History From America's Most Famous Valleys
The Indian In His Wigwam
Characteristics of The Red Race of America
From Original Notes and Manuscripts
By Henry R. Schoolcraft
Dewitt & Davenport
This is a lengthy book and covers many of the Red Race who
are not native to New York State. Pertinent parts of the book will be posted.
Thanks to Pamela Wozniak and David Collins for loaning this book for the purpose of using it on our website.
TRADITIONS OF THE ARCTIDES
There are some curious traditions related, by the race of people living on that part of the continent lying north and west of Athabasca lake, and the river Unjigah. Mackenzie has described that branch of them, who are called by the trivial name of Che-pe-wyans. This is an Algonquin term, meaning puckered blankets, and has reference only to the most easterly and southerly division of the race. They are but the van of an extensive race. All that gives identity to their general traditions, and distinctive character and language, relates as well to the Dogribs, the Coppermines, the Strongbows, the Ambawtawoots, the Hares, the Brush-woods, the Sursees, the Tacullies, the Nateotetains, and other tribes located north of them, extending to the Arctic Ocean, and west through the Peace river pass of the Rocky Mountains. Philology brings into one groupe all these dialects of a wide spread race, who extend from the borders of the Atnah nation on the Columbia, across the Rocky Mountains eastwardly to the Lake of the Hills and the Missinipi or Churchill river, covering many degrees of latitude and longitude. In the absence of any generic name for them, founded on language or character, I shall allude to them under the geographical phrase of ARCTIDES.
This stock of people have proceeded from the direction of the North Pacific towards the Atlantic waters, in a general eastern direction, in which respect, their history forms a striking exception to the other great stocks of the eastern part of the United States, the Canadas, and Hudson's bay, who have been in a continual progress towards the WEST and NORTHWEST, The Arctides, on the contrary, have proceeded EAST and SOUTHEAST. They may be supposed, therefore, to bring their traditions more directly from opposite portions of the continent, and from Asia, and it may be inferred, from more unmixed and primitive sources. Some of these traditions are, at least, of a curious and striking character. They believe, like the more southerly tribes, in the general tradition of a deluge, and of a paradise, or land of future bliss. They have apparently, veiled the Great Spirit, or creator of the globe, under the allegory of a gigantic bird. They believe, that there was originally nothing visible but one vast ocean. Upon this the bird descended from the sky, with a noise of his wings which produced sounds resembling thunder. The earth, as he alighted, immediately rose above the waters. This bird of creative power, then made all the classes of animals, who were made out of earth. They all had precedency to man. Man alone, the last in the series, was created from the integument of a dog. This, they believe, was their own origin, and hence, as Mackenzie tells us, they will not eat the flesh of this animal, as is done by the other tribes of the continent. To guard and protect them, he then made a magic arrow, which they were to preserve with great care, and hold sacred. But they were so thoughtless, they add, as to carry it away and lose it, upon which the great bird took his flight, and has never since, appeared. This magic arrow is doubtless to be regarded as a symbol of something else, which was very essential to their safety and happiness, Indian history is often disguised under such symbolic forms.
They have also a tradition that they originally came from a foreign country, which was inhabited by a wicked people. They had to cross a great lake, or water, which was shallow, narrow, and full of islands. Their track lay also through snow and ice, and they suffered miserably from cold. They first landed at the mouth of the Coppermine river. The earth thereabouts was then strewed with metallic copper, which has since disappeared.
They believe that, in ancient times, men lived till their feet were worn out with walking, and their throats with eating. They represent their ancestors as living to very great ages. They describe a deluge, in which the waters spread over the whole earth, except the highest mountains, on which their progenitors were saved.
Their notions of a future state coincide generally with the other stocks. But their paradise is clothed with more imaginative traits. They believe, that at death they pass immediately to another world, where there is a large river of water to cross. They must embark in a stone canoe, and are borne along into a wide lake, which has an island in its centre. This is the island of the blest, and the object of the disembodied soul is to reach it. If their lives have been good, they will be fortunate, and make it. If bad, they will sink ; but they will only sink to the depth of their chins, so that they may be permitted to behold the happy land, and strive in vain to reach it. Eternity is passed in this vain endeavour.
They have also some notion of the doctrine of transmigration. Such are the traditionary notions of this numerous family of the Red Race, which are sufficiently distinctive and peculiar,-and while they resemble in many traits, yet in others they contradistinguish them from the great Algic race of the eastern part of the continent. The most advanced branch of these tribes in their geograghical position, call themselves, as reported, by Capt. Franklin, People of the Rising Sun, or Saw-eesaw-dinneh,
It seems singular, that the farther north we go, the greater evidences do we behold of imagination, in the aboriginal race, together with some foreshadowings of future punishment.
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