An Onondagan Primal Tale
One day, She-Who-Creates-by-Speaking-Its-Name was gazing back across time, reflecting upon the glories of the People, when out of the corner of her eye she saw something in the other direction, towards the future, that made her gasp in dismay. She saw that all living things would soon be threatened by pale-eyed enemies from across the sea. Dispatching Turtle to watch for the invaders' arrival on the shore of the eastward sea, she commanded all the animals to meet for seven days in a great lodge, there to discuss ways of dealing with this menace.
But how, you ask, could all the animals meet together if Turtle was absent? Well, at that distant time, Turtle was not counted among the animals because of her shell's resemblance to a rock.
To avoid the chaos of all the earth's animals meeting in one lodge, She-Who-Creates-by-Speaking-Its-Name ordained that each clan send one representative of its essential nature. There was greedy Bobcat, and sly Coyote, and ill-tempered Bear, and bewildered Mole, and placid Tree, and many, many others. But why, you ask, was Tree invited to a meeting of the animals? Well at that distant time, Tree was accepted as one of the animals for a very good reason which, alas, has fallen from the memory of man.
At first, no humans were invited to sit in the Great Meeting. But a senior storyteller of the Onondaga, a man who was called Old because of his age, was commanded to preside over this gathering because he possessed three necessary skills: first, being of the People, he still spoke the Tongue, so he could interpret She-Who-Creates-by-Speaking-Its-Name's will; second, the Onondaga were experienced at smoothing out quarrels and settling disputes; and third, Old understood the many voices of the animals. The first thing Old did was to ask She-Who-Creates-by-Speaking-Its-Name to allow the animals to understand one another, just for the time of the Great Meeting; and so She visited each animal's ear as a soft-voice-that-tickles, and lo, they could understand one another.
Now you should know that the seven days of the Great Meeting lasted for many, many years, for in those distant times a day was as long as it needed to be, and thus many generations of the People were born, grew up, found mates, became old and feeble, and returned to enrich the earth while the Great Meeting was still going on. Late in the first day of the meeting, Turtle, who had been sent to keep watch on the distant shore of the Great Water, opened her sleepy eyelids and was startled to see a huge war canoe bearing down on the shore, its vast oar-cloths filled with wind. Now, Turtle's heart was not a bold one, for stones do not strengthen their spirits through battle, yet she resisted her impulse to flee until she had watched warriors wade ashore from the vast war canoe and thrust their spears into the sand, claiming the land as their own. At the sight of them Turtle swallowed hard and was sore afraid, yet still she stood her ground while the pale-eyed ones celebrated by pointing their long firesticks into the air and making them roar and belch out smoke and flame. Then one of them pointed his firestick at a deer who was standing at the edge of the forest, frozen by curiosity. The firestick shouted its smoke and flame at the deer, and the deer fell, an invisible arrow through its heart. At this, Turtle turned and rushed back towards the meeting lodge, but rushing for a turtle is not what rushing is for other creatures, so twice ten times ten summers would pass before Turtle came panting and gasping to the lodge of the Great Meeting...
...where, alas, nothing had yet been decided because the assembled animals were squabbling, and many used this occasion to air old disputes, rake up old wrongs, and exchange new insults, all the animals shouting at the top of their voices...voices very different from those they use today. Old pleaded for calm, but he failed to quell the deafening babble. All the animals cried out either for preference, or for advantage, or in simple ill-temper, each louder than the others, until the din and confusion was more than Old could stand.
"Please be quiet," he begged. "I must have silence if I am to hear within me the soft voice of She-Who-Creates-by-Speaking-Its-Name and pass her message on to you!"
But the angry clamor increased until evening, and thus passed the first day of many, many years, and still Turtle was desperately rushing towards the meeting place at her slow pace.
When Old arrived at the meeting lodge on the morning of the second day, he found the animals already entangled in argument, with Crow hissing at full voice, and Tree barking away, and greedy Bobcat croaking her head off, and Dog gobbling loudly into the ear of Frog, who yapped her annoyance to squeaking Bear and purring Turkey. Try though he did, Old was unable to bring order out of the chaos. And in like manner did the third day pass. And the fourth. And the fifth. And thus was the time for deliberation and preparation squandered in squabbles and petty pride.
On the night of the fifth day, Old began a fast to make himself calm in his deepest parts, so that he might hear the silent voice of She-Who-Creates-by-Speaking-Its-Name. He commanded the young men of his clan to prepare the sweat lodge with two fires, and he sat alone in the heat and the smoke of the sweat lodge, fasting and chanting and sipping a wooden cup of the juice of the mushroom-that-pours-light-into-your-mind until he suddenly felt the presence of She-Who-Creates-by-Speaking-Its-Name growing within him. He asked her how he could hush the blustering delegates so that they might receive her warnings and her advice. And her silent voice whispered into his bones, telling him how to silence them with a woven basket, and he smiled at her crafty ruse.
And while all this was going on, Turtle continued to dash towards the meeting lodge, as she had for scores of years. But now her neck was stretched far out from her shell in an effort for speed, because Pale-eyes had followed her towards the setting sun and was gaining on her every day.
...to be continued...