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Native American Legends

How people learned to fish

A White River Lakota Legend

Mahto was a very small bear when he came into this world. He was born in a cave deep within the earth and was not big enough to harm anybody. His mother called him Mahtociqala in the language of the people.

When his mother awoke from her long sleep, she took Small Bear out into the bright sunshine of spring."What are these creatures flying high above my head?" asked Small Bear. "Wambli," his mother replied in her low gruff voice. "It is from Eagle that we learn to live our life in dignity. " "Eagle's eyes are keener than our own, so we always listen to warnings he sends from above."

Small Bear's mother led him across the sweet-smelling meadow to the edge of a river where she would teach him to drink. He put his nose into the cold, clear water and took a taste. The shock of the rushing water made him instantly alert and watchful. Many years later, when he had grown into his warrior name, Mahto would remember his first drink. Whenever he needed clarity of thought or alertness for hunting, he would plunge himself into the river to prepare himself for the task.

Mahto remembered his early days with fondness, for his mother was a great teacher. She always protected him and gave him guidance for living the fullness of life.

She taught him how to hunt for grubs inside the rotting trunks of fallen fir trees. She taught him which flowers and grasses were sweetest, which roots would make him strong, and which berries would fill out his flesh for his first long winter's sleep.

And she taught him how to catch the red fish as they came crashing up against him in the slippery river. Mahto's mother showed him a special place between two craggy rocks where he could lodge himself.

"Wait quietly and with patience in this place," she said, "and the great red flashing, thrashing things will jump right into your mouth."

And so it was that the people learned to fish......by watching Mahto and his mother. From that time forth, Mahto and the people never went hungry, as long as he and his brothers could be seen fishing in the river. And the people sang praises and danced for the gift of Mahto and his Mother.

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