I only wish I could speak with the graciousness and eloquence of the Siksika elder, Clement Bear Chief. (Thanks Mom!) I feel great shame I didn’t write down his name so I could give him proper credit. If you know it, please write a comment, I want to fix that.
Please, before reading this take a look at Alan Dyer’s gorgeous photo from the evening to set your mind in the feel of the story.
The elders of the world carry the wisdom of a lifetime of experience. I often think that it is the great generation that is passing before us. A generation that should be lost and unrecoverable to us. But as the elders pass they are replaced by those who take up the mantle and carry the wisdom anew. It is our responsibility to listen, to hear their strength and wisdom, and to pass it along to ourselves and our children.
It’s also a shame that the Siksika’s rich heritage and stories could pass from us as well. I am a white man. However I very much felt welcomed amongst some wonderful people last Saturday as they shared their skies with me and my kids.
I took notes as quickly as I could, but they pale with regards to the stories that were told. I could go back a hundred times and sit in absolute wonder over and over again. Mistakes are my own and I wish most to share just a fraction of the magic of last Saturday night. For one night, I felt the Great Maker included me with his peoples and the stories are true for my family as well. I truly mean no disrespect or to cause offense, I hope it to be a statement of the welcoming I felt.
The elder started with the firm belief that we came from the stars, and we will go back to the stars in return. If the white man had only listened when they arrived, they would understand that the Siksika knew about the skies from the legends they told.
The legends are from below, upon and above the earth. Each legend is intertwined; as one story concludes, it is the point upon another story begins, and the legends meet and relate to each other. The elder said he could talk all night relating the legends, of that I have no doubt whatsoever. He mentioned the legends give peace and relaxation, and many people fall asleep while listening to them. I dearly hope to experience that.
One of the first tales he related is most important to what I relate here:
A man climbs up a mountain and once he reaches high upon the slopes he sees a most beautiful tree, perfect in size and shape. The man is amazed by it’s beauty and wishes to share it with his friends and family. But he knows that not everyone will be able to climb the mountain and see it with him, so the man decides to chop down the tree in order to share it with others. When the tree reaches the bottom of the mountain, the results are predictable and the people do not see the tree in it’s beauty.
The Creator had finished creating all of creation, the plants and the animals, the world in which we live. He sent down his people and he worried about how to feed, clothe and to shelter his people.
The mouse came forward and offered itself to the Creator to feed his people. But the Creator knew the mouse was much too small. It would take far too many to make shelter for the people. Badger, wolf and bear all came forward, but each was not enough to care for the people.
One of the creatures turned and saw a tornado approaching. The earth trembled and all of creation became afraid. However it was not not a tornado at all, it was the dust from a giant bull, at the head of the buffalo. The giant bull did not stop or even slow as it approached the gathering. The crowd of animals parted in order to let the herd pass, fearing that the giant bull was disrespecting the Creator. Instead, the bull stopped nose to nose with the Creator, and he volunteered his people to feed, clothe and give shelter to the people. The Creator agreed, because he saw the buffalo were numerous and large enough to provide for his people’s needs.
After this, the buffalo came down in the evening, night after night. Behind them they left the Buffalo Path - the Milky Way - as a memorial for the protection and care the buffalo provided to the Creator’s people.
The buffalo were protectors in many ways for the Siksika. They provided food and shelter. They stood between the people and the soldiers that came to bring them harm. They are an important creation.
The stories point to where we came from. They are a clue as to who we are, and what we are doing. Where we will go. The designs on the Siksika tipi always have stars. The Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Orion, the cluster of stars (Pleiades?) where Spider-man lowered the women to the sun dancers.
The elder said it was through the listening of the stories that he met and understood the people in the stories.
My personal thanks, I dearly hope I can listen again soon and meet them myself and understand them better.