Even though Canadian historians have now started a widespread revision of the roles that aboriginal people played in the history of the country. However, despite the good intentions, the practice of Canadian history is still mainly unrevised in one crucial aspect, which is that Native people are still treated research objects rather than creators of important historical knowledge. Our Story: Aboriginal Voices on Canada’s Past is an important work that attempts to correct the inequity by telling nine stories about the past, filled with myth, mystery, and history, written by the most well-known aboriginal writers. Brian Maracle’s retelling of the creation myth of the Iroquois in “The First Words” is both a strong and disturbing historic exploration and, in some cases, is a demoralizing recreation of the worldview that does not exist today.
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The Creation myth is described through the interaction between a woman and her Creator. The woman finds herself on a riverbank, surrounded by beautiful nature and animals, and everything is new to her; she has never seen anything so beautiful before. She encounters a being with which she feels a sense of kinship and asks, “Who are you?” while the being responds, “I am the one that made you” (Maracle, 2004, p. 15).
The woman asks more questions about who she is and how she was created, and the being tells her a story of her surroundings and how she has come to be there. The being begins with telling the woman about the “sky world,” proceeding with describing all other aspects of living, such as meeting her mate for the first time, that have shaped the life and the culture of the Iroquois people. In contrast to the story of Creation that dominates the Western world, the Iroquois myth is more than a belief, instead, it is a shared way of thinking and looking at the outside world. Specifically, it tells the people that the onkwehóne:we did not arrive to the so-called Turtle Island by crossing some land bridge from Asia (Maracle, 2004).
One of the most remarkable points about “The First Words” is the fact that the author does not treat the Iroquois creation myth as an artifact of anthropology but rather as an act of living and historical memory. According to Maracle (2004), “and it was that time – the moment of Creation – that was the defining moment in our history” (p. 15). That moment was when the character of the Iroquois people was determined and the moment that influenced the way they think and what they believe.
From the very beginning, in his contributor’s note, the author clearly states that the Creation story is more than just a story and was a defining historical point that shaped the way the Iroquois would conduct their lives, thus influencing future generations. Approaching such a narrative as a kind of historical account, rather than a legend or fairytale, offers readers an important insight into the understanding of the Iroquois culture and belief in regard to their understanding of time, their reality, and the sense of responsibility for themselves and the future of the tribe.
Recalling both cultural and personal memories through the act of storytelling in “The First Words” adds to the process of recreating Indigenous philosophical analysis and particular approaches toward the external world. Maracle (2004) writes that in most of their schools and onkwehóne:we gatherings, someone will recite the first words in the language of the Creator, or Ohén:ton Karihwatéhkwen.
The author underlines the great importance for the younger generations to know how to recite the myth of Creation, and such an act honors the commands of the Creator and the story’s morale that is essential in guiding the community throughout the way of conducting their lives. By expressing the different beliefs of the Iroquois in his writing, Maracle successfully highlights specific standpoints and traditions inherent to the culture of the population. The magnitude of telling the stories is not purely informational but also a way for reproducing important knowledge of the culture, which illustrates the values and the attitudes of the particular Indigenous culture toward the external world.
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The cosmological narrative represented in the Creation story is unique to the Iroquois tradition is intentionally separate from the European religious influence. Most of the events that occur in the story are those that happened to the population and helped it to determine how it should live based on what they believe. The Creation story within the cosmological context is intended to explain to the people why they call earth their mother, the moon their grandmother, the sun their elder brother, and the thunder their grandfather.
The great extent of connectivity to the nature is crucial for the Iroquois people, and their most vital and defining story teaches to place value on the spiritual strength of nature and the close-knit society. The unique perspective put forth in “The First Words” should be seen as something that gave the population a sense of purpose, which is essential for moving forward and evolving as a group.
Maracle, B. (2004). The first words. In T. King, T. Cardinal & T. Highway (Eds.), Our story: Aboriginal voices on Canada’s past (pp. 13-31). Anchor Canada.