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Native American Legends

Legend of the mountain ash berries

An Ojibwa Legend

In late autumn or winter one will see an entirely different kind of tree dotted here and there among the green pines and spruce. These are Mountain Ash trees covered in a mass of brilliant red berries. The more berries on the tree, the more severe the winter will be. Why is this so? Legend relates that many years ago, even before Canada had a name, a severe and terrible winter set in. Snowdrifts formed in great heights and temperatures dropped to extraordinary degrees below zero.

While in search of food, the Indian hunters became terrified when they came upon hundreds of birds and small animals lying dead on the frozen snow banks. Immediately they banded together in great numbers and offered prayers' to the Great Manitou, as they were frightened that the same evil spirits would destroy them also.

The Great-Spirit answered them by instructing them to take one drop of blood from every dead bird and small animal and smear it on the tree that meant life and death to their people. As the Mountain Ash was the tree whence they fashioned bows and arrows, their only means of survival, they chose it and set about as Manitou had made them do. The following morning every tree they had smeared bore thousands of berries. The birds and small animals that had survived were perched on the mountain Ash branches eating the life-giving food.

The happy Indians danced late into the night, giving thanks to Manitou, who in return gave his promise that whenever a cold winter was approaching again, he would cover these trees with food.

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