Students of the Wadena Elementary School had a chance on Feb. 9 to listen to Assiniboine Cree story keeper Tyrone Tootoosis of Poundmaker First Nation. Tootoosis, as well as a story keeper, is a cultural advisor, artist and performance artist. He has spent countless hours collecting the oral histories of the Cree and other First Nations groups.
Tootoosis read from books including those written by his mother-in-law, children’s author Bernelda Wheeler. He related the history of Cree culture, including recent history such as the story of the camp sentry, Jacob with the Long Tangled Hair, at the battle of Cut Knife Hill. Jacob alerted Poundmaker’s camp to an impending attack by army troops. Survivors described the sound of the Gatling guns as similar to putting rocks into a tin pail and shaking the pail. Tootoosis also explained that the Cree language was related to the world around them, and his stories included many Cree words and phrases, which he translated.
He talked about some of the sacred sites of the First Nations peoples. One of these sites was near Elbow, by the South Saskatchewan River. The site is called Mistaseni, or “big rock” in Cree, from a legend about a buffalo boy who turned to stone. The large rock of Mistaseni was in the way of building the Gardiner Dam in 1965, and before funding could be raised to move it, the rock was blasted. Some pieces were recovered before the dam was completed, but most of it remained as water filled the area. A recent diving expedition located the stone pieces, which are still considered sacred, in Diefenbaker Lake.
“All land is sacred ground,” Tootoosis told the students as he shared some of the Cree knowledge of nature.
Tootoosis had time to talk about only a fraction of the rich culture and history of the Cree, but students and teachers hope he will return with more.
By Charlene Wirtz