A long time ago, the Creator gave gifts to the true at heart. Shawanay was
a young man of a village and the eldest of his family. He was also a great
hunter for a man so young. He could spot a deer or rabbit from a mountain
away: he had the gift of sight. Shawanay always enjoyed the hunt more than
most. The elders were always amazed how much food he brought home.
Fire Shaker, the oldest elder, knew Shawanay was very special and called to
the smoke for the ones who passed on to help him guide Shawanay.
The fire glowed fiercely and grew higher. From the glowing embers, the
oldest of the wise ones stared his caller in the eyes. "What is it you want
of me?" he asked in the language of old.
"We have a boy who is not like the others. He sees what no one else can
see. I know you know his name."
The fire crackled almost like a child's laughter. "I know him. The Creator
has given him a gift. Be patient with him and guide him like our ancestors
before us. Our ancestors did not forget; they were just asleep," replied
the old one.
Fire Shaker said, "I am a patient man and will do my best, father of us
all. I will lead him when the gifter calls. 'Til we meet again, brother,"
and the fire slowly died out.
The next day, Fire Shaker called Shawanay to his lodge and told him he will
be led down a special road to a new life. Shawanay was very surprised, for
he never saw himself as special. "You have a gift of sight and you were
meant to do what will be asked of you. Will you do this, Shawanay?"
"Yes I will," he said.
Days and nights passed, and Shawanay grew impatient. Fire Shaker saw that
this was what the spirit of the fire meant: he had to keep Shawanay in
line. "You must wait until you are called; and when you are, you will see
like no other," Fire Shaker told the young man.
Nights and days passed. One day, as Shawanay was out hunting, an old man
appeared dressed in clothes he had never seen before.
Shawanay stood still, for he did not believe his eyes. "Who are you?" The
old man just laughed as he patted Shawanay on the shoulder. "Let us walk a
while. Will you walk with me?" the old man said.
Shawanay nodded his head. "Please, who are you?"
"Let's say I am the road to new life. Tell me what is in your heart, young
"Keeping my family fed and warm from my hunts and hides," Shawanay replied.
The old man said, "You are a good boy, Shawanay. I want to show you
It seemed to Shawanay as if he and the old one were not even walking - like
he was floating on air. Everything changed. The trees turned into valleys,
the valleys to plains and the plains to mountains. Shawanay could not
believe his eyes. "Where are we, old one? I do not know of this place," he
Still, the old one kept silent as they walked. It seemed like a walk to a
new world, but it was not. As they stood by a river, it seemed like the
mountains were growing. And they were old: old with the great chiefs of the
On every peak stood a magnificent chief upon a fine horse. All the nations
stood before him. Shawanay could not move. Was this a dream? As he turned,
a voice barely whispered: "Not a dream. This is a story of our peoples. All
our peoples as one. Learn from what you see."
Shawanay could not move. It was like his feet were frozen where they stood.
He just stood in awe. As he watched the chiefs, he saw tears that came from
their eyes, fell from their cheeks and spilled over the mountains. The
river ran red. Then before he knew it, the great chiefs were gone and the
water was blue again. A great eagle with feathers clenched in his talons
appeared and flew out of sight as fast as it appeared.
Before he knew it, Shawanay was back in his village with so many questions
running through his mind. He ran as fast as he could to find the elder who
spoke to fire.
So many questions poured out of Shawanay that he sounded like a magpie when
he entered the lodge and told the story of the great chiefs who cried.
"What does it mean? Why was I shown these things?"
"Quiet down," Fire Shaker softly said. "You were meant to see our past -
all our peoples' past. The tears of red you saw were of our brothers before
us who fought to keep our land and our ways. They were sacred mountains.
The great ones sleep there. What else have you seen, son?"
Shawanay told of an eagle, a big eagle with beautiful blue feathers held
tightly in his claws. "What does that mean?" he asked.
"It means that you must walk the road of the old ones," Fire Shaker said.
Shawanay did as he was told and tried not to question the elder. But when
he slept at night, his dreams were always the same - as if he were seeing
all the land below him. He could see a rabbit peeking out of his home, a
fish in water. Nothing escaped his eyes.
As the days wore on, Shawanay and Fire Shaker spent much time together, the
elder teaching the young man all he could of the peoples of the past and
concerns of the future. As evening came one day, he asked Shawanay to walk
with him. No more than that.
Quietly they walked. Not a word was spoken.
Suddenly, it seemed as if the path was glowing. It grew all around them.
"What is happening?" asked Shawanay, but Fire Shaker only smiled. As they
walked it grew stronger in blues and whites. Then, in front of them, stood
a man as big as a tree and dressed in blue and white buckskin, his head
covered in black feathers that pointed over his head like a bird's giant
He looked at Shawanay. His eyes were those of a bird. Shawanay, afraid,
turned to Fire Shaker - but he was gone. As the man turned, on his back
were wings - the wings of an eagle. This was one of the great spirits of
which Fire Shaker had spoken.
"What is it you want of me?" Shawanay asked slowly. The eagle spirit
turned. In his hand were blue and white feathers.
He reached his hand out to Shawanay, who received the feathers. "Thank you.
What are they for?"
Eagle spirit replied, "You have been chosen to carry the medicine of all
the great ones of the past. You will know when it is time to use it. You
will watch over all our people. You have been given my eyes. It is time for
me to go with my brothers before me."
"I understand, but what do I do with these feathers?" Shawanay asked.
Eagle spirit was fading slowing into the glow. Shawanay couldn't even see
him anymore, but he heard his voice reply: "You can't fly if you don't have
This was the birth of eagle lore. He still watches over us today, as do his
brothers. So whenever you look to the sky and see the eagle, remember that
you can't fly if you don't have feathers. Keep true to our traditions, and
remember - knowledge is our wings and our feathers.
Dedicated to my father, Scotty Edwards, who gave me feathers to fly. Limb
Ken "Rainbow Cougar" Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in
Washington state, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a
graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and is a
long-time cartoonist for Indian Country Today.