Here is another story about my new character, Little Bear. In this story, a “ricing basket” is mentioned. I learned about ricing from reading the work of Minnesota Native American author Jim Northrup. He writes books and a column called “The Rez Road Follies” where he relates everyday life living on the Fond du lac Indian reservation of Northern Minnesota. I wanted to make sure I gave a nod to him for the information about ricing in this story.
One day Little Bear and his mother, who was named Blue Star, were sitting in front of their home fixing one of their birch bark ricing baskets. When rice, which grows along the edges of the lakes in Little Bear’s country becomes ripe, the People go out in their canoes and using special sticks, knock the rice kernels off the stalks into the canoe. The ricing baskets, called nooshkaachinaagan in the Anishinaabe language, are used to toss the rice into the air to separate the chaff, which they cannot eat, from the rice. The chaff blows away into the breeze. While they were busy with this task Little Bear said, “Mother, Please tell me again about my father.” Little Bear’s father had died before he was born. He loved to hear his mothers stories about him.
“Your father was a very brave man,” Blue Star began. “He was tall and very handsome. He was a good hunter and everyone in the village liked him. He would have been a very good father to you.”
Just then, a man from their village walked up and said hello. “Hello,” said Little Bear.
Blue Star said, “Little Bear, this is Strong Elk. He is my friend and has come to visit.”
Strong Elk said to Little Bear, “As you are the man of the house, I must ask you if I may stay and visit with you and your mother for awhile.”
Little Bear’s face beamed red as he said, “Yes you may, thank you.”
“You are a very polite boy. Your mother is wise in her ways and teaches you well.”
Little Bear didn’t know what to say so he just looked down at his work. Strong Elk and his mother talked for a while and soon Strong Elk got up to leave. “It was very nice meeting you Little Bear,” he said. “Maybe I will see you again soon.”
“Goodbye,” said Little Bear.
“What did you think of Strong Elk, Little Bear?” his mother asked.
“He seemed nice. I remember seeing him playing with some of the other children. They laughed and liked him a lot.”
Strong Elk started coming around more often and sometimes helped Little Bear and his mother with chores. Little Bear liked that because when chores were done he could go out to play with his friends. One day Strong Elk and Blue Star told Little Bear that they had some news for him.
“Strong Elk and I have decided to get married,” his mother said. “When we are married, Strong Elk will adopt you and he will be your new father.”
Little Bear jumped up and spilled his rock collection that he had been looking at all over the floor. “What?” he yelled. “I don’t want a new father! Why? Why would you do this? We are fine by ourselves!” He pointed at Strong Elk and said, “I want him to go away and never come back!”
Little Bear ran from the house. He ran and ran. He ran away from the village because he didn’t want anyone to see him crying. Soon he was in the forest but he didn’t care. He kept on running. After awhile he was out of breath and he threw himself to the ground where he continued to cry.
Little Bear looked up upon hearing his name. There stood White Wolf, his friend from an adventure he had had not too long ago. He ran to the big wolf and threw his arms around his furry, warm neck. He sobbed into White Wolf’s fur and finally his friend said, “What can be troubling you so, Little Bear, to be off in the forest all alone, again?”
“My mother and Strong Elk want to get married. She wants Strong Elk to be my new father. But I don’t want a new father,” he cried. “I want my old father!”
“Well, well, I can see this is a big problem for you,” said White Wolf. Maybe I can help. I have a friend who is very wise. If you will walk with me, we will go and find him. Maybe he will tell you story, maybe it will help.
And so the two of them, White Wolf and Little Bear, walked on through the forest. It seemed to Little Bear that they had walked for a long time when they finally stopped to drink at a small stream. After his drink, Little Bear looked up. Across the stream he saw a large Cougar. “Greetings White Wolf,” Cougar said. “What brings you so far into the forest? Did you find a lost boy?”
“No Cougar, the boy is not lost. This is Little Bear, one of the People. He has a problem that I thought you might help him with. Before Little Bear was born, his father died. Now his mother wants to get married to Strong Elk and for Strong Elk to be his new father. Little Bears father was Dancing Horse.”
“Ah,” said Cougar thoughtfully. “Now I understand.” Cougar walked slowly through the water of the stream and came up the bank where White Wolf and Little Bear were waiting. He sat beside them and licked the water from his feet. He didn’t speak for a long time. Finally he said, “Little Bear, I knew your father.”
Little Bears eyes got very big. “How? How did you know him?”
“One day many years ago, I was walking through these woods and I walked into a trap. The rope closed around my feet and pulled me into the air. There I was, hanging from a tree with no way to get down. The rope was strong and I could not chew through it. I hung there for a long time trying to get down when I heard some one coming. A man came with a bow and arrows, and a bag of vegetables and mushrooms he had dug, over his shoulder. It seemed he had been hunting food on the forest floor and had claimed his prize. He smiled as he looked at me. Finally he laid his burden down and came near.”
“Well,” he said, aren’t you a funny sight. What is a big tough Cougar like you doing hanging helpless from a tree?
“Very funny,” I said. “If you did not set this trap, then one of the other People did. I suppose you will kill me now and take me for food along with your mushrooms.”
“I suppose that would be wise seeing how Winter is approaching, but I think we in the village have all the food we need for the coming months. If I cut you down and let you go, what will you do?”
“I will be forever your friend,” said Cougar.
“So the man cut me down and let me go. From that day forth we were good friends. Helping one another whenever we needed help. When I heard he died, I mourned greatly. That man was Dancing Horse, your father Little Bear. He was strong and stubborn and set in his ways and you are probably a lot like him. I see that you feel that you do not need a father to help take care of you and your mother. But you must understand that even the very strongest beings sometimes need help. Without your fathers help I would not have survived. We all need each other to live and to grow. If your mother wants to be married again it is because she is lonely and needs the company of another adult. It is the way with all adults just as it is the way with children. You need friends your own age just as your mother does.”
“Well little Bear, I see that you have a lot to think about,” said White Wolf. “But you should be getting back home now. Your mother will start to worry.”
So White Wolf and Little Bear started out for the village. Cougar walked along with them for a while. The Sun was starting to go down when Cougar stopped. “Here is where I will leave you Little Bear. As I was your fathers friend, so I shall be yours. If ever you need me, come to the forest and call out. I shall be there. Think hard before speaking to your mother about this again. You have much to decide.” Cougar left them then, walking back the way they had come. White Wolf and Little Bear walked back to the village.
When he got home, Little Bears mother threw her arms around him and said, “Where have you been, Little Bear? I have been so worried about you!”
“I am sorry to have scared you mother. I had much to think about. But I am tired and should go to bed.”
Blue Star tucked Little Bear into bed. She said, “I am sorry that our news upset you so Little Bear. We hoped you would be happy.”
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow mother. Goodnight.”
In the morning Little Bear asked his mother if Strong Elk could come to the house. When Blue Star brought him back he told them, “I am sorry for getting so mad at the news you shared yesterday. I realize now that even the strongest of us need help and companionship. I believe it would make us a strong family if you would be my new father, Strong Elk.”
Blue Star whooped for joy! She and Strong Elk picked up Little Bear and swung him around the room. Little Bear decided not to say anything about his new friend Cougar. The story he was told about his father he would keep close to his heart as he got to know his new father.