Manataka American Indian Council


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Deeds and Prophecies of Old Man

Blackfoot Legend

Old Man came from the south, traveling north. As he moved along he made the mountains, plains, timber and brush, putting rivers here and there, fixing up the world as we see it today. Old Man covered the plains with grass for the animals to feed upon. He marked off certain pieces of ground, and made all kinds of roots and berries grow in the earth--wild carrots, wild turnips, service berries, bull berries, cherries, plums and rosebuds. He put trees in the ground.

After Old Man made the Porcupine Hills, he took some mud and shaped it into human forms. He blew breath upon them and they became people. He made men and women, and named them Siksika, or Blackfeet. They asked him: "What are we to eat?" He replied by making more images of clay in the forms of buffalo. Then he blew breath on these and they stood up, and when he made signs to them, they started to run. "These are your food," Old Man said to the Siksika.

After he had made the buffalo, Old Man went out on the plains and made the big horn, a sheep with a big head and horns. Because it was awkward and could not move fast, the big horn did not travel easily on the level prairies. And so Old Man took it by one of its horns and led it up into the mountains and turned it loose. There it skipped about among the rocks and went up high places with ease. "This is the place that suits you," Old Man said. "This is what you are fitted for, the rocks and the mountains."

While he was in the mountains, Old Man made the antelope and turned it loose, but the antelope ran so fast that it fell over some steep rocks and hurt itself. He saw that this would not do, so he carried the antelope down on to the plains where he turned it loose. It ran away swiftly and gracefully, and Old Man said: "This is what you are suited for."

One day Old Man decided to make a woman and a child. He went to a river-bank, took some wet clay, and molded it into human shapes. Then he covered them up with straw. The next morning he took the covering off and told the images to rise and walk, and they did so, following him down to the river. "I am Napi," he told them. "Old Man, the maker of all things."

As they were standing by the river, the woman said to him: "How is it? Will we always live? Will there be no end to it?"

"I have never thought of that," Old Man replied. "We will have to decide it." He picked up a buffalo chip and threw it in the river. "If the buffalo chip floats," he said, "when people die, they will come back to life again after four days. But if it sinks, when they die that will be an end to them." When he threw the chip in the river, it floated.

The woman did not like the thought of dying, even for only four days. "No, we should not decide it that way," she said. She picked up a stone. "If the stone floats, we will always live," she said. "If it sinks, people will die forever." She threw the stone into the river and it sank to the bottom.

"There," said the woman. "Perhaps it is better for people to die forever. Otherwise they would never feel sorry for each other and there would be no sympathy in the world."

"Well," said Old Man. "You have chosen. Let it be that way. Let that be the law."

Not long afterwards, the woman's child died, and she went to Old Man, pleading with him to change the law about people dying. "You first said that people who die will come back after four days," she said. "Let that be the law."

"Not so," Old Man replied. "What is made law must be law. We will undo nothing that we have done. The child is dead, and it cannot be changed. People will have to die."

About this time many of the Siksika people that Old Man had made came to him with complaints that they did not know how to hunt the buffalo and obtain meat. Instead, the buffalo were hunting them, they said, running after them and killing some people.

"I will make you a weapon that will kill these animals," Old Man promised. He went out and cut some service berry shoots and brought them in and peeled the bark off them. He then caught a bird and took some feathers from its wing. After tying these feathers to one of the service berry shoots, he broke a black flint stone into pieces and fastened a sharp flint point to one of the shoot ends and named it an arrow. Then he took a large piece of wood, shaped it, strung it, and named it a bow.

While the people watched, he showed them how to use bows and arrows. "Next time you hunt buffalo," he said, "take these things with you and use them as I have instructed you. Do not run from the buffalo. When they run at you, wait until they are close enough and shoot them with arrows."

After the people had learned to kill buffalo, Old Man showed them how to take the skins from them to make robes. He showed them how to set up poles and fasten the skins on them to make teepees to sleep under.

One day Old Man told the Siksika that it was time for him to move on north to make more land and more people. "I have marked off this land for you," he said. "The Porcupine Hills, Cypress Mountains, and Little Rocky Mountains, down to the mouth of the Yellowstone on the Missouri, and then toward the setting sun to the head of the Yellowstone and the tops of the Rocky Mountains. There is your land, and it is full of all kinds of animals, and many things grow in this land. Let no other people come into this land, or trouble will come to you. This land is for the five tribes, the Blackfeet, Bloods, Piegans, Gros Ventres and Sarcees. If other people try to cross the line, take your bows and arrows and give them battle and keep them out. If you let them come and make camp, you will lose everything."

For many moons the five tribes gave battle to all other people who tried to cross the line made by Old Man, and kept them out. But after a while some bearded men with light skins came, bringing presents. They said they wanted to stay only a little while to trap animals for their furs. The five tribes let them make camp, and as Old Man had prophesied, the tribes soon lost everything.

Submitted by Blue Panther Keeper of Stories