Bering Land Bridge, Mastodon Bones and Creation Beliefs: Seeking to Know the Unk
“Akina Go Debwemigadoon Newe Dibaad Jimowninan — All Creation Stories Are True”
Diba Jimooyoung: Telling Our Story Ziibiwing Cultural Center, Saginaw Chippewa
“All the basic components of scientific thought and application are metaphorically represented in most Native stories of creation and origin. Indeed, both Native science and modern science have elements of the primal human story in common. They have, however, evolved very different orientations to the natural world and very different expressions of thought regarding the role of humankind in coming to know our place and our responsibility to the creative unfolding of the greater story of the universe.”
Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence, Gregory Cajete
I am no scientist. I regularly got B-minuses and sometimes C-pluses in science. I’m talking “Science” science, like generic science—not Physics, Biology or Chemistry. Basic science. I remember I got moved up to Chemistry my senior year and, fortunately, I sat next to this really smart sophomore named “Dale.” With his help, I believe I successfully got a D. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure that I would have got a Q or a Parentheses or something. My point: I’m not purporting to have any expertise in science in this piece.
My maternal grandpa, Percy Bullchild, wrote a book entitled The Sun Came Down: The History of the World as My Blackfeet Elders Told It. Incredible book. Every single person should read it. Folks who are interested in creation stories should especially read this book. It is a very substantial and beautiful book full of stories of how things came to be. As a storyteller, I hope to someday make a work as profound and necessary as his book.
He was our grandpa. We grew up about 200 yards away from his trailer. Those were the stories that I grew up with and pretty much the way that I saw the world. Some people grew up knowing the Bible stories and understanding the world through that great book. Us, we grew up hearing (and then reading) Blackfeet creation stories as our framework for the way we saw ourselves in the Universe. I can’t say that I “knew” that it was true—I wasn’t that woke as a nine year old. It was just all I knew—it may or may not have been true, but it sounded right to me.
It wasn’t until I moved away from the Blackfeet Reservation that I realized that many people (most people?) did not see the world the same way. In fact, “most people” don’t see the world any one way—there are literally millions and millions of beliefs systems and creations stories and beliefs and worldviews. Most of them are unprovable as being absolutely right or absolutely wrong. If they were provable, more people would probably subscribe to that particular belief.
Makes sense to me.
Why Did I Tell You This Story?
The Sun Came Down: The History of the World as My Blackfeet Elders Told It
By Percy Bullchild, Amskapipikuni. Available at amazon.com.
It occurs to me that “science” functions just like religion, as exhibited by some new findings at the so-called “Cerutti Mastodon Site.” Moreover, science functions just like religion in that everyone—even the so-called “experts,” scientists—disagree passionately about what they believe is the real story.
Especially as it regards history and creation.
The Cerutti Mastodon Site is an archaeological site near San Diego where scientists found five stones alongside a mastodon (big ass ancient elephants) skeleton. There were two anvils and three hammers there. No big deal—people killed big ass animals with tools all over the world. These ones looked the folks used the tools to get to the yummy bone marrow. BUT…this is important…further testing (using radioactive decay of uranium) on the bones that were split revealed that the beast died about 130,000 years ago!
Well, if the Native people of the Americas only strutted over from Asia thirty thousand years ago, how could that be?
And now these belligerent scientists are at each other’s throats trying to get the other scientists’ bone marrow! Some of these feisty scientists are screaming like a banshee that humans only got out of Africa 60,000 years ago! How could there be folks here 130,000 years ago?? And the other side says that the evidence clearly states that folks were surfing in San Diego long, long ago and we simply have to defer to the evidence! Rolfe D. Mandel, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Kansas said these tools “…could not happen naturally.”
Another scientist ridiculed that position. Donald Grayson, an archaeologist said “I was astonished, not because it is so good but because it is so bad,” because he just doesn’t buy the evidence.
Sounds eerily Protestant and Catholic; they look at the same damn thing, say they believe the same thing (science!), and yet find disagreement about it.
The story is fascinating. Check it out. Were these people who made these tools the forebearers of today’s Native people? Were they another species? Aliens?
I have no clue. None. I’d like to think it’s validation of our Creation stories and I believe that it is. But I can’t say I “know” or that it is proof that the landbridge theory is complete nonsense.
And I suppose that’s the conclusion: I simply do not know. I can’t say that my grandpa’s stories are the absolute truth or that the land bridge theory is an absolute lie. I believe our creation stories but I also am pretty sure that people probably moved on both sides of all bodies of water. People have always migrated. I see the way my friends fall in love and move to a rez in Nebraska or Iowa in 2017 and that makes me pretty sure people were moving all over the place thousands of years ago. “She cooks sweetbreads and bannock?? I’m there, bro!!”
But just because some folks migrated here doesn’t mean that’s how all Natives or even “most” ended up here. That’s silly. There’s room for nuance and we do not have to dismiss completely or accept completely. There is so much rigidity about creation stories on all sides. But what if they’re all true? What if we’re simply trying to know the unknowable whenever we make absolute statements against someone else’s creation story? What if, as the amazing and powerful experience called the “Ziibiwing Cultural Center” says, “all creation stories are true?”
I can live with that.
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Breakdances With Wolves Podcast, available on Soundcloud, iTunes