SACRED STORIES OF THE SWEET GRASS CREE
Reviewed by Brenda Reed
Reviewed by Brenda Reed
Volume 22 Number 3
Sacred Stories of the Sweet Grass Creewas first published as "Bulletin No. 60" of the National Museum of Canada in 1930. This Fifth House edition is a facsimile reprint of the original document.
Leonard Bloomfield was a prominent Yale University linguistics professor who learned the Cree language and then spent five weeks during the summer of l925 on the Sweet Grass Reserve near Battleford Agency, Saskatchewan. The work he did there was tremendously useful, as he recorded from dictation tales from the oral tradition.
Bloomfield's six-and-a-half-page introduction is mainly a discussion of the Cree language that will be of interest to linguists. In the first part of his introduction, however, Bloomfield explains that "[t]hese texts are part of a series written from dictation," and he comments plainly on his four major "informants." Bloomfield points out the advantages and faults of his story-tellers. The rest of the text is a bilingual record of the tales. Each tale appears first in Cree and then in English. Footnotes appear in the Cree version, and are often references to translation problems.
The sacred stories are mainly legends that offer an explanation of why things are the way they are. "The Birth of Wisahketchahk and the Origin of Mankind," "Why the Dead are Buried" and "The Origin of Horses" are obvious examples of the explanatory tale. Several of the tales feature the trickster figure, Wisahketchahk, who fits into the category of the culture-hero. There are thirty-six tales in all, including a version of the "Aladdin and the Lamp" story.
Although this is a scholarly text, it will be useful in high school libraries. Comparative mythology is a popular topic, and the tales told here are brief and easily categorized. The book was recently used in our library by grade 9 students, who were comparing the religious beliefs of Canada's native peoples. The students found it easy to locate tales they were interested in using the table of contents, and the sometimes unpolished narratives did not raise any problems.
Given the increasing interest in the history of Canada's native peoples, this is a timely and appropriate text. An update introduction that explained something about the Cree people would have added a useful context for high school students, but, nevertheless, it is good to see this text back in print. Through these tales students may be introduced to the oral tradition and to tale types that are recognized world wide.
I recommend this title for all high school, public, and academic libraries.
Brenda Reed is the librarian at Bishop's College School in Lennoxville, Quebec
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