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COLUMN: Traditional stories teach meaning and purpose in adversity

Indigenous storyteller, Jillian Morris, returns to traditional stories for guidance in times of doubt
Jillian Morris
Jillian Morris writes: unconditional love is on display for us each day in nature and life around us.

Jillian Morris is Kanien’kehá:ka, turtle clan and band member of Six Nations of the Grand River Territory now living in Collingwood. She will be sharing stories and experience passed down through the oral traditions of Kanien’kehá:ka culture in her regular column, entitled Ka’nikonhrí:io, (The Good Mind) published on 


Shé:kon sewakwé:kon, hello everyone. Welcome or perhaps welcome back.  

I would like to continue the story, as I understand it, of Sky Woman and the daughter she gives life to.

I return to our traditional stories often. During times of reflection, of dilemma or doubt. I rely on their guidance. With them, I can shuffle through the muddied soil that slows my pace. Through the imposed conditioning and norms that emulate fear and cause me to question each step.

The stories can return me to the beginning. The place where our original instructions can be found.

Sky Woman gives birth to her daughter. She grows and develops quickly. The spirit of the West Wind brings new life to her as well.  She becomes pregnant with twin boys.

The first twin comes out naturally and without complication. The second twin’s entry into the physical world is violent. Mom does not survive his birth – her life is given for his.

Sky Woman mourns her daughter. She buries her under a mound of dirt. Her daughter becomes the soil. In her death, she becomes Mother Earth.

This world we know begins through a life-bearing being. A matriarch. Not created from a piece of man. Not as a companion or complement to man. She comes first and with this sacred duty to promote new life.

Sky Woman observes the mound over time. From it springs much life. The tobacco and strawberry plants emerge. Also, the trio we know as the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash, appear together for the first time. 

The twins grow quickly. They soon discover that their mother passed on to them the power to create. The two possess opposite personalities and different visions for what should exist to support life.

While one created beautiful blossoms, the other created thorns. While one created gentle flowing waters, the other created fast-moving rapids. While one created medicine plants, the other created those that could harm. Rolling hills and impassable mountain ranges. Refreshing rains and booming thunders.

Sometimes this story is told through a dualistic lens. Good and evil or light and darkness. That limits the learning and the creativity that we can pull from it. There is meaning and purpose in adversity, in challenge, and in loss.

Obstacles overcome become the stories within our story. 

The twins continue creating. The animals, the insects, the trees are designed and given their own instructions on how they will relate to the life around them. The understandings of reciprocity and natural law instilled.

The teachings for me are that this earth offers all we need to survive but also to experience. That what we give, we must be prepared to receive. And unconditional love is on display for us each day.

Life (any life) that begins with compassion, care, trust, and love is one that has greater opportunity to find peace on their path.  When we have the capacity to give these gifts, we should.  As a Kanien’keha:ka woman, and one with a vision of rematriation, I feel a responsibility to this sentiment. 

It is here in these stories that I can find encouragement to lift my feet and step with confidence.  Not absent of fear but despite fear.  

I am reminded that each step is being cradled by our first and most loving matriarch.