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Kids' Activities

Jane Lind presents ...

Legends from the Forest

Told by Chief Thomas Fiddler
Edited by James R. Stevens

Theme: Survival and Native Culture, Young Adult

Legends from the Forest

Legends from the Forest is peopled with all kinds of creatures, both human and those the humans call animal. The two groups are closely connected in the life and legends of the boreal people and share special powers and abilities, which the western mind often finds suspect because of its obsessive need for scientific data to prove any occurrence or phenomenon before acknowledging its existence.

The challenge and the delight of these stories, then, is to read them with the heart and mind in readiness for finding out about things you perhaps cannot see with your physical eyes, but that you can recognize as true.

The book is divided into eight sections according to topics of the stories. The main character in the first set of stories is Weesakayjac, a hunter in human form and the setting is in the time before human beings. Weesakayjac is a figure in the spiritual world of the Woodland Cree, a trickster and manager who can change animals and makes things happen. For example, in the first story Weesakayjac built a big boat because of a great flood and helped to recreate the earth after it had disappeared.

In the second set of stories, called "Creatures," humans and animals interact. In the fourth story in this set we learn how the white crow became black.

"Duels with Neighbouring Clans" is the third set of stories, with a theme of animosity between clans and the consequential killing of opponents. The five stories in "Legends of the Yorkboat Men" are set in the era of the expansion of the Hudson Bay Company, which developed the heavy boat named for York Factory. Native men worked on the boats and these stories come from those experiences.

All but one of the six stories in "Heroes from the Past: the Old Young Lad" are told by Thomas Fiddler about Old Young Man of Sandy Lake. He was said to be more than two hundred years old, but he had not aged. Not only that, he had special powers that prevented others from killing him. Only when he was tired of living did he die, of his own choice and not by the hand of another person.

"Man Always Sitting" and "The Marten: James Linklater" are two other sets of stories about heroes. In each case, these heroes are invincible and can conjure up powers over others.

"Bears and Wolves," the last set of stories focuses on the relationships between bears and people and wolves and people. Wolves have never been known to attack people, whereas bears do, and, in fact, in one of these stories a bear kills a man and in another, injures one. But that has never been the case with a wolf, we are told.


Story telling is a strong tradition among all Native peoples. You might consider dividing your class into eight groups, with each group being responsible to prepare a report for the rest of the class in the form of story telling. Have the students read and absorb the stories in their section, and then work out a way they can share in telling at least one of the stories to the rest of the class.

After the groups have presented their stories, they can each take responsibility for creating a section of a large wall mural to illustrate Legends from the Forest. The starting point can be the drawings in the book for each section, but the students should be encouraged to create their own visual interpretations of the legends in paint and collage.


Eight large sheets of paper, at least 1 m x 1 m
Tempera paints
Coloured paper for collage work
Natural materials such as dried grasses and bark
Glue sticks or glue


1. Each group of students can meet to discuss the main aspects of the stories they wish to illustrate.

2. The second step is to sketch in the main content of each section of the mural.

3. The students may want to use paper and natural materials for collage for parts of the forest or scenes including tents or other textured parts of the mural.

4. When each section has been completed, use tape to join them for a wrap-around mural on the classroom wall.

As a conclusion for the unit, discuss the difference in approach between the native experience of the spirit world and the Western attitude.

from the
Theme Catalogue and Teaching Guide for Children's Books
written for Penumbra Press by Jane Lind
© Jane Lind

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