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Beaver Medicine

A Blackfoot Legend

Two brothers lived together in the old time. The elder, who was named Nopatsis, was married to a woman who was evil, and who hated his younger brother, Akaiyan. Daily the wife pestered her husband to be rid of Akaiyan, but he would not agree to part with his only brother, for they had been together through long years of privation, indeed, since their parents had left them together as little helpless orphans, and they were all in all to each other. So the wife of Nopatsis had to resort to a ruse well known to women whose hearts are evil. One day when her husband returned from the chase he found her lamenting with torn clothes and disordered appearance. She told him that Akaiyan had treated her brutally. The lie entered into the heart of Nopatsis and made it heavy, so that in time he conceived a hatred of his innocent brother, and debated with himself how he should rid himself of Akaiyan.

Summer arrived, and with it the molting season when the wild water-fowl shed their feathers, with which the Indians fletch their arrows. Near Nopatsis's lodge there was a great lake, to which these birds came in large numbers, and to this place the brothers went to collect feathers with which to plume their darts. They built a raft to enable them to reach an island in the middle of the lake, making it of logs bound securely with buffalo-hide.

Shoving off, they sailed to the little island, along the shores of which they walked, looking for suitable feathers. They parted in the search, and after some time Akaiyan, who had wandered far along the beach, suddenly looked up to see his brother on the raft sailing toward the mainland. He called loudly to him to return, but Nopatsis replied that he deserved to perish there because of the brutal manner in which he had treated his sister-in-law.

Akaiyan solemnly swore that he had not injured her in any way, but Nopatsis only jeered at him, and rowed away. Soon he was lost to sight, and Akaiyan sat down and wept bitterly. He prayed earnestly to the nature spirits and to the sun and moon, after which he felt greatly uplifted. Then he improvised a shelter of branches, and made a bed of feathers of the most comfortable description. He lived well on the ducks and geese which frequented the island, and made a warm robe against the winter season from their skins. He was careful also to preserve many of the tame birdsfor his winter food.

One day he encountered the lodge of a beaver, and while he looked at it curiously he became aware of the presence of a little beaver. "My father desires that you enter his dwelling," said the animal. So Akaiyan accepted the invitation and entered the lodge, where the Great Beaver, attended by his wife and family, received him. He was, indeed, the chief of all the beavers, and white with the snows of countless winters. Akaiyan told the Beaver how cruelly he had been treated, and the wise animal consoled him, and invited him to spend the winter in his lodge, where he would learn many wonderful and useful things. Akaiyan gratefully accepted the invitation, and when the beavers closed up their lodge for the winter he remained with them. They kept him warm by placing their thick, soft tails on his body, and taught him the secret of the healing art, the use of tobacco, and various ceremonial dances, songs, and prayers belonging to the great mystery of 'medicine'.

The summer returned, and on parting, the Beaver asked Akaiyan to choose a gift. He chose the Beaver's youngest child, with whom he had contracted a strong friendship; but the father prized his little one greatly, and would not at first permit him to go. At length, however, Great Beaver gave way to Akaiyan's entreaties and allowed him to take Little Beaver with him, counseling him to construct a sacred Beaver Bundle when he arrived at his native village.

In due time Nopatsis came to the island on his raft, and, making sure that his brother was dead, began to search for his remains. But while he searched, Akaiyan caught up Little Beaver in his arms and, shoving off on the raft, made for the mainland, spotted by Nopatsis. When Akaiyan arrived at his native village he told his story to the chief, gathered a Beaver Bundle, and commenced to teach the people the mystery of 'medicine', with its accompanying songs and dances. Then he invited the chiefs of the animal tribes to contribute their knowledge to the Beaver Medicine, which many of them did. Having accomplished his task of instruction, which occupied him all the winter, Akaiyan returned to the island with Little Beaver, who had been of immense service to him in teaching the people the 'medicine' songs and dances.

He returned Little Beaver to his parents, and received in exchange for him a pipe, being also instructed in its accompanying songs and ceremonial dances. On the island he found the bones of his vengeful brother, who had met with the fate he had intended for the innocent Akaiyan. Every spring, Akaiyan visited the beavers, and as regularly he received something to add to the Beaver Medicine Bundle, until it reached the great size it now has. And he married and founded a race of medicine-men who have handed down the traditions and ceremonies of the Beaver Medicine to the present day.

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