Manataka American Indian Council


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A Chipewyan Story

Soon After Crow-Head's birth, his father died. Crow-Head knew nothing about him. Once the other Indians were fishing, and there were several medicine men among them. It was in the evening, and the setting sun presented a bloodshot appearance.


One medicine man pointed at it and asked the boy, "Do you see that red sky? That is your father's blood."


This made Crow-head suspect that one of the medicine men had killed his father. He went home, where he was living with his grandmother, and began to cry.


"Why are you crying?," grandmother asked.


"I heard those men talking about my father," said Crow-Head.


 "There is no use crying, you will be a man some day," grandmother consoled.


The next day the people were fishing. Crow-head punched a hole in the ice and began angling with a hook. The Indians caught nothing, only Crow-head caught a large trout. He pulled out its soft parts, and hid the bones under his deerskin capote. He started towards the medicine man who had killed his father, pulled out the fish spine, and broke it over him. When the people went home that evening, they missed the medicine man. They did not know what was the matter with him. One man went out and found him lying dead by his fishing rod. This was the first time Crow-head ever killed anyone. By breaking the fish spine, he had broken that of his enemy and thus killed him.

As a grown man, a little orphan boy lived with Crow-head  and he called his grandson. He used to wear a crow-skin cape, which warned him of the approach of enemies and constituted his medicine. Two girls in the camp once made fun of his crow-skin garment.


Crow-head was displeased and said to his grandson, "We will make a birch bark canoe and leave."


In a coulee they found fine birch bark. Some Indians from the rocks on either side pelted them with snowballs.

"Some bad Indians are pelting us with snow," said the orphan.


"That's nothing," replied Crow-head.


They took the bark for the canoe and returned. In the meantime the bad Indians, who were Cree, had killed all the Chipewyan. Crow-head piled all the corpses together in a heap. He was a great medicine man. He began to make a canoe. Worms began to come to the corpses. Then he took his crow-skin, laid it on the dead bodies, and told the boy not to wake him until the next day at noon. While he was sleeping, worms crawled into his nose, ears, and mouth.

Crow-head woke up and started off in his canoe. In the Barren Grounds he made many small lodges, and with his medicine declared that all the dead should be in those lodges. He left and lay down on the worms. The people all came to life again, and nothing remained in place of their corpses save then- rotten garments.


The Cree started homewards, but Crow-head, lying on the maggots, caused them by his magic to return to the same place. The little boy cried, thinking his grandfather was dead. He pushed the old man, but Crow-head pretended to be dead. At last, the boy pulled him by his beard, then Crow-head awoke and beheld the Cree. The Cree was surprised to get back to their starting point and, seeing the two survivors, decided to kill them also. Crow-head rose, walked to the river, shaved off the bark of a rotten birch, made peep-holes in the tree, hid the boy in the hollow, and ordered him to watch.

Crow-head was a dwarf. He went to the river with the crow-skin on his back and a blanket over it, pretending to mourn his lost relatives.


The Cree, thinking he was but a child, said, "There is no use killing a child like that with a pointed arrow."


So they shot at him with blunt points, but all the arrows grazed off. Then they pulled ashore, and Crow-Head fled to the brush, pursued by the enemy. When far from the canoes, he threw off his blanket, took a deer horn which he carried for a weapon, and ran among the enemy, breaking each man's right arm and left leg.


Then they said, "This is Crow-head."


They retreated towards their canoes, but Crow-head smashed every one of them. Then he summoned his grandson from his hiding place. The Cree had spears, and Crow-head told the boy to take them and kill their enemies. The boy did as he was bidden.


The Cree said to the boy, "If it were only you, you could not do this to us." And they made a "crooked finger" at him.

Crow-head left his grandson. He was gone for many days. The boy cried, not knowing what was the matter. Up the river he heard waves beating against the bank. Going thither, he found his grandfather washing himself.


Crow-head asked the boy, "What are you crying for?"


"I thought you were lost," said the boy. 


"There is no use crying, all our people are alive again," said Crow-head.


They started to join the resuscitated Indians. They heard some one playing ball, laughing and singing. Putting ashore, they heard the noise of crying. They went into a lodge and asked what the crying was about.


"Two friends of ours are lost, they have been killed by the Cree."


Then they recognized Crow-head and his grandson.  The two girls who made fun of Crow-head's crow-skin were not restored to life by him.

Late in the fall, when the Chipewyan were going to a lake to fish and it was commencing to freeze, two boys came running and told the people that two giants taller than pine trees had killed all their friends. The Chipewyan were camping on the edge of a big lake. None of them slept that night for fear of the giants. The next morning the giants were seen approaching.


Crow-head said, "There is no use in running away, they will kill me first."

He put on his crow-skin and went towards them on the ice. The first giant wished to seize him, and with long fingers shaped like bear claws he tore Crow-head's crow feathers. The giants fought for the possession of Crow-head, each wishing to eat him up. Crow-head hit both of them with his deer horn, and killed them. He walked homeward. He was so angry that he could neither speak nor sleep. His eyes were like fire. He went to the lake and, beginning at one point, he commenced to hammer along the edge until he got back to his starting place. There he fell dead, for his heart was under the nail of his little finger and by hammering the ice he had injured it.

Taken from American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers, Volume X, pages 175-177
~Submitted by Blue Panther Keeper of Stories



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