In 1902 Franz Boas, curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History, sent Clark Wissler to pursue fieldwork among Plains peoples. Wissler (1870-1947) collected stories, myths, and legends in Montana and Canada through interviews with the Peigans, Kainah (Blood) and Siksika (northern Niisitapiikwan), also known as the Blackfoot confederacy. Many of the stories in Wissler’s 1908 publication were translated by David Charles Duvall, also named Tanatski (Pretty Face) (1877-1911). Duvall was the son of a French Canadian named Charles Duvall and a Blackfoot mother, named Yellow Bird. Because Duvall spoke Blackfoot, he would do the interviews, and then would send the stories to Wissler (Wissler and Duvall 1995 (reprinted): vi-ix).
Crow Indian Water Medicine
Once a Crow Indian had a son killed in war. He was in mourning; so he took his lodge into the mountains and camped there that he might have dreams in which power would be given him to revenge the death of his son. He slept in the mountains ten nights. At last as he was sleeping, he had a dream, and in this dream he heard drumming and singing. Then a man appeared and said, “Come over here: there is dancing.” So he followed the man. They came to a lodge in which there were many old men and women. There were eight men with drums. He also saw weasel skins, skins of the mink and otter, a whistle, a smudge-stick, some wild turnip for the smudge, and some berry-soup in a kettle. One old woman had an otter skin with a weasel-skin around it like a belt. So the man stayed there, learned the songs which these people sang, and when he came back to his people he started the Crow-water-medicine. Since that time he has had other dreams: and the skins of the beaver, the muskrat, all kinds of birds, etc., with many songs for each, have been added. This medicine has great power. If any one wishes a horse, he calls in some of the Crow-water-medicine people. Then they pray, sing, and dance (Wissler and Duvall 1995 (reprinted): 80).
Water medicine is very powerful not only in treating the sick but because water is vital in the prairies. Ceremonies like the Thirst, also referred to as the Sun Dance, revolve around honouring and requesting water.
In the far north of Canada, many months are very cold and it is difficult to find sufficient food to survive. Peoples such as the Dene found that persons who receive special songs and use drums could help find food and unify the community. For this to take place, every person must listen carefully to the song, usually accompanied by one or more hand-held frame drums. The power that results is described in the book Denendeh: A Dene Celebration ( 1984: 13-14), prepared by The Dene Nation.