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book cover

9 X 12 inches, 48 pages
17 woodcuts

ISBN 0921254342

More about this item:
First Nations Catalogue of Books

Wisakyjak and the New World

Wisakyjak and the Giant Lynxes
and the Making of the New World after the Great Flood

Adam Ballantyne

Transcribed and edited by Prentice G. Downes
Introduction by Robert Cockburn
Woodcuts by Annie Downes Catterson

Cree Legends of Pelican Narrows, No. 2

THIS STORY GOES BACK to the days of long ago before the white man came among us and when Wisakyjak, about whom I shall tell you, was on the earth. Wisakyjak [pronouced wee-sak-ee-jack] is one of the many characters within the spiritual world of the Woodland Cree Indians of Northern Canada. According to the Indians, Wisakyjak lived a long time ago, "when the world was young and animals and people could talk to one another." He is thought of as the Clever One and is capable of doing both good and bad. A trickster as well as a friend, Wisakyjak is responsible for changing many of the animals so that they appear to us as they do today.

'Turning these pages, looking at these illustrations, we smell the raw spaciousness of the northern wilderness—cold water, snow, black spuce and birch—and feel in our bones the mystery and wonder of a legend that a very old man heard from his grandfather more than a century ago.'

—Robert Cockburn, from his Introduction

This story tells of Wisakyjak's confrontation with the giant lynx, the great flood, and the making of the new world by sending animals to the river bottom to retrieve mud... Edited by Prentice Downes, the book is wonderfully illustrated with woodcuts by Annie Downes Catterson.


Adam Ballantyne


'... Adam Ballantyne was, at the time he told me these stories, a man probably about seventy-five years old. This was in the summer of 1937. I saw him again in the summer of 1947 and he was still quite alive. As he was not a Christian Indian there was no definite record of his birth. He spoke no English and the stories were told to me in his native Cree language.... Adam was a member of the Pelican Narrows Band, a forest dwelling, hunting people found at Pelican Lake in far northeastern Saskatchewan, Canada. Though these Indians have long been exposed to the white man and the white man's various religious concepts, as one can see, the more ancient beliefs still persist, at least among such of the old men as Adam. He himself occupies a curious postion in the band. Though the younger members are inclined to ridicule his ancient beliefs, when all the white man's religion, his nostrums, painkillers and pills fail, they turn to the old medicine man—Adam.'

—Prentice Downes, from the Postscript to the third book, The Legend of the Mimigwesseos


Prentice G. Downes


Editor, Transcriber

'P.G. Downes was a naturalist, cartographer, geologist and a teacher. Above all he was a northern traveller. During the summer from 1936 to 1947 he packed only what he could carry on his back and set out for the Canadian North travelling the wild rivers and crossing lakes few white men had ever seen.... Adam shared with Downes stories, myths and information about his people, especially the dream life and spiritual world of the Woodland Cree. "To the Cree mind, all the world was spirit-bearing and animistic. He and the world about him were a completely dual world of the physical and its spiritual counterpart." Downes carefully recorded all that he heard and gathered in his journals. He knew that the old ways of the North were being fast forgotten... He had travelled a great distance "in order to learn the things of long ago."'

—Annie Downes Catterson, from the Preface to the first book, The Story of Chakapas


Annie Downes Catterson


Annie Downes Catterson has illustrated this trilogy of Cree stories that the raconteur Adam told her father. Annie is a practising artist and teacher of art in Chicago.

Eighteen stunning woodcuts from Wisakyjak and the New World, the second book in the series, are available in a limited edition portfolio or as individual prints.

All contents © Penumbra Press and Northward Journal Communications Limited
1 King Ave E. PO Box 20011, Newcastle, Ontario, Canada, L1B 1M3

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