The Fisher - Part of the Big Dipper

The story of Fisher is unusual because most Anishinabe stories about the Big Dipper describe it as a Great Bear. The Fisher is a small fox-sized animal related to the weasel.

Fisher was a great hunter. He lived in the winter world with humans, birds, and other animals. Many times the winter was so severe that they would run out of food.

The Anishinabe of Central North America say that many animals perished from the cold and the lack of food during winter. One day he decided that their only hope was to go to the summer world and bring back the warm weather. But the villagers and animals of the summer world were not willing to share summer, so Fisher called all the winter animals and birds together to discuss what should be done. Muskrat, who lived between the two seasons, was the only one that knew summer was hidden on a faraway island. In the centre of this island, there stood a lodge and on the wall of this lodge, hung the bag of summer. No one could get near it, for it was closely guarded by Sandhill Crane and Frog. Even when all the summer creatures went out to hunt, these two guardians always stayed behind. If anything was seen approaching the island, all the hunters jumped into their canoes to go and see what it was. It would be extremely difficult for the winter animals to obtain the bag of summer.

A plan was created, and the time came for Fisher and his friends to make their move. Owl flew towards the lodge where Crane and Frog sat guarding their precious treasure. Owl landed and peeked inside to see where the bag was hanging. Next, Muskrat was sent to gnaw the hunter's paddles to the breaking point. The strongest swimmer of all the long-legged animals, Caribou, started to swim towards the island. As soon as the hunters spotted him, they jumped into their canoes and began paddling towards him. Caribou swam as fast as possible away from the island until the paddles broke and the hunters were stranded on the lake. Caribou then doubled back in to the lodge, catching Frog and Crane by surprise. He quickly grabbed the bag and ran until he met the winter animals. They took turns carrying the secret bag of summer into their world. When the summer animals finally drifted to shore, they began to track the winter animals to recover their secret bag of summer, finally catching sight of Fisher, who was now carrying the bag. Fisher took to the trees to flee from the summer animals, but he could not climb high enough to escape the hunter's arrow, which struck him.

The arrow took him clear into the dark northern sky, along with the secret bag of summer. Ever since that time, the summer and winter animals have agreed to share the seasons. Each would have six months of winter, and six months of summer.

The Creator knew that Fisher wanted to protect his friends from starvation and death, so he prevented Fisher from falling to Earth and placed him among the stars. Every year, Fisher crosses the sky. When the arrow strikes him, he rolls over onto his back in the winter sky, and when winter is almost ended, he turns over onto his feet and starts out once more to bring warm weather back to Earth.

Such teachings remind us that the harmonious survival and well-being of all creation is dependent upon the sharing and respect for the Great Laws of Nature.

Canadian Heritage Information Network
Australian Museums & Galleries Online, Australia; Centre of the Universe; Gemini Observatory, Hawaii; Glenbow Museum; The Manitoba Museum; National Research Council Canada; Planétarium de Montréal

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

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