The Strawberry Teaching

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


 

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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.” 

 


PrintA 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.

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Mosquito Story

Though this blog is about nutrition education in Wisconsin Tribal communities, this story about the origins of momosquitosquitoes has a nutrition link:  the mosquitoes are well nourished this year!

Enjoy this story of the mosquito as told by Red Cliff descendant, Ida Nemec.  Please feel free to leave any other legends of the mosquito that you may have heard in the comments.  Miigwetch!


Long ago in the land of the Ojibwe, everything was good. Summer brought miini-giizis, the Blueberry Moon. The people offered prayers of thanksgiving to Gitchi Manito, the Great Spirit.

Then something strange happened. One of the hunters did not return after spending the day in the forest.  Someone said, “Don’t worry; he is probably on the track of a rabbit or deer. He will return in the morning. But he never returned.  Then a woman went to the creek for water and never returned.  Later that day a grandmother went in the forest for wood, and she never returned.

The “white hairs”, elders gathered in one place. As, they talked of the disappearances in their village, a “white hair” named Waboose remembered a story he heard long ago when he was very small. The people had disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again, and suddenly he knew.  The Windigo had returned and was in the forest eating the people.

The Windigo is a terrible giant of the forest.  His ways are very strange.  You might be out in the forest sitting down or gathering firewood and you hear:  T-R-R-R-O-M-P  T-R-R-R-0-M-P  T-R-R-R-O-M-P, the great heavy footsteps of the Windigo.  You might turn around quickly or you might turn around very slowly, but you will never see the Windigo.  He has the power to turn himself into anything he wants; a boulder, a birch tree, or an old stump. You never know where the Windigo is until he has you and then it is too late!

That evening the People held a council meeting to decide what to do about the terrible Windigo. They decided they had to trap him, so they went deep into the forest and dug a deep pit.  They put venison in the bottom of the pit and covered it with birch bark, logs and sticks so the Windigo could not tell it was there.

Everyone hid in the forest behind trees and bushes and waited for the Windigo to come.  Deep in the middle of the night when it was very dark, they heard a sound.          T-R-R-R-0-M-P       T-R-R-R-O-M-P           T-R-R-R-O-M-P.  Then another sound.   SNIFF     SNIFF   SNIFF.  He was smelling the venison.  Or…. was he smelling the people?

Suddenly there was a great  C-R-R-R-A-S-H and they knew they had caught the Windigo.  Quickly the people ran to the edge of the pit and threw in glowing embers from their council fire.  Soon a great fire was roaring in the bottom of the pit.  The people were frightened and ran back to their hiding places.   When it was quiet they crept back to the edge of the trap.  There in the bottom of the fiery pit was the Windigo. And he was furious!   “I’ll get you for this” he roared.  I’ll come back again and again and again – and I’ll eat you and you and you and your children and their grandchildren forever and ever.  Terrified the people fled. This time they waited a long, long time and until there was no sound from the pit. When they returned all that was left of the terrible Windigo was a pile of ashes.   “Gather the ashes” said Waboose.  So they gathered the ashes and took them to the top of a high hill and threw them high up into the air, scattering ashes all over the North Woods. The WIndigo was no more. Gone to the Land of the Shadows.

481522799In fact, the people had almost forgotten about the terrible Windigo. Then one summer day Waboose and his grandchildren were sitting by a lake, fishing. ‘Aaaaa!” shouted Little Brother, suddenly and struck his arm.  “Oh!” cried his granddaughter and slapped the back of her hand.  “Aiee!” they both shouted as they swatted themselves here and there.

Waboose looked closely and he noticed something strange. Though there was no fire anywhere nearby, little ashes seemed to be floating in the air.  The ashes gathered in a cloud around the three friends. They were landing on his skin and BITING him! They left little bumps that itched and itched.  “It is the Windigo!  He has come back”

“Yes, my granddaughter, I’m afraid he is back and he will be coming back every summer from now on eating all of us, just as he said he would”.