Okishkimonisse Saves the Summer Birds
Ojibway Myths & Legends
A great many years ago, a giant found that he could make the winter stay in the north country all year long if he put the birds of summer in cages. When the time came for the weather to turn warm, there was no change. It stayed very, very cold. There were no wrens or robins, no woodpeckers, larks, finches, nor any of the other birds that returned to the land of the Ojibwe during the spring and summer.
In the north, the Ojibwe people were in misery. All they could think of were the warm summer months, as they shivered all day long in the cold. There was very little food left. The animals tried to eat bark from the aspen tree as they had seen the beaver do, but they discovered this was a poor substitute for their regular diets.
Finally, the Indians and the animals gathered together in Council. They were determined to find the summer birds and make them return to the north, bringing the summer weather with them. However, out of all the men and animals, it was the small fisher (Okishkimonisse) who finally offered to go and find the one causing all these problems and bring the summer birds back home.
The next day, Okishkimonisse started out on his journey, taking only a small ball of wax to use as a weapon. Day after day, he flew southward, the direction he had watched the summer birds fly when they left the year before. He traveled a full moon before he finally reached the home of the giant. The giant was asleep, when Okishkimonisse arrived, but he had posted two crows as guards.
Now, Okishkimonisse was able to move quietly, and before the crows knew it, the fisher had dropped downed on them, clamped their bills shut, and sealed them tightly with the ball of wax. This kept the crows from calling out to the giant.
Then quietly, so as to not make a sound, Okishkimonisse crept inside to where the cages of the summer birds were kept. One by one, he opened the bird’s cages. The birds tested their wings after their long captivity and as soon as they began to fan the air, it began to get warm. The snow melted and the plants began to break through the earth. As the birds flew northward, they brought summer to the waiting Indian people along the way. When the birds finally arrived in the north country, the Ojibwe people knew that the fisher had succeeded in his mission.
Now, the giant had slept through all of this. But, eventually, the summer’s heat had caused the wax on the crow’s bills to melt. Suddenly, the birds called out to their master.
“The summer birds!” they cawed. “Okishkimonisse has opened their cages and let them all escape!”
The giant was up in an instant and was soon chasing Okishkimonisse with his bow and arrow.
He chased the fisher up a rocky hillside, overlooking a beautiful green valley. When he reached the edge of the cliff, the fisher jumped and flew toward the sky. The giant followed, aiming his arrow as he left the ground. The arrow hit the bird, but only wounded him.
Today, the fisher flies high in the sky, but he still has a crooked tail. When you see the sharp bend in the Big Dipper, you are actually seeing the spot where the arrow hit Okishkimonisse’s tail.