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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Bell - The Long Winter - Keeping the Public in Public Domain

"Now is the winter of our discontent."  Shakespeare definitely said it best.  Last weekend all but Florida in the contiguous United States had snow on the ground.  Even when it was raining, people had reason to complain for, while snow melts slower with less flooding, California and Nevada were looking at a decade level of flooding even as it lessened their drought.  It's not likely to improve, once we get past a brief warm-up, because the full moon was the 12th and the weather after that always seems to get worse.  Possibly caused by the tides and then the storms off the ocean?

Great Slave Lake has one ice road known as the Dettah ice road, connecting Yellowknife, the Northwest Territories capital, to the small First Nations fishing community of Dettah -- also in the Northwest Territories.


Slavey (Dene) girls, Mackenzie River, Northwest Territories
I was torn between presenting a story from somewhere warm or one looking frankly at winter.  Winter won out because it's so much easier to find.  Today's story come from the Dene people of northwestern Alberta, Canada, and especially the country's southern Northwest Territories on the Mackenzie River from the people also known as the Slavey or Slave Indians.  Before you jump to wrong conclusions, they come from the Slave Lake region and "The people now known as Slavey in English were not necessarily taken as slaves" Wikipedia cautions.

The story comes from a 1901 issue of Journal of American Folk-Lore and is one of two stories read at the American Folk-Lore Society's annual meeting over a hundred years ago at the end of 1900.

Since I'm familiar with Michigan's Anishinaabe tale often called "The Summer Maker" given here in 2013, I enjoyed its similarity at times, plus noted its prehistoric worldwide flood at the end.  It's also wonderful in showing "It could be worse" since winter has a way of leaving me thinking the worst has happened.


Journal of American Folk-Lore. Volume XIV (1901)

LEGENDS OF THE SLAVEY INDIANS OF THE MAC-
KENZIE RIVER.
Read at the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the American Folk- Lore Society at
Baltimore, Md., December 28, 1900.

I. THE LONG WINTER.

Before the present state of the world was established, and when
there were as yet no men, a very long winter set in. The sun was
never seen, the air was dark, and thick clouds always covered the 
sky and hung low down.  It snowed continually.  After this had 
lasted three years, all the animals were suffering very much from 
want of food and still more from want of heat. They became 
greatly alarmed. A grand council was held, which beasts, birds, 
and fishes attended. It was noticed that no bears had been seen 
for three years, and that they were the only creatures which did 
not go to the council.

The meeting decided that the great thing was to find out what had
become of the heat, whose long absence was the cause of all their
sufferings, and if possible to bring it back again. In order to do this
they resolved that as many of them as possible, representing all
classes, should go on a search expedition to the upper world where
they thought the heat was detained. When the council broke up
they all set out, and after much travelling far and wide through the
air, some of them were fortunate enough to find the door or opening
to the upper regions, and they went in. Among those which were
fortunate enough to get in were the lynx, the fox, the wolf, the car-
cajou, the mouse, the pike, and the mari (dogfish or fresh-water ling).
After exploring for some time they saw a lake and beside it a camp
with a fire burning. On going to the camp they found two young
bears living there. They asked the cubs where their mother was,
and were told she was off hunting. In the tipi a number of full,
round bags were hanging up. The visitors pointed to the first one
and asked the young bears, —

" What is in this bag ? "

" That," said they, " is where our mother keeps the rain."

" And what is in this one," pointing to the second bag.

" That," they answered, " is the wind."

"And this one?"

" That is where mother keeps the fog."

" And what may be in this next one ? "

" Oh, we cannot let you know that," said the cubs, "for our mother
told us it was a great secret, and if we tell, she will be very angry
and will cuff our heads when she returns."

" Oh, don't be afraid," said the fox, "she will never know that you
told us."

Then the cubs answered, " That is the bag where she keeps the
heat."

The visitors had ascertained what they wanted, and they all went
out of the tipi to hold a consultation. It was decided to retire to a
distance, as the old bear might return at any time. But first they
advised the young bears to keep a lookout for any deer (caribou)
which might come to the opposite shore of the lake.

It was resolved that the lynx should go round to the other side
of the lake, turn into a deer, and show himself so as to attract the
attention of the young bears. Meantime the mouse was to go into
the bear's canoe and gnaw a deep cut in the handle of her paddle
close to the blade. The others were all to conceal themselves near
the bear's tipi. The scheme proved successful. When one of the
little bears saw the supposed buck across the lake he cried out,
" Mother, mother, look at the deer on the opposite shore." The old
bear immediately jumped into her canoe, and paddled towards it.
The deer walked leisurely along the beach pretending not to see the
canoe, so as to tempt the bear to paddle up close to him. Then all
at once he doubled about and ran the opposite way. The bear
hastened to turn her canoe by a few powerful strokes, throwing her
whole weight on the paddle, which broke suddenly where the mouse
had gnawed it ; and the bear, falling at the same time on the side of
the canoe, upset herself into the water. The other animals were
watching the hunt from the opposite side, and as soon as. they saw
the bear floundering in the water, they ran into the tipi, pulled down
the bag containing the heat, and tugged it, one at a time, through the
air towards the opening to the lower world from which they had
come. They hastened along as fast as they could, but the bag was
very large, and none of them were able to keep up the pace very
long ; but whenever one became tired out, another would take the
bag, and so they all hurried along at a rapid rate, for they knew that
the bear would soon get ashore and return to her tipi, and that when
she discovered her loss she would make haste to follow them. Sure
enough, she was soon in hot pursuit, and had almost overtaken them
before they reached the opening to the underworld. By this time
the stronger animals were all exhausted, and now the mari took the
bag and pulled it along a good way, and finally the pike caught it up
and managed to get it through the hole just as the bear was upon
the party. But every one of them passed safely through at the same
time, and the moment the bag was within the underworld all the
animals seized upon it and tore it open. The heat rushed out and
spread at once to all parts of the world and quickly thawed the vast
accumulation of ice and snow. Its rapid melting flooded the earth,
and the water rose till it threatened to drown all the animals which
had survived the long winter. Many of them saved their lives by
climbing up a particularly big tree which was much taller than any
of the others in the woods. There was also a high mountain which
others reached and were saved. The poor beasts now cried loudly
for some one to remove the water, and a great creature, something
like a fish, appeared and drank it until he became as large as a moun-
tain. So the dry land returned, and as summer had come again, the
trees and bushes and flowers which had been covered by the ice
leaved out once more, and from that time till now the world has
always been just as we see it at the present day.

Robert Bell.

Ottawa, Canada.


Shortly after the story was presented and then published, another version was published by G.E.Jamme as "Dogrib Legend of the Flood" in The Coast, volume 11, pages 180-181 and can be found in a free Google Books publication.  Jamme spends some time in his 1906 article telling about his hearing the story from the people at Great Slave Lake.  Beyond that look at the story's original tellers, there are some interesting differences.  I suggest also going to a book by the late Ella Elizabeth Clark to read how she combines the two versions in her Indian Legends of Canada.

However you choose to re-tell the story, it's definitely winter, the time when the Native Peoples of North America all told stories to get through the winter.  I think that's a great idea!
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Here's my closing for days when I have a story in Keeping the Public in Public Domain
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This is part of a series of postings of stories under the category, "Keeping the Public in Public Domain."  The idea behind Public Domain was to preserve our cultural heritage after the authors and their immediate heirs were compensated.  I feel strongly current copyright law delays this intent on works of the 20th century.  My own library of folklore includes so many books within the Public Domain I decided to share stories from them.  I hope you enjoy discovering new stories.  


At the same time, my own involvement in storytelling regularly creates projects requiring research as part of my sharing stories with an audience.  Whenever that research needs to be shown here, the publishing of Public Domain stories will not occur that week.  This is a return to my regular posting of a research project here.  (Don't worry, this isn't dry research, my research is always geared towards future storytelling to an audience.)  Response has convinced me that "Keeping the Public in Public Domain" should continue along with my other postings as often as I can manage it. 

Other Public Domain story resources I recommend -
  • There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection.  I have long recommended it and continue to do so.  He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
  • You may have noticed I'm no longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking specific types of stories.  There's another site, FairyTalez claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales, folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
You can see why I recommend these to you. Have fun discovering even more stories!
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