Materials required: projector, whiteboard, downloaded app for Wolastoqey or Mi’kmaw, talking stick
Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters – Nimbus Publishing and Vagrant Press
Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters
Waponahkiyik believe that the animals of the earth are descendants of ancestor animals in the sky, and that their appearance and behaviour on earth reflect the appearance and habits of their ancestors in the sky. In the story for this activity, the bear’s ability to die and come back to life demonstrates its special powers. Because of these, bears are treated as sacred animals.
Muin/Bear/Muwin and The Seven Hunters
The Mi’kmaq call the four stars of the Big Dipper (also called the Great Bear, Ursa Major), Muin/Bear/Muwin. These four stars seemed to behave in the sky as bears did on the earth. The three stars of the handle of the dipper, or the tail of the bear, are three of the seven hunters who follow the bear across the northern sky during the warm summer months. They are Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs (which has a reddish colour), Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis (because it is small like a chickadee), and Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird (Grey Jay)/Mamkuniyahsis. In the constellation nearby, which astronomers call Bootes, there are the four other hunters: Ples/Pigeon/Poles, Tities/Blue Jay/Tihtiyas (because it is a blue star), Ku’ku’kwes/Owl/Tihtokol and Gopgej/Saw-whet/Kamkamoss. These four stars lose the chase as they can no longer be seen when they drop below the northern horizon in the late summer. Above the hunters is Muin/Bear/Muwin’s den; the group of stars that astronomers call Corona Borealis. The tiny star beside Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis is his cooking pot, which he carries along to cook the meat when Muin/Bear/Muwin is killed. The story of Muin/Bear/Muwin and the Seven Hunters continues to be told today. It can be told throughout the year because it is relevant no matter what the season is.
For countless generations, on summer evenings the Mi’kmaq watched the four stars of the Bear fleeing across the northern horizon, chased by the seven stars whom they called the hunters. By wintertime, the same four stars of the Bear Muin/Bear/Muwin lie high in the sky. Then, as the earth turns warm again in the spring, the four stars move lower and then at once appear to flee across the northern sky. The story follows this pattern.
In the spring Muin/Bear/Muwin wakes from her long winter’s sleep, leaves her den and comes down the hills to look for food. Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis sees her, but being little he cannot follow the trail alone and he calls for the other hunters. Together, they start off with Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis and his cooking pot between Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs and Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/Mamkuniyahsis. Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis is so little that he might get lost in the great sky if Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs and Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/Mamkuniyahsis were not there to look after him.
During the summer, all seven hunters chase Muin/Bear/Muwin across the northern sky. But as autumn creeps into the summer nights the four hunters, Tities/Blue Jay/Tihtiyas, Gopgej/Saw-whet/Kamkamoss, Ku’ku’kwes/Owl/Tihtokol, and Ples/Pigeon/Poles are behind the others. They grow weary and one by one they lose the trail. First Ku’ku’kwes/Owl/Tihtokol and Gopgej/Saw-whet/Kamkamoss drop by the way. But you must not laugh when you hear that Gopgej/Saw-whet/Kamkamoss fails to share in the meat, and you must not mock his rasping cry, for if you do, wherever you are, he will come in the night with his flaming torch of bark and burn the clothes that cover you. Then Tities/Blue Jay/Tihtiyas and Ples/Pigeon/Poles lose the way, and in the crisp nights of autumn only Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/Mamkuniyahsis and Tikati’ti’ji’j/ Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis and Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs, the hunters that are always hunting, are on the trail. At last, Muin/Bear/Muwin grows tired from the long chase and is overtaken by Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs.
Brought to bay, Muin/Bear/Muwin rears to defend herself. Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs pierces her with his arrow and she falls dead upon her back. Hungry from the long chase, and always thin in the autumn, Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs is eager for Muin/Bear/Muwin’s fat. He leaps on her bleeding body and is covered with blood. Flying to the nearest maple, he shakes off the blood — all except from his breast. “That,” Tikati’ti’ji’j/ Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis tells him, “you will have as long as your name is Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs.”
The blood that Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs shakes from his back spatters far and wide over the trees on the earth below. That is why every year there is red on the trees and on the maples reddest of all. The sky, as you know, is just the same as the earth, only up above and older.
After Robin kills Muin/Bear/Muwin, Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis arrives, and together they cut the meat and cook it in Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee’s/ Kocockikihlahsis pot. As they begin to eat, Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/ Mamkuniyahsis arrives. He had almost lost the trail, but when he found it again, he did not hurry. He knew it would take some time for the others to cut the meat and cook it, and he did not mind missing the work. Indeed, he was so pleased with lagging behind and arriving just as the meat is cooked that he has stopped hunting altogether and just shares with the hunters the spoils of the hunt. He is called “He who-comes-in-at-the-last-moment”, Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/Mamkuniyahsis.
Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs and Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis, being generous, share their meat with Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/Mamkuniyahsis, and together Robin and Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/Mamkuniyahsis dance around the pot as Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis shares the meat. So did the Mi’kmaq in the old days when families were united and shared their food.
All winter, Muin/Bear/Muwin’s skeleton lies on its back in the sky. But her life spirit has entered another Muin/Bear/Muwin who lies on her back, in the den, and is sleeping the long sleep of winter. When spring touches the sky, she will awake and come from her den and descend the slopes of the sky and again will be chased by the hunters. In the late days of autumn, she will be slain, but will develop a new life-spirit that lies invisible in the den. Thus, life goes on from generation to generation.
Story collected by Stansbury Hager from Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia and published in The Journal of American Folklore 13:93-103; reproduced in Robertson, Marion Red Earth: Tales of the Mi’kmaq pp. 29-31. You can also listen to a reading of the story by Dr. Elder Murdena Marshall by clicking on the following link: https://youtu.be/3GBycod3qC0.
Extension: An art lesson called The Spirit Bear is found in First Nation Art Plans Grade 5 Lesson 1 from the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
|Mikjaka’kwej||Moose Bird (Grey Jay)||Mamkuniyahsis|
This story and variations on it are told across Indigenous communities in the Waponahkiyik homeland. View the animation of There are Stories in the Stars.
Watch the following video to find out more about the village of thirty centuries.
A song that tells of this same story, called Song of the Stars, was recorded by Charles G. Leland in Algonquin Legends of New England.
Song of the Stars
We are the stars which sing,
We sing with our light.
We are the birds of fire,
We fly over the sky.
Our light is a voice.
We are a road for spirits,
For the spirits to pass over.
Among us are three hunters
Who chase a bear;
There never was a time
When they were not hunting
We look down on the mountains.
This is the song of the Stars
- Read this story to the class and try to have the class visualize how the stars are moving throughout the night sky.
- When the reading is completed have the students identify some things which they heard in the story that reflect the Indigenous worldview — sharing food, travelling together, everything has a spirit, renewal, animals give their lives up to others so they can survive, hunters don’t give up, the sky and the earth are related, things that happen in the sky are repeated on earth.
- Have the students write these ideas down and then illustrate one of them.
- Using the downloaded app for Wolastoqey or Mi’kmaw, try teaching the names of the stars in one of the languages to the students and have them use the names in the story.
- In a circle, have the students retell the story in their own words. Consider using a Talking Stick to do this. If possible, try using some of the Wolastoqey or Mi’kmaw names for the birds.
- Get the class to view the Great Bear Ursa Major when they go home at night, and then draw the position of the 7 stars (or 4) when they come back to class. Identify Muin/Bear/Muwin, Kopjawej/Robin/Ankuwiposehehs, Tikati’ti’ji’j/Chickadee/Kocockikihlahsis, the pot and Mikjaka’kwej/Moose Bird/Mamkuniyahsis.
- Have students read aloud the illustrated book by the same name from the Native literature collection New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development First Nations K-5 Lesson Plans Office of First Nation Perspectives. How are the stories different? How are they the same? Which version is clearer in showing understanding of the placement of the stars in the sky? Why do you think so?
- Give out a copy of Song of the Stars to the students. Divide the poem into two parts and have them read it as a choral reading. What does it mean?