The Youth And The Dog-dance

: Canadian Fairy Tales

Once long ago, when the Indians dwelt in the country in the

north-west, a youth went far away from his native village to catch

birds. His people lived near a lake where only small birds nested, and

as he wanted large and bright-coloured feathers for his arrows and his

bonnet he had to go far into the forest, where larger birds of

brilliant plumage lived. When he reached the Land of Many Feathers far

in the north countr
, he dug a pit on the top of a high hill. Then he

covered the pit with poles and over the poles he spread grass and

leaves so that the place looked like the earth around it. He put meat

and corn on the grass, and tied the food to the poles so that the

birds could not carry it away. Then he climbed down into the pit and

waited for the birds to come, when he could reach up and catch them by

the feet and kill them.

All day long and far into the night the youth waited for birds, but no

birds came. Towards morning he heard a distant sound like that of a

partridge drumming. But the sound did not come nearer. The next night,

as the youth watched and waited in the pit, he heard the same sound,

and he said, "I will see where the noise comes from and I will

discover the cause, for it is not a partridge, and it is very

strange." So he climbed out of the pit and went in the direction of

the sound. He walked along rapidly through the forest until he came at

dawn to the shore of a large lake. The drumming came from somewhere in

the lake, but as he stood listening to it, the sound suddenly stopped.

The next night the youth heard the drumming louder than before. Again

he went to the lake. The sound was again distinct as it rose from the

water, and when he looked he saw great numbers of birds and animals

swimming in the lake in the moonlight. But there was no explanation of

the strange sound. As he sat watching the animals and birds, he prayed

to his guardian spirit to tell him the cause of the drumming. Soon an

old man came along. He was old and bent and wrinkled, but his eyes

were kind. The youth gave him some tobacco and they sat down together

on the edge of the lake and watched the swimmers in the dim light, and

smoked their pipes.

"What are you doing here?" asked the old man. "I am trying to learn

the cause of the strange drumming," said the youth. "You do well

indeed to seek it," said the old man, "and to seek to know the cause

of all things. Only in that way will you be great and wise. But

remember there are some things the cause of which you can never find."

"Where have you come from?" said the boy. "Oh," said the man, "I

lived once upon a time like you in the Country of Fancy where great

Dreams dwell, and indeed I live there still, but your dreams are all

of the future while mine are of the past. But some day you too will

change and your thoughts will be like mine." "Tell me the cause of the

drumming," said the boy. And the old man said, "Take this wand that I

will give you and wave it before you go to sleep, and maybe you will

see strange things." Then he gave the boy a wand and disappeared into

the forest and the boy never saw him again. The boy waved the wand and

fell asleep on the sand as the old man had told him. When he awoke he

found himself in a large room in the midst of many people. Some of

them were dancing gracefully, and some sat around and talked. They

wore wonderful robes of skins and feathers, of many different colours.

The boy wished he could get such feathers for his own clothes and his

bonnet. But as he looked at the people he was suddenly aware that they

were none other than the animals and birds he had seen for two nights

swimming in the lake in the moonlight. They were now changed into

human form, through some strange and miraculous power. They were very

kind to the youth and treated him with great courtesy.

At last the dancing ceased and the talking stopped, and one who seemed

to be the Chief stood up at the end of the room and said, "Oh, young

stranger, the Great Spirit has heard your prayers, and because of

your magic wand we have been sent to you in these shapes. The

creatures you see here are the animals and birds of the world. I am

the Dog, whom the Great Spirit loves well. I have much power, and my

power I shall give to you, and I shall always protect you and guard

you. And even if you should treat me with cruelty I shall never be

unfaithful to you, nor shall I ever be unkind. But you must take this

Dance home with you and teach it to your people and they must

celebrate the Dance once a year." Then he taught the youth the secrets

of their Dance.

When the youth had learned the Dance, the Chief turned to his

companions and said, "My comrades and brothers, I have taught the

young stranger the secrets of the Dance. I have given him my own

power. Will you not have pity on a creature from earth and give him

some of the power of which you too are possessed?"

For a long time no one spoke, but at last Owl arose and said, "I too

will help him. I have power to see far in the darkness, and to hunt by

night. When he goes out at night I will be near him and he shall see a

great distance. I give him these feathers to fasten in his hair." And

the Owl gave him a bunch of feathers, which the youth tied to his


Then Buffalo came forward and said, "I too will help him. I will give

him my endurance and my strength, and my power to trample my enemies

underfoot. And I give him this belt of tanned buffalo-hide to wear

when he goes to war." And he gave the youth a very wondrous belt to

fasten around his waist.

The animals and birds, one after the other, gave him gladly of their

power. Porcupine gave him quills with which to decorate his leather

belt and his bonnet, and he said, "I too will aid you, and when you

make war I will be near you. I can make my enemies as weak as

children, and they always flee when I approach, for they fear the

shooting of my quills. When you meet your foes you will always

overcome them, for I give you power as it was given to me."

And Bear said, "I will give you my toughness and my strength, and a

strip of fur for your leather belt and your coat. And when you are in

danger, I will not be far away."

Then Deer said, "I give you my swiftness so that you may be fleet of

foot. And when you pursue your enemies you will always overtake them,

and should you flee from them, you will always out-run them in the


Then the birds spoke again, and Crane said, "I give you a bone from my

wing to make a war-whistle to frighten your enemies away or to summon

your people to your assistance when you need them. And I give you my

wings for your head-dress."

The giant Eagle then spoke and said, "Oh, youth, I will be with you

wherever you go, and I will give you my strength and my power in war.

And even as I do, you will always see your enemies from afar, and you

can always escape them if you so desire." And he gave him a large

bunch of wonderful eagle feathers to tie in his hair as a token of his


And finally, Wild-Cat said, "I give you my power to crawl stealthily

through the grass and the underbrush and to spring unexpectedly on

your foes and take them unawares. And I give you too my power of

hiding from my enemies." And he gave him strips of his fur to decorate

his clothing in token of his friendship.

From all the animals and the birds the youth received power and gifts.

Then he waved his magic wand and lay down to sleep. When he awoke, he

found himself on the shore of the lake, and far in the east the dawn

was breaking. But he could see farther than he had ever seen before,

and away in the distance he could make out blue hills and smoke rising

from far-off villages. And he knew that strange power was upon him.

But not a sound came from the lake, and the drumming had for ever


The youth took his magic wand and his gifts and set out for his home.

And he told his people what had happened and he taught them the

secrets of the Dance which was to make them strong and victorious in

war. And among his people it became a great ceremony and was

practised for long ages, and was known as the Dog-Dance. And since

that time, the animals and birds have been friends to the Indians, and

the Indians have acquired much of their cunning and skill and power.

And ever after the night of moonlight by the lake when the youth with

the magic wand received the strange gifts, the Indians have decorated

their war clothes with fur and quills and feathers from the animals

and the birds. And in the far north country, the Dog-Dance is still

held at intervals out of gratitude for the gifts, for the Indians do

not forget the promise of long ago.