Article 5 – A Beautiful Story Told By My Kokum

by Cherish Halcrow

photo courtesy of Doug Lauvstad

My Kokum lives in Cross Lake (Pimicikamak Cree Nation). Before we began out interview, I explained to her that the purpose of this interview is to record her story about the legend of the loon.

Interviewer: Tansi! My name is Cherish Halcrow. This is my Kokum.

Interviewee: I am Kokum of Cherish. I am from Cross Lake, Manitoba. I was born and raised here. Nimosom wants me to tell a story about the loon.

Interviewer: What is the name of the story that you’re going to tell us?

Interviewee: Legends of the Loon. It’s one of my favourites and it’s what I could remember.

Interviewer: Where did you learn this story?

Interviewee: I will share with you a legend I learned from my father. My father, my siblings and I went out fishing one evening when we noticed a loon calling out. My father asked us if we heard the loons calling in a sequence. The channel was big and long. It was an echo and choir coming from the loons. I asked my father why they sounded like that. He said, “Do you see how the loons are all black with white spots all around their neck?” While taking out his fishing net, my father was telling us a story about the loons. My mosom, my father’s father, who was my great grandfather was the one who told my father that all animals are sacred because the creator put them on earth to be respected. They have a purpose on earth. All animals have great natural laws of creation. When the loon was put on this earth, they only had a black coat; they had no spots on them when the creator first placed them on earth.

One day in a village way up North, one elder was practically going blind. The elder’s youngest son got married and her new wife did not like the idea that the mother-in-law had to stay with them. The wife thought the mother-in-law was in the way and wanted to get rid of her. The wife decided to put her mother-in-law somewhere on the land near the river. The husband was heartbroken and asked the wife why they could not keep his mother a little longer because in the native tradition, it is customary to take care of our elders until they pass on. The wife thought that her mother-in-law was in the way, and she wanted to be alone with her new husband. The wife kept nagging the husband about her new mother-in-law. Finally, the husband gave in to what the wife had requested, to take her mother-in-law out of her and her husband’s way. The new groom talked to her mother and told her that she had to move and that he had found her a spot to live. He explained to her that she had to move because she was getting old, and she had to be by herself. The mother was devastated and did not understand why her son wanted her to leave the house. The son explained to her that she would never be hungry and that she would set up camp for her and that she would never lack anything. He stocked up wood for her to get by, and he promised that he would pop in and out to make sure that she would never get cold or starve. He assured his mother many times that she would be fine, and he would watch out for her smoke nightly to make sure that she was fine. He wanted her to be by the river so she could listen calmly to the animals around her. Years earlier, the elder’s son had given her a nice necklace made out of a shell. The elder wore it proudly and did not take it off for anything.

The mother would get up early in the mornings before the sun came out and would listen closely for the animals. Every morning, there would be loons swimming close by where her camp was. She began to understand the loons that they would call out and she would say that the loons were observing their morning prayers. The mother realized why the loons would pray the way they did. One day, the loon saw the mother crying. The loon asked her why she was crying. You have such a beautiful camp and you have a son that takes care of you to make sure that you never run out of food or wood. The mother explained to the loon that she was lonely and that she was hungry for fish, which her son never brought to her. The loon then told her not to worry, and it would go fishing for her so she could eat fish. The loon left and came back with fish. Later, the mother cooked her fish while the loon watched her. After the meal, they began talking and became close. The mother told the loon that he was a beautiful bird and so loyal, “I wish I could reward you with something but I don’t have anything to give.”

The loon answered, “Your kindness and friendship are all I need.” She was moved by his kindness.
The loon would then visit daily to talk and check on her and the loon explained to the mother that the season was changing and they had to leave soon and migrate because they had to go somewhere warm. The mother became sad again because the loon had to leave. She asked the loon, “can you stay as long as you can?” He promised her that he would stay as long as he could stand the water, but it became colder. Weeks went by, the loon told the mother “I have to leave now.” The mother told the loon that she had a gift for him, which she thought that she would never give away. It was the necklace that her son gave her, which she had always worn proudly. She looked into the water, at her reflection, to see how she would take it off. She then threw the broken necklace and the gems landed on the loon. That is why today, the loon has the white spots on its body because the mother threw her necklace onto the loon. After the cold winter months, the mother was out in the woods by herself. It had become warmer and so the loons arrived back to her campsite and she noticed this time that the loons were not all black. They had nice beautiful white spots around their bodies. After a while, the elder passed on and the loons were there to sing to her while she was going into the spirit world.

Interviewer: that is a sad story. Is that the end of the story? Is there anything you want to add?

Interviewee: Yes. Always remember that the loon finds medicine. Whenever the mother was sick, the loon would dive into the water and find her medicine. If we listen closely, we will hear the loon singing in the evening about the approaching night and early in the morning to welcome the sun. The loon only has one mate for life, if one dies the other dies shortly after. The loons and other animals are very loyal to the creator and they never disobeyed him. Not one animal has done it. Animals are very obedient, very loyal, and they are the ones who carry the seven teachings in our culture. This is the teaching that was taught long ago, and this is what the elders called the legends of long ago. The story has been passed on from generation to generation. Elder McKay recounts the story to her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Kokum’s family collect loon ornaments because that the legend of the loons is a story that belongs to her family. It continues to be passed on from one generation to the next.

Interviewer: Thank you for your story. I never knew that about the legends of the loons. Now I know why loons have a white patch on them. So, you first heard it from your father?

Interviewee: That is what I’ve learned from my father about the legend: we need to respect our elders and not just put them in a home. We take care of our elders as they took care of us when we were children. And we need to pass on the care to our elders. It’s a Cree tradition.

Interviewer: That’s a beautiful story. I will remember this one and tell it to my children. Thank you so much for your time. Ekosi.

About the Author: My name is Cherish Halcrow, I am from Cross Lake, Manitoba. I have two daughters. I am in my last year in the Kenanow Bachelor of Education – Integrated Stream (BEDIS) program at the University College of the North, Thompson campus. I major in Aboriginal & Northern Studies. The studies taught me so much about our culture and people, things that we did not know about. Now, I look at our culture differently, and hopefully, I will take what I have learned and teach them to our children back home. I plan to move back home to teach once I graduated. I am grateful to be where I am in my life at the moment, and I will continue to work harder to fulfil my life’s goals.

Instructor’s Remarks: Cherish Halcrow was my student in the Indigenous Women and Literature course in the fall term of 2019. As a mother of two young children, she managed to attend almost every class in the evening. She is keen to learn but quiet in class. Her work is outstanding, and we are lucky to have her share this beautiful story told by her kokum – Dr. Ying Kong.

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