- Kids' Zone
- 1 – An encounter with four...
- 2 – Aboriginal Legends
- 3 – Aboriginal Know-how
ACTIVITY 2 – ABORIGINAL LEGENDS
Follow these steps to consult the introduction.
In this activity, called Aboriginal Legends, you’ll discover the legends of various peoples, including the Haida, Algonquins, Iroquois, Mi’kmaq, Huron-Wendat, Innu and Inuit.
I discovered these fascinating legends when I first came to Canada. I found Native peoples had a wonderful way of describing the beauty of nature and of explaining natural phenomena, the role of the animals and the origins of the world.
I wanted to share these legends and their messages with others. In 1949, I travelled across Canada by train and visited several communities in the West and along the Pacific Coast. During my two-month stay, I made extensive notes with a view to publishing a book that would reveal this rich cultural legacy. But I couldn’t find a publisher, so the project never left the drawing board. You can look at some of the illustrations dating back to 1950 in the THE CREATION OF THE WORLD section.
Later, I had an opportunity to make some films inspired by Aboriginal legends. In 1972, I made Inon or the Conquest of Fire, a film inspired by an Algonquin legend. That same year, I also made The Creation of Birds, which combines a Mi’kmaq and an Algonquin legend. In 2002, in the film Memories of Earth, directed by Jean Lemire, I illustrated two Haida legends.
Aboriginal legends are a treasure to discover and rediscover. We’ll only be presenting a few of them here, through texts and video clips. Who knows, perhaps they’ll inspire you to write your own legend or story. If so, please send it to us so we can post it online in the Art Gallery section.
Before you embark on your discovery of Aboriginal legends, here are some definitions and basic concepts to guide you.
A legend is a story handed down through generations whose date of origin is unclear. It’s a story that may be based on true facts or may simply represent a particular reality.
Generally speaking, a myth is a poetic attempt to interpret natural phenomena or ancient traditions that have no rational explanation. A myth is often based on popular ideas, and it may have a religious or spiritual component. Even if certain stories are obviously unreal, the heroes’ actions have a symbolic value.
TALE AND FABLE:
Resembling legends, tales and fables are short stories told throughout the world. Fables often have an underlying moral.
Spirituality refers to the set of beliefs held by a person or group of people. Traditionally, spirituality occupied an important place in the lives of Native American tribes. They believed that all things were inhabited by powerful spirits. In their daily activities and rites, they showed an immense respect toward nature and the world around them. The daily lives of Native peoples were governed by three important elements: myths, spiritual beliefs and practices, and legends.
Over the course of history, white people have sought to convert the Aboriginal peoples they’ve encountered to their religion, often Catholicism. Although many Aboriginals have adopted white people’s religions, others have kept their ancestors’ spirituality alive to this day. Some people embrace both Western religion and traditional Native spirituality, adhering to both sets of beliefs.
A belief according to which all things possess a soul. A number of stories are animist, based on the premise that animals are supernatural beings or that natural phenomena have exceptional powers. For example, thunder can be seen as a bird; animals can take human form and vice versa.
Native spirituality is largely based on a reverence for nature. Aboriginal peoples understand and respect the many natural spirits. Their spirituality is very much alive, based on a profound communication between human beings and animals, nature and Mother Earth. These human/animal relationships convey the essence of traditional Native culture, which promotes respect for natural resources as well as animals, even in hunting. According to ancestral principles, animals should only be killed out of necessity, not greed.
Aboriginal peoples have a variety of legends to explain the origins of the world and nature or natural phenomena, or to offer certain life lessons. Just as there are many Native peoples, so there are many legends explaining a single phenomenon. Some stories are similar, others very different. Certain stories may seem unrealistic, but they symbolize a reality that the people wanted to convey. Since these legends have been passed down from generation to generation, and have been translated into several languages, there is considerable variation among them.
THREE CATEGORIES OF LEGENDS
We invite you here to discover some Aboriginal legends that Frédéric Back has illustrated, along with other legends. We’ve organized the many varieties into three categories: