Published on January 6, 2013 by Casey
Long ago, in that far-off happy time when the world was new, and there were no white people at all, only Indians and animals, there was a snake who was different from other snakes. He had feet-big feet. And the other snakes, because he was different, hated him, and made life wretched for him. Finally, they drove him away from the country where the snakes lived, saying, “A good long way from here live other ugly creatures with feet like yours. Go and live with them!” And the poor, unhappy Snake had to go away.
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For days and days, he travelled. The weather grew cold and food became hard to find. At last, exhausted, his feet cut and frostbitten, he lay down on the bank of a river to die.
The Deer, E-se-ko-to-ye, looked out of a willow thicket, and saw the Snake lying on the river bank. Pitying him, the deer took the Snake into his own lodge and gave him food and medicine for his bleeding feet.
The Deer told the Snake that there were indeed creatures with feet like his who would befriend him, but that some among these would be enemies whom it would be necessary to kill before he could reach safety.
He showed the Snake how to make a shelter for protection from the cold and taught him how to make moccasins of deerskin to protect his feet. And at dawn the Snake continued his journey.
The sun was far down the western sky, and it was bitter cold when the Snake made camp the next night. As he gathered boughs for a shelter, Kais-kap the porcupine appeared. Shivering, the Porcupine asked him, “Will you give me shelter in your lodge for the night?”
The Snake said, “It’s very little that I have, but you are welcome to share it.”
“I am grateful,” said Kais-kap, “and perhaps I can do something for you. Those are beautiful moccasins, brother, but they do not match your skin. Take some of my quills, and make a pattern on them, for good luck.” So they worked a pattern on the moccasins with the porcupine quills, and the Snake went on his way again.
As the Deer had told him, he met enemies. Three times he was challenged by hostile Indians, and three times he killed his adversary.
At last he met an Indian who greeted him in a friendly manner. The Snake had no gifts for this kindly chief, so he gave him the moccasins. And that, so the old Ones say, was how our people first learned to make moccasins of deerskin, and to ornament them with porcupine quills in patterns, like those on the back of a snake. And from that day on the Snake lived in the lodge of the chief, counting his coup of scalps with the warriors by the Council fire and, for a long time, was happy.
But the chief had a daughter who was beautiful and kind, and the Snake came to love her very much indeed. He wished that he were human, so that he might marry the maiden, and have his own lodge. He knew there was no hope of this unless the High Gods, the Above Spirits took pity on him, and would perform a miracle on his behalf.
So he fasted and prayed for many, many days. But all his fasting and praying had no result, and at last the Snake came very ill.
Now, in the tribe, there was a very highly skilled Medicine Man. Mo’ki-ya was an old man, so old that he had seen and known, and understood, everything that came within the compass of his people’s lives, and many things that concerned the Spirits. Many times, his lodge was seen to sway with the Ghost Wind, and the voices of those long gone on to the Sand Hills spoke to him.
Mo’ki-ya came to where the Snake lay in the chief’s lodge, and sending all the others away, asked the Snake what his trouble was.
“It is beyond even your magic,” said the Snake, but he told Mo’ki-ya about his love for the maiden, and his desire to become a man so that he could marry her.
Mo’ki-ya sat quietly thinking for a while. Then he said, “I shall go on a journey, brother. Perhaps my magic can help, perhaps not. We shall see when I return.” And he gathered his medicine bundles and disappeared.
It was a long and fearsome journey that Mo’ki-ya made. He went to the shores of a great lake. He climbed a high mountain, and he took the matter to Nato’se, the Sun himself.
And Nato’se listened, for this man stood high in the regard of the spirits, and his medicine was good. He did not ask, and never had asked, for anything for himself, and to transform the Snake into a brave of the tribe was not a difficult task for the High Gods. The third day after the arrival of Mo’ki-ya at the Sun’s abode, Nato’se said to him, “Return to your own lodge Mo’ki-ya, and build a fire of small sticks. Put many handfuls of sweet-grass on the fire, and when the smoke rises thickly, lay the body of the Snake in the middle of it.” And Mo’ki-ya came back to his own land.
The fire was built in the centre of the Medicine lodge, as the Sun had directed, and when the sweetgrass smouldered among the embers, sending the smoke rolling in great billows through the tepee, Mo’ki-ya gently lifted the Snake, now very nearly dead, and placed him in the fire so that he was hidden by the smoke.
The Medicine-drum whispered softly in the dusk of the lodge: the chant of the old men grew a little louder, and then the smoke obscuring the fire parted like a curtain, and a young man stepped out.
Great were the rejoicings in the camp that night. The Snake, now a handsome young brave, was welcomed into the tribe with the ceremonies befitting the reception of one shown to be high in the favour of the spirits. The chief gladly gave him his daughter, happy to have a son law of such distinction.
Many brave sons and beautiful daughters blessed the lodge of the Snake and at last, so the Old ones say, his family became a new tribe-the Pe-sik-na-ta-pe, or Snake Indians.