All People have origin stories that explain how they were created or where they came from. The Bible and the Koran tell of the Creation. The earliest People to come to North Dakota also had creation, or origin, stories. Some of these stories have been preserved through oral tradition. Oral tradition means telling stories about the creation to others, especially the children.
Most of the origin stories are very complicated and very long. There are many characters and many events. The stories are important today because they tell us about the spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions of the People.
Origin stories give us one view of how People came to live in North Dakota. The stories were handed down from parents to children for centuries. We don’t know what People called themselves when they began telling these stories, but over hundreds of years, they came to call themselves Hidatsa, or Lakota, or Chippewa or another name.
Origin stories tell of some of the great struggles the People went through to emerge on the earth and become fully human. They had to learn many things and organize the People into well-ordered communities. They had to learn to understand supernatural powers as well as the natural powers of the plants, animals, rocks, and climate.
It is important to remember that some of these stories should be told only at a certain time of the year or under certain conditions. Since we cannot always meet those conditions when we read the stories, we need to remember to be thankful that the stories have been recorded for us to read and be respectful of the spirit of the People who told these stories over the generations.
There are three different origin stories because the Hidatsas believe that long ago, there were three different groups of People who eventually came together to become the Hidatsa. The Awatixa (ah wah TEE ha) believed that they were created on the shores of the Missouri River by the great hunter Charred Body, who brought the Awatixa (“People of the Village of the Scattered Lodges”) to Earth. The People established 13 villages along the Missouri that eventually became the 13 clans of the Hidatsa.
The Awaxawi (ah wah HAH wi) climbed to the surface of the earth by climbing up a vine. The Awaxawi (“People of the Village on the Hill”) lived east of the Missouri River and raised crops until they migrated to the Missouri River and joined the Awatixa and Hidatsa-proper.
The Hidatsa-proper (“People of the Willows”) emerged from the earth near a large lake (often recognized as Devils Lake). They climbed up a vine and emerged through a hole onto the surface. Tragically, a pregnant woman got stuck in the hole and prevented more people from climbing up the vine. The pregnant woman stopped the migration so there are still Hidatsa ancestors under the earth. The Hidatsa-proper migrated around the Great Plains until they came to the Missouri River. Here they met the Mandans who helped them cross the river to the west bank. The Mandans gave the name “Minitaree” or “Cross the Water” to the Hidatsas. Once they arrived at the Missouri River, the Hidatsa-proper learned how to grow corn from other People.
The Mandans were created in two events. First Creator created the land, animals, plants, rivers, and hills west and south of the Missouri River. A spirit being called Lone Man created the flat land, ponds, and grasslands east and north of the Missouri River. Lone Man also created cattle, sheep, birds, and White People. First Creator and Lone Man disagreed about some details of creation, but eventually, Lone Man came to live among the Mandans.
The second event took place at the mouth of the Missouri River. The People lived in a cave. A young man left the cave and went to the surface. He returned to his People and told them about the land, so the Mandans left the cave, bringing corn and squash with them. They lived in different places along the Mississippi River, but then returned to the Missouri River where they met the other Mandans.
Lone Man continued to live with the Mandans for a long time, but then he decided to return to his home, the south wind. He promised the Mandans that he would return someday and, in the meantime, they would always have his help. Lone Man returns every spring as the warm wind.
The Arikara origin story tells us that long ago, the People lived in Mother Earth. Then, Mother Corn brought all the People to the world. At first, the People did not know how to live properly, so they wandered. As they wandered, some of them were made into fish, others were made into birds, moose, bears, and other “animal people.” Eventually, the Arikaras found a land (in modern Nebraska) that had everything they needed to live. Here, Mother Corn came to them and taught them how to live on earth and how to pray to Man Above.
Mother Corn died, but she left the corn plant to remind the Arikaras of her love for them. Many years later, the Arikaras moved north to live along the Upper Missouri River.
The Dakotas tell of coming from across the ocean where they had lived in the land of cold winter and much ice. They crossed the ocean in boats. When they landed, they found a place where there was plenty of game and other things they needed. They migrated westward and met the Chippewas in a place where there were three large lakes. While they lived there, White People came, bringing metal tools. These tools caused trouble for the Dakotas with the Chippewas, but the Dakotas drove the Chippewas away. The Dakotas continued to move west until they reached the Mississippi River Valley where they settled in permanent villages.
The Lakotas believe that long ago, there were only four people on earth. One of them was the Trickster, Iktomi. Iktomi tricked Anog-Ite into telling him how to get other people from under the earth. The people under the earth were six men and their wives and a young man named Tokahe, The First One. Iktomi invited them to the surface. He told them that the world was full of food, clothing, and everything they needed. But Iktomi had tricked them; the people found nothing that they needed. Anog-Ite’s parents, Waziya and Wakanka helped the people by bringing them food and water. Waziya and Wakanka led the people to the forest and showed them how to hunt and live on the earth. The people learned well how to live and had children. The children of these people are the Lakotas (Sioux).
The earth, the sun, and the moon were created by the Great Creator, Kitchie Manitou. Kitchie Manitou also created the plants, rocks, trees, animals, wind, and birds. He sent the birds in the four directions (north, south, east, and west) to carry life to every place. Then, when all of the plants and animals had been created, Kitchie Manitou took four parts of Mother Earth and blew into them creating Man. Kitchie Manitou then lowered Man, the last creation, to the earth. Man considered all of creation his elders because they came before him.
The Chippewa People who descended from Man first lived by a great salt water, or sea, a long way east of where they live now in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. For many years, the Chippewas migrated west, always trying to live closer to the place where their Me-da-we religion could be practiced in its purest form. They finally reached the proper place which was La Pointe Island in Lake Superior (the Apostle Islands). From here, the Chippewas spread in many directions. Some of them migrated into North Dakota, where they lived and hunted between the Red River and the Turtle Mountains.