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The Native American Legend of the Sleeping Giant and the Whiteman

The Native American Legend of the Sleeping Giant and the Whiteman

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Not very long ago, a Native American tribe known as the Ojibwa tribe roamed the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. They were much loved by the powerful god, Nanabozho, who was very pleased with their industrious nature and upstanding character. Yet the times were troubled. The Whiteman had arrived and was slowly destroying the Ojibwa way of life with their firewater and diseases. Nanabozho saw a way to help the peaceful Ojibwa but he warned if ever his kindness was revealed to the Whiteman, he would transform his gift into a curse and vanish into the stones.

The Great Spirit of the Deep Water, Nanabozho took the Ojibwa chief by the hand and showed him a narrow tunnel in the north-northwest area of Thunder Bay in modern-day Ontario Canada. There, the chief saw an enormous silver mine. He quickly called the rest of the tribe together and, after giving thanks and praise to Nanabozho, began to extract the ore. Soon, the Ojibwa became celebrated among the Algonquin Indians for the fine craftsmanship of their silver ornaments. Nanabozho was more beloved than ever, by the Ojibwa as well as by the other tribes.

Sioux Envy

However, not everyone was content to admire the blessing received by the dutiful Ojibwa tribe. The Sioux warriors grew envious of the silver decorations worn by their enemies. They tracked down the source of the silver and came upon the Ojibwa camp. They tried everything in their power to wrest the secret source of the silver from the Ojibwa tribesmen. They raided the camp, torturing and killing Ojibwa to try and make them divulge the secret location of the mine. Yet, the loyal Ojibwa never once gave away the secret of Nanabozho’s kindness.

People from the Sioux tribe

People from the Sioux tribe ( Public Domain )

Realizing that their blunt tactic was not working, the Sioux decided to take a different approach. The cunning chieftains disguised one of their most beguiling scouts as an Ojibwa tribesman and helped him to enter the camp undetected. Whilst there, the scout watched and listened. Soon, he had found out the location of the secret mine and left quickly to tell the news to his chieftains.

However, on the way home, the scout made the grave mistake of stopping at a trading post for some food. Having nothing to trade, he offered one of the pieces of silver he had taken from the Ojibwa as proof of his discovery of the mine. The White traders’ eyes grew wide at the sight of such pure silver. As if of one mind, the white men set upon the scout in order to find out where the ore came from.

Whiteman’s Ambition

Unlike the Sioux, the Whiteman is very crafty and subtle in his persuasion. The traders did not even mention the silver or seem surprised that such an unassuming scout would be in possession of such riches. Instead, they offered to buy the scout a drink. And then another and then another and then another until the firewater had clouded the scouts mind and loosened his tongue. Only then did the cunning white traders ask him where he acquired such beautiful silver. The naïve scout, he agreed to show them the mine.

Nanabozho is one of the most powerful gods in the Algonquin pantheon. From him, no knowledge is barred. He had watched the Sioux scout infiltrate the Ojibwa camp undetected and decided to let events play out as they would. However, when he saw the scout grow drunk on the Whiteman’s liquor and tell them the secret source of the silver, Nanabozho knew that he had to intervene.

Nanabozho’s Rage

As the scout and two white traders made their way across the Thunder Bay, Nanabozho summoned a mighty storm. The winds howled, the rain lashed down in torrents, and the waves of Lake Superior rose to the size of mountains. The Algonquin Indians on the shores of the Lake were terrified, for they knew that a storm like this could only be the work of an angry god.

Nanabozho in the flood. (Illustration by R.C. Armour, from his book North American Indian Fairy Tales, Folklore and Legends, 1905)

Nanabozho in the flood. (Illustration by R.C. Armour, from his book North American Indian Fairy Tales, Folklore and Legends, 1905) ( Public Domain )

When the weather finally calmed, the two white traders were dead and the Sioux scout was left huddled in his canoe, babbling like a madman. Moreover, where once had been a wide opening to the bay, now there was a large stone blocking the entrance. It was Nanabozho, lying on his back to block the bay, arms neatly folded across his chest. He had vanished, just has he had foretold would happen if ever the Whiteman knew about the silver mine. The mine itself was submerged under Nanabozho’s foot. The Ojibwa, able to read the signs, abandoned their silver works and thanked Nanabozho for the time they had been allowed to access the mine.

Aerial view of Sleeping Giant

Aerial view of Sleeping Giant ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Yet the Whiteman knows no such restraint. Mad with greed, he seeks to extract the precious ore from the Bay even to this day. Yet anyone who tries to go down the mineshaft is soon met with the flooding waters of the tides. Many have died in the attempt. Even modern efforts to pump the water out of the shaft have failed. No silver has been extracted from the Sleeping Giant’s Silver Islet ever since.

Top image: Sleeping Giant ( CC BY-SA 3.0 ), Plains Ojibwe performing a snowshoe dance. By George Catlin ( Public Domain )

By Kerry Sullivan

Sources

Bélanger, Claude. "Nanabozho Indian Story of the Creation."L’Encyclopédie De L’histoire Du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia. Marianopolis College, 2004. Web. 15 July 2016. http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/encyclopedia/NanabozhoIndianstoryofthecreation.htm

First People - The Legends. "The Sleeping Giant: An Ojibwa Legend."Native American Indian Legends. The First People, 2016. Web. 15 July 2016. http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheSleepingGiant-Ojibwa.html

Kaminski, June. "Gichigami." Chi Mandoo. Great Spirit of Anishinabe Ojibwa Ancestors, 2008. Web. http://www.chi-manidoo.com/gichigami2.html

Tourism Board of Thunder Bay. "The Sleeping Giant." The Sleeping Giant. The City of Thunder Bay, 2016. Web. 15 July 2016. http://www.thunderbay.ca/Visiting/Beyond_The_City_Lights/About_Thunder_Bay_and_Region/local_legends/sleeping_giant.htm

Comments

Thanks for this interesting and informative article. Much appreciated. Martha

I love Native American myths, especially the older ones. This one sounds as if it is fairly recent

 

the large island nearby Thunder Bay, known in Ojibwa/Chippewa legend as "the Sleeping Giant", is now known as "the Isle Royale National Park", that was scooped by the United States and is now part of the Keweenaw County in the state of Michigan.

(Isle Royale was given to the United States by the 1783 treaty with Great Britain, but the British remained in control until after the War of 1812, while the Ojibwa peoples considered the island to be their territory. The Ojibwa were later manipulated to cede the island to the U.S. in the 1842 Treaty of La Pointe.)

In prehistoric times, large quantities of copper were mined on Isle Royale and the nearby Keweenaw Peninsula. The region is scarred by ancient mine pits and trenches up to 20 feet deep. Carbon-14 testing of wood remains found in sockets of copper artifacts indicates that they are at least 5700 years old. In Prehistoric Copper Mining in the Lake Superior Region, published in 1961, Drier and Du Temple estimated that over 750,000 tons of copper had been mined from the region.

there is geological evidence that later than four thousand years ago, (back almost 13,000 years to the event that caused the resurgence of the last ice age for another 1,400 years, (referred to as "the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis"), Lake Superior had a much higher water level. it then would have been possible, 4000 to 6000 years ago, to sail from Lake Superior down the mouth of the St. Croix River, adjacent the contemporary city of Duluth, to the Missouri River and down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

so, legends of Phoenician traders, in search of copper and tin to make bronze, traveling to Lake Superior, between 4000 and 6000 years ago, is not far-fetched. geologists claim the massive quantities of copper ore taken from both the ancient Isle Royale mines and the adjacent Keweenaw Peninsula mines had the most pure copper ore of anywhere else in the world. this would definitely have motivated the Phoenician traders to keep coming back.

the Ojibwa/Chippewa have steadfastly claimed ancient stories of fleeing south after a comet collided with the ice in northern Canada. this event was responsible for massive flooding that caused the creation of the Great Lakes and the various river systems that drained them into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic ocean. they also maintain ancient stories of tall bearded red-haired men who later came in large boats in search of metal. it was these strangers, not the Ojibwa, who were responsible for the mining, though the Ojibwa always valued copper that they found randomly.

however, regards the above mentioned, "The Native American Legend of the Sleeping Giant and the Whiteman", silver was never mined on either Isle Royale or the Keweenaw Peninsula. this story is a fictionalized version of a much older story.

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