Indigenous stories often do not differentiate between beings as humans, mythological creatures, animals and plants can all be treated as conscious by the storyteller. Mythological beings in particular can be used to teach lessons within the story and are frequently helpful characters who act as guides or saviours to others. Mythological beings and their teachings are relevant to contemporary Indigenous societies because their actions and the lessons they teach they relate directly to the issues being faced in these societies every day. For example, in Jeannette Armstrong’s “This is a Story,” Kyoti is more than just a character to be ignored as mythological or is “just a dream of the old People” (133). The relevance of Kyoti coming to the Okanagan People is to remind them of their identity and their history, which demonstrates the place of mythological beings in contemporary society as the loss of Indigenous identity and culture is as urgent a problem as ever.
In Armstrong’s story, Kyoti wakes from a “nap” (129) and travels up the Columbia River to see “his favourite people” (129) in the Okanagan. His visit directly relates to both the steadily growing awareness amongst British Columbian Indigenous communities to the environmental impacts of resource extraction and to the need to settle the land treaty claims under negotiation. Kyoti is dismayed by the changes he encounters in the people, landscape and by the resistance he meets when he suggests they break the “Swallow dams” (132) to restore both the land and the salmon runs. Kyoti comes to see that he was awakened early because “it was time to change the Swallows from Monsters into something that didn’t destroy things.” (133) Kyoti realizes that he needs to help the Okanagan People find a way to change how white culture continues to view natural resources as things to be exploited, which is a very common issue today.
In the story “Summit with Sedna, the Mother of Sea Beasts,” Alootook Ipellie describes the Sea Goddess’ impotency as having its origins from the “prolonged (sexual) abuse” (326) she suffered as a child. Ipellie’s story clearly relates to contemporary society as recovering from historical sexual abuse is highly relevant within many Indigenous communities. There are several recorded instances of the multigenerational impacts of abuse victims who survived their mistreatment in residential schools. Survivors of abuse can suffer from anger that can be misdirected onto their families, which can sometimes result in perpetuating the same form abuse that the survivors themselves experienced. Like many other survivors, Sedna misdirects her frustration by “directing her vengeance toward all shamans by not granting their pleas to release the sea beasts.” (325) She is not aware of the suffering she herself is creating and that there is “the potential to wipe out the Inuit nation,” (325) by not allowing the sea beasts to make themselves available to the Inuit as food. The story concludes with a healing experienced for Sedna and the release of her “bottled tension,” (327) which is perhaps a metaphor for the healing power that could be experienced by both survivors of abuse and their communities.
A number of current Indigenous spiritual practices make reference to a vision quest or journey as part of spiritual growth. In Jordan Wheeler’s “A Mountain Legend,” the mythological being is Muskawashee, whose quest for “a vision from the eagle,” (515) ended with his death hundreds of years ago. Muskawashee’s reappearance during Jason’s quest shows that while a contemporary vision quest can still be hazardous, incorporating traditional ways into modern life can lead to a feeling of pride in one’s Indigenous identity. Throughout Wheeler’s story, it is evident that Jason feels disconnected from his “Indian” (512) identity and in reaction to the racism he experiences from the other boys, Jason attempts the climb up the mountain to prove that he is a warrior and claim “pride in being Indian.” (516)
Although mythological beings in Indigenous stories can be interpreted as having little or no relevance to contemporary society, this assumption would overlook the core messages in these stories. Kyoti, Sedna and Mushawashee are all mythological in nature, yet they have direct meaning and relevance to contemporary life; as Sedna’s story brings the issue of healing from sexual abuse to the forefront and both Kyoti’s and Mushawashee’s stories speak to reclaiming a sense of Indigenous identity in the modern world. Jeanette Armstrong’s Kyoti also reveals some of the anger felt towards white culture for inflicting changes on Indigenous traditional ways of life with little regard for the potential consequences these changes may have. This story speaks to the need to create both an awareness of how developments impact the environment and to reclaim traditional lands, which could not be more relevant to contemporary society with projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and the protests against it.
Courtney from Study Moose
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