Native American Legends
The story of the two brothers
A Blackfoot Legend
There were once two brothers, Nopatsis, the elder, and Akaiyan,
the younger. Nopatsis was married to a thoroughly evil woman, who
lusted for Akaiyan and wanted to see the younger brother ruined.
This shrew of a wife pestered Nopatsis day and night to send his
brother away. At the same time, she made seductive advances toward
Akaiyan. She then resorted to the most evil and wretched thing she
One day when Nopatsis returned home, he found his wife with her
clothing ripped and her hair in a mess. The wife told him that Akaiyan
had tried to "have his way" with her. Nopatsis was livid
and sickened by this report. He then resolved to do away with his
Every summer, the waterfowl molt, leaving thousands of feathers
on the surface of the lakes. The people gather the small feathers
to make fletching for their arrows. It so happened that Nopatsis
lived on the shores of such a lake, and it was only natural for
the two brothers to gather the feathers together. Nopatsis and Akaiyan
went out in a buffalo-hide boat to an island in the middle of the
lake, far from shore, where the feathers were usually quite dense.
While Akaiyan was busy gathering feathers, Nopatsis left him to
die on the island. This lake was deep, prone to sudden storms, and
the island was too far from the mainland for a person to leave without.
a boat. Thus it was pointless for Akaiyan to try swimming home.
As Akaiyan looked toward home, he saw Nopatsis jeering and uttering
curses at him. Nopatsis repeated the terrible lie that his wife
had told him, shouting it across the lake. Akaiyan cried out that
he was innocent, but it was now too late.
Deeply hurt, Akaiyan looked into the water and began to cry. He
prayed to the nature spirits to help him. He called to the Sun and
the Moon to vindicate him. Then he built himself a shelter made
of branches and a bed made of feathers. He learned how to make clothing
for himself from the skins of ducks and geese, taming some of them
and feeding them in order to have food for the winter. He lived
in this way for many months.
One day a little beaver came and invited Akaiyan to visit his family's
den. Akaiyan was by now very lonely, and gladly accepted. When he
entered the lodge, the Great Beaver, so old that his fur was white,
treated Akaiyan as an honored guest, asking how he came to be living
on the island. Akaiyan then told the story of his wicked sister-in-law.
The Great Beaver was outraged by the injustice done to Akaiyan and
vowed to do whatever he could on behalf of this innocent young man.
At the gracious invitation of the beavers, Akaiyan spent the winter
in the warmth of their lodge, learning all the medicine and magic
of the beavers.
As summer returned, the Great Beaver asked Akaiyan what gift he
would like to take with him. Akaiyan responded that he would like
to take his host's youngest son as a companion. The Great Beaver
was reluctant to grant this, as this son was his favorite. But,
at last, the Great Beaver agreed, also giving Akaiyan instructions
for building a sacred beaver lodge when he returned to his home
village on the mainland. The knowledge of the Great Beaver had such
powerful magic that Akaiyan now had supernatural powers on his side;
there was nothing more for him to fear, whether on the island or
at home on the mainland.
In several months, Nopatsis returned to the island, expecting to
find the bones of Akaiyan, who had long been given up for dead.
While Nopatsis was busy looking around, Akaiyan carried the little
beaver in his arms and then got into Nopatsis's boat, which he took
to the mainland. The roles were reversed; it was now Nopatsis who
pleaded with his brother across the water.
On his return to the mainland, Akaiyan was well received by the
people of the beaver lodge. As the Great Beaver had instructed,
Akaiyan built a sacred beaver lodge and taught the people the dances
and chants of the beavers.
After this had been accomplished, Akaiyan returned to the island
to bring the little beaver back to his family. He also found the
bones of Nopatsis and buried them. The Great Beaver was so pleased
that Akaiyan had returned his son that he gave him the sacred peace
pipe as a sign of his gratitude.
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