Trumpeter Swans. Photo: Bill Maynard (Link)
in Feeding Sublimity: Embodiment and Medicine in Blackfoot Experience
Ryan Heavy Head
Master's of Arts Thesis
University of Lethbridge,
"On the fourth night, Pawakksski was suddenly seized by a penetrating cold that embraced his entire body. It was the spirit of the giant mountain. But like the previous advisors, this being had no knowledge of how to reach Naato’si. It told Pawakksski that he would have to travel to the shore of the water with no end, the Pacific Ocean, and there he might find someone to show him the way.
"When Pawakksski awoke from this encounter, he was down at the base of the mountain again. He felt entirely defeated, and just sat there crying for some time, recalling all he’d gone through, and still being told to move further. He had no food left. His clothes were tattered. All of his extra moccasins had been used up, and his feet were raw and bloody. Eventually, he decided that there was nothing else to do but go that one last distance. He collected moss and leaves from the forest around him and tied them to the bottom of his feet as shoes. Then he walked on. Weakened and hungry, his gait was staggered and clumsy. Many times he stumbled into thorned brush that tore away at his skin. Some days later, he finally came to the water’s edge. There, looking out over the vast sea, Pawakksski gave up all hope. This was his end. It would be impossible to travel further, no matter what the spirits told him. He hadn’t energy enough remaining to even attempt a swim, and neither could he turn around and go home. All was through.
"Pawakksski walked out into the ocean to wash the blood and dirt off his body, then went to shore and lay there with his feet in the water, crying, praying, and singing. He called to the spirits and asked that they take pity on him – either show him to Naato’si or take away his life. The last thing he saw before falling asleep were some swans drifting far offshore. When he awoke, it was in a trance. A large white swan had floated up near him. It asked why he was crying. Pawakksski told the swan all that had transpired, from the teasing, to the girl, to the mountain spirits and his travels. He told the swan that all hope was lost, and that now he only wished his life would end. The swan felt sorry for Pawakksski, and told him that the journey was almost over, that he had only one more thing to do. He would fall asleep again, and when he woke up there would be a swan-head rattle beneath his robe to prove that what he was being told had actually happened. When he had retrieved the rattle, the swans would come to him, to take him to Naato’si. He would have to close his eyes, and not open them again until he was told to do so. If he slipped up and looked around, it would be over, and he would never achieve what he had come so far to do.
"The next morning when he awoke, the same group of swans were floating in the distance, and Pawakksski began to cry again, certain that he had only imagined his encounter. Reaching around to find his tobacco pouch, his hand came upon the swan-head rattle. In an instant, he realized that all he had experienced was real, and he quickly built a fire, so that he could make a smudge and pray in thanks to the large swan. Just before Naato’si could be seen in the east, the swans floated to shore and told Pawakksski to lay down on top of his robe and close his eyes. No sooner had he shut them than he felt himself being pulled rapidly away. Following their instructions, Pawakksski fought curiosity and kept his eyes closed until he fell asleep. When he woke again, the large swan had returned and was poking him in the ribs, telling him to open his eyes, that he was in the land of Naato’si. When Pawakksski looked up, the swans startled and took flight, eventually disappearing far out over the horizon of the waters.
"He sat there on this new shore, watching out over the waves and thinking about what he should do. Then he heard a piercing scream, and he looked down the beach to see a young boy running frantically toward him, seven giant white cranes giving chase from behind. Without a thought, Pawakksski jumped to his feet, ran at the enormous birds, and one by one thrust his flint knife into their throats. Each crane toppled and died instantly. Surprising even himself, Pawakksski glanced down at his feet and found that he wore a new pair of moccasins. The swans must have dressed him. While he stood over the defeated cranes, the boy came up to thank him, telling him that all the people of that land lived in fear of the giant birds. Exchanging greetings, Pawakksski learned that the boy’s name was Iipisówaahsi, Distant-Food, a term used to refer to raw chunks of buffalo meat that were hung up to dry as jerky. He also learned that this boy was the son of Naato’si, and that his mother was Ko’komíki’somm, the Night-sun, or Moon. Iipisówaahsi told Pawakksski that they would remove the skins from the dead cranes and take them back to his family’s lodge, and that Naato’si would be so elated by the victory that he would probably grant any wish Pawakksski had. So the two young men sat in waiting for Naato’si while she [Ko’komíki’somm] prepared a meal. Just before Naato’si arrived, Ko’komíki’somm told Pawakksski to hide behind the linings of their lodge, so that he would not be harmed by the intense heat of the old man. As soon as Naato’si stepped through the door, he put his nose to the air and sniffed around, claiming that he sensed the presence of a human being among them. He went and sat down to listen while Iipisówaahsi explained the day’s events. Naato’si was pleased to receive the scalps of the cranes, and told his son that the visitor should stay as their guest. Then Pawakksski was brought out from behind the linings, his eyes closed to the blinding light, and made to sit in front of Naato’si. The old man painted him from head to toe with in black, and after that Pawakksski was not bothered by either the light or the heat in the old man’s presence.
"For almost a full lunar cycle, Pawakksski lived at this lodge, in the company of these sacred beings. He started to become used to their routines – the way Naato’si would go away during the daylight hours, to return in the evenings when Ko’komíki’somm would take her turn outdoors, until just before dawn when Iipisówaahsi, the Morning Star, would go out for a short while, and so on. After living with them for some time, keeping company with Iipisówaahsi during the days, Pawakksski began to feel an urge to return home. He knew that the widow back in his camp had probably been suffering without his assistance, and his thoughts still remained with the young woman who had promised him her love. Naato’si had known of his guest’s intentions all along, but thought it best to wait until the boy approached him with a request. Now the old man was beginning to sense the youth’s urgency to return home, and so finally decided to give him an option. Assuring Pawakksski that they had thoroughly enjoyed his visit, and were very grateful for the way he had saved their son’s life, Naato’si suggested that it might be good for him to return to his own people, while the warmth of summer was still with them. In exchange for his altruistic act in slaying the seven cranes, he could ask for anything he wanted to take back home with him.
"Pawakksski recognized that his moment of opportunity had at last arrived. In full detail, he explained why he had come to their land, and all that he had suffered to get there. His only wish was to have the young woman by his side. But because she was already promised to Naato’si himself, her restrictions would have to be lifted and, as proof of this, the scar removed from his face. For a long while Naato’si just sat there silent, with Pawakksski growing increasingly nervous. When the old man did respond, it was with kindness, but also in a serious tone. What Pawakksski had requested was very unusual – it was not considered proper for a man and woman, once committed to one another, to be broken apart by a third party. Because of his debt to Pawakksski, and his empathy for the suffering the boy had endured, Naato’si would grant the wish. But since the nature of this change was so significant, something would have to be done to remind people that the break-up of a marriage is always incredibly damaging. Since Naato’si would feel sorrowed by the loss of this young woman, so she too, and Pawakksski as well, must suffer. He would teach the boy a new ceremony, to be brought to the people and used during the largest summer encampment each year, commemorating this important lesson about marriage. But before Pawakksski could be taught such sacred things, he needed to be cleansed.
"When Naato’si went out the next day, he left Pawakksski and Iipisówaahsi with instructions to gather four hundred willows and rocks with which they would construct four sweat lodges. That evening, when Naato’si returned, they held four sstsiiysskaani. Ko’komíki’somm sat outside these lodges, taking care of the doors and bringing in the stones for them. After they had finished the first steam-making, and the skins of the lodge were pulled up, Naato’si asked Ko’komíki’somm to look inside and identify their own son. She could clearly see the scar on Pawakksski, and so knew right away which boy was her own. After the second and third sweats, this test was repeated, and both times the old lady knew her boy right away. Then they sat through one final sstsiiysskaani, and when Ko’komíki’somm looked inside, neither boy had any blemishes.
"She couldn’t tell one from the other. Taking a guess at it, she selected Pawakksski as her son. This mistake was proof that the steam-making process had been successful.
"Over the next four nights, Naato’si instructed Pawakksski about the ceremony he would bring home to the people. He had already experienced sstsiiysskaani, and could always use that to heal, as well as to cleanse himself and his wife before they began the new ceremony – the construction of the okan lodge, for which they would fast and thirst for four days in recognition of the importance of marriage, and the pain that comes when such bonds are broken. In addition, Naato’si set out seven items in front of Pawakksski and told him to chose whichever it was he would like to take home with him. "There’s one for gambling, for stealing, for cutting with, there’s a weapon, one for killing, and one for taking out," Naato’si said, pointing to each item. The object he didn’t name was a white staff, so Pawakksski said that he would take it. "You don’t want that," Naato’si told him, "it’s nothing." Again he named each of the six other items, and once more Pawakksski indicated that he would take the staff. Only when he’d made the same choice four times did Naato’si agree to relinquish it, admitting that the white staff was the best choice of all, as it represented life itself. And for final departing gifts, Pawakksski was dressed in a new buckskin suit, the shirt of which held the emblem of Naato’si and had scalp-locks hanging from the sleeves that represented the seven cranes he had defeated. Two raven feathers, bound together, were tied to his hair, and Naato’si showed him how to get home quickly, following makóyoohsokoyi, the wolf-trail.
"Pawakksski returned to the camp of his people with a new name: Pahtsiipisówaahs, Mistaken-for-Morningstar. He won his bride and shared his knowledge of all the gifts that Naato’si had bestowed – the first sstsiiysskaani, okan lodge, scalp-lock suit, raven topknot, and white staff. Some time later, Pawakksski and his bride followed the wolf-trail once more, she to reclaim her position beside Naato’si, he as the bright star in the dawn sky often mistaken as Iipisówaahsi."
Naato’si - the Sun
Ko'komíki'somm - the Moon
Ki'sómm - Sun/Moon
Makóyoohsokoyi - the Wolf Road - Milky Way
Iipisówaahsi - Morning Star
Ihkitsíkammiksi – the Seven Stars - the Big Dipper
waahkiaapiksistsiko - be the day midway between the summer and winter solstice - equinox
Amí’tsssokimi – Pacific Ocean
iksistto’simm – be a full moon
i'ni - be the last day of the last quarter (no moon)
inákoi – be the first quarter of the moon
omino'toohsi - second quarter of the Moon
Isskihta' - toward the open prairie - East
Nimm - West
Waami't - West
okan - dead branch
imiihkayii – swan
aapssííkam - whooping crane
sstsiiysskaani - sweatlodge