In the beginning Napi, ‘The Old Man’ came from the South. As he walked to the North he begin to make the land. He created the prairies, the mountains, the rivers and the forests as he went along. After he had done all of this he looked about and said, “This is all good.” Afterwords he crossed the river he named Milk River. When he had reached the other side he climbed a hill and decided to rest for a while. . While he rested, he outlined his body with rocks. Even today his image can be seen in the rocks including the shape of his body, legs, arms, and hair.
Napi continued to travel North. As he walked he stumbled over a knoll and fell to his knees. While there he called out, “You are a bad thing to make me fall and hurt my knees, so that all will remember I will raise up the land and mark this spot with two buttes and they will be called the Knees. To this day you can still see where the ‘Old Man’ stumbled and they are still called the Knees. Napi continued to travel North, when he reached a place he liked he created what he called “The Sweet Grass Hills” with rocks he had carried with him.
When Napi had reached a place, he looked over the land and decided that there needed to be more things. The land went out forever and it was barren. ‘Old Man’ filled the great plains with sweet grass and created animals to eat it. He also created more trees and marked out a large place to make many new things. He created plants, roots, berries, and bushes. Some of the things he created where camas, carrots, turnips, bitter root, sarvisberries, bull-berries, cherries, plums, and rosebuds. He put small animals here to help manage these things. ‘Old Man’ was very pleased with all the new things he had created.
Napi had plans that he had not completed yet, but before he did he wanted to make larger animals to put on the Earth. With that he created a a large sheep with big horns. He watched it for awhile on the prairie. He was not happy with what he saw. They were clumsy and tripped all over their selves. ‘Old Man’ took the big horn sheep to the near by mountains and placed them there. They hopped about from rocks to rocks and skipped up scary places with ease. Napi watched with pride and said “This is the place for the big horn sheep, you move about the mountains easily and this is where you belong.”
While still in the mountains Napi created the Antelope out of dirt and set it loose to see how it would do. The antelope took off running and ran so fast it fell and hurt itself on the rocks. ‘Old Man’ was afraid that the antelope would not do well in the mountains so he took them down to the prairies and tuned them loose. They raced across the open land with such grace and speed that Napi said, “Now this is the place for Antelope, you will run here on the prairies and this is where you will live.”
Napi was pleased with what he had done here but felt there was more he needed to do. He decided to created a woman and a child, a son. He shaped them out of clay on the ground. He said to them, “You are people,” and he covered them up. He left them there for a few days and then returned. He uncovered them and saw that there were more of them. He told them, “Arise, you are now people.” He took them down to the river and explained to them many things and told them he was Napi, the “Old Man” and that he was their creator. He told them he had created all of the land and animals for them and that they must honor and respect the land and all things living. He told them it was OK for them to eat the flesh of the animals, but that they must be respectful of them. In so doing this they would always remember that the cycle of life and death is important to all living things and to never waste the life of anything living.
Napi left the people for awhile and when he returned he saw that the people were not doing very well. They were cold and hungry and some of them had become ill. He said to them, “Why have you not clothed and fed yourselves?” The people told him, “We do not know how to kill and eat the animals and they are much bigger and faster than we are.” Napi saw his mistake, he had assumed that the people would know, now he knew he would have to show the people the ways.
He took the people down to the river and showed them the fish, he explained how to catch them and that they were good for the people to eat. After that he took them to the forests, prairies, mountains, and swamps. He showed them the different kinds of plants. Napi told them how to gather, dry, and use each plant for certain kinds of illness and what times of the seasons to harvest them. In this way the people gained the knowledge of the medicine of plants. ‘Old Man’ was pleased with the progress the people where making and said, “This is good for the people.”
The people told Napi that they did not know how to kill the animals, that they were much faster and bigger, the people said, “We are afraid of the animals.” Napi understood what the people had said, so he took them up into the mountains and showed them some rocks. He told them these certain rocks could be made into weapons to be used in hunting the animals. Napi knew that over time the people would become great hunters and that the animals would be no match for the people, so he gave the animals certain skills as to make it fair for all. He told the people, “That in all things there must be balance.”
For the weapons, ‘Old Man’ showed the people how to hit these certain rocks with larger rocks and when they broke they made a sharp edge and a sharp point. Bigger pieces could be used to cut the flesh of the animals and the smaller pieces could be fashioned on a stick. Napi showed the people how to make a bow and arrows. He took some Sarvisberry shoots and stripped the bark form them, next he took larger shoots and flattened them and tied a string around the ends to make it bow. Then he caught one of the birds he had made and took one of it’s feathers from it’s wing. He split the feather and tied them to the shaft of the stripped Sarvisberry shoot. Napi took one of the smaller sharp rocks and tied it to the other end of the Sarvisberry shoot. He told the people this is an arrow and then showed them how to put the arrow on the bow and shoot it. The people were amazed at the new weapon ‘Old Man’ had given them.
Napi knew it would not be safe for the people to eat the flesh of the animals raw. He instructed the people on how to make fire so that they could cook the flesh and how fire could be used to warm the people. He told them that fire had great power but that the people would have to learn to respect it. He said, “With great power comes great wisdom, and you must have respect for all things.”
After this, he used the bow and arrows to kill an Antelope. He told the women to get one of the bigger pieces of the sharp rocks and showed them how to take the skin off of the Antelope. He next showed the women how to prepare the skin of this animal. Napi showed them how to smoke the hides and told them, each animal has enough brain material to tan it’s own hide and showed them how to use it to make the skins of the animals soft and pliable. He told the women you can now make cloths to wear from these skins and they will keep you warm.
Napi knew that he would not be staying with the people forever and he wanted to make sure that the people would learn to take care of their selves. He also knew that he had made the animals with very powerful spirit medicine and they would help look after the people as long as the people had respect for them. ‘Old Man’ told the people that if they should need guidance, he instructed them on the ways to connect to the animals. “If you need help they will come to you in dreams, and what ever animals comes to you, you must follow exactly what it tells you. It could be anything, a Bear, an Eagle, a Buffalo, or it could be something even as small as a Mouse. Go away by yourself and go to sleep, in your dreams an animal will come to you,” Napi instructed the people. With this the people had learned the ways of the animal medicine.
These where his first people. Napi was pleased with what he had created and he continued to travel north. Some of the animals he had created followed Napi as he traveled. They could understand when he talked to them and they obeyed him. When he reached a place he created the Porcupine Mountains and decided this was a good place to create some more people. He made men and women images out of clay and blew breath on them and they became people. He spent several days showing these new people the same things he had shown the other people he had created. After explaining about the animals and how they where their food, the people didn’t see much around. They asked, “What are WE to eat?”
With that “Old Man’ made images out of the dirt and blew his breath on them. They rose up and they were massive horned beast that he told the people, “These are Buffalo and they are your food,” the people were afraid of these large animals and complained to Napi, “How will we be able to kill these animals for food? They are so big and powerful.” ‘Old Man’ told the people he would show them how. He took the people where there were some high cliffs. He said, ” Pile up some rocks here and hide. I will send the Buffalo this way and when they get passed you rise up and drive them over the cliff.”
Napi went back to the Buffalo and sent them towards where the people were hiding. The people sprang up and chased the Buffalo over the cliffs. They went down and found the animals dead and tried to remove the flesh from the Buffalo. They tried everything but could not tear the animals limbs apart. Seeing this Napi went to the edge of the cliffs and kicked it breaking off pieces that made sharp edges. He gave them to the people and told them, “Use these to cut the flesh of the Buffalo. Eat the flesh for your food and use the hides to make your lodges.”
When Napi had taught the people all the things they needed to know he continued to travel North. When he reached a place he created the Bow and Elbow Rivers. He made more people here and taught them the same things that he had taught all of the other people. He continued to travel still further North until he reached a place and there he created the Red Deer River. After all of his creating and traveling he was very tired. He decided to rest for awhile. He walked up onto a hill and there he laid down and slept. The form of his body can be seen still to this day on the top of the hill where he rested.
After he had awoken, he continued to travel North. When he had gone for awhile he decided it was time to take a rest. He climbed a hill and sat down. From there he looked over all the land and was very pleased with everything that he had created. As he was looking around he saw a high hill and said to himself, “This looks like a fine place for sliding. I think I will have some fun after all the work I have done.” So he began to slide down the hill. To this day you can still see the marks he left in the hill that he had slid down, this place is known to all the Blackfoot tribes as “Old Man’s Sliding Ground.”
After his fun, Napi knew it was time for him to go and leave the people to them selves. Before he left he told the people, “I will always take care of you, and some day I will return.”
The Blackfoot people still believe this story and await the return of ‘Old Man’, they believe that someday he will return the Buffalo to them as they know that the white man has hidden them from them. They also believe that Napi will create a new world for them to live in, one that is much different than the one they live in today.