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for a very long time. The moccasins were
always finished with a partially softened
parchment sole, which added months to
their wearing qualities.

Such an encampment amid beautiful
scenery, astir with prosperous and con
tented Indians, must have been a rfiost
striking illustration of the Indians own


idea of the wonderful love and care be
stowed upon them by the Great Spirit. It
is no wonder that they believed so fully in
His care and keeping.

There are quite a number of Indians still
living in our Western Provinces who re
member the time when they enjoyed just
such an existence, and whose recollections
are most interesting.

The young children played their games
amidst these lovely scenes; the little babes,
tied up in the mossbag or Indian cradle,
awoke from their slumbers and looked
upon the joyous and happy lives of their
brothers and sisters, and grew up to ap
preciate everything which made life so
pleasant an existence for their tribe. From
the first they were taught how much they
owed to the Great Spirit for all His bless
ings. They wanted for nothing. If there
were times when the game was scarce and
food insufficient they willingly endured
privations, never murmuring; satisfied to
hunt patiently until the Great Spirit again
sent the buffalo and deer to appease their



They had many trials and difficulties in
their travels, but these they made light of,
and did their best to make themselves com
fortable, no matter what might betide.

Perhaps they found nothing so hard in
their life of travel from place to place as
the making of fire. When camping for any
length of time in a certain spot, one or two
fires were kept constantly alight. In the
first place they started the fire by friction.
Some Indians, however, were in possession
of flint stones. By holding one small flint
firmly in each hand between the fingers and
thumb, and against the stone in the left
hand holding a small piece of punk or
touchwood (a soft white or yellow sub
stance into which wood is converted by the
action of certain fungi, as Polyporus
igniarius), and by striking these with the
piece of flint held in the right hand a spark
would be kindled which would cause the
touchwood to catch fire and burn. With
this and some dry sticks they would soon
start a blaze. If they had no flint stones
they had to resort to a much more difficult
and tedious way of lighting their fires.


This was done by means of a hardwood
stick, hollowed out a few inches deep
at one end, the other end being firmly
planted in the ground. In this hollow cup
the Indian would place a small quantity of
powdered dry grass or touchwood; then
with another and much smaller hardwood
stick, held between the palms of his hands,
he would by rotating it create a sufficiently
high temperature to ignite the touchwood.
Sometimes two or three Indians would be
kept busy twirling the stick in the hollowed-
out bowl before a fire could be started.
This was usually the case during rainy
weather. As soon as one Indian became
tired out another Avould by placing his
hands on the stick above or below the hands
of the previous Indian, keep up the friction
without a moment s pause. As the Indians
had such difficulty in starting a fire, to the
older and more responsible women would
be entrusted the task of keeping it alight.
And when moving from one place to an
other these old women would carry a
lighted torch of wood, always watching to
see that the spark did not die out. As soon


as the camping-place was found they
started one fire at least, from which the
rest of the band easily lighted as many as
they required.

Before the white man brought them
kettles in which to cook they prepared their
food by direct contact with the fire. The
buffalo meat was ready for consumption
after it had been dried, as the fires under
neath the scaffold upon which it was placed
served the purpose of cooking the meat as
well as of drying and smoking it. When
the Indians wished to boil water, they
would dig a round hole in the ground, say
ten or more inches in depth and six or
eight inches in diameter, and into this they
would fit a piece of coarse parchment or
rawhide, securing it firmly around the top
or outside part of the hole by small wooden
spikes or pegs. This hole lined with the
hide was water-tight, and after being filled
with water several stones, heated as hot as
possible, were dropped into it, one after
another, until the water was brought to the
boiling point. It was a very slow method,
and was only used when steeping tea, boil-


ing eggs or preparing food which required
to be cooked but a short time.

Another method of cooking eggs, which
they claim was a very good one, was by
taking a short piece of a small green poplar
tree, and carefully slipping off the bark,
into which they put as many eggs as it
would hold, or as many as they desired to
cook. After building a fire they would bury
this piece of bark under the hot ashes; but
before doing so would close either end by
a bit of the tree. The heat from the ashes
soon cooked the eggs.

The few earthen vessels they did possess
were usually taken from some of their ene
mies to the south, Who seemed to have many
more utensils than our Western Indians,
and these were much prized as spoils of



Signs and wonders The naming of children Pecu
liar reticence as to names The alternative
Premonitions and second-sight The Northern
Lights Ventriloquism.

THE Indians were most superstitious and
were always seeing signs and omens
in everything around them. This trait
accounts for many of their peculiarities.
Their names were given to them as signifi
cant of some sign or happening which had
been taken as a warning. And if in after
years some other important event happened
in their lives which they could convert into
a sign it would be a reason for changing
the name given to them by their sponsors.

The naming of their children was a very
solemn ceremony, and though very few took
part in it, the superstitions attached to the
names given the boy or girl made it a very
impressive occasion. The Indian who was
asked to name the child would give the mat
ter a great deal of thought, and be more


observant than usual to the happenings of
everyday life. If a storm should come up,
and perhaps be accompanied by violent
thunder and lightning, the name of the
child would have some reference to this,
such as " Four Sky Thunder " and " Light
ning Shining out of the Clouds." If some
particular bird had flown over the camp
before the storm broke, the bird s name
would be included with the others, such as
"The Black Hawk s Warning" or "The
Bird who Comes before the Storm." In
after life the hawk was supposed to have a
special guardianship over the person who
bore its name. In the same way the
thunder or lightning was looked to for pro
tection from harm by the Indian whose
name was in any way associated with them.
These names, given to him by some old and
respected member of the band, very often
indeed by the medicine men or women, the
Indian was never supposed to repeat. The
mentioning of his own name, even most
solemnly, was supposed to imply disrespect
to the powers of guardianship exercised by
the name, as well as being an unpardonable


slight to the old Indian who gave it. It is
only in recent years that any Indian could
be persuaded to mention his or her name.
It was, long ago, a most difficult task to
obtain an Indian s name. He would never
mention it himself, nor would his wife, and
his children would not dare to do so. But
the Indian or his wife would direct a per
son to some one else who would tell his
name, and even then one might require to
use much diplomacy before getting the de
sired information. This naming of an In
dian after some bird or animal, or from the
elements, gave him his guardian or dream,
Pow-wah-kun. And one of the prime
reasons for never mentioning his name was
that these Pow-wah-kunah were supposed
to be most sensitive, and were likely to do
much more harm than good, if they were
ever shown any disrespect by their wards.

It often happened, however, that in after
years a particularly noteworthy occurrence
in an Indian s life would cause him to
adopt some other name, and this name he
could speak of at any time without fear of
ill consequences. For instance, an Indian


whose name given by his sponsors was
" Star Blanket " might perhaps have been
caught with one or two others in some very
trying position, such as being surrounded
by their enemies in some isolated place.
The foe may have come upon them at day
break and " Star Blanket " may have been
the first to give the alarm, and in calling
upon his friends to do their best, he might
in looking up to the sky see an eagle, and
would perhaps say, " If that eagle will help
us by his strength and fleetness to escape I
will take his name, and like him be strong
and brave." Then, if they made good their
escape that Indian would call himself
"Kak-keeg-ca-way," meaning "The voice of
an eagle." This incident is mentioned as
an illustration, and, being an actual fact, is
a fair example of the way an Indian would
change his name late in life, and be known
by it alone, while his first name, or the one
given to him by his sponsors, would be re
membered only by a very few. And the few
who did remember it might by their rela
tionship to him be in the position of never
daring to mention it, for fear of some evil


results to its possessor. One advantage of
this custom of taking a new name later in
life was the fact that the Indian s wife and
relations could call him by it, and thus do
away with a great deal of unnecessary con
fusion. If anyone wished, for instance, to
find out to whom belonged some stray pony,
it was most confusing to be told that it be
longed to " Four Sky Thunder s sister s son-
in-law s brother," this being the nearest
approach to pronouncing a name by the
average Indian. Whereas if the owner of
the pony had adopted some name himself,
one might be told that the pony belonged to
"The voice of an Eagle."

In the naming of places the Indians often
exercised their inventiveness, and fre
quently with highly poetical result. In a
word or phrase they would describe the out
standing features of the landscape or com
memorate some event or accident which
occurred on the spot.

The most appropriate place-names in
Canada are Indian names, and to assign to
each and all their significance would be an
attractive task.



There is much superstition and romance
contained in the name given by the Crees
and Saulteaux to the beautiful Qu Appelle
Valley. The Indians named this valley Ka-
ta-pwa-wee-seeppi (The Calling Kiver) be
cause of the wonderful echoes heard along
its banks and over its lakes, which they
believe to be the voices of their friends and
former companions in the Happy Hunting
Grounds. The old Indians told many
legends of the effects produced and the
warnings given them by this echo. Pro
bably none appealed more to their love of
romance than the following:

Once many, many years ago there lived a
chief of the Cree nation, much beloved by
his tribe for his kindness and thoughtful-
ness and his good and wise counsel in time
of need. This chief had an only son who
was very brave, and ever first to volunteer
for duty in scouting expeditions and raids.
On one occasion the little band of scouts of
which this young man, who was called First
Son, was a member, was surrounded by an
overwhelming number of Blackfeet, and
most of the brave band were slain or

From a painting by Edmund Morris.



wounded; among the latter was First Son.
After the survivors had made their escape
with the wounded they found that their
leader would never reach the main camp
in the valley, as his wounds were fatal, and
one calm night in the month of June, which
the Indians called the " Month of Young
Birds," the chiefs son started on his long
journey to the Happy Hunting Grounds.
As he was leaving them he bade his compan
ions farewell, and told them not to grieve
for him, because he was not going alone, for
the young Cree maiden who was to have
been his bride on his return to camp would
accompany him. His companions left his
body, which was wrapped in his beaded
leather clothing, upon a scaffold, and with
sorrowing hearts returned to the main camp
in the Calling Valley.

After breaking their sad news to the
tribe, and repeating the last words of First
Son, they were told that on the very night
upon which First Son had passed away, the
maiden who had been watching for him in
sisted that she heard her lover s voice call
ing to her across the lake; she had taken
8 113


her little birch-bark canoe, paddled out to
meet him, and had never been seen or heard
of since.

The Indians imagine that in the echoes of
the Qu Appelle Valley her voice and the
voice of her lover may be heard, mingled
with those of others of the tribe who have
passed to the Happy Hunting Grounds.

In this valley the " Barrier " is so called
from the fact that here the Indians had
built a barrier of stone to keep back the
fish, and so sure Avere they of catching fish
at this spot that they gathered salt to
season them from the shores of the saline
swamps which they passed on their journey
towards the Barrier, fish being the only
food that they could not eat without salt.

The Saskatchewan the Indians called
" Kis-siskatchewan," which means Fast
Running Stream, and Old Wives Lake was
so called from the sad fate which befell
three old Indian women, who with others of
their tribe were being pursued by Black-
feet, and lost their lives while trying to
cross the lake before they reached the ford.
Ever since then, the Indians say, on the


anniversary of this event they can hear the
old women calling for help, and where the
lake is very shallow they may be seen strug
gling in the water. The spot where the
Qu Appelle Valley joins the valley of the
Assiniboine, the Crees and Salteaux called
Stony River, for here they first caught sight
of the Assiniboines or Stony Sioux.

The Indians, who were always looking
for signs, very naturally believed firmly in
the spirit world, and had many experiences
to relate of visits and warnings from their
friends who had preceded them to the
Happy Hunting Grounds. So firmly did
they believe in these that many an expedi
tion would be abandoned because some
member of the band had had a warning of
disaster overtaking the party. These were
especially acted upon years ago when they
were at war with other tribes. The warn
ings usually came to them in dreams, and
they never hesitated to follow the advice
of the Indian who told them his dream.

In many cases a relief party would be
despatched to reinforce some expedition,
on account of these premonitions; and


they believed that but for such relief some
calamity would have befallen their friends.
There were times when this help came at a
critical moment, which strengthened their
faith in these warnings.

Not every Indian was enlightened by
these particular warnings, but one or two in
the band were supposed to be in some secret
communication with the spirit world, and
the word of these was taken as final when
they predicted any coming event, either of
good or bad fortune, to the members of their
band. And in speaking of these Indians
the others would say, " You know he is very
wonderful, and not like the rest of us; the
spirits commune with him. He can see far
ahead." These spirits were also spoken of
by them as dreams, or Pow-wah-kunah.
Though every Indian of note had a Pow-
wah-kun, they were not all honoured by
this supposed peculiar intercourse with

The Indians also believed that in the re
flection of the Northern Lights, or Aurora
Borealis, was seen the dancing of the spirits
of their departed ones. No Indian would


whistle during the reflection of these lights,
as some of the spirits might be tempted to
return to earth if their friends whistled for
them; and the return to this earth meant
only trials and hardships for them. Whis
tling was believed to be the only way of
communicating with the spirits of departed
friends appearing in the aurora. It often
happened after some victory of the Indians
over an enemy that there would be a strong
reflection of these Northern Lights, and
this, they believed, was a dance of the
spirits to celebrate the victory.

There have been among the Indians a few
who practised the art of ventriloquism, and
these were looked upon as being in very
close communion with their Pow-wah-kunah.
They would make the other Indians believe
all manner of impossible things, and occa
sionally worked upon their superstitious
natures to an astonishing degree. The last
Indian known to have practised this art
was an old Cree chief, " Loud Voice." This
name was adopted by the Indian himself
as soon as he discovered the fact of his
being able to speak in this peculiar way.


The Indians, not knowing anything of this
art, very naturally looked upon " Loud
Voice " as being a most wonderful old In
dian. The old man never practised this
way of speaking except during a thunder
storm, which added greatly to the uncanny
effect of both storm and voice. He was a
medicine man into the bargain, and though
not a very successful one in the art of heal
ing, was certainly more than successful in
holding the respect of all the Indians of
his band. But it must be said to his credit
that he never used his powers to intimidate
any of his followers, nor indeed any of the
other Indians. But Ka-kee-she-way (Loud
Voice) was a name to conjure with a few
years ago among the Indian tribes, as he
was known by hearsay, if not personally,
to them all. This old Indian died at the
Crooked Lakes Agency some years ago.



The love of children -Methods of training Polygamy
Natural sensitiveness and inherent dignity
Indian oratory Poetry and satire.

INDIANS are of a very affectionate dis
position, and also very undemonstrative.
The love of their children was a particu-
arly pathetic trait in their natures. The
youngsters were actually adored, and con
sequently would impress a stranger as being
very badly brought up. They were never
corrected for any faults, but, up to a certain
age, did as they pleased, when, of their own
accord, they seemed to realize the respect
due to their parents. This was in a mea
sure brought about by the way the older
Indians treated the younger ones. No dis
respect to elders was tolerated, and when
the children were supposed to have reached
years of discretion they were soon made to
understand this, not by their parents but


by other relatives and friends. Conse
quently the parents were spared the pain
of correcting their children.

It was strange to note the peculiar
change in some of these youngsters. They
would have grown up having their own way
in everything, and behaving generally in a
most aggravating manner, yet a complete
alteration would come in the course of a
few days or weeks. This may be attributed
to their very sensitive natures. For when a
child was supposed, by the friends of his
parents, to have reached the time when
respect to his father and mother should be
shown, he very soon was made to under
stand this by their treatment of him. He
was told once or twice that he was no longer
a baby to have everything his own way, and
that it was quite time he should realize his
position and try to help his father and
mother a little more. If this advice was
ignored, he was ignored also, and the rest
of the band followed suit, so that the youth
soon found the best policy was not to look
upon himself any longer as a spoilt child.

The Indians very seldom had large fam-


ilies, the average number being five or six in
a family.

There surely never were any happier
or healthier babies than the little Indian
" Awassisah." They actually appeared like
little voyageurs from the first days of their
existence, so sturdy and jolly were they.
Shortly after birth the baby was tied up in
the moss-bag, with its pliant wrappings of
finely-dressed deerskin and quantities of
soft moss, and a stiff leather support for
the child s back. They were snug and com
fortable in these bags, and safe from injury ;
and in the winter-time they were protected
from the extreme cold by rabbit-skins.

The baby in the moss-bag made a compact
bundle for the mother to carry on her back,
wrapped in her blanket or shawl.

The moss which the Indian women used
to wrap around the lower extremities of
their babies was gathered from swampy
lands in the vicinity of the spruce forests.
When first picked it was in a variety of
green shades, but after being dried it took
on a peculiar tone of creamy brown and
was a most hygienic wrapping for the child.


Some of the Indian women used a cradle
to tie their babies in, and in the old days
the women who had these were looked upon
as possessing a luxury. The appearance
of this cradle is familiar to everyone. No
contrivance could so well meet the needs of
the case. It formed a rigid, compact frame
in which the child was held in safety
through all the vicissitudes of the portage
or trail. It could be swung on a tree or
leaned against the wigwam, and the bow
of wood extending above the child s head
protected it from injury.

When the mother wished to carry her
child she attached a stout leather strap to
the top part of the cradle. This strap she
then placed either over her forehead or
shoulders, and away she would go, while
the babe observed the passing scene or slept
peacefully on, as he felt inclined.

The name " papoose " given to all Indian
babies by the white man is the Sioux word
for baby. The Crees called a baby " Awas-
sis," and the Saulteaux, " Appinochi."

Years ago some of the chiefs and head
men had more than one wife, some having


as many as six and even seven. It was sur
prising how well all these wives would
agree. They called each other " sister,"
and might, indeed, have been sisters in so
far as their fondness for one another was
concerned. They divided their labours
equally, and tried in every way to cultivate
mutual forbearance.

The Indians had great respect for the
aged, and for each other. They were very
sensitive, and had to be treated with the
greatest tact. Many a thoughtless remark
was taken seriously, especially in the
case of parents, who expected their sons
and daughters-in-law to show them high
and perfect respect. No idle jesting was
tolerated from them. To such an extent
was this carried that if a person took some
remark made by his son or daughter-in-law
to himself he might brood over it until it
assumed unnecessarily large proportions.
And he would leave the band or encamp
ment for days and wander off by himself,
only being appeased by an apology from
the supposed offender. So it naturally
fell to this person to follow his over-sensi-


tive relative and apologize. The Indians
as a rule spoke of their father or mother-
in-law as " the person I respect."

Their manner one to another was always
most considerate, their natural dignity
making this treatment of each other very
easy. They made excellent listeners, and
never interrupted each other. This was
especially noticeable at their council meet
ings and feasts. Each Indian would be
given his own time to state his ideas
upon the subject under discussion, and
as his remarks were made standing,
fully three or four minutes would elapse
after he was seated before the next In
dian arose to speak. If his views did
not fall in with the others he would
apologize, and perhaps make some jest
ing remark about his own stupidity, say
ing that of course he was known not to
possess the brains of his friend who had just
sat down, but if they cared to listen to him
he would say his little say, and he trusted
them not to ridicule him on account of his

The Indians expressed themselves in beau-

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Online LibraryAmelia M. PagetThe people of the plains → online text (page 5 of 9)