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Storytellers Series: Dreams, A True Mohawk Story

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An elder prepares salmon, a traditional dish for many Indian nations.

Mike Tarbell

Storytelling season traditionally lasts from the first frost to the last. Mohawk storyteller Mike Tarbell shares a story with Indian Country Today Media Network:

The hour of the wolf had come and gone. It was time to go home. Aunt Sarah rushed the boys along before their father came looking. The night air had a snap to it as they walked along the road talking and laughing. A full moon was beginning to ascend from behind the mountains in the distance. A flicker of light cut through the darkness from an island in the river. The boys watched with intent to see if they could see a face or faces reflecting from the light around the fire. No faces appeared but the fire seemed to be moving and as the moon cleared the mountains the fire was on a part of the island that was covered with reeds and water. The boys watched with surprise as the fire moved along the edge of the water and then bounded across the water towards them and then bounced across the field grass landscape. Running home as fast as their legs would take them their father was waiting on the front porch. They told him what they saw. He sat them down and explained it as a child would understand it. It was a jack-o-lantern and someone was playing with them.

Quite a few years later the father and his boys were working on their grandfather’s house when the father suggested they take a break and get something to eat. As they fingered and chewed some smoked mullet, they talked and laughed as they chased it down with some beer. Their father began to talk about the night they told him about what they had seen come off the river. He looked at them with stern eyes and told them that it wasn’t a jack-o-lantern that they had seen that night. He said that in the traditional culture it was the spirit of a lost soul that didn’t start it’s journey correctly. Not being able to shot directly into the “Pathway of the Souls” that it would bound on the land, lost forever.

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One of the boys had left the territory to experience the world and was in a moment of recovering from the effects of his experience, hearing the story for the first time, it had opened a passage to an understanding and the beginnings of the healing. The elders said he was still “Running in the Woods.” Seeking a better understanding took him on a journey into a dream where he would find himself walking and talking with the deer. They, the deer, telling him a story that they were still here as the Creator had instructed them to. Their duty had been to chase down those lost souls, bounding across the land as fire balls, gently racking them into their antlers to carry them back to their origins so they could start their journey down the “Pathway of the Souls” correctly, to the “Land of the Strawberries." That they are still doing the Creator’s charge today but they sometimes mistake those lights in the night and we find them laying along side the roads.

In the passion of the healing he understood why the ancestors saw them as the “Leaders of the Four-legged." That, when a chief was condoled into the leadership role, the Clanmother would place the “Antlers of Authority” upon his head and he would wear them with pride for the people. To show honor and respect for the deer we will sing it’s song, dance it’s dance and tell the story for the generations to come, for a better understanding.