Today I dashed into my mother’s tepee. I asked her where I came from. She gave me a startled glance, and a funny little laugh while her cheeks became as rosy as a soft sunset. Now I will tell you what she answered as she braided her long dark into two neat plats. I will try to say her answer just as she told it to me.
Some say Coyote shaped the People from mud. Others think Raven called them from a clamshell because he was lonely. Still others, those who are pale and live in tall square lodges, say that we came from a faraway place called Asia. They say we followed herds of grazing animals across a huge bridge made of earth. It was so long ago that if all the children in my village took off their moccasins and counted their toes, then held up all their fingers and counted them, too, there would not be enough fingers and toes to count how many moons ago it was that we came here. So they say.
This bridge made of dirt is no longer there, so maybe Coyote ate it to keep the People on the plains. I only know what they say, and what my mother tells me. This bridge was far to the north and the People walked for many moon-times to these Great Plains where we now live. I believe this, perhaps. My people are very strong and could walk this great distance.
It is said that our people were great hunters. This part I know they have said as it was and is. They tell how we hunted huge woolly beasts called mammoths as well as long-horned bison, all of which have died. Then we had to hunt smaller game and collect wild plants for food. Now we hunt the buffalo for nearly all of our needs, but they are disappearing also.
My mother says that some People called Iroquois say how Skywoman fell from her home. Water birds guided her to an island that a muskrat was building from mud and a turtle’s shell. The island grew to become the earth, and the world began when Skywoman gave birth to a daughter.
Some other People believe that we crawled from the earth through a hole in a hollow log. If you ask if the People are still coming through the hole I will say no. Just so many of the People got through then one woman who was very fat got stuck. No more People could crawl out. That is why there are so few of the People as compared to the many white people who keep coming and coming across the Great Plains.
People called the Osage say that once they lived up in the sky. The moon told them she gave birth to them and that the sun was their father. She said they must go down to the earth to live. When they floated down to earth it was covered with water. They didn’t know what to do. They asked an elk for help. He dropped down to the water and began to sink. To save himself he called out to the winds. The winds blew some of the water up into the skies. First only rocks appeared. After a time soft earth was exposed. The elk was so happy he rolled over and over with joy. When he did this, his loose hairs clung to the dirt. The hairs grew into plants. They became beans, corn, potatoes, and wild turnips, and all the grasses and trees.
These are the answers my mother gave me as to where I came from. She did not understand I was playing a guessing game with her. I had just come from my friend’s tepee where there is a new baby, and that should have been her answer. But I like my mother’s answer better.