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Algonquian Spirit

Contemporary Translations of the Algonquian Literatures of North America

Brian Swann

Publication Year: 2005

When Europeans first arrived on this continent, Algonquian languages were spoken from the northeastern seaboard through the Great Lakes region, across much of Canada, and even in scattered communities of the American West. The rich and varied oral tradition of this Native language family, one of the farthest-flung in North America, comes brilliantly to life in this remarkably broad sampling of Algonquian songs and stories from across the centuries. Ranging from the speech of an early unknown Algonquian to the famous Walam Olum hoax, from retranslations of “classic” stories to texts appearing here for the first time, these are tales written or told by Native storytellers, today as in the past, as well as oratory, oral history, and songs sung to this day.
An essential introduction and captivating guide to Native literary traditions still thriving in many parts of North America, Algonquian Spirit contains vital background information and new translations of songs and stories reaching back to the seventeenth century. Drawing from Arapaho, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Cree, Delaware, Maliseet, Menominee, Meskwaki, Miami-Illinois, Mi'kmaq, Naskapi, Ojibwe, Passamaquoddy, Potawatomi, and Shawnee, the collection gathers a host of respected and talented singers, storytellers, historians, anthropologists, linguists, and tribal educators, both Native and non-Native, from the United States and Canada—all working together to orchestrate a single, complex performance of the Algonquian languages.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Native Literatures of the Americas

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xxviii

While not many words in English are of Native North American origin, a good proportion of those that are derive from the Algonquian family of languages. The stirrings of an Algonquian presence can still be heard in the more obvious words, all nouns, such as ‘‘powwow’’ (originally meaning a priest, a ‘‘medicine man’’)...

1 East

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The Tale of a Hoax

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pp. 3-41

Some texts present scholars with problems beyond those generally associated with a typical translation process.1 One such case is the Walam Olum, or ‘‘Painted Record,’’ a document long regarded as a classic native account of Algonquian origins. Ever since its ‘‘discovery’’ in the early nineteenth century, the text had...

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Fair Warning

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pp. 42-48

This speech was first posted on the ssila web page by a Dutch linguist.1 Its provenance is uncertain. Its current lack of identity, however, does not obscure the remarkable nature of the text, which readily affirms its classical Algonquian pedigree and essentially rules out a modern origin...

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The Arrival of the Whites

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pp. 49-61

Many accounts and history books tell of the arrival of the Europeans in America from the viewpoint of the Europeans. In this account we will look at various stories told by the Lenape, or Delaware, Indians of the same event...

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The Delaware Creation Story

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pp. 62-71

Under the heading ‘‘Work of Mr. Jeremiah Curtin’’—referring to the philologist-folklorist and former diplomat who had come on staff during the previous twelvemonth cycle—the annual report of the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology for the year 1883–84 states briefly: ‘‘On September 1, 1883, Mr. Jeremiah...

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Two Animal Stories

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pp. 72-83

‘‘Cihkonaqc: Turtle’’ and ‘‘Espons: Raccoon’’ both explore the power of transformation and the danger of deception through stories about animals.1 The narratives not only teach about the origins of specific physical traits that characterize the turtle and the raccoon, respectively, but also show how destiny and fate play...

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Social and Ceremonial Songs

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pp. 84-98

The Passamaquoddy people are Eastern Algonquians, residing in the area that is now eastern Maine, part of their traditional homelands. There are two federally recognized Passamaquoddy reservations: Sipayik (Pleasant Point) near Perry, Maine, and Motahkomikuk (Peter Dana Point) near Princeton, Maine. Culturally...

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Traditions of Koluskap, the Culture Hero

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pp. 99-111

The best-known figure in the oral literature of the Maliseet Indians of New Brunswick and Maine is undoubtedly Koluskap, who shaped the landscape, tamed the wind, reduced the size of the once ferocious beaver and squirrel to manageable proportions, and generally served as a benefactor to all the Wabanakis, the Algonquian peoples of northern New England and Maritime Canada. Long ago Koluskap...

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The Great Fire

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pp. 112-118

It was a July afternoon in 1991. During a filming session for Micmac Storyteller: River of Fire, Michael William Francis (1923–95) spoke about the importance of the environment for lending credibility to his stories. Mike, a Mi’kmaq elder, was sitting on the beach looking out at the calm waters of the Northumberland Strait. Flocks...

2 Central

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Two Wolverine Stories

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pp. 121-158

The two stories we have selected to contribute to this anthology—‘‘Wolverine and the Ducks’’ and ‘‘Wolverine and the Geese’’—are from the Naskapi community of Kawawachikamach, which is near Schefferville in northern Quebec, Canada.1 Both stories belong to a genre of Algonquian oral literature referred to (in Naskapi) as...

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Waabitigweyaa, the One WhoFound the Anishinaabeg First

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pp. 159-169

The narrative presented here was told by Charlie George Owen (Omishoosh) in February 1996 at Pauingassi, Manitoba, a smallOjibwe reserve in the upper Berens River watershed, just west of the Ontario border. It was recorded by CBC Radio documentary journalist Maureen Matthews during one of our numerous visits to...

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The Origin of War

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pp. 170-184

Veterans are accorded great respect in Ojibwe communities. Early in every powwow, a special dance is performed to honor them. Native American communities have historically shown rates of volunteerism in times of war that are unmatched by any other ethnic group in the United States. There is nothing new about this...

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That Way We Should Be Walking

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pp. 185-200

Oogima Ikwe, an Ojibwe/Nishnaabe woman from the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan, broke into performance mode during our tape-recorded interview session while I was doing fieldwork in her community in the mid-1990s. Her speech reflects themes and styles of her ancestors, even while offering a very contemporary message...

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Three Tales

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pp. 201-214

During the historical period, the people known as the Potawatomis lived in the upper Midwest, in the territory close or adjacent to Lake Michigan and stretching eastward across southern Michigan. They were closely allied with the Ojibwes and Ottawas, forming together the ‘‘Three Fires.’’ The languages of these groups...

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Louse and Wide Lake

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pp. 215-229

The story you are about to read is an Eastern Cree narrative of a conjuring contest, from the eastern Subarctic region of Canada, where ever since the melting of the great Wisconsin glacier, thousands of years ago, small groups of indigenous peoples have hunted for their living over a wide expanse of land, rivers, and lakes...

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A Pair of Hero Stories

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pp. 230-246

These stories are two of many recorded by Richard J. Preston, my father, during the 1960s in Waskaganish (then Rupert House), Quebec. They were told by his Creementor, John Blackned, who was in his seventies at the time. John had heard the stories from his grandmother at the outset of the twentieth century, when...

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Omushkego Legends from Hudson Bay

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pp. 247-291

The following stories were originally told in Omushkego, or Swampy Cree, by elder David Sutherland (ca. 1880–1963) and were retold and recorded in English by Aboriginal historian and storyteller Louis Bird (Pennishish).1 A member of Winisk First Nation who lives in Peawanuck, Ontario, Bird has collected over 340...

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Culture-Hero and Trickster Stories

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pp. 292-319

Miami-Illinois is an Algonquian language originally spoken in what is now Indiana and Illinois. In Indiana the groups speaking this language included the Miami tribe proper (myaamiaki, ‘‘downstream people’’), along the Wabash, Maumee, Mississinewa, and Eel rivers; the Weas (waayaahtanooki, ‘‘whirlpool people’’), along...

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Winter Stories

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pp. 320-367

Presented here are translations of two Meskwaki winter stories, ‘‘The Ice Maidens’’ by Sakihtanohkweha and ‘‘Has-a-Rock’’ by Charley H. Chuck.1
Sakihtanohkweha and Chuck wrote these stories, in the Meskwaki language, for Truman Michelson of the Bureau of American Ethnology. The originals are in...

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Three Winter Stories

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pp. 368-410

This introduction assumes that the reader has already read ‘‘Winter Stories,’’ by Ives Goddard, in this volume.
Presented here are translations of three Meskwaki winter stories: ‘‘The One Whose Father Was the Sun,’’ by Maggie Morgan; ‘‘Golden Hide,’’ by Pearl Leaf...

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The Origin of the Spirit Rock

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pp. 411-428

This version of the Spirit Rock story was told by Charles Dutchman (Naehcīwetok) to Leonard Bloomfield in 1920 or 1921 and was originally published in both Menominee and English in his 1928 Menomini Texts.1 Bloomfield stayed for several weeks with Dutchman and his wife, Louise, who lived on the Menominee Reservation...

3 West

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Pine Root

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pp. 431-447

‘‘Pine Root,’’ or ‘‘Wa ta pi wi yin,’’ is one of the myths my father used to tell us when we were children. My father was a Plains Cree storyteller and told us many stories in the winter months, which was the time to tell stories. I was born in 1918 on Little Pine’s Reserve in Saskatchewan. Growing up in the 1920s, I knew many...

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Ghost Dance Songs

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pp. 448-471

Between 1890 and 1893 James Mooney collected at least seventy-three Ghost Dance songs in his extensive fieldwork among both the Northern Arapahos of Wyoming and the Southern Arapahos of Oklahoma (1896, 653–54).1 At the same time, as both tribes became the leading cultural movers of the Ghost Dance from

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Three Stories

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pp. 472-494

The three stories presented here were all told in Arapaho on a single occasion by Richard Moss (born 1933) on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in November 2000. They were performed for a high school Arapaho language class at Wyoming Indian High School. All those present were Arapahos, but except for Richard...

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pp. 495-500

The Blackfeet are a group of confederated tribes: the Siksika, or Blackfoot; the Kainaa, or Bloods; and the Pikuni, or Piegans, who are further divided by the forty-ninth parallel into Northern and Southern Piegans. Their territory, which once extended from the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta to the Missouri River...

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The Rolling Head

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pp. 501-510

The Cheyennes live in Oklahoma and Montana. Originally they lived near the Great Lakes, but they moved westward as they experienced pressure from other tribes in the area. After they obtained horses, they were able to sustain a nomadic lifestyle on the Great Plains, hunting buffalo and eating berries and other food that...


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pp. 511-522


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pp. 523-532

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205338
E-ISBN-10: 0803205333

Page Count: 532
Illustrations: Illus.
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Native Literatures of the Americas

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Subject Headings

  • Algonquian literature -- North America.
  • Algonquian mythology -- North America.
  • Algonquian Indians -- Songs and music.
  • Algonquian languages -- Texts.
  • Legends -- North America.
  • North America -- Folklore.
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