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A Great Flood

When I was yet young in the northern Rockies, I heard a legend about a great flood. Coming upon a similar legend lately I recalled it, as best I can, with new awareness. Perhaps you’ll see an allegory therein you’re already aware of in your culture.  


In the early days of reservation life, during an extended downpour period the people were more dispirited than usual. A wise elder lifted his hands and said, “Do not lose heart at the changes that have come upon us, for The Great Mystery works over time beyond our lives. There is a story passed down that may help you understand.” 


When Mother Earth was new, The Great Mystery said to the people, “The plants and animals are your brothers. Respect and protect them in sharing this sacred land, for they will give you food and warm clothing so that you may live.” 

For a great many winters the people shared the land, respecting their brother plants and animals. There were struggles, but only out of real need and then with regard. The people and their brothers thrived. 

Then other people came in numbers beyond the stars in the sky. They did not think of the plants and animals as their brothers. They killed without need, and they burned the forests and fouled the waters killing even more. 

When The Great Mystery looked down, he was sad. He let the smoke of the fires lie in the valleys. The new people coughed and choked, but still they burned and killed. So he sent rains to put out the fires and destroy the people. As the rains fell, and the water rose, our people moved higher into the mountains.

When the winter moons arrived, the water froze in great ice sheets, and the remaining plants and animals departed our sacred lands. Knowing we could not survive the winter without stores, a hunting party of young braves set out. As they went, they tried to help and make friends with the plants and animals once more. Still the rains fell and the ice thickened. 

When the young braves returned, they told our people, “We found buffalo cows, and calves, with a great white bull. The cows and calves had climbed to safety and should return when the summer moons come if the rain stops. But the great white bull fell into the water and drowned. We pulled him out and brought back his hide.” 

The eldest medicine man took the huge white buffalo skin, saying, “Many people have drowned and our food has been carried away, but this white buffalo hide will be strong medicine.” Then he and the other medicine men spread the hide on the ground and began scraping and stretching it. 

In the rain, the buffalo skin, like all rawhide, stretched until it covered the whole village. All the people who were left crowded under it. 

Each day the rains continued to fall, and the medicine men stretched the skin farther, till it reached across the valley. They anchored the skin in the surrounding mountains so that the whole Yellowstone Valley was covered.

But still the rains fell and the skin stretched more and began to sag, so the medicine men stood on the westward mountains and raised the edge to catch the West Wind. The wind lifted the skin until it formed a great dome over the valley. 

The Great Mystery saw that the people, and the plants and animals that had gathered in the valley under the dome, were again living as brothers. The rains stopped and the sun shone. As the sun dried the rawhide, the dome shrank away till all that was left was a great arch across the valley which gleamed with the colors red, yellow, and blue.


The old man’s voice was fading, but his arms raised to encompass the valley. The rain had stopped and a rainbow arched across the Yellowstone Valley. Buffalo grazed beneath it. 



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