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Tibik-Kizis

Native American

 :: 

Great Lakes

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978-1-913500-99-3

978-1-913500-24-5

978-1-913500-68-9

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Tibik-Kizis

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This volume, Tibik-kìzis covers stories originating broadly from North America’s Great Lakes communities and what are now largely Canadian provinces.

As ever, it's been a simple but rewarding pleasure to discover 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.

While some of the classic definitions of folklore were created by Europeans such as William Thoms, who coined the term in 1846 to refer to "manners, customs [...] of the olden times", the study of folklore has grown substantially out of the European concept of folk, often understood to mean "common, uneducated people mostly in villages or rural communities". This definition, however, falls short of capturing the formal aspect of many Indigenous traditions.

Even 19th century folklorists collecting and attempting to translate Indigenous oral literature recognised the immense challenge of bridging the culture gap.

Ethnographer Horatio Hale wrote in 1874 that creation myths and myths explaining the origin of sacred ceremonies, "were, in a certain sense, articles of religion and were handed down with scrupulous exactness."

One quoted First Nation chief is reported to have said, "It is very difficult for a stranger to rightly understand the morals of [our] stories [...] And when you have learned all that language can convey, there are still a thousand images, suggestions and associations recurring to [our people], which can strike no chord in your heart. The myriad voices of nature are dumb to you, but to [us] they are full of life and power."

Among many Native cultures, "storytelling" was normally restricted to the long winter evenings. The Cree were one culture with a strict belief in this regard: "During the summer, no stories founded on fiction were ever told, the Indigenous peoples believing that if any 'fairy' tales were told during that season when they were supposed to use their time to best advantage, the narrator would have his life destroyed by the lizard, which would suck his blood."

Some broad themes can be identified in Indigenous Canadian mythology. Creation myths are among the most sacred to many Indigenous cultures. Haida myths of the Raven, a "celestial being", explain the creation of the sun. The Haida word for Raven means "the one who is going to order things", and it was Raven who established the laws of nature and was present when people were first created.

One creation myth from the North-eastern Woodlands tribes describes the creation of North America, or Turtle Island, by Muskrat and Turtle. Myths about the origins of landscape features, such as mountains and rivers, are common in several Indigenous peoples oral traditions.

Supernatural beings are prominent in many myths about the origin of places, animals, and other natural phenomena. Manabozho is the "trickster" spirit and hero of Ojibwa mythology (part of the larger body of Anishinaabe traditional beliefs). Glooscap, a giant gifted with supernatural powers, is the hero and "transformer" of the mythology of the Wabanaki peoples. Supernatural experiences by ordinary mortals are found in other myths. For example, the Chippewa have myths explaining the first corn and the first robin, triggered by a boy's vision. Some myths explain the origins of sacred rituals or objects, such as sweat lodges, wampum, and the sun dance.

A 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. Another common theme is the making of a journey, often to a supernatural place across the landscape or to the sky world.

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. As I said at the beginning of this short preface, it's been a delight to get to know these tales just a little, and I still have a long way to walk amongst the stories of so many more tribes and peoples across North America.

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