Stories are the cultural and historic wealth of our people. Archaeologists can dig into the Earth to tell us about ancient artefacts and structures of the past. But, as Ruth Whitehead explains, “Only in their stories do we hear the People themselves speaking about their world . . .”(Whitehead 1988:2).
Every First Nation has its own myths, legends, stories and songs that reflect the unique geography, history and experiences of its people. No one knows where our myths and legends originated, but many Indigenous persons believe that they came from the Creator, from animal spirits, or from our ancestors. Other beliefs are that the land gave birth to stories, that each rock, tree, hill, flower carries memories of growth and changes.
Myths are central stories from which we braid other stories, like legends of tricksters, small people, talking animals working with the help of water, or rocks. Michael William Francis, a Mi’kmaq elder and storyteller explained the difference between myths, legends, and stories like this. Myths are the original stories, the sacred tales that tell how things came to be in the first place. Legends pick up where myths leave off. They describe cultural heroes like Kluskap (Mi’kmaq), or Nanaboozhoo (Ojibwe) who helped to make the world a more liveable place. Stories, on the other hand, tell of historical events and personal experiences. While the content of myths and legends remains essentially the same over time, storytellers may take more liberties with stories (Franziska von Rosen, personal communication, 2005).
In the Nehiyaw (Cree) culture and language there are three types of stories: acimowin is a tale of everyday experience and people usually share this type when asked how their day was; atayohkewin is a myth that has been passed down through generations; and mamahtawacimowin is a tale of miracles or incredible experiences that usually happen in spiritual journeys.
Note, when reading these stories, we must understand that many indigenous languages in Canada are based on animate and inanimate ways of thinking and speaking. In others words, all creation is either alive or not alive. Everything has a spirit (animate) or no spirit (inanimate), but each has a purpose, a gift that contributes to the well being of the living community. Although there are many diverse languages and peoples they all share a common belief that “we are all related.” All life forms were created equal. As you will see in the following stories, animals and birds speak, sing, teach, and communicate with people and each other.