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The Legend of the Snowbirds

An Ojibwa Legend

Many years ago, there lived in the Ojibway encampment at the mouth of the Kaministiqua River, a beautiful young Indian maiden, beloved by all, and talented in the art of handicrafts. Many beautiful gifts were fashioned by the clever fingers of White Dove. White Dove made some lovely gifts of silver, found that summer on a trip to Silver Island. Two days before the great Indian feast of Thanksgiving, White Dove and her lover, Nanokarsi, set out to take the ornaments of silver to White Dove's grandmother, who lived a day's journey away in the foothills of the "Nor-Westers" mountain range. Taking only a light lunch for their midday meal, the young couple bid their families goodbye, promising to return in time for the great feast.

Shortly after they had finished their noon lunch, they were unpleasantly surprised by a chilling gust of wind. Immediately Nanokarsi climbed to the top of a giant pine tree and looking north saw billows of black, ominous clouds. Fearful of the storm, he urged White Dove to run as fast as her legs could carry her but they had gone only a short distance, when the storm burst upon them in all its fury!

The wind howled about them, whipping the heavy snow into enormous drifts and blinding their vision. They wandered hopelessly until nightfall. Then cold, exhausted and hungry, they laid down in the shelter of a large rock, embracing each other to share their body warmth.

The Thanksgiving Feast was at its height when the old Chief, Running Deer, solemnly announced the two had not returned and that he feared they were lost in the storm.

All the braves volunteered to go in search of them. After four days the searchers came upon the couple, still embraced, but sleeping the Great Sleep, from which there is no awakening! The braves knelt beside them and called upon Nanna Bijou, their Spirit God, to breathe new life in their bodies.

The Great Spirit told them he could not bring them back as they were now in the home of the Great Manitou, neither could he forbid the Snow Spirit to come again. Nanna Bijou did, however, promise he would give them a sign that would forever warn them of the Snow Spirit approaching and, if heeded, would bring them no harm. As the braves watched, they were amazed to see the bodies of White Dove and Nanokarsi slowly disappear into the snow and, there where they had lain, appeared two pretty little soft gray birds with striped heads!

As they flew into the air, they darted from left to right, making the snowy plumage of their breasts and under their wings and tail quite visible to the on-looker.

Where these birds come from, or where they go, no-one knows, but when you see them swirling and darting around in large flocks, take heed, for as surely as night follows day, snow is not very far away!

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