Under a Blanket of Stars
The information [Wilfred] presented was exactly what I have been looking for: engaging, wise, inclusive, educational about the past and forward looking. (participant at our annual Lighting the Fire Conference)
Through our Integrated Programs Unit, MFNERC has helped create a Portable Planetarium program that is taken all over the province. Its goal is to immerse First Nations students, and others, in the traditional knowledge and stories that pertain to the sky, stars and constellations. Overseen by Wilfred Buck, Science Specialist, the planetarium is also often featured at our conferences, and usually described as a highlight by participants. The planetarium itself is a large, inflatable dome-like structure that seats approximately 45 people. Images are projected onto the roof of the dome, as participants are invited to explore the expanse of the universe.
To further share this traditional knowledge, we’d like to offer two of the stories that Wilfred uses during his presentations. We are excited to announce that these stories will soon be available in book form. Keep an eye on our website for more details.
This is the Legend of the Fisher, or Ochek.
A long time ago, there was no summer in the north country. It was winter all the time. Cold and bitter winds rushed through the lands and the beautiful colours of nature were only a dream. It hadn’t always been this way, but there was once a man who captured all the little summer birds. He tied them in a bundle and they were always with him and Herring. This is why there was winter all the time.
The animals in the north country knew that summer existed somewhere, even though it never came to them. They wanted summer. They were tired of the cold.One day, Squirrel discovered where the birds had been taken, and the animals decided that one of them must go and free the summer birds. They chose Fisher, and off he went.
He walked and walked until he had left the north country. He walked and walked until he reached the wigwam where the captor and Herring lived.
When Fisher went inside, he found the man was gone but Herring was there. Quickly, Fisher put some sap around Herring’s mouth so that he couldn’t call out to the man. Once Herring was captured, Fisher used his teeth and tore open the prison that held the summer birds captive. As the summer birds made their way out of the wigwam, Herring broke free from the sap and called out, “Fisher broke the summer birds out! Fisher used his teeth! The summer birds are free!”
The man came running, but as he arrived at the wigwam, Fisher and the summer birds were already far away. The man chased after Fisher with a bow and arrow, and shot many times at him. But Fisher jumped into the sky and climbed up higher and higher and higher, right to the stars.
All the man could do was shoot Fisher’s tail. Fisher escaped into the sky, and that is where we see him now.
His broken tail can still be seen today as the bent handle of the Big Dipper constellation.
This is How Dogs Came to the People
Long ago there were no dogs. A lonely child had no companion, and there was no help for the Elders when moving to new camps in search of food. And the people had no warning when visitors, raiders, or marauding animals entered their camps.
The people’s relatives, Wolf , Coyote, and Fox , saw this. They were concerned. The wolves held a council to discuss these concerns. And the foxes and the coyotes also held councils.
The individual councils all decided the same thing: each of them would send two pups to the four directions of humankind. The pups went to the people, and things began to change.
The people adapted, and found a new and better way of life. The dogs guarded the people’s homes, communities, camps, and loved ones. To honour the sacrifice that was made by Wolf, Coyote, and Fox, Creator placed a reminder in the heavens.
The constellation we know as Little Dipper, or Ursa Minor, is made up of seven stars that are called Atima Atchakosuk, the Dog Stars. The stars on the handle represent Wolf (Polaris), Coyote (Yildun), and Fox (Epsilon). The four bowl stars represent the pups that were sent down to the people many years ago. And that is how dogs came to the people.
For more information on these stories or the planetarium please contact Wilfred Buck at [email protected].