Native American Legends
Origin of our Tribal Flower - The Trailing Arbutus
An Ottawa Legend
Many, many moons ago, there lived an old man alone in his lodge
beside a stream in the thick woods. He was heavily clad in furs;
for it was winter, and all the world was covered with snow and ice.
The winds swept through the woods; searching every bush and tree
for birds to chill, and chasing evil spirits over high hills, through
tangled swamps, and valleys deep. The old man went about, and peered
vainly in the deep snow for pieces of wood to sustain the fire in
Sitting down by the last dying embers, he cried to Kigi Manito
Waw-kwi (the God of Heaven) that he might not perish. The winds
howled, and blew aside the door of his lodge, when in came a most
beautiful maiden. Her cheeks were like red roses; her eyes were
large, and glowed like the fawn's in the moonlight; her hair was
long and black as the raven's plumes, and touched the ground as
she walked; her hands were covered with willow-buds; on her head
were wreaths of wild flowers; her clothing was sweet grass and ferns;
her moccasins were fair white lilies; and, when she breathed, the
air of the lodge became warm and fragrant.
The old man said, "My daughter, I am indeed glad to see you.
My lodge is cold and cheerless; yet it will shield you from the
tempest. But tell me who you are, that you should come to my lodge
in such strange clothing. Come, sit down here, and tell me of your
country and your victories, and I will tell you of my exploits.
For I am Manito."
He then filled two pipes with tobacco, that they might smoke together
as they talked. When the smoke had warmed the old man's tongue,
again he said, "I am Manito. I blow my breath, and the lakes
and streams become flint." The maiden answered, "I breathe,
and flowers spring up on all the plains."
The old man replied, "I breathe, and the snow covers all the
earth." "I shake my tresses," returned the maiden,
"and warm rains fall from the clouds."
"When I walk about," answered the old man, "leaves
wither and fall from the trees. At my command the animals hide themselves
in the ground, and the fowls forsake the waters and fly away. Again
I say, 'I am Manito.'"
The maiden made answer: "When I walk about, the plants lift
up their heads, and the naked trees robe themselves in living green;
the birds come back; and all who see me sing for joy. Music is everywhere."
As they talked the air became warmer and more fragrant in the lodge;
and the old man's head drooped upon his breast, and he slept. Then
the sun came back, and the bluebirds came to the top of the lodge
and sang, "We are thirsty. We are thirsty."
And Sebin (the river) replied, "I am free. Come, come and
drink." And while the old man was sleeping, the maiden passed
her hand over his head; and he began to grow small. Streams of water
poured out of his mouth; very soon he became a small mass upon the
ground; and his clothing turned to withered leaves.
Then the maiden kneeled upon the ground, took from her bosom the
most precious pink and white flowers, and, hiding them under the
faded leaves, and breathing upon them, said: "I give you all
my virtues, and all the sweetness of my breath; and all who would
pick thee shall do so on bended knees."
Then the maiden moved away through the woods and over the plains;
all the birds sang to her; and wherever she stepped, and nowhere
else, grows our tribal flower - the trailing arbutus.
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