The Gift of The Great Spirit
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois

Note: Ideally, the best way for this story to be communicated is in the Old Way - elders gathered with their younger relatives, during the colder months, educating each other within the family circle. The written word can only convey a part of the richness of a story such as this. However, in trying to convey the rhythm of the oral tradition, I have broken the story into small pieces. Enjoy.

The old Iroquois told this story to the young people to teach them to be kind to the aged.

Many Winters and Summers in the past there was an Iroquois village.

One day, an old man appeared at the edge of this village. The old man wore ragged clothes. He seemed very tired and looked hungry. As he walked through the village, he looked over the door of each house. Over the doors of the bark houses were the emblems of the clans of those who occupied the lodges.

The old man come to the lodge on which was hung a Turtle shell. Turtle clan members lived in this house.

He pulled the door curtain, and asked for food and a night's lodging.

He was refused by the woman of the house. He was told to move on.

Going on his way, he soon came to a house with a snipe skin over the door.

When he asked for food he was again told to move on.

Thus he traveled to houses belonging to the Wolf, Beaver, Deer.

Eel, Heron, and Eagle Clans.

At each house he was treated with scorn, and told to move on.

At length, tired and weary, the old man come to the edge of the village. He saw a little bark house. Hanging over the door of this house was a carved bear's head. It was a house of the Bear Clan.

An old woman came out of the house. When she saw how tired the stranger looked, she asked him to enter her lodge, that he was welcome to what little she had.

She gave him food to eat.

She spread soft deer skins and asked him to rest his tired body.

The next day, the man sickened and came down with a fever.

He told the woman to fo into the forest and gather a certain kind of plant.

He instructed her how to prepare the plant and to make a certain kind of medicine.

After taking the medicine, the old man recovered.

The old man became ill on many differene days. Each time that he was ill, it was from a different kind of sickness.

With each illness, he sent the old woman into the forest to gather different kinds of herbs.

Each time that the old woman returned with the herbs, the old man gave her instructions on how to prepare and make a medicine of the herb for each kind of sickness that he had.

When he drank the medicine, he recovered.

One day, the old woman was about to enter her home when she saw a great light shining in her lodge.

Upon looking up, she saw a handsome young man standing at the entrance of her bark house. His face shone like the sun.

Her heart was filled with fear. She was frightened. She thought that a spirit stood before her.

The young man said, "Fear not, good woman. I am the Creator.

"I came to the lodges of the Iroquois in the form of an old man.

"I wandered from house to house asking for food and shelter.

"I asked for food and shelter of the Turtle Clan, Snipe Clan, Wolf Clan,

"Beaver Clan, Deer Clan, Eel Clan, Heron Clan

"and Eagle Clan. Each time I was refused food and shelter and told to move on.

"Only you, of the Bear Clan, sheltered and fed me.

"For that reason, I have taught you cures for all of the sickness known to the Real People. Many times I became ill.

"Many times, I sent you into the forest to gather herbs. I told you how to make medicine from the herbs.

"When I took of this medicine, I recovered from my illness.

"From this day on, the Medicine Men and Women will always belong to the Bear Clan.

"They, Bear Clan members, will be the Keepers of the Medicine for all time to come."

Please do not reprint this without asking.