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How Muskrat Created the World
The creation story is in every native American culture. Here are a few examples featuring Muskrat.
Creation of the World (Blackfoot)
"In the beginning, all the world was water. One day the Old Man, also called Napi, was curious to find out what might be beneath the water. So he sent animals to dive beneath the surface. First duck then otter, then Badger dived in vain. The Old Man then sent Muskrat diving to the depths. After a long time muskrat rode to the surface holding between his paws, a little ball of mud, and then blew upon it. The mud began to swell, growing larger, and larger, until it became the whole earth. Then the Old Man made the people."
The Creation Story – Turtle Island (Ojibway/Anishinabe)
Long ago, after the Great Mystery, or Kitchi-Manitou, first peopled the earth, the Anishinabe, or Original People, strayed from their harmonious ways and began to argue and fight with one another. Brother turned against brother and soon the Anishinabe were killing one another over hunting grounds and others disagreements. Seeing that harmony, brotherhood, sisterhood, and respect for all living things no longer prevailed on Earth, Kitchi-Manitou decided to purify the Earth. He did this with water.
The water came in the form of a great flood, or mush-ko'-be-wun', upon the Earth destroying the Anishinabe people and most of the animals as well. Only Nanaboozhoo, the central figure in many of the Anishinabe oral traditions, was able to survive the flood, along with a few animals and birds who managed to swim and fly. Nanaboozhoo floated on a huge log searching for land, but none was to be found as the Earth was now covered by the great flood. Nanaboozhoo allowed the remaining animals and birds to take turns resting on the log as well. Finally, Nanaboozhoo spoke.
"I am going to do something," he said. "I am going to swim to the bottom of this water and grab a handful of earth. With this small bit of Earth, I believe we can create a new land for us to live on with the help of the Four Winds and Kitchi-Manitou."
So Nanaboozhoo dived into the water and was gone for a long time. Finally he surfaced, and short of breath told the animals that the water is too deep for him to swim to the bottom. All were silent. Finally, Mahng, the Loon spoke up. "I can dive under the water for a long way, that is how I catch my food. I will try to make it to the bottom and return with some Earth in my beak."
The Loon disappeared and was gone for a very long time. Surely, thought the others, the Loon must have drowned. Then they saw him float to the surface, weak and nearly unconscious. "I couldn't make it, there must be no bottom to this water," he gasped. Then Zhing-gi-biss, the helldiver came forward and said "I will try next, everyone knows I can dive great distances." So the helldiver went under. Again, a very long time passed and the others thought he was surely drowned. At last he too floated to the surface. He was unconscious, and not till he came to could he relate to the others that he too was unable to fetch the Earth from the bottom.
Many more animals tried but failed, including Zhon-gwayzh', the mink, and even Mi-zhee-kay", the turtle. All failed and it seemed as though there was no way to get the much needed Earth from the bottom. Then a soft muffled voice was heard. "I can do it," it spoke softly. At first no one could see who it was that spoke up. Then, the little Wa-zhushk", muskrat stepped forward. "I'll try," he repeated. Some of the other, bigger, more powerful animals laughed at muskrat. Nanaboozhoo spoke up. "Only Kitchi-Manitou can place judgment on others. If muskrat wants to try, he should be allowed to."
So, muskrat dove into the water. He was gone much longer than any of the others who tried to reach the bottom. After a while Nanaboozhoo and the other animals were certain that muskrat had given his life trying to reach the bottom. Far below the water's surface, Muskrat, had in fact reached the bottom. Very weak from lack of air, he grabbed some Earth in his paw and with all the energy he could muster began to swim for the surface. One of the animals spotted Muskrat as he floated to the surface. Nanaboozhoo pulled him up onto the log. "Brothers and sisters," Nanaboozhoo said, "Muskrat went too long without air, he is dead." A song of mourning and praise was heard across the water as Muskrat's spirit passed on to the spirit world. Suddenly Nanaboozhoo exclaimed, "Look, there is something in his paw!" Nanaboozhoo carefully opened the tiny paw. All the animals gathered close to see what was held so tightly there. Muskrat's paw opened and revealed a small ball of Earth. The animals all shouted with joy. Muskrat sacrificed his life so that life on Earth could begin anew.
Nanaboozhoo took the piece of Earth from Muskrat's paw. Just then, the turtle swam forward and said, "Use my back to bear the weight of this piece of Earth. With the help of Kitchi-Manitou, we can make a new Earth." Nanaboozhoo put the piece of Earth on the turtle's back. Suddenly, the wind blew from each of the Four Directions, The tiny piece of Earth on the turtle's back began to grow. It grew and grew and grew until it formed a mi-ni-si', or island in the water. The island grew larger and larger, but still the turtle bore the weight of the Earth on his back. Nanaboozhoo and the animals all sang and danced in a widening circle on the growing island. After a while, the Four Winds ceased to blow and the waters became still. A huge island sat in the middle of the water, and today that island is known as North America.
Traditional Indian people, including the Ojibway, hold special reverence for the turtle who sacrificed his life and made life possible for the Earth's second people. To this day, the Muskrat has been given a good life. No matter that marshes have been drained and their homes destroyed in the name of progress, the Muskrat continues to survive and multiply. The Muskrats do their part today in remembering the great flood; they build their homes in the shape of the little ball of Earth and the island that was formed from it.
The Creation (Mohawk)
Tharonhiawakon ( He Who Holds Up The Sky ) uplifted the Tree of the Standing Light, he placed his pregnant wife at the edge of the hole, and he pushed her through into the space below. Aientsik fell. Below her, all of the universe was water. The animals of the water saw her falling, but because the sky was blue, as well as the water, they did not know if she was falling from the sky, or coming up from the bottom of the lake. All of the water animals had an argument about this. The otter said that she was coming up from the bottom of the lake. The beaver agreed, as did the Muskrat. The geese and the ducks, however, said that she was falling from the sky. They flew up, and breaking the fall of Aientsik, let her rest upon their backs, and brought her gently down to the surface of the water.
In the meanwhile, a great turtle came up out of the water and volunteered to be a resting place for Aientsik, or Fertile Earth. The beaver, otter and Muskrat each dove to the bottom of the lake to try to bring up a mouthful of earth to place on the back of the turtle. The beaver failed and died. The otter failed and also died. But the Muskrat was successful. He placed the mud on the back of the turtle and Aientsik was laid down to rest.
When she woke, there was a fire next to her and a pot of corn soup. The back of the turtle had grown in size and it was visibly continuing to grow with every passing minute. Aientsik stood up on the earth, and walked about it, helping in the process of its creation. Every day when she returned to her resting place, there was a fire and a supply of corn, or some beans or squash for her to eat. Corn, beans and squash have been known ever since as the three sister-providers of the Mohawk people.
In the beginning, the Old People taught, there was no land, only water. Floating on this Great Sea was a birch bark canoe. In it, weeping, sat a man, Our Grandfather. He wept because he had no idea of his fate.
After a time Chief Muskrat appeared and climbed into the canoe. "Grandfather," he asked, "Why are you crying so?"
"I weep because I have been here a long, long while, and there is no land," the man replied.
"But there is Earth down deep under the Great Sea," responded Muskrat. "If you wish, I can swim down and bring some back to you." Our Grandfather nodded, "Yes."
Muskrat disappeared beneath the Great Sea and then bobbed up again, a gob of Earth in his mouth. "Are you alone like me?" asked Our Grandfather.
"No," replied Chief Muskrat, and he called to his fellows, the other chiefs of the animals who dwelled in the waters. They appeared, one by one. First came Beaver, then Snapping Turtle, then Otter. Each in turn dove deep into the Great Sea and then reappeared, bearing a ball of Earth clenched in his mouth.
From these gobs of Earth, explained the Old People, Our Grandfather fashioned This Island. Day after day he added to it as his Grandchildren brought more Earth, until it was large enough and solidly anchored in the Great Sea. Then he planted the Great Tree and other growing things. Using a stick, he marked out the rivers and had the Muskrats dig out their channels.
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