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STORYTELLER; THE DANCE

There was a time when a few foolish men made Eagle very sad. He is the
messenger from whom all men and women learn about true pride. But the
Creator gave us the power to learn, and hopefully learn from our mistakes.

It happened in a small village. All the men were great warriors and good
hunters, but they were constantly trying to be better than one another.
Black Deer, being the leader, tried to teach them that so much fighting
among the men was not good for the village. But they did not listen.

One day Nokai went out hunting and brought back a fine buck. "See what I
have?" he announced. "No one has ever killed such a fine animal: so much
meat for all and a fine hide. His antlers will make many fine tools, knives
and jewelry."

He spent the rest of the day boasting of his kill. The other men became
jealous, as they had been many times before. The young boys of the village
saw the way their fathers, brothers and uncles behaved, so they too were
jealous of one another and always trying to outdo each other.

Black Deer was very disappointed with his people. One evening he called
everyone together. As they gathered around the fire, Black Deer stood at
the head of the fire and sighed. They asked, what is wrong?

"It is all of you! I am so tired of the fighting among you, always trying
to be the best," Black Deer replied. "This saddens me and I am sure the
Creator is not pleased with the way you all act." No one spoke.

"Listen," Black Deer spoke out, "we will not work together well or be
united if everyone acts this way. I say we will have a dance. A dance to
show the Creator we can be a better people and be proud in our hearts the
way it should be. I want every one of you to find the messenger's feathers
and when you dance, wear these feathers. We will honor him, for he is
closest to Creator and will see how we feel."

No one spoke back to Black Deer. They quietly left the circle and went to
bed.

The next day, the men went looking for the messenger's feathers and the
women busily prepared food for the dance. It seemed that they all had found
feathers. Black Deer just smiled to himself. He knew Eagle knew what he was
doing.

That evening, as the fire roared and the drums sounded out in song, the men
all started dancing while others sang. Black Deer smiled: the people were
dancing as one. But then Nokai started waving his feathers in others'
faces. "My feathers are bigger than yours," he said. Then, one by one,
everyone began trying to outdo one another.

"Stop! Stop now!" Black Deer yelled out. As the men stopped, Nokai's
feather fell to the ground.

Black Deer noticed that on a fallen tree sat the messenger.

Everyone stared. Never had they seen such an eagle, for this one had one
blue feather on the side of his eye and he was very big. Then they noticed
a tear fall from his eye.

Black Deer slowly took a few short steps toward this wonder. "Brother, why
do you cry?" he asked.

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The messenger replied, "I cry for your people, for they do not appreciate
the gifts I have given them. Instead, they boast to each other which of
them is the best. Do they not have any pride -- pride for one another?
There is no unity in any one of them. I think I shall take back all my
feathers and never allow your people to have them."

"No, please, brother Eagle. Give my people another chance," Black Deer
pleaded. "I know they will change in their hearts."

The messenger looked Black Deer in the eye. He could see how badly he felt
and that he had a true heart. "Black Deer, I will give them another chance
for you; but if their hearts are not changed, the feather that fell to the
ground will mean a brother will fall. I leave you for now. I will return
when the stars fill the sky and the moon is new."

"Thank you," Black Deer said. "I am sure they understand what you are
saying to them." Before he could say another word, the messenger was gone.

Black Deer turned to his people. "You have all been given another chance!
It is all up to you. I have no more to say." Nokai tried hard to talk to
Black Deer, but he turned away.

For the first time, they were very ashamed at how they'd acted. They
started talking among themselves and before they knew it, all were laughing
with one another and not fighting. They shared their stories with one
another of hunts and battles. For the first time, they praised one another
and they felt good.

Finally, nighttime called all to bed. Nokai spoke out: "We will show
brother Eagle we are proud to be honored with his feathers and proud of
each other." The people smiled. "We will," everyone replied.

Well, the night came when the moon was new and the sky was so full of stars
it seemed unable to hold any more. Black Deer called the singers and
drummers together, for as he'd promised, Eagle appeared from nowhere and
was watching. Black Deer turned to his people. "Please, brothers, dance
with pride and true honor; for the dance will be passed on. When the people
come to dance, that pride will live on."

All smiled at Black Deer and said, "You will see what we have learned." And
with that, he signaled the dance to start.

The drums started, and the singers sounded stronger than ever. Then the
dancers raised their heads high and the dance began. They danced like
they'd never danced before -- with unity and pride, with the true meaning
the messenger taught them. Their hearts were finally filled with the dance
the way it should be.

The drums became one heartbeat, footstep with footstep. Their spirits
swelled within them and soared high in the world of the eagle. The dancers
saw nothing but their feet hitting the ground with each beat. The song and
the drum told them what to do. The dancing went on for most of the night,
and when it did end everyone had learned what Eagle was telling them all
along.

Not a feather had fallen to the ground, which meant a warrior would not
fall. Black Deer walked over to the tree in which the eagle sat. "Oh
messenger, you have taught me and my people a lesson, one that will be
passed on to all the people that will walk the lands after we are gone." No
tears were in Eagle's eyes this time, only pride: a pride that still
represents the dance and the fire today.

Lim lim.

Ken "Rainbow Cougar" Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in
Washington, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. He is a graduate of
the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and is a longtime
cartoonist for Indian Country Today.