There are many examples of Aboriginal traditional stories and teachings. You can see some in the ATK in Action Mission Brief but we couldn’t wait to share more with you. Click in the images below to learn what these animals (and stone landmark) mean to some Aboriginal groups.
For many years traditions of the harvest were lost because there were no Moose. For most of the 1900s, there were so few Tiam on Cape Breton Island that it was illegal to harvest them. Over the years, the Tiam population has come back and with the return of Mi’kmaq rights, traditional ways are being rediscovered. All parts of Tiam are used. Their hides have many uses, including clothing, wigwams, and moccasins. Fat is used for skin ailments and insect repellent. Antlers are used as bowls and can be cut and carved for beads, buttons, fishhooks, arrowheads, knife handles, and more. Bladders are used as water containers, like a canteen. Intestines are used as thick ropes. The stomach is used as medicine. Mi’kmaq communities are happy to have revitalized the traditional Moose harvest and participate in practices and events that celebrate their return.
Apistane’wj (American Marten)
One day Kluskap met a very old woman, Nukum, who said “I am your grandmother.” Kluskap asked how she arrived in the Mi’kmaq world. Nukumi said that she owed her existence to the rock, the dew, and Naku’set, the Sun. One chilly morning a rock became covered with dew. By midday, the rock got warm and then hot. With the power of Naku’set, the rock was given a body of an old woman. Nukumi was very wise and knowledgeable. She told Kluskap that he would gain spiritual strength by listening to and respecting her. Kluskap called Apistane’wj who was swimming in the river. The Marten came ashore and Kluskap asked him to give up his life so that he and his grandmother could live. Apistane’wj agreed. Nukumi then took Apistane’wj and quickly snapped his neck and placed him on the ground. For the first time Kluskap asked Creator to use his power to give life back to Apistane’wj because he didn’t want to upset the animals. Apistane’wj went back to the river and in his place lay another Marten. Kluskap and Apistane’wj became friends and brothers forever. Because of Apistane’wj’s sacrifice, Kluskap called all the animals his brothers and sisters from that point on.
How Rabbit Got His Long Ears
One day, Rabbit decided to play a trick on the animals and try to convince them that the sky was falling. The animals knew Rabbit too well to believe such nonsense and were too busy to be bothered by Rabbit’s trickery because they were working hard to prepare for the winter. The animals warned Rabbit to prepare for the winter, but when the moon came out, all the animals notice that the moon appeared larger than usual. Rabbit used the moon’s size to his advantage and managed to convince all the animals that the sky was falling, causing them all to panic.
He told Beaver, “Did you know that the sun was not going to rise again?” Of course Beaver told Squirrel and Squirrel told Chipmunk and Chipmunk told Skunk and so on. The story soon got around and all the animals were worried. They said, “If the sun is not going to shine anymore, it will be dark and cold like winter. We will have to gather our food and get ready right now.” Squirrel was busy gathering all the nuts he could find. Even Bear was worried. He began to eat and eat the blueberries all around him, so he could grow fat and store his food. Everyone was busy getting ready for the sun not to shine again that they had no time to play and Rabbit really thought this was funny. He hid in the bushes, laughing and laughing as he watched the other animals all running around.
Along came Glooscap. Normally the animals were all very glad to see Glooscap. They usually gathered around to talk to him. But this day no one ran up to greet him. Glooscap asked Bear, “How are you? How is everything going?” Bear said, “I don’t have time to talk to you.” Glooscap just kept walking. No one paid any attention to him. Glooscap went back to Bear and said, “What’s wrong with you? You’re not talking to me. What is going on? Talk to me. Something is wrong!” “Well, don’t you know?” Bear said. “The sun is not going to shine anymore and we have to hurry up. I have to get ready for winter now. That is what everyone is doing.” Glooscap told bear, “Whoever told you that story is lying. It’s not true.”
So Glooscap called a meeting with all the animals and they all gathered around him in a circle. He wanted to get to the bottom of it. He said, “Who told you Bear?” Bear said, “Raccoon told me.” And Raccoon said, “Well, Chipmunk told me.” Everyone said who they heard the story from, all the way down to Beaver. Beaver said, “It was Rabbit that told me.” Glooscap said, “Well, where is Rabbit?” Rabbit was really scared, so he hid in the bushes. Glooscap knew for sure, that Rabbit had started the story. “Where is Rabbit?” he asked again. “Not here. He is gone. He must be hiding,” Beaver said. Glooscap went and looked in the bushes. He found Rabbit and when he did he grabbed him by his ears and lifted him up. That is how Rabbit got his long ears.
Wabanaki version, adapted from Silas T. Rand and Eva Apukjij Keewesoo Nicholas (We’koqma’q, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia)
Nanabosho, Soaring Eagle and the Great Sturgeon
One day Nanabosho and Soaring Eagle went out fishing and caught many fish. The trickster Nanabosho stole all the trout for himself and this left Soaring Eagle and his family without fish. They had no food for the winter. The spirits felt sorry for Soaring Eagle and his family and invited Soaring Eagle to a feast. They spent the evening teasing, laughing and joking with Soaring Eagle. After Soaring Eagle was fed, the spirits gave him food to take home to his family. The Trout spirit told Soaring Eagle that he and his wife needed to make twine so that Soaring Eagle could use it to tie and lower his oldest son into a hole that he would make in the ice. This would allow his son to catch some trout and then be pulled out of the hole. Trout told him that as soon as he had enough fish to live on for the winter, he had to stop fishing. Soaring Eagle and his family did as they were told and were rewarded with plentiful fish. Soaring Eagle became greedy though and wanted more fish so they kept fishing. Soon, the twine broke and Soaring Eagle lost his son to the Great Lake Sturgeon.
With Otter’s help, Soaring Eagle went to see the Great Sturgeon to get his son back. Great Sturgeon told Soaring Eagle that he had taken too many fish and that is why his son was taken. After Soaring Eagle returned many of the fish, Great Sturgeon gave Soaring Eagle his son back and told him “ Let this be a lesson to you. Take only what you need”. Soaring Eagle and his son returned to the surface and Soaring Eagle gave Otter the excess fish.
Adapted from ‘Nanabosho, Soaring Eagle and the Great Sturgeon’, Joe McLellan, Pemmican Publications 1993.
Halibut is an abundant food source, the Kwagiulth believed the Halibut threw off its skin and fins to emerge as the first Human after the Great Flood subsided. The Halibut is a flat fish that starts life swimming in a vertical plane and eventually turns over on its side to become a bottom feeder. The underneath eye moves to the upper side, giving the fish its unique appearance.
Hummingbird symbolizes beauty, intelligence, and love. He sends messages to the people of things to come. A messenger of joy, this beautiful tiny bird is also called Sah Sen and represents friendship, playfulness and is a symbol of good luck in Northwest Coastal Native art. It is a positive sign to see Sah Sen prior to a major event such as hunting or travelling to another village. Hummingbird’s ability to hover back and forth at great speeds is believed to be a skill for guiding the people; if they fall behind Hummingbird can easily back up to keep pace.
Loon symbolizes peace, tranquillity, communication, serenity, & generosity. With a generous and giving nature, Loon features significantly in the art and mythology of Canadian First Nations Peoples. Loon is famous for its unique and often haunting voice, and is respected for its knowledge of various realms. Animals with unique vocal talents are held in high regard by Northwest Coast peoples, who traditionally perceive words, voice and song as carriers of power and magic. Loon is associated with copper and wealth. In the years of the great flood that took over our lands, a loon carried a willow branch across the water bringing hope to the nation, by telling the people the water was receding.
Butterfly symbolizes metamorphosis, balance and grace. The Butterfly has the ability to accept change, is also a messenger to our people. The Butterfly is a multicultural symbol of the beauty of nature, appearing in numerous examples of nature scenes of many artistic styles. Butterflies are included as elements of these scenes because they most effectively represent all positive characteristics of nature.
Frog symbolizes cleansing, peace and rebirth. The Frog is a sign to our people to put away the winter activities and prepare or a new season. In Northwest Aboriginal Culture, a Frog is a great communicator and often represents the common ground or voice of the people. A Frog embodies magic and good fortune connected with shaman or medicine man and with spiritual and therapeutic cleansing. Frog’s songs are believed to contain divine power and magic.
This is a broad overview of general symbolisms from many First Nations across the Pacific Northwest Coast. Each Nation has more specific beliefs and meaning for animals that relate to their history, legends, stories and family crests. For more info visit http://shop.slcc.ca/legends-symbology.
The mysterious stone figures known as Inukshuk can be found throughout the circumpolar world. Inukshuk, the singular of Inukshuk, means “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language. They are monuments made of unworked stones that are used by the Inuit for communication and survival. The traditional meaning of the inukshuk is “Someone was here” or “You are on the right path.”
The bowhead was a very important part of the Inuit way of life. Our ancestors hunted the whale with respect and no part of the whale was wasted. Here are some of the ways each of the different parts can be used:
1) Whale Oil – used to light the qulliq (oil lamp)
2) Maktak – maktak is a healing food, scraped blubber could be used as a ‘Band-Aid”
3) Whale meat – healthy food for the entire Inuit camp, including dog teams. Meat was shared
4) Whale bones – used to make qamutiit (sled) runners, tent frames, sod house frames, tools and carvings
5) Baleen Plates – very flexible; used as harpoon lines, dog boot straps, and as ties for a qajaq (kayak) or qamutiit (sled).
Source: http://www.inuitmyths.com/downloads/kaak_eng_sm.pdf, Qikiqtani Inuit Association Nunavut Bilingual Education Society
Owl and the Siksik – Qikiqtani Region, Nunavut Version
Siksik: Arctic ground squirrel
There once was an owl who hunted siksiks for his family. It had been a long time since the owl had caught a siksik. But today would be different. “Siksiks go in and out of their dens,” thought the owl. “Today I will find a siksik den and wait there until I see one.” The owl found a siksik den and sat beside it. When a siksik finally came out, the owl jumped quickly to his feet. He blocked the entrance of the den. The siksik couldn’t go back in. The siksik stood paralyzed with fear. The owl was so grateful and happy that he caught the siksik. He called out to his family:
“Two dog teams, come. I’ve caught a siksik. Come! Let us load the qamutiit with our catch!” The owl was confident and happy. Even though he had not yet killed the little ground squirrel, he again called for the dog teams to come.
“You are so excited and so happy,” said the siksik. “Why don’t you dance?”
“Yes, siksik! I am so grateful. I will finally have some meat! Yes, I will dance!” The owl danced a grateful dance.
“Ah, yes, look at the sky and dance,” said the siksik. “But spread your legs, owl. Make more room … dance faster.” The owl was so grateful. He danced faster.
The siksik sang again to the owl: “Look at the sky and dance, owl. Spread your legs. Make more room … dance faster.” The owl danced and danced. His legs spread further apart, and he danced a very happy dance. But he forgot to watch the siksik. Finally, the siksik saw his chance. He ran through the owl’s legs, and hurried into his den. Siksiks are known to chirp like a bird as they go into their den. As the owl heard this, he realized the siksik had tricked him. He said: “Iaa, crazy, two dog teams go back, go back!”
That is what happened.
Source: Qikiqtani Inuit Association Nunavut Bilingual Education Society
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