For the people of the Cree nation, we have the river otter to thank for life as we know it today.
In the days when the Earth was new, there was no summer. Short days and long cold nights were the order of things in those days. He-who-made-the-animals saw that the world needed warmth and sunshine for life to prosper so he fastened a snare to catch the sun and hold it close to the Earth.
Day after day the sun shone down on the planet, baking the soils, drying lakes, withering the plants, and burning everything. Soon, there wasn’t enough water. There wasn’t enough food. The animals began to suffer.
“Sun,” the animals said, “you give too much heat.”
“Set me free,” said the sun, “and I will go away!”
“But if you go away, then there will not be enough heat,” cried the animals.
“Set me free,” the Sun said, “and I will come to the edge of the earth in the morning and in the evening; then at noon-time I will stand straight above the earth and warm it then.”
The animals gathered together in a great council to decide who would be brave enough to come so close to the sun as to risk death to set it free.
“I won’t do it,” said the wildcat. “whoever gets close will burn to death.”
“I shall not do it,” said the wolf, the raccoon, and the deer.
The otter sat and listened. The other animals did not like the otter for they felt they thought the otter was weak and afraid of everything. Realizing that this was his chance to prove his mettle to the world, the otter stepped forth saying, “I will do it. I will free the sun from the snare.”
The other animals laughed. But the bear spoke up saying, “let the otter try. He will probably burn to death. But that’s OK. He is silly looking and is no use to us anyways.”
Ignoring the laughter of the other animals, the otter climbed to the place in the sky above the Earth where the sun was snared. The closer he got, the hotter it got. His fur began to catch fire and burn away. Not to be deterred, the otter grabbed the leather snare and began chewing. Though the heat of the sun had scorched his fur and his skin was blistering, the otter chewed and chewed until at last, the sun was free and the otter fell back to the Earth unconscious, his skin scorched black from the fires of the sun.
He-Who-Made-The-Animals stepped into the center of the council ring where the otter lay, clinging to life. The other animals all stood speechless. The otter had done it. He had set the sun free and the sun had kept his word.
“Otter,” said He-Who-Made-the-Animals, “you have done it. You have saved us all and the animals will never forget that it was you brought balance to the world.”
As his reward, He-Who-Made-The-Animals made the otter anew. For his bravery and his sacrifice, life for the otter should be easy and free from toil. He gave the otter new teeth that were better for catching fish. He gave the otter muscles that would never tire, eyesight like an eagle, a tail to help him spend his days playing, the finest coat of fur of all the animals to keep him warm and dry and luxurious. And as his last gift, He-Who-Made-The-Animals gave the otter joy so he could spend his days as the happiest animal on Earth.
Story by Jared Lloyd Photography