The Bear Who Stole the Chinook: Tales from the Blackfoot

Description

129 pages
$12.95
ISBN 0-88894-685-6
DDC 398.2'08997

Publisher

Year

1990

Contributor

Reviewed by Peter Goodchild

Peter Goodchild is an editor at Simon & Pierre Publishers.

Review

Fraser’s collection of Blackfoot tales is a combined edition of two
books originally published in 1959 and 1968. The author (now deceased)
had no training in collecting folk tales, but had the advantage of
growing up near a Blackfoot reserve, where she learned the language and
the Blackfoot stories she later published.

Many of the tales are of Old Man, the Blackfoot version of the
widespread trickster-creator character, while others are legends of
postcreation times. This book can be favorably compared to two other
collections of Blackfoot tales: George Bird Grinnell’s Blackfoot Lodge
Tales (1892) and Walter McClintock’s The Old North Trail (1910).
Blackfoot folk tales have survived better than those of many other
tribes; they therefore provide a window into North American Native
culture in general.

One aspect of Fraser’s writing would be anathema to academics, who
crave accuracy above all else: Hugh Dempsey, in his introduction, quotes
her as saying that she left out stories “not exactly for children.”
What she left out was half the stories, judging from Paul Radin’s The
Trickster. Gods and morals are simply cultural inventions, and it is
sadly ironic when we presume that our own totems and taboos give us the
right to expurgate another culture’s stories. In addition, when
stories are so heavily edited, the framework of the tales tends to
vanish, and we are left puzzling over the “unfathomability” of other
cultures. Yet these problems apply to virtually any attempt to convert
Native stories into stories for white children (why always for
children?), and the solutions are far from obvious.

Fraser’s book is written in impeccable English and is enjoyable to
read; it is also visually attractive. It makes a worthy Canadian
companion to the American collections. Dempsey also quotes Fraser as
saying that she wrote because “the time was approaching when the
stories would be lost forever.” This book’s greatest value is that
it may prevent that from happening.

Citation

Fraser, Frances., “The Bear Who Stole the Chinook: Tales from the Blackfoot,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/10543.