03 November 2010

Ch 9, Pt 2 of 5: "Nicolais' Raven Story of Creation"

Chapter 9, pt 2
"Nicolai's Raven Story of Creation"

Nicolai intensely disliked the “white devil spirits,” though I
was never quite sure what he meant by that since he did not necessarily
dislike the white people themselves. He had a larger view of life which
saw all of us as part of an extended family rather than as a grouping of
different races. He was never happy with the predominant white outlook
which dismissed the Natives as lower in stature than whites and which
completely ignored the effect of what they were doing to the earth every
time they disturbed it in the highly aggressive manner which
characterized their society.


Copper River Indians'  ta-zes or ball-ee-ga
(Russian loanword): Tent  --WRST National Park Service

Our family was of the Raven Clan. The chief was more favorable toward
the ravens than he was toward any other animal except a Siberian dog he
usually kept near him which he called Tikaani--the wolf dog.

In studying those highly intelligent birds he believed he could find
answers to our own humanity. Sometimes the best way for an Indian to
explain the world is through a raven story. It is this special tale I
relate now which Shee-ya told Michael and Charles and me on that
particular night. It was Nicolai’s telling of the tale which set the
stage for what was about to follow--for the rest of our lives.

" This is not the first
time the world has changed so greatly, nor will it be the last.
In the time of the Raven, long before the Great Spirit created
our own people, the land we know now--the land which has always
been the greatest part of our way of life--did not look like it
does today.

" We have been given the
role of guardians of this land, for we are the Children of the
Earth. We must never forget this nor give up our role because it
is easy to do so, for it was given us by the Great Creator
himself--He who is even over the raven and the wolf, the bear
and the fox, and who is over every one of us. This land belongs
only to the Great Creator. It was He who has granted us life
within it and it is He who has placed on us the duty to protect
this land and all the creatures who dwell here.

" Long ago the first
ravens flew over the land which was here and concluded that
there was not enough of it to do the work which the Great
Creator had assigned them--which was to prepare the way for the
Children of the Earth. For the Great Creator wanted someone more
like himself with whom he could speak.

" Water was everywhere. It
surrounded the land of the birds. The ravens lived in tall
mountains surrounded by waters which marked the beginning and
end of their homes, but the land of the birds was very small,
for the ravens could fly over their entire domain in one day.

" 'If we are to 
make way for these Children of the Earth because the Great
Creator demands it, we may make it too easy for those new
creatures, who may become greater than ourselves, gain special
favor from the Creator, and drive us away from our homes. We
cannot defy the Great Creator, but we must not foolishly make
way for new creatures which could drive us from our homes
either, so what are we to do?

'  mused the ravens.

" There was much debate
among the ravens. They knew that in the end they would have to
obey the Creator, but they were so used to having the world to
themselves, along with the lesser animals over which they held
dominance, that this new situation created much consternation.

" ' Is the Great Creator putting us through a test?' They
wondered among themselves.


' Would the Creator really bring in some new 
creature having more power and maybe even more favor than those
who lived here from the beginning without at least taking the
rest of us into account?'


" No one could say. This
was an entirely new and completely unexpected occurrence. The
ravens only knew that they could not stop the Creator if this is
really what He wanted. Nor did they dare anger him by doing
nothing, for the Creator had a way of dealing with those
creatures who did not recognize his power.

" It was the assigned duty of the ravens to make this clear to
all the creatures of his domain: That there is only one Great
Creator. He can easily be angered. It is best not to ignore him.
Lt. Henry Allen drawing of Miles

" ' The Great Spirit has given us a test to see if we are still his 
worthy creatures, ' 
concluded the head raven.

" ' We have been granted dominion because
we are the smartest of his creatures. He will expect us to work
this out, but only after asking him the right questions, said
the head raven to the other birds who had assembled at the Tall
Peak to consider the problem.'

' Let us
look at the matter separately, and then we will gather together
and ask for the help of the Great Spirit, and let us all hope we
are doing the right thing.'

" Of course, the head
raven meant the right thing for the ravens, but everyone at the
meeting of the birds understood that. This meeting had included
all the great birds: the owls, the eagles, the hawks, and even
the lesser ones: the seagulls, the sparrows, and all the others.
But everyone knew that the ravens were the first among the


Lt Henry Allen's drawing of the Copper River delta

" So the birds flew out in
all directions from their island home, and one of them--a lowly
seagull--spotted a great mass of land in the far distance,
floating in the place which they call the Great Waters. When the
lowly seagull flew closer he spotted creatures in the distant
waters to the south. When he approached near the great floating
land he saw that it contained many peaks, but it appeared to be

" The lowly seagull realized that he had probably found the
answer to the problem of the birds, but he was not a great
thinker. He was just a scout sent out by the head seagull, who
took his orders from the head raven. He excitedly returned to
the home of the birds and found the head raven, expecting the
raven to be pleased by the news.

" The head raven had never
expected such news, for he never would have believed that the
world could be so large that land existed beyond their own
domain floating way out in the Great Waters. But then, no one
had ever thought to explore much beyond the land which the birds
had known since the beginning of time. Raven did not know
whether to be pleased at the possibilities or irritated to learn
something which he should have known all along.


" 'Oh
Great Creator, why did you not tell us about this distant
floating land on the Great Waters or of the large creatures
which inhabit the waters to our south? '

" ' What makes you think that you are so
great or hold my favor so much that I should tell you the
secrets of Creation? ' 
Demanded the Great
" ' I have
given you a world which you have taken for granted. It is up to
you to discover the secrets of my creation, for this is why I
have made you and all of life.

" ' What is
the use of a world where you have all the answers and know what
is coming?

" ' Do you
really think that knowing all the answers without discovering
the world for yourself will make you happy? '

Roared the Great Creator.
" ' I
need someone more like myself with whom to converse--someone
with more of an independent spirit than even you, for I myself
am weary of all this predictable life.'


Lt. Henry
Allen's drawing of Mt Wrangell from the Copper River

" The raven was blown
completely off Tall Peak where he had been perched by the force
of the angry words of the Creator. He was greatly startled, for
he had never encountered such a reaction from the Great Creator
before. But then, he and the other birds had lived for ages
  without ever asking for much of anything from the Creator."

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