it is perpetrated across the threshold of the year 2000, and as it is relentlessly enforced through economic globalization at a time that many indigenous traditions regard as particularly charged with potential.
As indigenous traditions have it, how this charge is used will be determined by how the story is told, for ill or for good. Sacred places, such as the ones aboriginally belonging to the people of Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico can be used for heightened pursuits and celebrations of balance; but they can also be used for the development of nuclear power, as was done on these very lands in Los Alamos. The power is there for use. Good or evil.
Standing in line at the post office I watch the red figures frenetically turning on the digital countdown toward the year 2000. The legend above it reads:
TO THE YEAR 2000
This apparent build-up toward some cataclysmic paroxysm, however, is reassuringly resolved by the means available to philately: “Collect the century in stamps” is the punch line under the frenzied counter.
There are other punch lines to descriptions of time running out. (3)
The sun turns black, the earth sinks below the sea;
no bright star now shines from the heavens;
flames leap the length of the World Tree
fire strikes against the very sky.
This is one of the potent moments of time change my own Nordic-Germanic traditions have described as ragnarökur in the Eddic texts. It is a fateful time for those who reign. Rök means fate, line of events; ragna from regin, to reign. It is conceived of as moment of renewal; it is a transition during which the outcome is experienced as far from certain – even the gods and goddesses lack reassurances and are filled with anxiety. The poetic language of the seeresses in the Eddic texts captures this transition of the turning of an age with no lack of drama as the next description of the same moment shows:
Then wanes the power.
Hands grow numb.
A swoon assails
the white sword-Áse;[guardian spirit Heimdal]
on the midnight breath;
in tired beings.
During Ragnarök we have fimbulvetur, the great winter, the world is set on fire by Surtr, the earth sinks into the ocean because of the violent movements of the Miðgarðr snake, the sun darkens and is eaten by Fenrir, the wolf, the earth shakes, the bridge Bilröst collapses, and the world tree Yggdrasill trembles – yet does not fall.
The words are just as dramatic in the descriptions of the subsequent renewal, as the seeress continues to prophecy:
She sees the earth rising again
out of the waters, green once more;
an eagle flies over rushing waterfalls,
hunting for fish from the craggy heights.
Hrafnagaldr Óðins or Óðin’s Prophetic Ravenchant describes how the new earth Jórunn (the previous earth Iðunn reborn) sits at the root of the tree, not yet awakened at this momentous time. There is a new sun, dóttir sólar, the daughter of the sun (which can also mean a new star, after the old constellation has disappeared at the vernal equinox).
Up rose the gods.
Forth shone the sun.
Northward to Niflheim
night drew away;
Heimdal once more sprang
up upon Bäfrast, [spirit or rainbow bridge]
on the mountains of heaven.
The tree, the axis mundi, does not fall during Ragnarök. With the nornir at its roots, the Norse fateful spirits, women, it continues to stand as the measurer of time and fates.
These descriptors from the Old Norse tradition for the time of great change are not unique in tone or imagery. Presumably this is when a new constellation rises at spring equinox. We can find similar language in the Hopi prophecies or the words the Wintu seeress Flora Jones utters below buli phuyuq or way wan buli, a mountain so important that it is at times just referred to as bulit – that particular peak, meaning: Mt. Shasta (in Northern California). For the Native Americans living around Mt. Shasta it is the central balancing spirit in the universe, not a potential ski resort.
I glance across my writing table and scan the surrounding hills. They were aboriginally peopled by one of the Wintun tribes, the Nomlaki. The pine trees rising individually, mostly, above the rest of the chaparral growth intrigue me. Each is a character of its own, each has apparent personality. Different, visibly unique. The perception of such individuality in the plant world commonly takes greater visual skills than I have acquired. Not so with these pines. Some pines have singular trunks, some have multiple trunks arising from one place like a bunch of flowers held together by raffia. At times a secondary trunk emerges midway to the top. Some trees are grouped in small and very loose stands. Their needle foliage allows me to look through them in many places. Oftentimes they don´t grow straight up, but lean downhill, with the top part on occasion appearing parallel to an imaginary level ground. But level ground does not exist amidst these steep hills.
One twin of these stately twin pines is called “digger” pine in much of the literature, since “Digger Indians” utilized their nuts. (3) In the middle of the last century, first the Indians of the Great Basin, then Native Californians were referred to in such manner, since they did not farm, but subsisted on roots, hunted, and collected seeds. They did not seem to measure up, in the eyes of the explorers, to their perceptions of the Plains and Mississippi Valley Indians. This represents one of the multitude of curious denials of the settlers’ own practices and history, since they regularly dug for roots along their routes. “What is good for an Indian is beneath notice for a white man,” is what many people in the mid-nineteenth century thought. All this notwithstanding the fact that the nut had saved the life of one of the members of the Donner party, for example. There are many ways to write the story of genocide and colonization, plant names seems to be one.
The other twin of these stately pines has many names, for examply towáni and sakky. It comes right behind the acorn in culinary importance, and, among the conifers, it was the most important food-giving plant for the Indians. Where this pine tree grows the Native Californians have their own names for them. Oftentimes the nut has a separate name from the tree, as in Patwin tuwa, the tree, and sanak, the pinenut. Wintu differentiates the unripe (xisi) and ripe pinenut (chati) in this fashion. Other Native Californian names are gapga (Klamath), towáni (Maidu), sakky (South Sierra Miwok), and náyo (Wappo). Hinton suggests that the “digger” pine could be renamed Towani pine or Nayo pine. Names of remembrance, acknowledgment, and presence. Rather than racism.
I manage to crack some of the pinenuts from the hills where I write. They are delicious. I don’t know the Nomlaki name for the nut or the tree. They are no longer around to be asked. Yet, they are present, and maybe one day I can hear their answers.
Twins are regarded with awe in many cultures. Their special significance has oftentimes the double valence of being potentially dangerous (especially if not treated properly) or beneficial; they were feared and worshipped. The notion that twins come from the union between a mortal and a spirit or god seems widespread. In the Indo-European mythologies they oftentimes seem to be benefactors, healing mortals, protecting people from harm, rescuing seamen, and so on. Some are hero twins, saviors.
Among the Old Norse we find pairs that are not only part of a culture allowing sibling marriage, but that have also a twin air about them. Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn, Nerthus and Njörður, Freyja and Freyr. They also reflect their taste for androgynous qualities, at least in these ancient, Vanir layers of Norse mythology. Even in traditions where both twins are of male gender – as in the Diné, the Mayan, the Hopi, the Aztec traditions – each twin seems to be balanced by the other in terms of qualities; at times they can be meaningfully listed under the heading of feminine and masculine qualities (one tending heavenward, the other earthward; one dark, the other light; one may be good, the other wicked). They need each other for balance and completeness; if one is not present for the task imbalance ensues.
According to Hopi understanding there are serpent brothers or twins – Pöqanghoya and Palöngawhoya – on each of the poles sending vibrations to each other along the earth’s axis. The Twins are instrumental for the rotation and balance of the world.
The past millennium is rich in historical events. The story is notable for what it tells and doesn’t tell, what is relegated to its margins or subjected to denial and forgetting. So many events recorded are truly remarkable. As are those that have not become part of the story as it is told. But even more than the history actually recorded by European consciousness it is notable for the ways in which it has forged its own story. As the count leading to the upcoming millennium has been shaped by Eurocentered thinking it is fitting to look at the inner workings of this story.
By the year one thousand Christianity dominates Europe. Even the people of such a remote place as Iceland finally convert to Christianity in order to avoid internal and external strife: A goði or chieftain in the north of the island conducts one of the traditional ceremonies, an útiseta, the Old Norse “sitting out” equivalent of the Native American vision fast or “going on the hill.” He comes to the realization that bloodshed would ensue if all of Iceland doesn’t convert to Christianity. He offers the carved spirit images of his tradition to the nearby waterfall, subsequently named Goðafoss, and becomes a Christian.
Since the middle of the millennium we find an increasing prevalence of what we now would call ethnic cleansing. The murderous forces, for large parts Christian church dominated, perpetrated genocide not just on indigenous peoples in other countries, but with oftentimes similar vehemence on the holders of indigenous knowledge within their own boundaries, particular through the persecution of women in the form of witchhunts. Genocide in service of the Eurocentered story is continuing relentlessly planetwide, primarily through the various forms of economic globalization a.k.a. Americanization (the destruction of sustainable economies and the creation of dependency in the name of progress and civilization). While we may be tempted to soften the shock of this process by calling it cultural genocide, it remains genocide as far as the termination of particular cultures and cultural identities are concerned – people are murdered as the indigenous persons they are, even though they may resurrect themselves as persons of Eurocentered minds. Pervasive ecocide and sexism are corollaries to this story.
The dynamics of the story have been discussed in a variety of forms. Marx tried put his finger on these acts of splitting and dissociation through his much criticized theory of commodity exchange. The Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko evokes it in ruthless poetry, describing the relentless death march of excess and imbalance.
Above me in the night sky Venus in the west is almost straight across from Mars, who is a little south of the east. Last night Venus was right above the waxing crescent moon. Tonight she is straight to the right of the moon, west of it. Across these two nights the bright Venus and the growing moon form a beautiful equilateral sky triangle.
It is May, 1999, and as I write this essay NATO continues to bomb Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing seems to continue unabated despite all the bombs. Relief for Kosovo seems far away. I nostalgically remember a drive along the Albanian border, and the poverty stricken, albeit unbombed Priština. There is upset in the U.S. about the Serbs’ continuing ethnic cleansing. I read an article. The words “… a grand experiment in ethnic cleansing …” jump out at me.
I am struck by these words.
The paragraph started out as follows:
As a boy Plenty Horses had been sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the boarding school founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt, whose obsession was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Carlisle was the model upon which an extensive system of boarding schools for Indians was based. The schools were prisons in effect, where Indian children were exposed to brutalities, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, in the interest of converting them to the white man’s way of life. It was a grand experiment in ethnic cleansing and psychological warfare, and it failed. (Momaday 1997, 101-102)
The book does not tell me when the piece was first published; I assume it was probably at least a few years before 1997.
Ethnic cleansing characterizes half the past millennium.
It is so much easier to be righteous about ethnic cleansing elsewhere than to face the continuing history of ethnic cleansing in one’s own country.
Excess or imbalance could also be used as words to indicate the unfolding trends of the past millennium. Some indigenous cultures would call that evil. Traditional people with special spiritual powers are known to be able not just to work for good, but also to work for evil and imbalance. Before awareness of the medieval European witchhunts had a chance to infuse Native American use of the English language, workers of excess and evil were frequently called “witches” in Indian vernacular, thus assuming the Christian, pejorative use of the term. Silko uses the words witch and witchery in this sense, not as dishonor to the large number of European women practicing their indigenous knowledge, but to signify excess and imbalance. In her words: “Witches crawl into skins of dead animals, but they can do nothing but play around with objects and bodies. Living animals are terrified of witches. They smell the death” (1977, 131). The book Ceremony, the healing story of a mixed blood Native American, was written before their was any significant reassertion of the positive meaning of the word.
Long time agoin the beginning
there were no white people in this world
there was nothing European.
And this world might have gone on like that
except for one thing:
This world was already complete
even without white people.
There was everything
Then it happened.
These witch people got together. (…)
They all got together for a contest
the way people have baseball tournaments nowadays
except this was a contest
in dark things. (…)
Finally there was only one
who hadn’t shown off charms or powers.
The witch stood in the shadows beyond the fire
and no one ever knew where this witch came from
or if it was a woman or a man.
But the important thing was
this witch didn’t show off any dark thunder charcoals
or red ant-hill beads.
This one just told them to listen:
“What I have is a story.”
At first they all laughed
but this witch said
laugh if you want to
but as I tell the story
it will begin to happen.
Set in motion now
set in motion by our witchery
to work for us.
Caves across the ocean
in caves of dark hills
white skin people
like the belly of a fish
covered with hair.
Then they grow away from the earth
then they grow away from the sun
then they grow away from the plants and animals.
They see no life
When they look
they see only objects.
The world is a dead thing for them
the trees and rivers are not alive
the mountains and stones are not alive.
The deer and bear are objects
They see no life.
They fear the world.
They destroy what they fear.
They fear themselves.
The wind will blow them across the ocean
thousands of them in giant boats
swarming like larvae
out of a crushed ant hill. (…)
Set in motion now
set in motion
objects to work for us
Performing the witchery
for the still-born
set in motion now
set in motion.
So the other witches said
“Okay you win; you take the prize,
but what you said just now –
it isn’t so funny
It doesn’t sound so good.
We are doing okay without it
we can get along without that kind of thing.
Take it back.
Call that story back.”
But the witch just shook its head
at the others in their stinking animal skins, fur and feathers.
It’s already turned loose.
It’s already coming.
It can’t be called back.
(Silko 1977, 132-138)
I find hope in this story. Paradoxically, maybe. Recognizing the deadly smell which I also carry makes healing possible. I am part of a culture of death. Deadly as the prize winning story has been, knowing of it as story gives me the opportunity and challenge to tell it differently, to get it right. To heal my self. To heal myself culturally. To turn the story back on itself.
A coopers hawk circles uttering a singular scream upon completion of each revolution. Gradually ascending it finally disappears westward and upmountain.
Driving toward my place of writing retreat I parallel the Sacramento River northward. To the right and left of the interstate are rice paddies; the air is filled with insects and numerous low flying airplanes dispense toxic insecticides. I sneeze frequently as my body reacts to the noxious pollutants entering the car. Before the history of the agricultural abuse of this former vernal lake was possible, something else had to occur. It was the prize winning story making its way across what is now called California.
The banks of the Sacramento river, in its whole course through the valley, were studded with Indian villages, the houses of which in the spring, during the day time were red with the salmon the aborigines were curing…. On our return, late in the summer of 1833, we found the valleys depopulated. From the head of the Sacramento to the great bend and Slough of the San Joaquin, we did not see more than six or eight live Indians, while large numbers of their skulls and dead bodies were to be seen under almost every shade tree, near the water, where the uninhabited village had been converted into graveyards. (E.G.Lewis 1880, 49, quoted from Goldschmidt 1978, 342)
Where I go has aboriginal names that are not recorded on any of the AAA maps I have in my car. Sunsunu, Noykewel, Nomlaka, Waltoykewel, Waykewel, Memwaylaka. Tehemet and Paskenti seem to be the only Nomlaki names that have survived in the forms of the county name Tehama and the town name Paskenta. Where I go is aboriginal Nomlaki territory. Here is how the prize winning story played itself out among them:
The malaria epidemic of 1833 was the first serious blow Western civilization struck against the Nomlaki. … There is no evidence of direct contact between Whites and Indians until mid-century … By 1851 settlers began to request that the Indians be segregated from the White population on a reservation. … In 1854 … Thomas J. Henley, established the Nome Lackee Reservation on a tract of 25,000 acres in the foothills of western Tehama County between Elder and Thomes creeks. .. By 1856, with the threat of Indian retaliation dissipated, the settlers became covetous of the “magnificent farm of 25,000 acres” and brought pressure for its abandonment. The Nomlakis and other Sacramento valley Indians were literally herded over the mountain to Round Valley in 1863, the Nome Lackee Reservation having already been taken over by Whites. … After several years a number of Nomlakis returned to settle in the foothills of their old territory. …By this time [1930s] there were but three rancherias left … , with probably no more than a score of households identifying themselves as Nomlaki. (Goldschmidt 1978, 342)
I recap to grasp what I have just read:
1833 Unknown number of Nomlakis killed by malaria epidemic brought in by White settlers.
1850 First direct contact between Nomlaki Indians and Whites.
1851 Segregation of Nomlaki Indians from Whites.
1854 Nome Lackee Reservation established.
1856 Pressures for the termination of Nome Lackee Reservation.
1863 Nomlaki Indians and others herded to Round Valley.
1870s Return of some Nomlaki Indians to their old territory.
1930s Three rancherias with half a dozen Nomlaki households each.
1970s Only scattered descendants are said to survive.
One of the Nomlaki Indians has described the trail of tears to Round Valley, the Nome Cult Reserve, in these words:
They drove them like stock. Indians had to carry their own food. Some of the old people began to give out when they got to the hills. They shot the old people who couldn’t make the trip. They would shoot children who were getting tired. (Margolin 1993, 165)
Before any direct contact the 2,000 plus Nomlaki Indians are severely decimated by disease brought in by White settlers. Within fifteen years of direct contact their indigenous culture is effectively destroyed. Eighty years after direct contact and one hundred years after indirect lethal contact only a few households identify themselves as Nomlaki in their traditional territory. This all began to happen a mere century and a half ago. It continues to be the prize winning story.
Down from where I sit and write I watch the seasonal creek waxing and waning. Every morning the rill flows, ripples, and glitters in the sun. By afternoon I see nothing but a little wet sand and pebbles in the stream bed across which the tracks of my car tires deepen as I come and go. Butterflies still gather for the remaining moisture.
Maybe it is impossible to think of the past millennium without interference of the recency effect. But maybe what has happened during this century is a crystallization of what has built over the previous 900 years, and not merely a perceptual distortion. Summarizing the current century Habermas (1998, 73) has pointed to the
horrifying traits of an age that ‘invented’ the gas chamber and total war, governmentally administrated genocide and extermination camps, brain washing, the system of government surveillance and panoptic observation of entire populations. This century ‘produced’ more victims, and resulted in more soldiers killed, more citizens murdered, civilians killed, and minorities expelled, more people tortured, maltreated, starved, and frozen, more political prisoners and refugees than was even imaginable until now. (Transl. J.W.K.)
I notice how I find it increasingly difficult to think about the purported advances Eurocentrism has offered the world. As long as I look at history or the sciences within this story, advances and advantages are visible, despite all the horrors. When I leave the framework of the Eurocentric story even the seemingly most obvious ways in which it has improved on people’s lives end up with a question mark. I notice how many advances have come about in order to address ills wrought by the prize winning story itself; to discern what advantages remain when I don’t take the story for granted is challenging. The story was not inevitable. Its continuation is not inevitable.
Human rights, such an obvious and persuasive example resulting from European intellectual traditions. Yet: to what extent were they drafted in order to address human catastrophes precipitated and perpetrated by the Eurocentric traditions themselves? Historically they were developed in response to atrocities perpetrated as a consequence of actions stemming from Eurocentric thinking. Not as result of enlightened thinking or of debates about cultural ethics. Yet, one could not think about the rights of indigenous peoples or genocide as legal concepts without the idea of human rights. And surely they also address imbalances, evil, and excess created by other cultures than those esconced in the European intellectual milieu.
Or the European enlightenment tradition, and so many scientific discoveries. Surely I don’t want to toss all of it out as I confront the horrors Eurocentrism has wrought; but just as surely the purported and celebrated advantages seem increasingly relative and questionable.
Is it possible to think about their value from a viewpoint outside of or before the prize winning story? How could I do that? Where and how is a healing standpoint possible that allows me to keep its totalizing tendencies at bay?
Raven flies by many times this morning. I am reading stories by a bear. Over the last few days I have begun reading and re-reading all of N. Scott Momaday’s works. House Made of Dawn. The Ancient Child. So often, as in the following quote, he beautifully speaks something I feel, like in this case about the place where I am sitting and writing. Reading the quote I react to his male language. I assume that he uses the male gender because he speaks primarily of himself.
Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk. (Momaday 1969, 83)
Momaday’s Kiowa name is Tsoai-ta-lee, Rock Tree Boy. This is in reference to Devil’s Tower in South Dakota, a place sacred to the Kiowas, made famous in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. According to the Kiowa tale it is a tree stump, scarred by bear claws, tsoai-ta. Momaday is a bear. Much of his writing centers upon bear medicine, including the aspects which are difficult and unmanageable. After reading I drive the thirty-odd miles to town, on my way to the San Francisco Bay Area. After driving for a short while I surprise a bear as I turn around a bend on the dirt road. The bear seems young with beautiful brown fur. It turns and races toward the next bend and plunges down the steep hill. I get out of the car and hear it crashing through the brush. I find the tracks of its galloping and leave offerings in them. A redtail hawk circles above.
An old story brings my ancestors and the ancestors from peoples of this land together in a way I would not have dared imagine until more recent years. Diné medicine person Hanson Ashley once told me how his ancestral people went on to a migration west in the long ago, crossing the Bering Strait west, and finally meeting up with the people of the European North. They traded knowledge. Maybe this is why I have always been fascinated by the Diné (Navajo) chantway ceremonies, the Nightway in particular. Maybe it is just the beautiful sandpaintings. A number of Diné friends and colleagues have helped me out many times, and I have been privileged to be invited to parts of their ceremonies. One of the stories describing the origin of the Nightway ceremony and the reasons for its use as remedy against neurological sufferings of various kinds is given in the story of the stricken twins (Matthews 1902). As in most of their ceremonies, sandpaintings form an integral part of the proceedings, helping to place the afflicted person at the place of balance, so that they can be re-created with beauty for a long life.
It begins with a statement that I passed by on many of my readings, until its significance finally struck me: This is a story about song. This is not the place to recount the intricacies of this story, which cover almost one hundred pages. The plot pertains to the imbalanced use of our brains, or so it seems to me. Briefly: The twins are born as a result of a relationship between a Diné woman and Talking God. On one of their excursions they enter a cave which collapses on them, presumably because of bad medicine or a curse administered by another one of the holy people. As a result, one is paralyzed and the other blinded. Their human relatives reject them after several attempts at healing, and they wander the lands in search of wholeness. Each time they encounter spirits they have to tell the story of their mishap. And each time the holy people claim they cannot help them. It is an arduous story to read, but also a story of perseverance and final success.
I read the story of the stricken twins not as my own, but as a story that may help me understand the healing my own culture and cultural roots need. And maybe I can even find help for the healing of the genocidal wounds inflicted upon Native American peoples.
Many people regard the Hopi Indians as the keepers of teachings and prophecies that are of particular significance at these times. Traditional Hopi Elders seem to have become more vocal as their original instructions are increasingly in peril of being forgotten by the Hopi people themselves. Notably, the traditionalists staunchly refusing to join the march of European progress on Indian lands are commonly labeled “the hostiles.”
Their prophetic stories are recorded in sacred tablets and rock carvings retold and reinterpreted by each generation of keepers and Elders. They give testimony to various migrations and the instructions originally given to the people by their creator. While the Hopi prophecies do not give a particular time and outcome for the purification and changes they describe, they do contain markers leading many to believe that the time talked about is now.
Central to the prophecies is the return of Pahana, the Elder White Brother. This return will begin a time of purification and judgment, Nuntungk Talöngvaka, and those who survive will be part of the next world. Survival depends on faithfulness to the original instructions. Pahana will be identified by the return of the missing piece of the sacred tablet that this group of migrants took with them on their journey toward the east. The true White Brother has yet to return.
I cannot help but compare the millennial story to those of the Edda, the stricken twins, and the Hopi story of Pahana. Thoughts about original instructions, song, seeing, and balancing float through my head. I focus on the root of my annoyance with the millennial frenzy: it is the realization that it is an imperial story, or the continuation and celebration of an imperial story. It is a violent imposition of humans not just upon observable time cycles, but just as much upon peoples not of Eurocentric minds, upon lands and waters, upon the air. It is thought gone wild, out of control. Time is reduced to a thin line carrying all kinds of claims to universality. Reduced to a singular line claiming to account for everything. It is the masculinized twin gone haywire, in dire need of its feminine counterpart. Inventing the millennium is a truly postmodern event. It reflects the cynical and disconnected side of its thinking in crystallized form. It is a frivolous story. The count reflects the imposition, it is not a natural count.
The official millennial celebrations are intended to show how far we have come, while, indeed, it is a quantitative measure of the unbounded pathology of the Eurocentric mind. We are tainted by a ghost, the ghost of dissociation and alienation; the other half needs to be reconstituted. The return of the twin. Brother. Sister. The honoring of the feminine. Inner balance.
In the Diné traditions a person tainted by an enemy, by alien presence is said to be sa’a naghái, in a masculine and aggressive mode of being (associated with long life). This is a state of incompleteness, because bik’e hózhó, femaleness and happiness, are missing. Maleness unmediated by femaleness. Masculinization. Both poles are required for harmony and balance (Farella 1984, 170). Internal balance is missing. Rational thought predominates unmediated by other human faculties.
Celebrating the millennium is a reinforcement of linearity, of dissociated thought, of masculinization, of disconnection from natural and observable cycles. Healing the story means balancing ourselves in the holistic stories of place and time. Making whole. Healing the story means engaging in the proper exchanges, those that create balance rather than rapaciously take. Placing ourselves at the center of creation where we are. Remembering. Making ourselves present.
Returning from the San Francisco Bay Area I drive again on the interstate through rice paddies, orchards, and olive groves. Interspersed are several wildlife refuges. I daydream of Native American names on the signposts. In some bi- or multilingual countries I have found bilingual signs, at least in areas where the minorities are the majority. I remember the Gaelic and English signs in Eire; and the Sámegiella and Norwegian signs in Finnmarku in the European Arctic North. I imagine not just seeing the town name Winters on the green sign, but also Liwai. Not just Yolo, but also Churup. Grimes together with Palo. Colusa together with Til-til. Paskenta and Paskenti. Bilingual signs have probably been a contentious issue in most places where they exist. They seem impossible in California or elsewhere in the U.S. where the memory of residential schools is largely suppressed, and where bilingualism is quickly experienced as a threat to the “white” ideal of what makes an American. So I imagine for the sake of remembrance, for the sake of a different story, for the sake of completion and balance.
I return into the hills of Waltoykewel. Easing the car down the hill and across the seasonal creek I notice that my dome tent doesn’t quite look the same. In fact, it is rather flat. On the way up I had noticed a tall Towani pine that had fallen across the road, and an entire roof that had been blown off a house. I wonder whether there had been high winds during my absence.
I walk around the pancake tent and notice scratch marks. Even some of the cement bags that I had used to secure the tent had been torn open. Nearbey I now notice bags of steer manure ripped open. I walk toward the building and notice clearly visible bear tracks. Parts of the provisional plastic covering have been torn from its sides, with claws marks and muddy swipes identifying the inspector clearly. I take the tent apart to find two flattened mice. The surviving deer mouse scoots downhill.
At night I sit outside and listen to the wind. It is because of the pine trees that I can follow the movements of the wind spirit. At times nothing stirs where I am, yet I hear the wind rushing through a pine tree 20 yards away, rustling its needles.
Now I hear the wind way far in the distance on top of the next hill; I follow its course as it descends downhill through the individual pines, touching trees spaced wide apart, stirring a pine over here into a whisper, then one to the right. The wind’s breath moves, fingering the needle bunches, brushing them, prompting them to talk, then moves upward toward me, whispering, now moving more toward the left, then toward the right, snaking uphill. Wind brushes my face, and throws my hair into disarray. Wind teaches me about the lay of the land, its movements. Wind spirit.
A member of the neighboring Wintu tribe has given beautiful words to the process of learning through intimate relationship with place. The elders “learn the earth’s secrets by quietly observing. It is a secret language called knowledge that releases the spirit from stone and heals by tone of voice and by changing sickness into elements that flow instead of blocking life” (LaPena 1999, 18). This is what it means to follow our original instructions in a particular place and time. “Sacred names, dreams, and visions are images that connect the bearer to the earth; shamans and other tribal healers and visionaries speak the various languages of plants and animals and feel the special dream power to travel backward from familiar times and places” (Vizenor 1981, XVII).
This is what seers, seeresses, healers, shamans, medicine people, and Indian doctors did and do. We are at risk in the presence of words. We are in the presence of awesome power. Getting it right is healing, getting it wrong creates imbalance and excess. To be sure, there isn’t a singular way of getting it right. There are many ways of balance. Getting it right means being and acting from time, place, and history, roots. All relations. Being present.
Words are sacred. Always. Spirit breath. They have power. Always. They create even when we forget their power. Forgetting it often means creating imbalance, since forgetting the sacred breath and wind in words is imbalance.
To be true to a word means being true to its place and time. This is what integrity comes down to. Severing the connection between language and place signifies a lack of integrity. Forgetting or denying or destroying the language of a place is not just murder of people, but it is just as much violence to the plants and animals. Pinkson (1995, 127), based on his initiations into the Huichol tradition, captures this beautifully and accurately:
The original language of the people indigenous to a specific area on Mother Earth’s body grows directly out of the land itself. The vibratory essence of the natural forces in a given area grow upward from the bowels of the land and surrounding elements to form the plant life and vegetation of that area. The indigenous people live, eat, and breathe these natural elements. They die back into them and new generations birth back out again in the passage of generations. The land literally teaches them how to live in harmony with it through this ingestion process. They take it into their bodies. It “speaks” to them. Then it comes out of their mouths as language. They speak the vibrations of that land. Their language and creation myths are embodied vehicles for the wisdom of that place. I could now understand why maintaining the original language of indigenous people is important not just to their survival but to all of humanity. Original languages contain within their vibratory structure the operating rules for how to live in their home territory in a harmonious manner. The indigenous language is a nierica [gateway, JWK] by which to access the intelligence of place. Lose the language and you lose its vital instructions about right relationship.
It helps to know the language of the people of a place, whether human or animal or plant. I strain to listen to the beings in Waltoykewel. I do not know the Nomlaki language. I don’t have access to its vibratory structure which would tell me how to live in balance in these hills. I yearn to learn the language to honor the ancestors of this place. I don’t even know the name for the pine trees around me. All I know is that they were of great importance. Indeed, gathering them was so central, it seems, that there were different terms for the people gathering them, probably in the month of April: I read that dehke is an ordinary tree climber, lala an expert climber. And then there is olhehit, the man, a type of clown it seems, who yells underneath the tree where somebody is loosening the cones on top. But he doesn’t just yell, “he chants a long moaning heeee-e-e-e-e, which starts loud and gradually dies out, then starts afresh” (Goldschmidt 1951, 410). I want to call them hee pines.
Cati, as the neighboring Wintu say, are the obvious and natural trees of life in this area. Eating more pine nuts and studying the Nomlaki language may help me be in greater balance in this place. Bear was important for the Nomlaki. Grizzly bears used to be abundant here, before the 1850’s. It was common to see forty or more in a single day. They wrapped the deceased in a bear hide. Wemal is their name for bear.
The Wintu have a rich vocabulary related to these grand pine trees (Pitkin 1985); their language is closely related to Nomlaki. There are words not just for the green and the ripe nuts, but there is a specific verb for the removal of the pine nuts. I read mimiton hudes pel yewca – they gathered pitch from tree to tree. Then there are terms for pine needles, sugar, pine nuts with beading holes…
And cati nawus or kamilis – the pine nut skirt worn during dances in the ceremonial lodge.
The Diné stricken twins continue their wanderings, and they continue to experience nothing but rejection of their requests for healing. Finally the spirits or holy people realize that they have been fathered by one out of the midst of the holy people. So they decide to give them a break, and begin to conduct a healing ceremony for the blind and paralyzed twins. As they are sitting in the sweat lodge they notice how the healing is starting to take effect. They exclaim with joy: “Oh! younger brother, cried one, I see. Oh! elder brother, cried the other, I move my limbs” (Matthews 1902, 244). At this moment of disregard for the instructions given the twins by the holy people the ceremony abruptly ends. Healing does not occur. They are forced to wander again, because now healing is preconditioned on the right offerings, no longer just their blood relationship to the holy people.
It is this moment of breakage that is repeated many times over. Breaking away from sacred origin, spirit kinship. This disastrous moment in the twins’ quest strikes me as analogous to what seems to happen so much within the spiritual New Age movement: In search of physical, emotional, and spiritual wholeness seekers wander this planet. And when they find something they publicly exclaim “Eureka!” and publish a book. Oftentimes forgetting about the obligations stories and ceremonies carry, disregarding the instructions for when to speak. Oftentimes forgetting the necessary offerings and exchanges. Indeed, there is a time and place to speak about all this. It needs to be spoken. But it needs to be spoken in wholeness, in balance. With all that has passed in a particular place. With compassionate ruthlessness. Without it beauty so easily turns to nostalgia and kitsch. Wholeness cannot be made up. Elders cannot be made up. Wholeness arises from following all the lines that come together in each of us. No exceptions to be made. No shortcuts.
A lizard is stuck in a cut open one gallon plastic container used for nail storage. I hear the scraping noise of its feet. I come to its rescue and take a close look at its very dark markings. Around one of its eyes it has striking pink blotches. The scales shine light turquoise in some places. The lizard disappears across the threshold, to the outside.
Half an hour later I walk to my writing table in the shaded area I have created. It is about thirty paces away from the building. I recognize the lizard with the pink blotches. It moves toward some chamise bushes. Just as I turn toward my chair I notice something moving very fast across the flat area. I freeze and see a garter snake darting along at lightning speed. The snake grabs the lizard. It bites the snake’s cheek to save its life.
Over the next twenty minutes I observe the snake devouring the pink blotched lizard, head first. Slowly the bulge moves further down the snake’s body.
Jenkyns (1998, 4) comments on the difficulty of celebrating the beginning of a new millennium:
The scale of the anniversary, if we are to take it seriously, is of such magnitude that we do not know how to rise to the occasion. Newspapers and magazines may run surveys of the past year, or the past decade, even of the past century. But the past millennium? The idea is somehow absurd. Similarly, hundreds and thousands of people celebrate the arrival of a new year by getting drunk. How do you mark the arrival of a new millennium? Get very very drunk? As an event the millennium is either too large for us to cope with, or too trivial.
Misguided as the scheduled celebrations appear once we leave the precisely arbitrary count and the story from which it arises, I nonetheless like to think that human beings, past and present, were and are capable of thinking in, contemplating, or grasping time intervals of millennial length and even longer. After all, in terms of the 26,000 years long Great Year it is but about half a small year. Rather short in the big picture. Taking such long views seems to be urgently necessary. Grounding them in observable events rather than the runaway of Eurocentric counting seems equally necessary. As Native Americans would put it, we need to enable ourselves to think and vision seven generations forward and backward. And take responsibility within that scheme. Only then will we be able to discuss and discern which of the advantages and purported advances wrought by the European traditions hold up in the light of some larger view.
All stories have a tendency to be self-affirming, but addictive stories have this tendency to a pathological degree. The Eurocentric story of progress and civilization continues to be told. Whatever the adjustments, the structure remains fundamentally the same. It is the story of addiction to progress. Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous may not be able to help, but they can inspire us to become Eurocentrics or Progressivists Anonymous, or, in the words of Glendinning (1994), we can go into recovery from Western civilization. Understanding the figment of the millennium for what it is can be a first step.
Some days have passed now since I began writing this essay. At sunset the moon is no longer toward the west, but much closer to the south. And she is no longer a crescent, but rapidly approaching fullness. Yesterday at dusk the moon was straight above Mars. Tonight she is straight to the left or east of Mars. Another equilateral triangle in the sky. Now toward the southeast. 90 degrees.
Bright Venus and bright Mars continue to face each other across the night sky for some hours after sunset. Their relationship is catalyzed by moon, the waxing process of the nornir, the lines laid out by the spirits of fate. Venus – Mars, Freyja, the great goddess and shaman of the north, and Týr, god of assembly and war, sky god.
I reflect upon the various twinnings that inspired this millennial essay. The “digger” pine and its Indian twin by many names. The blind and the crippled twin. The Hopi and their Elder Brother, the White Man in possession of one of their prophecy tablets. Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn, Nerthus and Njörður, Freyja and Freyr. The Hopi warrior serpent twins on the poles. The precession of the equinoxes and the millenial count. This count, originally, had everything to do with Jesus as appropriated by the churches, by Christianity. In this understanding it is not a digital countdown, and has nothing to do with anticipated Y2K computer problems. Instead, it has everything to do with prophecy as given in the dramatic millenial descriptions of purification in the book of Revelation 20: 1-15. This prophecy was then interpreted within a particular count that had come afterwards.
So much of what makes us think about the millennium has to do with the Christian Church. Since Christianity was essential for the development of contemporary European thinking there is a rightfulness about this. Christian monotheism transcended the wildly varying local spiritual and religious traditions. This abstracting process resulting in universal claims can be seen as an instrumental step in the subsequent development of Eurocentric sciences. From this process originated a prosylotizing, missionizing agenda, as well as a potent relationship with the imperialistic ideology of the Roman Empire through Constantine’s conversion. All this prefigured and prepared the abstracting and universalizing claims of the sciences, put to practical use during colonization, and, now, globalization. Jesus as revolutionary Jew fighting for egalitarian politics, practicing open commensality (nondiscriminating food sharing as model for society), and healing (that can be interpreted in terms of shamanic traditions), seems to have been forgotten.
On my drives back and forth to Waltoykewel I listen to Homer´s Odyssey. Horkeimer and Adorno (1944) consider it the foundational text of European civilization, a testament to the dialectics of enlightenment, the rise of one-dimensional rationality. Odysseus is a figure central to the story of European cultures. He embodies the ideals of the male European hero. Strength. Beauty. Cunning. A man of exploits who claims credit for the Trojan horse stratagem while, in fact, others had been so inspired (Graves 1955, 330/1). The citizens of the doomed city are tempted to pull the wooden horse inside through the gates, with their own strength. They do this despite what prophecy had told them. I can think of so many Trojan horses: The horse of the Indo-Europeans; the coke; the refrigerator.; the VCR; video cassettes bringing images of middle class life into remote regions of Mother Earth. European and American culture is spreading everywhere, the progress virus is highly contagious and creates addictions. I think of the Trojan horses of economic development, Americanization as globalization. But I think also of the rise of human rights, the spread of feminism and education. Of course, this is primarily European style education.
And still, 4,000 or so children die every day. 80% of the wealth in the hands of 20% of the world population. Odysseus in the Trojan horse. The coke bottle is the Trojan horse of Americanization. I think about Odysseus’ wandering. He sets sail at the millennium, embarks on a journey home at the end of his colonial exploits. Departs from the trophies installed as Hollywood images. I imagine Odysseus Redux traveling to all the places of White Man’s conquests. A different journey home. Now it is the end of the colonial enterprise. He gets stranded in various places. Has to collect what he has left behind, the virus. The projections of his own “primitive mentality” onto native peoples. Gathers all the stuff he has left behind. He collects the images of progress. Images of primitivism. Images disparaging others as he disparages his own ancestral roots. Indigenous roots. Odysseus Redux. Odysseus healing.
The seasonal creek has now dried up. It only runs underground. No more rill resurfacing periodically during the night. The butterflies still alight on the places holding residual moisture. I read in a German news magazine that corn plants have been genetically altered to carry poison in order to kill insects eating them. The poison is also spread through corn pollen. Thus it is killing monarch butterflies and other insects not eating corn, but living near corn fields. Scientists warn against overreactions to this situation.
The beginning date of the Mayan Long Count calendar is August 11, 3114BCE. It ends on December 21, 2012CE. (5) A crucial date within the cycle of the precession of the equinoxes. The beginning of a new Great Year. On that day the winter solstice sun conjuncts the crossing point of the galactic equator and the ecliptic. The Mayans called this area the Sacred Tree. This is a very rare event occurring once in several thousands of years. The Mayan calendar takes the precession of the equinoxes into account. It is able to predict this particular astronomical event. This is the moment of creation as described in the Popul Vuh. The hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque have to travel down the road of Xibalba for the sake of balance and renewal. This dark road is located at that place in the milky way where it has been obscured by interstellar dusk.
This particular area of the sky seems to have similar significance in Old Norse mythology. (6) It is associated with Urðarbrunnur, the well of memory, the fount from which the female spirits of fate lift the clay of renewal and fertility. It is located at the root of the tree of life. It is the place where the earth spirit to be reborn, Jórunn, appears. The beginning of a new Great Year, the beginning of a new cycle.
The story of the stricken twins begins by informing us that “this is a story about song.” Singing and visionary seeing are closely related processes. In order for the Norse völvas of old to see and speak prophecy, varðlokkur, spirit songs, had to be chanted. Song and chant seem important in most every ceremony I know of. Chanted words, syllables, phonemes are the most important ones as they arise most directly from the spirit of place and time. Thus we are at greatest risk in the presence of words thus uttered.
The stricken twin story is about song. The twins are rejected twenty-one times. Each time they have to tell their story. After a number of rejections they are given a healing. And they utter words when silence was called for. They had disregarded the danger they were in. Oblivious to the risk they speak the miracle that is occurring. Through their folly they break the charm. They get sent away while being told that healing now can only occur if they make the appropriate offerings, bring the right gifts. The stricken twins leave. They weep and express their sorrow first in meaningless syllables, then in words. The spirits take note as they hear the words:
From meadows green where ponds are scattered
From there we come.
Bereft of limbs, one bears another.
From there we come.
Bereft of eyes, one bears another.
From there we come.
By ponds where healing herbs are growing,
From there we come.
With these your limbs you shall recover.
From there we come.
With these your eyes you shall recover.
From there we come.
(Matthews 1902, 245)
The ye’i, the spirits or holy people of the Diné, take pity on them, and help them to acquire the necessary offerings. This then, finally, leads to their healing. Twenty-one times the twins have told their stories, wandering all over their native lands.
The Nomlaki olhehit chants under the pine tree a moaning heeee-e-e-e-e as the important nuts are gathered for life. The pine nuts are not simply to be gathered, they are to be spoken to in a sacred manner. Not only because the sizable cones might hit the person underneath. The person underneath is not hurt because the tree’s need for conversation is honored. The olhehit knows the chant that nurtures the tree.
The twins told their story twenty-one times before receiving healing. They roamed their native lands from one spirit place to the next, back and forth. How many times will we have to tell the European story until there is healing? Until it is not a “witchery” story? Until we can turn the story back?
From the perspective of the pine tree and the ye’i and the dísir, the guardian spirits of the Old Norse people, we are traveling as paralyzed and blind people; we no longer know how to move with place, we no longer know how to see time. We have yet to make the right offerings.
I imagine the story of the relationship between the Diné and the European settlers being told, and retold, and retold. Until it is complete, until it has wholeness. I imagine then the sharing of ancestral stories. And I imagine European settlers making offerings to the Diné. It is not that we don’t know what to do. It is that we don’t do it.
Indigenous Elders have provided us with instructions that, at least, constitute a beginning point. Identifying the place of beginning is simple:
And so it is that when one doesn’t know the traditions one has nothing to light one’s way. It is as though one lived with a covering on one’s eyes, as if one lived being deaf and blind. Yet when one knows the traditions, one has vision to see…all the way to where the land meets the ocean. It’s as though one’s vision becomes as good as that. (Grey Mustache in Farella 1984, 24)
However, following the instructions arising from this beginning place is not simple.
We need to go through the arduous process of telling the story until we get it right. Gathering the storysherds. The story of the millennium is one of imbalance. It is not even right on its own Eurocentric terms. It is a precisely arbitrary moment. To give it power through words is to fuel imbalance and excess. It is getting it wrong. It means putting ourselves at risk. It means furthering the imbalance of masculinization, paying attention to one twin only. Inside and outside.
Healing comes on the wind brushing through those twin pines by multiple names – tuwa, gapga, towáni, sakky, náyo… Listening carefully we may be able to make the stories whole again. Turn the story around. Maybe then, one day, we can chant about excess and imbalance:
started its journey
with its witchery
has returned upon it.
into its belly.
Its own witchery
all around it.
has come back on itself.
It keeps all its witchery
It doesn’t open its eyes
with its witchery.
It has stiffened
with the effects of its own witchery.
Its is dead for now.
Its is dead for now.
Its is dead for now.
Its is dead for now.
(Silko 1977, 260-261)
It is not time yet. It is not dead. Excess and imbalance are continuing. There is much healing work to be done.
The dictum that we need to remember history in order to avoid reproducing it proves insufficient in these millennial times. We need to remember ourselves as natural history, we need to remember ourselves as land, as stars, we need to remember our stories, we need to remember ourselves as plants and as rocks. Such memory can heal us from participation in an arbitrary count foisted upon ourselves and others. It may heal us all the way to the roots of our origins.
And then we may see, then we may hear, and all our relations may assist us. Our grievous sounds may turn to song, and song may help see and heal.
It just may help us pay attention.
After the fighting, Black Kettle’s sister, Mah-wis-sa, implored Custer to leave the Cheyennes in peace. Custer reports that she approached him with a young woman, perhaps seventeen years old, and placed the girl’s hands in his. Then she proceeded to speak solemnly in her own language, words which Custer took to be a kind of benediction, with appropriate manners and gestures. When the formalities seemed to come to a close, Mah-wis-sa looked reverently to the skies and at the same time drew her hands slowly down over the faces of Custer and the girl. At this point Custer was moved to ask Romeo, his interpreter, what was going on. Romeo replied that Custer and the young woman had just been married to each other.
It is said that Mah-wis-sa told Custer that if he ever again made war on the Cheyennes, he would die. When he was killed at the Little Bighorn, Cheyenne women pierced his eardrums with awls, so that he might hear in the afterlife; he had failed to hear the warning given him at the Washita. (Momaday 1997, 93)
I walk into the computer store. On the shelf I see rows of CD-Rom packages entitled Civilization. The subtitle reads: The Will to Power. It is a strategic game.
The major portions of this essay were written during the month of May, 1999.
(1) The inspiration for the use of the word “storysherd” came from Scarberry-Garcia’s (1990) book on N. Scott Momaday; her text also provided some useful contextual information.
(2) As Finch (1991), following Massey (1907), suggests for the ancient Kemites.
(3) The four Eddic quotes in this section 8 are from: The first stanza from Terry (1990, 7), the second from Titchenell (1985, 267/8); the third from Terry op. cit., the fourth from Titchenell op. cit.
(4) Many of the descriptions as well as the quote in section 10 are from Hinton (1994); additional information is based on Heizer (1974) and Pitkin (1985).
(5) This discussion is based on Freidel, Schele & Parker (1993), Jenkins (1994), and Tedlock (1985).
(6) The following is based on Jonsson’s (1990) interpretation of the Eddic texts.
Farella, J. R. 1984. The main stalk. Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press.
Finch, C. S. 1991. Echoes of the Old Darkland. Decatur, GA: Khenti.
Freidel, D., L. Schele, and J Parker. 1993. Maya Cosmos. NY: Morrow.
Glendinning, C. 1994. My name is Chellis & I’m in recovery from Western civilization. Boston: Shambhala.
Gould, S. J. 1997. Questioning the millennium. NY: Harmony.
Graves, R. 1955. The Greek Myths: 2. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Habermas, J. 1998. Die postnationale Konstellation. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Heizer, R. F. 1974. They were only diggers. Ramona: Ballena.
Hinton, L. 1994. Flutes of fire. Berkeley: Heyday.
Horkheimer, M., and T. W. Adorno. 1944. Dialektik der Aufklärung [Dialectic of enlightenment]. NY: Social Studies Association.
Jenkins, J. M. 1994. The how and why of the Mayan end date in 2012 A.D. Dec94-Jan95, Mountain Astrologer, read on website.
Jenkyns, R. 1998. Review of Questioning the millennium. The New York Review of Books, vol. xlv, #9, 4-7.
Jonsson, B. 1990. Star myths of the Vikings. Swan River, Manitoba: Jonsson.
Margolin, M. 1993. The way we lived. Berkeley: Heyday.
Massey, G. 1907. Ancient Egypt in the light of the world. Baltimore: Black Classic.
Matthew, W. 1902. The Night Chant, a Navaho ceremony. NY: Knickerbocker.
Momaday, N. S. 1997. The man made of words. NY: St. Martin’s.
Pinkson, T. 1995. Flowers of Wiricuta. Mill Valley: Wakan.
Pitkin, H. 1985. Wintu dictionary. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Silko, L. M. 1977. Ceremony. NY: Penguin.
Tedlock, D. 1985. Popol Vuh. NY: Touchstone.
Terry, P. 1990. Poem of the Elder Edda. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Tichtenell, E.-B. 1985. The masks of Odin. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press.
Vizenor, G. 1981. Earthdivers: tribal narratives on mixed descent. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
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.
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 –
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.
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
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 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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
“…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.
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.
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.
Xilonem Gavcia, Aztec Elder
Mazatl Galindo, Aztec
Mary Jones, Choctaw Elder
Thomas Banyacca, Hopi Elder
Jake Thomas, Six Nations Chief
Field Work Sites
Poverty Point Mounds, Louisiana
Big Horn Medicine Wheel, Sheridan, Wyoming
Aztalan Mounds, Greenfield, Wisconsin
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.