Indigenous Arts & Stories - Strange Sights Covering the Eastern Horizon

Strange Sights Covering the Eastern Horizon

2012 - Writing Winner

And on this night, when the fire in the pits of the wigwams of our story’s village had all since gone out, a hunter awoke suddenly in a cold sweat with a beating heart like that of a rabbit. He quickly checked over his family who still slept snugly under their soft and thick animal skins, and then rebuilt himself a fire in the pit of his wigwam, for there would be no more sleep for him this night.

Read Brandon Babineau's Strange Sights Covering the Eastern Horizon

Brandon Babineau

Bouctouche Cove, NB
The Bouctouche Mi'kmaq Reserve
Age 22

Author's Statement

I am fascinated with the history of my people, especially the history before the coming of European settlers. Though it had its hardships, it was a simpler time, where the language was ripe. Being unable to speak my native language, is something that affects me and many others in my community; it is a tragedy that was brought about by the events with which my story ends. Although negative opinions seem to dominate people’s views of the coming of the Europeans, there were positive factors as well. If Europeans had never sailed the seas, we would not know of the world that exists across the ocean.

I decided to write on this subject because, like the protagonist, I too had a dream. I dreamed of this story while I slept one night and decided it would make an interesting story that ties into our history. I wrote this story hoping that many would be able to hear it and be brought back to a simpler time, when the problems of our people did not seem so great, and our culture was all around us.

I wish to emphasize that, as the elder of my story says, the coming of events with which my story ends is the coming of change, and though many things changed for the worse, there are plenty of things that changed for the better. I hope my readers enjoy this little trip into the past and the magic that can be found to exist there.


Strange Sights Covering the Eastern Horizon

Our tale begins one cold summer’s night on the eastern shores of what is now known as Nova Scotia, many many years ago, when Glooscap’s name was still fresh in the hearts of my ancestors; when the trees covered the lands, the world was healthy, and the only language to be heard in the land apart from those of the animals was the language of my people, the Mi’kmaq, along with the occasional neighbouring tribes’. Being the middle of summer, it had been a few months since my people had left the sheltered life of the forests to embrace the open spaces of the shores.

And on this night, when the fire in the pits of the wigwams of our story’s village had all since gone out, a hunter awoke suddenly in a cold sweat with a beating heart like that of a rabbit. He quickly checked over his family who still slept snugly under their soft and thick animal skins, and then rebuilt himself a fire in the pit of his wigwam, for there would be no more sleep for him this night.
He had had a disturbing dream, one that had haunted him many nights, and he could not help himself but to wonder what these dreams might mean. He decided that it was time to ask an elder what his dreams might mean, so he sat next to the fire and pondered the way in which he would tell the elder his story in the morning, when all were awake. It was a particularly cold and silent night, but in the warmth of his wigwam, the man pondered, with the crackling fire as his only companion.
When morning’s light first broke through a tiny crack in the wigwam’s door, the man broke free from his trance and walked out into the cool morning air. It was early, but people had already started coming out of their wigwams to get ready for their day. The man made his way to the wigwam of the elder with whom he wished to take council. His door was still closed, so the man waited just outside the elder’s wigwam, because he did not wish to wake him. It was not long, however, before the elder emerged from his wigwam and welcomed the younger man into his home.

The old man invited the younger man to sit at the back of his wigwam, the place of hon-our, as his daughter-in-law, the mistress of the wigwam, tended to the fire and made the place nice and toasty. The two men sat cross-legged, as was customary of men, near the fire. When they had seated themselves, the old man took out his old clay pipe and filled it with tobacco, lit it, drew in one long breath of smoke from the pipe and passed it on to his guest. When our man took the pipe, he too drew in a long breath of smoke and returned it to his host.

When the pipe was empty, the older man turned to the younger man and said “Now, my son, what brings you to my wigwam on such a beautiful summer’s morning?” The younger man looked into the wise old eyes of his elder and replied,

“Grandfather, I have been troubled with strange dreams many of these past few nights, and I do not know what they could possibly mean. Can you help me, grandfather?” The old man looked into the fire, burning in the fire pit, then back to the younger man, and said “I will hear your dream, and then I will judge what I take it to mean. I can do no more.”

And so the younger man took in a deep breath, looked into the fire for strength, and then looked back at the old man as he began the telling of his story:

“It is a summer’s day, very much like this one, and all wake from a troubled sleep to find our village nearly destroyed, and many of our people become suddenly ill; they become sick with some kind of disease that we have never seen before. It spreads and affects many, and our sham-ans can do nothing to stop or heal it. We then look for signs of what could have caused such destruction, and we find strange bear tracks, unlike any bear tracks ever before seen, both entering the village and leaving the village in the same direction. I decide to follow these tracks, and I walk for a very long time, until I reach the shore that is not so far away, and, on the horizon, I see strange and large winged canoes. I look down at my hands, and then see that I, too, have been infected with this strange disease. And then I awake, to cold sweat and a racing heart. What does it mean, grandfather? What am I to do?”

The old man was silent as he listened to the younger man’s story, and, after it was done, he remained silent a little while longer and watched the fire burning in the fire pit. After a few minutes had passed, the old man again turned to the younger man and told him “I can only guess what this vision may mean, and in all my years I have never heard of such a thing as disease spreading in such a manner, where the shaman is unable to cure it, nor have I ever seen these winged canoes of which you speak. But if I had to guess, I would say that this vision is the fore-telling of change, though whether this be a change for the better or the worse I cannot say. That is for Niskaminou to decide. We should place faith in him that he will not bring us to destruction, but allow us to transcend whatever troubles may be coming our way.”

The younger man thanked his elder, and left his wigwam with a heavy heart. When he first planned on meeting with the old man, he hoped his dream would be thought of nothing more than that; just a dream. After seeing the old man, however, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his dream really did mean something, something he couldn’t stop, something that could be very disastrous for the way of life of his people, and he was worried.

So, the man decided that he would go into the forest and pray to Niskaminou for help. When first entering the woods, he came upon a sight that chilled him right to the bone. Just beyond the outskirts of his village, in the bordering forest, he found the tracks of a bear. These were just normal bear tracks, unlike the ones he had seen in his dream, but he thought that this could not be a mere coincidence; and so he decided to follow the tracks.

The tracks lead deeper into the woods, and so he followed them deeper and deeper into the woods for nearly half a day before stopping near a spring to replenish his energy, by drinking from the nice cold spring and eating the nearby berries. The man then sat near the spring to rest his legs, and examined the bear tracks further. They were definitely the tracks of a normal bear, and they were also very fresh, definitely no older than that day. Before long, the man continued on his quest, and after a few short hours he knew he was getting close thanks to the freshness of the tracks and the sounds of bear grunts that were carried to him by the wind. He pushed on.

Not too long after first hearing the bear’s grunts, he came upon the sight of the bear, standing on his hind legs and shouting at the man (or so it would seem), before running off again. But the man pushed on and followed after the bear. The bear, however, was very quick, and be-fore long had disappeared from sight. The man, being a good hunter, followed the tracks until he came out into an opening. He could smell the fresh sea air and hear the calls of sea birds, and so knew he was near the shore again.

He looked to the ground but the tracks had suddenly stopped, he looked all along the parameter of the area and could not see where the bear could have travelled off to; he looked up into all the nearby trees and could see no sign of the bear. It was then, however, that he first got a glimpse of something on the horizon. It was far in the distance, but he could almost make out what he was seeing. He noticed, as they approached, that there was not only one thing traveling on the horizon but many. They got larger as they approached, for they were headed in his direction, and after a short amount of time, there was no doubt that those strange things sailing on the waters of the Atlantic were the very same winged canoes he had seen in his dream.
He decided that he would wait and face whatever those canoes would bring, and trust in Niskaminou that he would come to no harm. When the ships were close enough for their passengers to be seen, the man could tell that these people, for they were people, were the strange bears of which he had dreamed. He saw that those men wore hair on their faces like bears, but unlike bears they had the physique of men. With a courageous heart and spirit, the man set forth to welcome the strange men. Our world, for better or worse, has never been the same since; but the rest, you could say, is history.