Long ago Great Spirit rested on a mountain top and looked over the land. Sunrise had just splashed across earth. It was beautiful. It was beyond grand. It was home. He was happy, but there was not a wisp of morning smoke, not a whiff of juniper fire. He looked again seeing the land was vacant of people. He worried. He Came down from the mountain and walked the land, nothing. Jopka (Mink) and Kasu’kui (Pine Martin) slipped by. Great Spirit called them to help find the people.
Earlier, Mink and Martin were running through the land. They saw elk, panther, eagle and salmon. They watched the herds of deer and antelope. They scurried in eating scraps of salmon bear left. They darted away from wolverine. They watched the flowers blossom and they listened to all of the sounds of nature, but they did not see people.
“This morning, as many other mornings, I failed to smell the juniper fire the people use for making breakfast,” Mink said.
Martin thought for a while. He was trying to recall if it was time for people to gather at the bend of the big river to catch salmon, or to gather in the big valley and dig roots. Maybe they were farther up having a rabbit drive. “You know, I have not seen any of their tracks either,” he said.
“Okay, it’s time to find the people,” they both blurted, while jumping from the shade of the oaks onto the golden grass of the valley. “Let’s start right away.”
“Let’s split up, we can cover more ground that way,” mink suggested. Martin agreed. “I’ll go to the eastern mountains and look for tracks. If I find any I will return here, to the center. You go to the western cornerstones looking for tracks then return here to the center. We will meet here in the passing of five suns.”
First martin climbed the tallest pine tree he could find and looked all around. He was looking for campfire smoke. He looked far down the river and far up the river. Nothing. He looked far to the east and far to the west. Nothing. He ran down the tree and began searching from mountain to mountain for tracks. Mink worked the eastern range searching north and south. Nothing.
Mink moved like a shadow along the earth, looking under logs between the rocks and whenever he met hummingbird or crow he asked about the people. Thus he traveled the eastern range finding that no other being had see people lately. After searching for five days finding no people he returned to the center.
Martin traveled the land and searched from tree tops looking for smoke or “sign” everywhere. Along the western boundary he found nothing. Every time he saw a passing bird or a beetle he asked if they saw any people. He met Et’wi (eagle). Eagle said he would fly high in the sky and look for smoke or tracks. Eagle returned to Martin saying there were no tracks or other evidence of people. On the 5th day Martin returned to the center. There waiting was Mink.
They had a big talk and decided the best thing to do was to keep searching for the people, there was an urgency now. Eagle would search from the sky and report anything he found. After days of searching from high in the sky and finding nothing, he was getting discouraged.
“I know they are still in this land but I do not know where,” Mink said. “Then lets keep searching for them. Maybe they are hiding in earth,” Martin said. They set out together. They were going to search caves and caverns, all of the crevasses and canyons, all of the volcanoes. They assumed the duty to find the people.
They searched and searched. They grew weary, rested and searched again. They looked everywhere. Mink squeezed into the smallest holes and cracks. Deep in the earth he listened hoping to hear the people singing. Silence, but for earth breathing.
Martin climbed the trees talking again with birds, nothing. He ran down the tree and searched the trail. Mink popped out from nowhere. They talked and continued the hunt. Then, there near the fork in the trail they found a people track! It did not look good because there was an owl track there, too. Hurrying they scurried to the owl cave. It was concealed with a lot of brush growing at the entrance. They crept up, ever alert and listened ever intently. Silence. A flutter of powerful wings overhead caused them to dart for safety. They peered between the leaves of grass and watched a huge owl land near the entrance, quickly look in all directions then strut into the cave.
“Shall we follow?” asked Martin. “NO!” replied Mink. “That owl might catch and eat us both!” You stand watch here. I will slip into the cave and hurry back as soon as I learn something.” That sounded like a great plan to Martin and he agreed to hide, watching. The plan was if another owl returned to the cave, Martin would hurl a stone into the cave. This would alert Mink to hide or flee.
Moving along the ground with the silence and swiftness of a snake, Mink entered the cave and vanished into the darkness – a whisper among the shadows. Some distance in, the cave turned to the left. Mink moved cautiously now. He came to the bend in the cave and peeked around a pile of stones. He saw a big fire and many owls standing around talking and laughing. They seemed to be fat and healthy. In the dancing light of the fire that lanced between the owls, Mink saw, lined against the wall, all of the people! His shiny eyes took in the hideous scene. He noticed the people were not tied or bound in any way but the people could not move. He thought about this.
Mink scurried back to Martin and told him the scene. They decided the situation called for more study so Mink returned to the cave and settled in the shadows where he could see everything but not be seen. It puzzled him why the people did not try to get away since they were not bound. They all seemed dazed or frightened. They could not or would not move.
It must have been time for dinner. Some of the owl people went to the back wall and drug two people close to the fire. The people did not resist. The owl people tied them to a long pole and roasted them over the fire. Soon the owl people were feasting. Mink studied the situation then realized all of the people had the bones of their arms and legs removed.
Mink also thought that maybe the reason the people failed to cry out was because they were already dead but he could tell by the shine of their eyes they were alive. He was puzzled and carefully watched.
In horror he watched as the owl people cut off the tops of the heads of the people and scooped the brains out. The owl people shared the brains as they grunted and mumbled and passed the brains around. They used brains for dissert. They licked their fingers and made sucking noises. It seemed the owl people took the brains out of the people they were preparing to roast.
A fat owl marched in. He had a snake in each hand. He was loud. He bragged. Mink heard him say, “Put this snake in the brain. That way if they ever try to get away they will have to crawl like a snake and we can catch them easy.” They placed the snake where they just extracted the brain and closes the skull and propped the person back against the wall.
Mink watched as they took the brains out of some people and placed a snake in there, closed the skull and leaned the people against the wall. He could not tell how many people had brains and how many had snakes. They all looked alike, but he thought he saw a difference in the shine of their eyes. Then, again, since it was bad lighting in the cave he dismissed the thought.
Soon Mink returned to Martin and told him all he had seen. They thought and thought. “Did you see anything peculiar about the owl people? Martin asked. Mink said “Yes! There is something peculiar about them! After each meal the owl people sit around the fire backwards. They lean against one another, chinking themselves so they won’t fall into the fire and they can sleep warm.
“There are many owl people,” Martin said, “Yet we must think how to free the people. Great Spirit gave us that duty. They thought maybe they could scare the owl people away but there were only two of them and many owls. They thought to get the Bear Clan to help them but the bears were down river concentrating on salmon. Antelope people? No. Rabbit people? No. Owl people would kill rabbits and dry them and save them for winter.
Every idea seemed to end in a negative note so they decided to save the people themselves. They thought and thought. Day was breaking when Mink finally hit upon an idea.
“When the owl people are full of flesh and are sleeping backwards to the fire I can slip in there and tie the long hair and long feathers at the nap of their necks one to the other. When they wake up they will all be tied together.”
“Great! I will make a huge mask, a demon mask, and after you have the owl people tied to each other I will rush into the cave screaming and making all the noise I can. Owls will get scared and fall into the fire,” Martin exclaimed.
And so it was. Mink, silent as a shadow, placed fresh wood on the fire then tied owl to owl in that circle while Martin was busy running through the forest gathering limbs and bushes and paint to create a hideous mask. He painted a face that was frightening. It scared him just to look at it. He admired his artistic talent.
The owls were sleeping. All was quiet except an occasional snore or a smacking of the lips. Solitude, again. Mink gave the signal to Martin. In the cave he ran, screaming his most terrifying scream. From his perch on a big rock, Mink was banging antlers together while banging them on a big rock making a terrible racket.
An owl woke up. There coming at him was a terrible devil. It was going to kill him and he knew it. He tried to jump up and run but something had him from behind. Then all the owls jumped up, all thinking the devil had them from behind. They thought they were surrounded by a tribe of vicious, hungry devils. They struggled with each other in the panic to flee. In a big fuzzy ball they fell into the fire. They died in this manner. The cave was smoky and smelled bad.
Quickly, the other part of their plan had to be put into high gear because sometimes owls fly by the tribe and they had to hurry before a flock of owls returned. Martin had fashioned arm and leg bones from Elderberry branches. Quickly they placed the fabricated arm and leg bones into the people and led them to safety. They hurried back and fixed more people. Soon all of the people were out of the cave and hiding in the forest. Some of them trembled in fright of the owl people but some seemed to be unconcerned. Their eyes were not right. They were alive and their eyes shined, but not properly.
Those people must be the ones the owl people took their brains and replaced them with a snake, Mink said. Martin agreed. “We should have taken the snakes out before we placed the arm and leg bones back in them. Still, the people were safe now.”
There at the council fire the ancient one stood, saying, “This narrative tells us why, hisnawa (young warriors), indigenous nations are divided today. And this is how it came to be the strangers invading our homelands found so many of our people upon this land to work with them while they were destroying us. This is why some of our people led the Army and Conquistadors to the hiding places of our mothers and children and watched while the babies were being butchered and fed to the angry dogs. This is why our people led the soldiers to our ceremony. The army came and marked that place red with our blood for all seasons. Mink and Martin thought they were helping our people long ago, and they did, but they should have left those with snakes for brains in that cave.”
Within myself I wonder if the owl people also represent the corporate body, education, or both, because after 500-years the “American dream” longs to destroy us to our last breath. The old ones said, “If you want to see, don’t look with the eyes connected to your brain. That way you can only look. To see, look with the eyes of your heart.” I look with the eyes of my heart upon the indigenous people. There are many divisions and separations. There are many lonely, too.