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White Fur And The Sharp Tooth Clan

A legend of the Blackfoot Indians1

Part 1: A'póóhsin, the journey

When the Blackfoot with the beasts
Still could speak, those far off days,
And the elk-dogs2 were unknown
Above the lake that was their home;
The Snake Spring River3 ran soft by
Rugged banks of dense green forests
Within sight of the looming
White Backbone of the World.4
There the beavers built a dam
Wide across to touch both banks.
Many generations contributed
With their labor and with wood
To build up lodges for the camp
There at the river's bend.
White Fur, aged beaver chief,
Along the banks walked with care
To survey the construction
And make plans for his clan.
Long he stared there alone
At the land where the trees
Once had stood but not now:
They were made into the homes
Multiplying beaver lodges
Filling a once open lake.
Standing on the grassy dam
He raised his paws, gave a call,
For the elders of the pond
To assemble in his lodge.
Sweetgrass burned as they sat
Chanting to Creator Sun
Whose light solid in the smoke
Poked down in through the roof;
Mesh of earth and twigs above.
"Our sons of the Sharp Tooth clan
Have brought from the Small Paws to us
Young wives and built their own homes
On our father's shinning water.
With each summer that we grow
The tree food shrinks the more.
At the time the next ice breaks
From the slap of the sí'ksópo5
We must find us a new home:
But oh! The time it is too short!"
Man Finger,6 his fur thick and black,
As Real People's7 moccasins said,
"White Fur! The task is too great!"
And many there with him agreed.
Loud Slap spoke up from the back,
"Ay! Elders of our mighty clan!
I am young but hear my words!
I will undertake the journey
To discover our new home!"
White Fur in his heart was sad
At the risk to Loud Slap his son,
[First-born of his sits-besides wife8],
But for shame did not say "No."
"Favorite son, min-íi'pok-áa,9 hear!
A dream of power I have seen,
Gift of the Sun10 to show the way.
Down the stream passed the pines
To the north is a high ridge,
Where the goats alone can skip,
In the rocks is a hard gap
Low and sharp in the earth.
This is the danger you must pass
To reach the river stream beyond."
"Loud Slap! Beware! Our enemies
Their evil work do in the night.
By day alone follow your trail!"
So said Long Gnaw the sage beaver.
In the Flower-Blossom month11
When the moon began to fade12
Before the dawn rose in prayer
The Seven Sons13 were obscured
By the mist upon the water.
All the beavers on their lodges
Silent watched Loud Slap swim
Ripples fading on the surface
As he shrank into the distance.
He crossed the ponds, followed
The flow of the river's turning way.
Then he saw the grove of pines,
Whose fresh scent sweet tickled air,
And he knew he must here turn
North as was seen in the dream.
There a red-winged cowbird14
Swooping down from his branch
Circled over-head and asked,
"Hello, beaver, what brings you here?"
Tired, for a moment on a rock
He stopped and told to the bird
The tale that we have just heard.
He listened close and with respect
Then from his heart he said he'd help.
"Beyond this grove the space is wide
With only tall grass long for cover.
In the middle of the day now
The sun burns his hottest and
The elk alone will wander there.
Before the gap of which you speak
There are some aspen and some oak
Alone amid the rocks and grass.
I know there some Big-Snared-Ones15
Who are clever always to avoid
The foes that you distinct tribes share.
I will fly and speak to them,
Ask of them their help for you."
He thanked the bird, took a last dive,
Into the waters cold and fresh
Then waddled on the solid shore.
With his short legs the way was slow
Pushing though the clumps of grass
On the land his bulk was a drag,
That in the water kept him warm.
His fur dried in the hot red sun
Was dirty with the flaky soil.
Still he pushed his breathing hard
And his thin whiskers burned with heat.
Then he heard a rustling.
He stopped, his blood ran cold
As the deep river current.
He couldn't see above the grass
Green streaks endless, uniform
Hidden danger hiding hope.
The he saw small ahead a
Twitching snout and blinking eyes.
"Ay! Omáh-ko-káta big snarled one!"
"Cold diver,16 welcome, you are close
To the trees, the cool shelter here.
Day is fading and the moon
Is as a god to our foes!"
Never had a beaver been there
In the camp of their tribe
Covered by wood and tall grass
Where the willow shade was deepest.
He told them of the Sharp Tooth clan
And how they need a new home.
Old squirrel elders with high talk
[For they are all strong orators]
And the peace pipe with the beavers
Made a ring of peace and friendship.
But they dared not sing the song
Nor hold the dance there in the night
For that's the wolf-song time alone;
A howling ghost among the trees.
In the morning from the aspen
Loud Slap set off for the gap.
While his body craved the water
He gnawed some bark and he felt
Refreshed enough for his journey.
He thought perhaps that those rocks
In their anger at his trespass
In a place so strange for his type,
Pushed against him with his weight.
The he saw it! The Little River!17
He knew the dream was not a lie.
He snapped his tail upon the stones,
Sharp and dry the sound rang out
With his thanks to the Creator.
But his webbed feet on the rocks did
Not well hold, he slipped and rolled,
Earth and sky in a blur blended
Down into the tall green grass.
Sore and bruised, all the morning
He pushed against the green resistance
Till his nose caught the smell
Of the water, his native element.
"He-who-chews-the-bark!18 Ha! Beaver!"
The voice was as the very touch
Of Cold Maker19 ice within his muscles.
"I saw you gnawed the bark!
I know that you are here!" the
Wolverine, hard inwidic predator,
Mocked in rough tones Loud Slap.
From which direction was the voice?
He did not know but he prayed,
"O Natósi,20 pity me! Pity us our clan!
If I die alone here then what
Will become of our gens? So
Many more will suffer there I beg
Of you pity us!"trusting his faith
He ran with all his might ahead.
He heard the smashing of the grass
The crashing of the breath hard
Mixed with the low growl of hunger.
The green ended at the high bank,
The river was below gurgling.
He yelled, his legs in agony a
Heart about to burst when then
Ahead in his way black wolverine
With dripping jaws slid before
Him, but it was too late!
Speeding forward his full weight
Impacted against the tall legs:
All control of motion both lost
Tumbling from the bank they fell
Gripping wildly at the yielding air
"Óppani!" yelled Loud Slap at him
Just as they hit hard the water.
But now the danger was reversed!
Loud Slap dived and twisted rising
His frantic foe in froth churned above.
He bit the tail and pulled him back
Into the current of the stream. Swift
He poked up his head and mocked,
"Ha! Piinotóyi21 you will now pay
For all the evil you have done
And your thirst to murder me: may
The water quench that thirst forever!"
"Beaver! Pity me as the Sun did you!
Such is my nature! Such I do!"
"I will not drown you, then, but
Leave your judgment to the Under
Water People."
Twisting eddies rose around the beast
Gnarled driftwood black and bent
From the forces of the depths
Clamped onto his fur and dragged
Him until his last yelp was a
String of bubbles. Loud Slap
Floated unaware and shallow
His mind beaten by his efforts
Like the móki-máani22 by the mallet
Stone crushing cherry, meat and fat.
Past sun's zenith, on the water
He drifted on his back unmoving.
Then the touch of a small islet
Brought him back to himself.
"The Sun has shown me his favor,
I know he'll help the Sharp Tooth now!"
Chewing willows and some saplings
He was renewed for the return.
The land there was thick with trees
In the valley of the wide cool river
Where white tails played in the brush.
On his return Loud Slap twice
Prowling foes evaded in the grass;
Two coyotes passed him by.
After the gap the way was quick
Back to the ponds where his gens
For him in hope waited.

  1. Source: Blackfoot Tales of Glacier National Park, by Apikuni [James Schultz] originally published in 1916, reprinted by Western History Classics in 2002. I have not kept to all details perfectly.
  2. Ponokaomitai-kai - the Blackfoot word for horses.
  3. Piksáksin Otsiskum - The real name of the Cutbank Creek.
  4. The Blackfoot name for the Rocky Mountains.
  5. Chinook.
  6. If humans can have animal based names, it seems right to assume that some animals may have human based names.
  7. Nitsitapiisinni - the Blackfoot term for themselves, and too long for the meter!
  8. In Blackfoot polygamy the favorite wife who is exempt from the tasks of the others.
  9. The favored child.
  10. Blackfoot beliefs are monotheistic, identifying the Creator with the sun.
  11. Aapistsísskitsaato's - May.
  12. Towards the end of the month.
  13. The Big Dipper.
  14. iimáóhkominniiksiini - Blackbird.
  15. Omahkokata - Ground Squirrel.
  16. Such, I imagine, is the name squirrels would give to beavers.
  17. Kikunk Sisakta - Wrongly called by Whites the Milk River.
  18. ksísk-stakí - Beaver.
  19. The Blackfoot spirit of winter.
  20. Sun.
  21. Wolverine.
  22. Pemmican.

-© Copyright Santiago del Dardano Turann

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