| The Animals Give Themselves

Posted by admin at 2008, September 25, 4:48 PM
More of this topic in Story

Our story is called "The Animals Give Themselves" from the book Cloud Walker by Joe Montour published by Forum Publishing. Mr. Montour is a native American from the Mohar nation. He has written stories about young native Americans who grow up in American cities and do not always know a lot about their Indian traditions. Here is Faith Lapidus with the story.

"Elizabeth." Betty Talen turned to her best friend Debby, "I hate it when my mother calls me Elizabeth, it always means I have to do some work." Betty made her music louder and the two girls laughed.

Betty and Debby are 12 years old and live in Fairbanks, Alaska. Together, they share schoolwork and movies and talk a lot. Betty is Coyukan, an Alaskan native nation, and Debby's ancestors came from England.

Mrs. Talen came to Betty's room, "We are going home to our village for a potlatch." she told her daughter.

"What is a potlatch?" asked Debby.
"It is a big ceremony and meal," said Betty, "people cook food and give away blankets, it is really silly. Do I have to go?" she asked her mother.

"Yes, it is our responsibility." said her mother, "We are flying out tomorrow morning."

The next morning, Betty was flying in a small plane beside her mother. "I really hate this," she said, "why couldn’t I stay with Debby?"

But when the plane landed, Betty was beginning to think the Potlatch might be fun. She would see her uncle Vincent and aunt Molly and visit with her cousins. But most important was that her father would be at the Potlatch. He was often away from home for months working with the tribe on environmental issues.

Uncle Vincent met them at the airport. He had a thick way of talking and a missing tooth in the corner of his smile. Uncle Vincent was a hunter in the village.

"How you folks been doing there in Fairbanks?" He asked as he drove his truck down a snowy road. They drove for almost an hour. Betty thought everything just looked frozen, but to her mother, it was the place where she had grown up. She showed Betty the birds and other animals along the road. Suddenly Uncle Vincent stopped the truck and looked into the bushes. Mrs. Talen watched too, but Betty could see nothing. Then Betty saw a large moose whose breath made steam in the winter air.


Uncle Vincent quickly reached for his gun and stepped out of his truck. Betty looked at her mother. ''He is not going to shoot the moose, is he? " Before her mother could answer, there was a loud sound from the gun, then silence. Mrs. Talen got out of the truck and stood beside Vincent. Betty watched them talk softly, then her mother said, "Come on, Betty, we have a moose". Betty said softly to her mother, "This is so horrible, I hate it! Why can't we just go? '' But Mrs. Talen put her finger to her lips as a sign to be quiet.

A short way into the woods, they came upon the moose lying on her side in the snow. Betty watched as Uncle Vincent touched different parts of the dead moose, praying quietly and offering thanks for the use of the animal. Then he stood up and said, ''Betty, run up to the truck and bring back the knives under the seat. '' Betty walked through the snow, feeling unsure. A potlatch was supposed to be fun! Now here they were, in the middle of the forest with a dead moose. She found the knives in the truck and returned to where her mother and uncle were waiting. ''This is so horrible! " She said under her breath.


Uncle Vincent and Mrs. Talen both took off their coats. It was freezing, but her mother did not seem cold. She took one of the knives from Betty. "Mum? "asked Betty. "What? You did not know that I know how to cut the skin off a moose? I used to help my brothers all the time! My mother and I took care of the skins and we smoked them to make coverings for our feet and hands. When you were born, I used to give you a moose bone to chew on to help your baby teeth grow. '' She said with a laugh.

''No way! '' Betty protested. As they worked late into the afternoon, Betty thought it was so strange to see her mother working on a moose. Betty was used to seeing her mother working in an office wearing dresses and nice shoes, but not in the middle of the snow taking the skin off a moose. What else didn't she know about her mother? When they were ready to leave, Betty saw that the woods did not seem quiet anymore. Black birds called ravens were circling high in the sky and a cold wind was blowing.


As they drove along the snowy road, Betty thought to herself, ''This land was difficult, but her mother was a part of it, because she knew things. '' As they drove into the small village, Betty saw that there were no big stores. This was the place her mother had been raised, and Betty suddenly felt as though she did not know very much.

Uncle Vincent stopped by a small house at the far end of the village. There were so many people inside. Betty did not remember any of them, but they seemed to know her. Betty was only a baby when she left and her relatives ragged her cheeks and welcomed. She smiled as they put their arms around her. Then, out of the crowd, came her father, David Talen. He picked her up and cried, ''Betty Boop !''

''Dad, do not call me that!'' She said, but she was still smiling. She put her arms around him. ''We killed a moose for potlatch!'' Betty did not know where her words came from, but she sensed the importance of this group of family members.


''You got a moose?'' asked Betty's father. He smelled her and added with a laugh. ''You smell like a moose. Hi, you!''

That night, Betty slept on blankets on the floor. She was so tired from walking in the woods with the moose. She dreamed that the moose talked to her and said, ''I give myself to you, so your people can eat and live.'' When she woke up, she thought her dream was real. Betty found her mother having a cup of coffee. ''Mom, I had a dream.'' She said. ''The moose was there and she told me her death was like a gift to us. I do not understand.''

Betty's mother held the warm cup of coffee in her hands and explained. ''No matter how far we travel from home, when we return, this is still our land. The place we come from. This is a place of people, ravens, moose and so many other beings. The bird does not take more than it needs and people do not, either. This is the balance of our world. Your moose visited you to let you know that it was all right. She gave up herself to feed your family because we honored her. And from that, you're learning to be honorable. You watch here how all these meat will be shared. Everyone will be fed from your moose. That is life.''

Just then, Betty's father joined them, her mother looked up and smiled. ''Betty dreamed about the moose.''

''Oh, I see,'' said Betty's father. ''Would you feel better if I told you Aunt Ester makes soft shoes? She will make you a pair from your moose.''

Betty smiled, ''Really?''

Her father said, ''Maybe we should all talk more about our traditions, so we do not forget them.''

''You're always gone,'' said Betty.

''Well, that could change.'' said her Dad. ''I am moving back to Fairbanks.''

Her mother jumped up and put her arms around him. ''That is wonderful, David.'

The next day, Betty enjoyed the potlatch ceremony. All the people cooked big pots of meat and fried bread. Older members of the village stood up to speak about the unity of the people. They offered prayers to the spirits and everyone ate.

''I never ate so much in my life.'' Betty said to her mother, ''My moose was very good.'' НWWW.fAIRY-TALE.iNfoㄉУηゥη

When Betty flew back to Fairbanks, she looked down at the land. Her mother's village looked like little dots on the snowy earth.

Back home, Betty was happy to see her friend Debby.

''Look what I brought you! A pair of soft shoes, my aunt made them.''

Debby said, ''I wish I could go to a potlatch.''

Betty said, ''Maybe next year, I will ask my mother if you can come, but if we shoot a moose, you have to help.''

You have heard the native American story ''The Animals Give Themselves'' from the book Cloud Walker. It was written by Joe Montour.

Tags: american story

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