I do not know how many times that I have heard an old story told by my great grandpa, or
grandmother, or another relative, and said to myself, “Why didn’t I write that down?”
Very little has been written about the Aaniiih nin, their language, history, and culture—most of the existing scholarship was written before 1958. The most noted scholars were anthropologists Alfred Kroeber, who visited the tribe in 1903; John Cooper, who came in 1949; Regina Flannery, who wrote in 1952; and Loretta Fowler, who wrote in 1984.
Before the reservation period, the Aaniiih lived together and in the winter months told stories, including those about the creation of the world and legendary old times. They placed special emphasis on those stories that elders wanted to impress upon the people as important to remember. Trickster stories, Nee Ott, were only told in the winter and children were taught lessons through them. In addition, all participated in ceremonies where the young learned songs and how to live as their Ah’ani’nin ancestors taught them. They were oral stories that told of the importance of their way of life. Stories were also told on a daily basis as women worked, in the evening when men were hunting, and at social or religious gatherings.
The storyteller emphasizes the language, places, songs/music, and people who are all part of a story that relates history. When they tell the story it is as if you are there—you can feel the breeze or the cold, see the tipis, smell the smudge.
When storytelling was a central focus of the Ah’ani’nin, it was a time when it was imperative to listen and learn to ensure a person’s survival. Stories demonstrated what happens when we violate the teachings of our elders. The story of Last Star is a family story, and one with a lesson. The lesson to learn was that Last Star was impatient to be a part of something that he was really too young to participate in, and as trauma hit he realized this. I am sure at one time many Aaniiih knew of this story, but as time has passed only a few remember these old stories. As far back as my mother could remember, it was told in her family, yet never recorded or written down to her knowledge. The values it imparts are patience, respect, listening, survival, and strength.
Young boys were usually not allowed to go out on scouting parties. Sometimes the party was away from home for over a month or longer. The men usually traveled quickly and often ran into enemies from other tribes. The older boys and young men were allowed to travel with the scouts to take care of the warriors’ moccasins at the end of each day. From so much traveling, the warriors would wear out their moccasins and they would have to be repaired. These older boys were thus referred to as the “Moccasin Carriers.”
Last Star was an Aaniiih boy on the verge of becoming a young man eager to prove himself. One day, the Aaniiih men were going out on a scouting party and Last Star wanted to go. He approached one of the leaders and asked him if he could go, but he was told, “You are too young and it will be difficult for you.” Still he insisted on going and went to his uncle who was part of the scouting party. So his uncle, on his behalf, made it possible for him to come, even though part of the party felt he was too young. So they told him he could go, not as a scout, but as a “Moccasin Carrier.” Last Star was elated when he heard he could go. This was in the summer, a good time to be out enjoying Mother Earth.
Each day out proved to be a great one for Last Star. He traveled with a pack that included buckskin and sinew for repairing moccasins, as well as his own things. And in the evenings by the fire, he would repair the moccasins. He made friends with some of the older men as he proved to be very responsible. The scouting party was looking for not only the next place to camp, but also for a better hunting area.
The scouts had been out approximately three weeks when they were surprised by an enemy tribe. Too small in number to wage a war, they scattered and ran in all different directions. Last Star ran for his life, for he knew if the enemies caught him they would kill him. Being the young boy that he was, he was confused by his whereabouts and soon was lost. By then he had lost his pack with everything in it, including those items essential for his survival.
He was in a mountainous area and he ran until he couldn’t run anymore. By then it was evening time, with the sun almost down. His moccasins were all ragged from running over rocky areas. He was crying and telling himself he wasn’t as brave as he thought he was. And he thought of his mother and father, and he wished he was at their camp. He was traveling through the pines on the top of the mountains. Still, he could see since the moon was out. From afar, he could see a fire at the bottom of a canyon. It was late at night. He wanted to see someone else and was hoping for some help. He arrived at the camp and he could see a person at the fire, but she had a blanket over her head and Last Star couldn’t see her face. Her appearance showed to be a female for she was wearing a dress.
Last Star said, “Wahey (hello).”
The person told him, “See gats, zats bits sits (come in and eat).” He went to her campfire. He was just glad, she seemed friendly and he was hungry. This person told him, “Take off your moccasins and I will repair them,” for she had noticed how ragged his moccasins were.
Last Star asked her, “What’s your name?” But she did not respond as she started to repair his moccasins. It was then he noticed that she was using ghost thread. It was known among the Ah’ani’nin that the only ones who used ghost thread were the ghosts themselves.
Right away Last Star was afraid. He wanted to run, but instead he told her, “Ut in nok go (I need to go to the toilet).” Once he got far enough away, Last Star started to run. He got so far when he could hear someone crashing through the brush. It was the woman with no face. Now he really was afraid and continued to run. Last Star ran for his life for a second time in a day. As Last Star was coming out of the mountains, it was nearing daylight. He turned often to see the ghost following him. As the ghost ran, the blanket on her head would bob up and down. Finally the sun was coming over the horizon. Last Star turned to see the ghost fade into the ground just as the sun came into full view, leaving nothing but the blanket there.
When Last Star made it home, he was happy to see his family. And he vowed that he would not seek to journey into the adult world until he was ready.
Clarena M. Brockie, M.F.A., is the dean of students at Aaniiih Nakoda College.