The literal annihilation of North and South America’s indigenous people is something that is all too often glossed over, and you can be sure that I’ll address that in a coming post. However, since this month is National Native American Heritage Month, not “Another Example of How European Settlers came in and Shat on Other People” Month, I wanted to use this post to discuss the rich culture of this ethnic group without involving white people.
Native American nations have maintained incredibly beautiful stories by retelling them through generations. I particularly like creation stories, because they have hilarious, winding explanations that make no sense and give me artsy feels, like Wes Anderson films.
Below are some of my favorites from tribes all across North America. Per course, there will be a commentary on how absurd they are, but rest assured they are lovely nonetheless.
The One About Nocturnal Animals
In the beginning, the earth was one giant land mass floating in the ocean (they got this right). It hung from the sky by four cords (this is not right. At least, I don’t think. I haven’t actually checked).
It was completely dark, so all the animals bumped around and couldn’t get anything done. I attribute this as much to poor planning by whoever made earth as I do to the fact that animals usually don’t get much done regardless of how much light there is. Whether it’s can day or night, the most productive thing my dog ever does is try to eat her own poop.
The animals decided that things would be a lot easier if they had a light source, so they put the sun up in the sky. They placed the sun on a track running from East to West so that every day the sun would cross the sky until it fell below the horizon and there would be night again.
Why did it take them so long to figure this out? Again, animals. I have a few questions about where they got the sun, but I get the feeling that they are not going to be answered within the realm of this story.
Soon after, a God previously unmentioned up until this point told all of the animals and plants to stay awake for seven days and seven nights.
Most of them couldn’t do it, but the few that could were given special gifts for succeeding. The laurel and pine trees were allowed to keep their leaves through every season. The panther and the owl were given night vision.
After all that happened, people came into being. Don’t ask how, they just did, okay? Things were good, but they started populating like mofos and soon decided that they should limit their women’s child output to one a year (typical patriarchy).
One day when the earth becomes too old, all the creatures will die, including humans. The cords will break, and the whole mess will fall into the sea. Only water and sky will be left.
Animals put a giant fireball in the sky.
Certain animals can see at night because they won a sweepstake.
In the end, everything falls apart and we all die.
The One About the Old Man and the Big Rock
Long ago, an old man (some call him Napi) was walking on a mountain.
Napi walked a very long time. Eventually, he reached the peak, where he came upon a huge boulder. Admiring its immense size and grandness, he decided to honor it by giving it the blanket that he wore on his shoulders.
He said, “I give you this blanket to honor you. It is my gift to you and it is forever yours.”
This is strange for a number of reasons, mostly because people don’t usually talk to rocks. I did a few times, but I had put googly eyes on it and I was seven. Maybe this rock had googly eyes on it, too, but I’m not sure that makes this any less weird.
Napi started to walk back down the mountain. Soon enough, though, the air became cold and the wind whipped up. Knowing he would be chilled to the bone, he turned and walked back to the rock.
“It’s too cold for me to go on without my blanket. I must have it back,” he told the rock.
But the rock was like, “Um, wow, rude, since you gave this to me as a gift. I’m keeping it. Don’t be an Indian giver.”
Indignant, Napi snatched the blanket off the rock. “You have no use for it, you are a rock. I am taking the blanket back. Also, don’t say Indian Giver. It’s offensive [seriously. It is].” He began to descend the mountain again.
Only a few second passed before he heard an enormous rumbling. The old man turned around to see that the rock had dislodged and was rolling towards him.
He began to sprint down the slope. He made it to the base of the mountain, but the boulder still hauling ass behind him.
A crow sitting in a nearby tree noticed what was happening and took pity on the Napi. Flying to the boulder, he raised his sharp beak and cracked the boulder clean in two.
The two new rocks split into different directions and missed the man entirely. They came to a stop a few hundred feet in front of him as he sighed with relief.
To this day, there are two random giant rocks in the middle of the plains in Alberta, Canada, known as the Okatoks Erratic.
Don’t give blankets to rocks, because they will try to kill you.
Crows are way more empathetic than I originally thought.
People like to take pictures of boulders and put them on the internet because I found a LOT of images of these things.
The One About the Rainbow
Ojibwe stories often include a spirit named Wenabozho. He was the Spirit of the Western Wind and a human mother, because that seems logistically possible. Even though he’s kind of a turd, he’s the also the protagonist of all of the stories he’s in, so he’s done a few nice things.
Wenabozho lived in a house next to a waterfall and a meadow full of wildflowers. One day he looked out the window and realized that all of the flowers were white, which he found bland. He grabbed his set of paints and sat down among the flowers, beginning to paint each one with his vibrant colors.
Above him, a pair of hummingbirds played tag. Their favorite thing to do was dive down toward the meadow and shoot back up to the sky.
While trying to catch his friend, one of them accidentally dipped his wing in the pot of red paint. The other followed him, catching some orange paint on his own wing. They kept swooping downward and covered themselves with every hue imaginable.
Wenabozho swatted them away, annoyed. “I’m literally helping create the world right now, so if you could stop being assholes, that would be great.”
So the birds decided to hang out at the waterfall instead. Chasing one another again, the bird with red paint on his wing got wet from the spray.
When he flew up against the sky, he left a crimson streak. His friend did the same and left an orange and streak.
Soon, they had created an arch of all the colors, which shimmered above the falls.
Wenabozho, like most ungrateful buttheads who come around, acted as if he hadn’t totally blown off the birds before. “Look what you’ve done! It’s so beautiful. I will keep it above my house forever.”
Brother Sun saw the rainbow and was similarly pleased. Now, whenever his rays hit falling water like rain or mist, a rainbow is created. They reflect the rainbow that still shines over Wenabozho’s house.
Wenabozho is a spirit whose mom is human and dad is the wind. $5 to anyone who can come up with a creative explanation for that. Hobbies and interests include: trying to individually paint every flower in a field, yelling at birds, generally being kind of a douche.
Birds created the first rainbow by stealing someone’s paint and flying across the sky.
I’m realizing now that we give birds way too little credit.
The One About The Stars
(This is my favorite story, as told by my roommate, AJ. If you can’t tell, I added the swearing.)
There was once total peace on Earth. Animals and plants lived in harmony, respecting one another in every way.
Unfortunately, this changed one day. The plants were always pretty chill, but the animals became selfish and quarrelsome. Day in and day out, there was endless fighting both within and between the species.
Eventually, the Gods had had enough. They decided to throw a blanket of darkness over the land and all of its inhabitants.
“If you want the blanket gone so that you may see the sun again, you must figure out how to get rid of it yourselves,” they said.
Obviously, everyone freaked out. Without the sun, the plants were becoming sickly, the air was cold, and they couldn’t see a damn thing (see story #1). They were so afraid that they decided to hold a council of all the creatures to figure out what to do.
Mountain Lion offered to try to pull it down first. “I can jump from the high mountain to the North and grab the blanket with my sharp claws. Then we will be able to see.”
The animals agreed. Mountain Lion climbed to the peak, threw himself toward the sky, and reached for the blanket…
…but he couldn’t reach it. There was a sigh of disappointment. For some reason, no one was concerned about his subsequent fall down a literal mountain, but #plotholes.
Then, Eagle offered to try. “I can fly to the top of the sky from the mountain, and then maybe I can pull the blanket down with my strong beak.”
The animals were super down for this. They all agreed that Eagle should be able to do it.
So Eagle went to the mountain’s peak and prepared to lift off into the sky. He flapped his powerful wings and rocketed off into the darkness, stretching his beak out…
…and missed the blanket by a few yards.
The animals were again saddened. All the rest of the biggest and strongest animals followed Eagle, trying to reach the blanket. None of them could do it.
“F#%!” said the exasperated animals. They were reaching their wits’ end. What were they going to do if the best of the best couldn’t solve the problem?
Suddenly, a small voice said, “I think I can do it.”
It was Hummingbird, who had stayed quiet save his telltale buzzing. She flew to the front of the crowd.
The animals would have laughed if they weren’t way too tired for this crap.
“Hummingbird, you are literally such an idiot. Nobody, from Moutain Lion to Bear, could bring down the blanket. How are you supposed to offer anything?”
Hummingbird stood her ground. “Well, what if Eagle stands on Mountain Lion’s back, and I stand on Eagle’s back? We’ll all climb to the top of the mountain. Eagle will jump of Mountain Lion’s back, and I will jump off Eagle’s back. Maybe then, I can fly up and push the blanket off instead.”
The animals considered Hummingbird’s plan. With no other options left besides, like, throwing a salmon at the sky and or something, they agreed to try.
Mountain Lion, Eagle, and Hummingbird ascended the mountain.
When they got to the top, Mountain Lion made a giant leap (again, no one seemed to care very much about whether or not a giant cat would survive plummeting to the ground from a MOUNTAIN).
In mid-air, Eagle launched off Mountain Lion’s back. He was so close to the blanket he could hear it rustling in the wind. Eagle went as high as he could before Hummingbird zoomed off his back.
Hummingbird flew as hard and fast as she could towards into the darkness. When she finally reached the blanket, her beak got stuck in the fabric and ripped a tiny hole in it.
This was the first star.
She poked again and again, creating more and more holes until the sky was lit up.
The animals were amazed.
“Hummingbird! We can see. Do you think you can give us more light?”
Hummingbird tried one more time to get the blanket off. With all of her strength, she pushed up, up, up, until she ripped one giant hole right in the middle, creating what we know as the moon.
Everyone danced and cheered. With this new hole in the sky, they could at least see each other and live their lives once more.
It turns out, though, that the gods were so impressed with the animals that they decided to remove the blanket.
“You have overcome your selfishness and worked together for the betterment of everyone. For this, we will remove the blanket. However, we will replace the blanket once a day to remind you to stay grateful for each other and the Earth on which you live.”
Now we have the sun to guide us during the day, and the moon and stars to help us see at night when the blanket covers the sky.
The Gods covered the sky with a blanket of darkness because animals were greedy bastards.
When the animals worked together, they were finally able to get the daytime back, but now we have the night to remind us of why they were punished in the first place.
Birds are freaking heroes.