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  • Clive Gilson

Okaraxta


The Great Plains is a broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, located in the United States and Canada. It lies west of the Mississippi River Tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:


  • The entirety of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota

  • Parts of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming

  • The southern portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba


The region is now known for supporting extensive cattle ranching and dry farming. The Canadian portion of the Plains is known as the Canadian Prairies. It covers much of Alberta and southern Saskatchewan, and a narrow band of southern Manitoba.


The first Americans (Paleo-Indians) arrived on the Great Plains thousands of years ago. Historically, the Great Plains were the range of the Blackfoot, Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and others. Eastern portions of the Great Plains were inhabited by tribes who lived in semi-permanent villages of earth lodges, such as the Arikara, Mandan, Pawnee, and Wichita.


The first known contact between Europeans and the original Great Plains nations occurred in Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska from 1540 to 1542 with the arrival of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, a Spanish conquistador. In that same period, Hernando de Soto crossed a west-northwest direction in what is now Oklahoma and Texas which is now known as the De Soto Trail. The Spanish thought that the Great Plains were the location of the mythological Quivira and Cíbola, a place said to be rich in gold.


The fur trade brought thousands of colonial settlers into the Great Plains over the next 100 years. Fur trappers made their way across much of the region, making regular contacts with the First Nations tribes. The United States acquired the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and conducted the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804–1806, and more information became available concerning the Plains, and various pioneers entered the areas. Fur trading posts were often the basis of later settlements. Through the 19th century, more settlers migrated to the Great Plains as part of a vast westward expansion of population, and new settlements became dotted across the Great Plains.


The settlers also brought diseases against which the native population had no resistance. Between a half and two-thirds of the Plains peoples are thought to have died of smallpox by the time of Louisiana Purchase.


-oOo-


There are many sources and traditions within Native American storytelling and mythologies. These tales are a selection of those told by the tribes and peoples of the Great Plains, but by no means does this book cover all aspects even within just this sub-group. It's been one of the absolute delights of the summer discovering just how deep and rich are the veins of folk and tribal lore across the Americas.


There is a deep sense of nature, of the seasons, weather, plants, animals, earth, water, fire, sky and the heavenly bodies, together with common elements such as all-embracing, universal and omniscient Great Spirit.


A characteristic of many of the myths is the close relationship between human beings and creatures of the natural world, often featuring shape-shifting between forms.


Although most Native American myths are profound and serious, some use light-hearted humour, often in the form of the hapless trickster, Iktomi, to entertain, as they subtly convey important spiritual and moral messages.


Stories from the Great Plains often feature buffalo, the animals so important in the lives of these peoples. Another common theme is the making of a journey, often to a supernatural place across the landscape or to the sky world.


The Great Plains, being generally described as the expansive area of North America between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, embody many cultures whose various rites and ceremonies emerged from a common background.


Many tribes, but not all, were semi-nomadic and depended more on buffalo hunting than on agriculture for their living. Folktales have been a part of the social and cultural life of Native American regardless of whether they were sedentary agriculturists or nomadic hunters. As they gathered around a fire at night, Native Americans could be transported to another world through the talent of a good storyteller. The effect was derived not only from the novelty of the tale itself but also from the imaginative skill of the narrator, who often added gestures and songs and occasionally adapted a particular tale to suit a certain culture.


As I said at the beginning of this short piece, it's been a delight to get to know these tales just a little, and I still have a long way to walk amongst the stories of so many more tribes and peoples across North America.


Notes in this piece are taken from Wikipedia and the online Britannica

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