I would like to share a story with you on family. Coming from a family of eight, give or take a cousin or two, I learned at an early age that cooperation and patience are a must. So I hope this story might show you that family is the root system which can only branch out over the years. So, as all stories have a beginning, so does this family.
Wi (Sun) was the youngest of three brothers. Then there were Hanwi (Moon) and Mini (Water). They lived in a fairly large village and had parents with the gift of patience, for patience is what Wi and Hanwi needed. All the sons did was fight and taunt each other. Even when Wi fell ill last winter’s moon, his two brothers still found ways to make him mad and not help in his recovery. Sunup until sundown, there was always a fight or name-calling.
One evening Mato and Pina sat all the boys down as they passed out a fine supper of fish, berries and camas. The boys started being greedy by taking all the berries and camas, which as usual, started a fight. Wi yelled at his brothers, “I wouldn’t have to share all I have all the time and help you get water and fish and hunt. I’m tired of always helping the two of you.” Hanwi and Mini looked at each other and then said, “We are tired of you too! You are always being mean to us,” they yelled together. And, as usual, dinner turned into a war.
At this point Mato grabbed his drum from where he sat and started beating away. “Stop! Please stop. I am tired of all this fighting. Can we not eat together and talk of our day and maybe even laugh? Laughter would be music to my ears, but this sounds like brother Bear fighting.
“Tomorrow I am sending the three of you to work together, and each of you is to help one another get three things for dinner tomorrow. If Wi chooses to pick berries, Hanwi and Mini will help him. Then if Wi chooses to dig for roots, Hanwi and Mini will help. Of course, whatever Mini does, the two of you will help him. You need to work together to help each other. There may be a time when you may have to depend on one another just to survive. Do you hear me?” All heads nodded a yes, but the dirty looks to one another were still there. The silence and good behavior seemed to last only three beats of a drum. So off to bed Pina and Mato sent them.
As the new day crept over the children, Pina had breakfast going. They managed to sit quietly as they ate. When they finished, Mato did not give them a chance to fight. He told them where the berry-picking and fish were plentiful and to remember what he had said. They looked at one another and quietly mumbled out, “We must work together, right?” Mato smiled. That is what he wanted to hear. As they left the tipi and started off on their lesson, Mato noticed the teasing and hitting of one another was starting; and he watched them do this until they were not in his sight anymore.
As usual, the three boys were not getting along and were not helping one another. Instead, they threw rocks at each other and fought. Suddenly the forest became very still and quiet. Not even a bird could be heard. All that could be heard were the brothers fighting. Little did they know they were being watched. They were so busy fighting among themselves that they did not even notice all stood still around them.
By chance, Wi happened to stop fighting long enough to see a beautiful woman standing there crying. They all stopped and just stared. Her hair flowed to the ground and seemed to blend into the fringe from her buckskin dress. Even though there was not even the slightest breeze, her hair moved like an invisible wind was blowing it.
“Who are you?” they seemed to ask at the same time.
“I am the woman of the four winds.”
“Why are you crying?”
“You make me cry,” she replied. “I have been watching all of you fight. Not one of you knows how lucky you are to have one another.”
But her words fell on deaf ears, for the brothers were busy fighting again. The woman of the four winds could not stand the sound of arguing anymore. She threw her hands up in the air and called for the winds. They came whirling and howling like angry wolves. Branches and leaves filled the air. The winds seemed to surround the brothers.
“Help us,” they screamed. “Please make the wind go away.”
Ever so slowly, the winds disappeared as the woman lowered her hands. For once, the brothers stood there, silent. But it was too late. The woman came closer to them and her eyes were still filled with tears. Ever so quietly she spoke.
“The three of you will be three trees, all sharing the same roots that will hold you together and keep all of you alive with water and food from the ground. When the winds blow, your roots will hold you firm to mother earth. You will learn to depend on each other, for if you do not help one another by sharing all to keep you alive, all three trees will die. Fighting will not help you. Now you will learn unity. I will return in 12 moons and we shall see what will become of the three of you.”
And at that moment, the boys turned into three trees, joined together.
For 12 moons, they learned to share the water and food mother earth gave them. They stood strong together in winds and hard rains and snow, never once arguing. So on the 12th moon, as the woman of the four winds promised, she returned. She saw they had learned that they were important to one another. As she smiled, the trees were no more. There stood the boys. They were so happy they were jumping about and hugging one another.
“May we go home now?” they asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You may, but before you go can you tell me what you have learned?”
Wi said, “We are brothers and always will be; in good times and bad we will always be there for each other. But most of all, we are family.”
The woman stood there with tears in her eyes again. “Please don’t cry,” Wi pleaded. “We are not fighting.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “These are tears of happiness, for you have learned something very important over those 12 moons. Even though you were trees, you could still talk to one another; feel the cold, the wind, and hunger. You learned to share and to comfort one another. You learned to enjoy one another. But most of all, you learned to love one another and that you always have. You learned also to respect each other.
“Sometimes in our busy lives, this is something we forget: our brothers and sisters, and sometimes, our elders. I suggest we all take just a little time to listen, to talk, to understand each other’s feelings and to become connected. On that note, I think I will call my brothers.”
<i>Ken “Rainbow Cougar” Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and a longtime cartoonist for Indian Country Today. Contact him at email@example.com.