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Wesakachak and the Great Flood

Watching the sunset was a nightly ritual for many Cree young¬sters. The world was transformed before their eyes as shadows filled the gullies and ravines and darkness rose from the land. Creatures of the night emerged from their dens and, a long way off, wolves howled from the hilltops. If the earth seemed to be in motion, so was the sky. The blazing blue of the sum¬mer afternoon gave way to crimsons, purples and golds. As the children gazed at the spectacle in the sky, the old man might ask in low, rich voice, "Grandchildren, have I ever told you the story about Wesakaychak and the great flood?"

Wesakaychak, the story went, was born when the earth was young and wild and unfit for people. He was the first human child, but was orphaned when he was only half-grown. Alone in a wilderness, he had many adventures. He was abducted by a malevolent old creature named Waymisosiw, who was similar to Wesakaychak, but hairier and too rough in appearance to be a real human being. Wesakaychak was attacked by a crimson eagle but killed the bird. He encountered a great serpent and slew it, too. Finally, he destroyed a giant moose that tried to crush him with its mighty antlers.

Wesakaychak prevailed over these creatures because he was clever and courageous and had a good heart. He wanted to make the world comfortable for human beings, so he created all the animals used by man. He invented the bow and arrow. He knew that people needed light and heat so he captured a heavenly body-the sun-to shine on the earth. But there were evil creatures in the world who wanted to undo Wesakay¬chak's good works, so they planned to cause a great flood. Wesakaychak learned of the scheme and instructed the animals to build a large raft, and they finished it just as the flood waters began to rise. Many animals reached the raft. Some fled to the tops of the hills, and these Wesakaychak rescued. But many others perished.

In time, even the hills were covered, and the world was drowned. After many days, calm returned to the earth, and Wesakaychak summoned the otter, the beaver and the muskrat. First, he sent the otter off to see if he could find any sign of land. But the otter returned empty-handed. Next, the beaver took his turn, and he, too, came back with nothing. Then, Wesakaychak sent the muskrat. He was gone longer than the other two. Finally, he returned, so exhausted he could barely swim, but clutching a shred of green. "I touched the top of a tree," he cried with jubilation in his voice, "but I was faint, and could not reach the bottom to get some earth. I will make another try."

After resting, the plucky muskrat set off again. Suddenly, one of the birds who had been flying about looked at the horizon and shouted, "Muskrat is coming back." It was true. The little animal soon arrived, nearly dead with exhaustion, but clutch¬ing a clump of mud. Wesakaychak took the mud, made it into a ball and blew on it, whereupon it grew rapidly. With his pad¬dle-like tail, beaver began to beat the mud out flat while Wesakaychak blew on it. In time, they could not see where the land touched the water. Wesakaychak rested, but asked a grey wolf to run around the land to judge its size.

In two days, wolf came back and reported that it was not yet large enough. Again Wesakaychak began to blow. The wolf was sent to investigate once more but did not return for many days. When he came back, he reported that the land still was not large enough. So Wesakaychak went to work again. This time, when he was finished, he sent the crow, who did not return. Then, Wesakaychak concluded that the earth was large enough, and he stopped.

Thus, out of the flood, the earth was reclaimed and the ani¬mals multiplied again. Many of the forms of life that had been vicious and dangerous to man had disappeared. But the muskrat, the beaver and the otter were rewarded and were told that henceforth they would be equally at home on land or water. And they are to this day. The grey wolf left to roam this new world, but some of his offspring stayed with Wesakaychak, and today their descendants — those most faithful companions and protectors of man, the dogs — are to be seen wherever Indian lodges stand.

From pgs. 46-48 of Indian Fall: The Last Great Days of the Plains Cree and the Blackfoot Confederacy, by D’Arcy Jenish. Reprinted with kind permission of the author and Viking Publishers

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