Right now we are in the town of Wha Ti! We have visited the school and introduced our dogs to all of the students here. They love the attention! (The dogs, that is). We also have been lucky enough to meet Mary Adele, who teaches Dogrib, also called Tlicho, language class at the school. Based on the results of last week’s Cast Your Vote, we asked her if she knew any traditional stories about mythological characters. She told us that there are lots of good stories about a man with many powers called Yamozha. For a long time these stories were not written down. People would tell them to each other around the campfire and keep them alive by remembering them and sharing them over and over. Today some of them have been written down, and we are going to share one of them with you.
Mary Adele showed us a beautiful picture book that tells one story about Yamozha’s experiences. The book is called “Yamozha and His Beaver Wife”. The story was told by Vital Thomas in the Tlicho language, and the illustrator was Archie Beaulieau. The book is written in both Tlicho and English. We will share the English version with you, just as it is written in the book. You might like to read the story out loud with a friend, or have someone read it to you so you can imagine the story while it is being told.
“A long time ago, before Dogrib country looked as it does today, there lived two brothers, Sazea (Little Bear) and Yamozha (Walks Around the World). In childhood, the two brothers played many superhuman but cruel tricks on their fellows. Eventually, Sazea went down to the Arctic coast. Yamozha remained in the bush country of the Mackenzie River drainage, creating many of the natural features of the region.
After Sazea left, Yamozha was very lonely. To take his mind off his brother, he walked for many days. As he was walking, he came to a girl who was all alone. She had lost all of her family and was now alone. Yamozha asked her to marry him.
The young woman agreed, but only if Yamozha could keep one promise: that she would never get her feet wet. She said, ‘Don’t ever step in grassy water or go over a little creek. Just keep on the dry places.’ Yamozha laughed, ‘That is an easy promise to keep. You don’t need to worry about getting wet. I will take very good care of you.’
In the beginning, Yamozha kept his promise. The two walked for many years all across the country. Yamozha took good care of his wife. When she was tired, they rested. When they came to rivers and streams, Yamozha cut down trees and bridged them so his wife could cross.
One day in late summer, they came to a tiny creek with only a small trickle of water. Yamozha thought that his wife would be all right so he did not cut down a tree. ‘She can step over it without any problem,’ he said to himself. In one stride he crossed the water and kept on going. But, Yamozha had a lot on his mind and walked a long way before he realized that his wife was not behind him. When he turned around, she was gone. ‘Now, what has happened to that girl?’ he wondered. ‘I had better wait for her to catch up.’
Yamozha waited for a long time, but still his wife did not appear. At last, he began to feel uneasy and he began retracing his steps through the forest. When he reached the place where he had last seen his wife, he was astonished to find that the small trickle of water had turned into a big lake. In the middle of the lake was a big beaver house.
A beaver swam out of the lodge. Yamozha asked it, ‘Have you seen my wife?’ The beaver answered, ‘I was your wife until you forgot your promise and let my feet get wet. Because you did not take good care of me I changed into a beaver. I can’t follow you anymore.’ Yamozha became furious. ‘My magic is powerful,’ he answered the beaver. I will catch you and turn you into a woman again.’ He began to chase the beaver. When they came to Marion River, he lost her. He looked for her everywhere, digging into the bush. Around Shotti Lake today, there are all kinds of little creeks, made when Yamozha hopelessly dug into the earth. He did not find his beaver wife.
Yamozha was tired from all of this work, but he kept on looking until he got to Marion Lake. Still, there was no sign of Beaver. Yamozha needed to rest, so he sat down on Shiagu, a mountain on Murphy’s Point. On top of this mountain is a flat rock where Yamozha sat when he looked for his wife.
As he sat on top of the mountain, Yamozha listened carefully. He heard the sound of a beaver chewing somewhere near Neeshi or Old Fort, which is on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake. Old Fort is on a long, long point. That point is the dam Beaver was trying to make. Just before Yamozha got there, Beaver saw him so she dove and hid. Yamozha followed her around the south shore of Great Slave Lake right around to the west side. Finally he came to the end of a point which is called Tsaken, ‘Beaver House,’ where Beaver had made a house and had a baby.
Yamozha dug into the top of the beaver house. You can see the hill where he dug his hole. He took the baby and killed it. The mother fled down the Mackenzie River and Yamozha followed her, carrying the baby’s body. There is a burning place down the Mackenzie, the smoldering beds of lignite above Fort Norman [Tulita]. That’s where Yamozha cooked the young beaver. As he was cooking, the beaver grease melted down and started to burn. And Yamozha said, ‘This smoke will last forever.’ You can see smoke there today, in the winter and in the summer.
When Yamozha finished eating, he walked further inland to stretch the hide on the ground. He carried large boulders and set them around the edge of it. In the Barren Lands behind Norman Wells, there is flat land in the shape of a beaver pelt.
Yamozha was still angry at Beaver. He went back to her lodge, but she saw him coming so she swam down the big river. When she reached the Arctic Ocean, she kept going without looking back. Yamozha knew he would never catch her. He used his medicine power and turned her into an island.
Di godi gha sii hot’a. The End”
This map shows the places where Yamozha travels in the story. When the story begins he is a little northwest of Great Slave Lake. Once he starts chasing his wife he travels all the way around Great Slave Lake and down the Mackenzie River to Tulita, where the Great Bear River meets the Mackenzie River. At the end of the story Yamozha has reached the spot where the Mackenzie River meets the Beaufort Sea. That is a long way to travel!4
To learn more about the Tlicho or Dogrib people, go to http://www.tlicho.ca/ and click on the video at the top of the page.
You can read another story about Yamozha at a website that teaches about Tlicho culture.
After you get done reading you can watch a video of the story
You can learn much more about Tlicho people and the area we have just traveled through if you go to the main website: www.lessonsfromtheland.ca.
We found even more Yamozha (or Yamoria) stories in a book of Dene stories by a man named George Blondin from Deline. The book is called Yamoria The Lawmaker: Stories of the Dene. It was published by NeWest Press in Edmonton, Alberta in 1997.
1. Photo by Tess McBride/USFWS
2. Photo by Laura Kennedy/USFWS
3. Photo by Walter Siegmund
4. Map by Shannon.