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Native American


Great Plains

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Iktomi And The Coyote








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This volume, Okaraxta covers stories originating broadly from North America’s Great Plains native communities.

There are many sources and traditions within Native American storytelling and mythologies. These tales are a selection of those told by the tribes and peoples of the Great Plains, but by no means does this book cover all aspects even within just this sub-group. It's been one of the absolute delights of the summer discovering just how deep and rich are the veins of folk and tribal lore across the Americas.

There is a deep sense of nature, of the seasons, weather, plants, animals, earth, water, fire, sky and the heavenly bodies, together with common elements such as all-embracing, universal and omniscient Great Spirit. Another characteristic of many of the myths is the close relationship between human beings and creatures of the natural world, often featuring shape-shifting between forms.

Although most Native American myths are profound and serious, some use light-hearted humour, often in the form of the hapless trickster, Iktomi, to entertain, as they subtly convey important spiritual and moral messages.

Stories from the Great Plains often feature buffalo, the animals so important in the lives of these peoples. Another common theme is the making of a journey, often to a supernatural place across the landscape or to the sky world.

The Great Plains are generally described as the expansive area of North America between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, embodying many cultures whose various rites and ceremonies emerged from a common background.

Many tribes, but not all, were semi-nomadic and depended more on buffalo hunting than on agriculture for their living. Folktales have been a part of the social and cultural life of Native American regardless of whether they were sedentary agriculturists or nomadic hunters. As they gathered around a fire at night, Native Americans could be transported to another world through the talent of a good storyteller. The effect was derived not only from the novelty of the tale itself but also from the imaginative skill of the narrator, who often added gestures and songs and occasionally adapted a particular tale to suit a certain culture.



This is an Ojibwa tale.

A little orphan boy who had no one to care for him, was once living with his uncle, who treated him very badly, making him do hard things and giving him very little to eat. The boy pined away, never grew much, and became, through hard usage, very thin and light. At last the uncle felt ashamed of this treatment, and determined to make amends for it, by fattening him up, but his real object was to kill him by over-feeding. He told his wife to give the boy plenty of bear's meat, and let him have the fat, which is thought to be the best part. They were both very assiduous in cramming him, and one day came near choking him to death, by forcing the fat down his throat.
The boy escaped and fled from the lodge. He knew not where to go, but wandered about. When night came on, he was afraid the wild beasts would eat him, so he climbed up into the forks of a high pine tree, and there he fell asleep in the branches, and had an aupoway, or ominous dream.
A person appeared to him from the upper sky, and said, "My poor little lad, I pity you. The bad treatment you have received from your uncle has led me to visit you tonight. Follow me, and step in my tracks."
Immediately the young boy’s sleep left him, and he rose up and followed his guide, mounting up higher and higher into the air, until he reached the upper sky. Here twelve arrows were put into his hands, and he was told that there were a great many manitoes in the northern sky, against whom he must go to war. He must try to waylay and shoot them.
Accordingly he went to that part of the sky, and, at long intervals, shot arrow after arrow, until he had expended eleven, but all in a vain attempt to kill the manitoes. As he shot each arrow, there was a long and solitary streak of lightning in the sky, and then all was clear again, and not a cloud or spot could be seen. The twelfth arrow he held a long time in his hands, and looked around keenly on every side to spy the manitoes he was after. But these manitoes were very cunning, and could change their form in a moment. All they feared was the boy's arrows, for these were magic arrows, which had been given to him by a good spirit, and had power to kill them, if aimed aright.
At length, the boy drew up his last arrow, settled in his aim, and let fly, as he thought, into the very heart of the chief of the Manitoes, but before the arrow reached him, the manito changed himself into a rock. Into this rock, the head of the arrow sank deep and stuck fast.
"Now your gifts are all expended," cried the enraged manito, "and I will make an example of your audacity and pride of heart, for lifting your bow against me".
So saying, he transformed the boy into the Nezhik-e-wä wä sun, or Lone Lightning, which may be observed in the northern sky, to this day.

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