God was happy. Every day, he would walk with the sun along its golden arch and watch his favorite children; for many years they lived in harmony with Mother Earth and all the Gods. His children were kind to all creatures. They killed only what they needed, they farmed the land gently and sacrificed to he and all the Gods. Then one day, as he watched a group of warriors kill the buffalo, he realized that this tribe was only taking the hide, leaving the stinking meat to rot on the prairie. God thought to himself: could this be a sacrifice to the Vulture? Then he watched them take the hides and sell them for jewels and trinkets. He watched as his children sold the land, trading pieces of their mother earth for food, boots and guns. Worse still, he watched his favorite Indians side with the White stranger, fighting each other in White wars over land that was not for the Indians to own or trade.
He turned to his companion, the Sun, and asked him what to do. “What is it with these people? We have given them more than any other animal. They walk upright, like the bear. They hunt like the panther, and they can make the great fire to warm themselves. Though they are the weakest, all animals fear their cunning. We have even given them Mother Earth, we have taught them how to draw sustenance from her, yet they do nothing but kill, dance in the dirt and eat Peyote. The prairies are foul with stinking meat, and the rivers are awash with filth.””I know, said the Sun. They have wasted your precious gifts. Let me reach out and touch them; they will melt in seconds and we can create a new race of mankind that will not take your gifts for granted.”
“No,” said God. “I must not destroy what I have created. Let me talk to their Mother and see what she says.” So God walked down into the core of Mother Earth and asked her what she thought he should do. “Let me starve the ungrateful buggers,” she said. “Why, just the other day they were throwing their foul, stinking carcasses into my rivers. They do not deserve the gifts I have provided to them.”
“No, said God, I shall not starve my children, no matter how they grieve me. I shall ask the Sea God what to do.” So God went down into the depths to find the Sea God, but could not find him anywhere. He called out to no avail. “I know what I will do,” said God to himself. “I will ask Mother Earth to shake the world; that will get his attention.” Sure enough, the sea god came stumbling out around a deep and tangled bed of kelp. “What do YOU want, you, father of such an insolent bunch as these humans,” sneered the sea god. “Your children are ravaging the seas. I have to hide from them, lest they damage me, and it’s only because you do not allow any harm to visit them. Come now, brother, let me flood them—you can start another, better race of humans.”
God thought long and hard. It was true that there seemed to be no other way. Perhaps his children were past redemption. “No,” said God to the Sea God, ” I cannot kill what I have created. I will gather all the other animals and hear what they have to say about these humans.” So God called out to all animals in their own language, so as to make sure the Indians did not learn of the meeting. All came, for the other animals had quite a bit to say. The wolves were agrieved because some Indian tribes had taken to desecrating their burial grounds; the birds wanted revenge for all the nests that had been knocked out of the tree by insolent Indian pups. One by one, all the creatures came up to God and presented the same advice:
“They are beyond redemption.”
God sat back and thought about it all. Surely this is not the answer. There must be a better way. Then it struck him — he had not heard from all the animals! He knew that the buffalo, the most docile and peaceful of all creatures, would have a better idea.
“Where is the buffalo,” cried God. “Front and center!” But there was no response. God turned to the raven–“fly now, black bird, and find the buffalo, bring them here. For no one turns down God’s invitation!” Of all the animals, the raven was God’s favorite, and he blessed the bird with a brilliant coat of feathers and beautifully sweet singing voice. So beautiful was the raven that he never looked the same, the vibrant colors changing with his mood or the time of day. Of course, the other animals were jealous of the raven, but that didn’t much matter.
“Your Lordship, I would love to fly away right now, and if it helped I would bring the mighty buffalo to you on my back. But there are no longer any buffalo to heed your cry.”
And God was sad, for he knew what had happened to the buffalo.
“I can not let this go on,” said God.
“Kill them, kill them all!” said the animals and other Gods, all together and at once.
“No,” he said. “I will go to Earth and save my people from themselves. But to all of you who want an end to these Indians, I promise you this: if, after the full sheath of a man’s years, I cannot bring them back to the righteous way, then I will enslave them for a thousand years.”
A murmur went through the crowd of animals. God was promising the end of the Indians, promising to hand their fate to the other Gods. “How do we know you will not change your mind?” asked the raven. “We know how you love them so.”
God Thundered. “Raven, I am still God. Watch that you do not offend me.”
The animals hushed. Never before had anyone dared to doubt God. Finally, the little voice of a tiny field mouse peeped up. “But the raven is right. We know how you love them so. What if you change your mind?”
God thought deeply about this. What if he did change his mind? What if he, the Almighty, did not possess the courage to doom his children? “This is what I’ll do, said God. “Raven, as you were so bold to speak up, you will get the honor of this assignment. After a full sheath of years is over, fly the world and see if the Indian has changed their ways.
“If they have, call together all the Gods and lift me to my rightful Glory, and mankind will rejoice. If not, take my eyes. Do it quickly and with no warning, lest I stop you. This way I will not see the enslavement and horror of my wayward children, and thus, do nothing.”
So God shed the trappings of the Supreme and transformed himself into a normal man. He gave himself the name Chief Bear Heart, and there was no other chief like him. Chief Bear Heart could run with the wolf pack, climb trees with the bears and swim with the salmon. He was a deadly killer on the warpath, a magical medicine man and a wondrous ritual dancer. The people loved Chief Bear Heart, and as the years went by his legend grew, until all the tribes turned away from their evil ways and followed Bear Heart. It was the beginning of the Golden Age, and for a full sheath of years Bear Heart ruled over a united and kind Indian Nation.
But the Raven had other ideas. As instructed, he flew over the world, finding peace and brotherhood with each other and nature. The raven had not expected this – and was furious that the Indian had changed their ways. As the Raven flew to Chief Bear Heart, he thought to himself –“this will not do–these Indians must be doomed, for all the years of torment and mischief before this time of love.”
“I will lie to God, and quickly, before he can figure it out, I’ll take his eyes and throw them into the fire. Then, because I am so beautiful, I will rule the Indian nation. I will call them the Raven Nation.” So the vain Raven found God and told such tales that would make your toes curl. The Raven told God that despite all the love they showed, whenever he was away or asleep, the Indians took to eating Peyote and dancing, killing animals randomly and fouling the earth. He told them that they even had other Gods they hid in their homes, so that he would not see.
“I can’t believe it,” said Bear Heart.” Surely you should take another look. There has never been such a time of harmony as this.”
“No, I saw it with my own eyes, there is no mistake,” cried the Raven. And with that, the bird flew down and snatched Bear Heart’s eyes and tossed them into the fire. “Now you are blind, and you can do nothing to save your children. You are no longer God but an old blind Indian. I will become their master, they will be enslaved by me, they will toil for me!”
“Yes, that is what I said,” said God, and I must honor my word. “But on you Raven, I put this curse: you will look like what I see — nothing but terrible blackness. Your voice will be the shrill cry of a generation unjustly punished, and, though you are the smartest of birds, you will be left to eat the scraps and garbage of the people you wish to enslave. These same people will call you the crow, chase you from their villages and force you to skulk around like a bandit in the night, picking grubs out of the ground and eating only what the vultures leave behind.”
And that’s why ravens are black, and you should always be very kind to old blind Indians.