This strawberry teaching is an excerpt from a transcript as shared by Ojibwe/Powawatomi Elder, Lilian Pitawanakwat. To read the full transcript, please visit: http://www.fourdirectionsteachings.com/transcripts/ojibwe.html
Lillian Pitawanakwat, Ojibwe/Powawatomi Elder
“The strawberry teaching is a story of forgiveness and peace. The strawberry is shaped like a heart and strawberries are known to our people as heart berries. We were taught stories like these from a very early age. In the strawberry teaching we learn something about death and about the power of change and healing and that finding peace doesn’t necessarily come from the head – it comes from the heart.”
A long time ago, there was a family that chose to no longer live in their village because of community feuding and ill will. This young family took their two little boys and said, “Let us go back into the forest, and we’ll let the trees nurture our children; we’ll let the birds sing songs to remind them of their own songs. And we’ll let the animals become their friends.” And so they packed up their little boys and went deep into the forest.
The father offered his tobacco, and asked the tree nation to give him a home. He was granted that gift and so he cut down the trees. He made a home for his family and they moved in. The boys grew tall and strong, and yet year after year they continued to play fight and wrestle. Finally when they were in their teens, their mother said to them, “It’s time for you to give up your childish ways.” And they said, “Okay mom, we won’t wrestle anymore.” But as soon as they were out of earshot from their mother, they said, “Let’s go deeper into the forest and we’ll build a wrestling ring for ourselves, so we can go out there any time we feel like it.” And so they did. They cleared some land and went there secretly, without their mother’s knowledge.
And then one fateful day the time came when the boys were wrestling and the older brother knocked his younger brother to the ground, where he hit his head on a rock and died instantly. The oldest brother was beside himself. He said, “Please, please wake up…… Mom and dad are going to kill me. Please, please answer me.” The only answer was silence. He cried and begged his brother: “Please, please.” Finally after a couple of hours, a voice told him: “Bury your brother.” And so he dug into the ground and put his brother there. He covered him up and ran home.
Out of breath, he ran to his parents: “Mom, Dad I’ve lost my brother in the forest – I can’t find him.” And, so the parents went out with him and they looked. They couldn’t find him anywhere. The father said, “I will go into the community, and seek out our relatives to come and help us form a search party so we can find him.” So they searched for ten days, and ten nights, and then they went into mourning after they couldn’t find their son.
But every day the brother would go to his little brother’s grave, and he would say, “Please, please tell me that you’re okay! Please!” And he would cry as he walked away, because he had no answer. And years went by. He carried this sadness into manhood because only he knew where his brother’s body lay.
After many years and visits to his grave, the elder brother saw a tiny plant. He watched it grow into a strawberry vine on top of his brother’s grave. Each day he watched the leaves grow and the berries come into fruition.
White heart-shaped berries appeared first. Then, over days, they transformed into big red delicious berries, luscious and sweet. As he contemplated them, a voice from inside him said, “Take a berry and eat it.” So he picked a berry and put it in his mouth.
As he ate it, he became aware, for the first time in his life, that he could taste the sweetness of life again. No more did he blame himself for his brother’s death, and no more did he blame his brother for not answering him. He no more blamed his parents for their strict upbringing. And, most of all, he no more blamed the Creator for taking his brother’s life. He was free. After all of the long years, he was finally free.