In the early 90s, Wahoo McDaniel was no longer on TV. I wondered if there would ever be another great Native American wrestler to put on great matches for the masses. I thought maybe the Ultimate Warrior might be native, but he was something else, to this day I’m not sure what he was supposed to be.
One day on WWF Superstars on Saturday, there was this spectacular individual, majestically running to the ring with colourful feathers. He was not just any wrestler or just any Native American, he was heavily built like a bodybuilder. He looked awesome: muscles, power and speed. I could tell he would be a big star. He made short work of many of his opponents.
I had seen him before, but he had a different name, “The War Eagle” Chris Chavis. I read about him on the old Apter mags such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated. At the time, I wondered if he would make it to the big leagues at some point because there were no prominent Native American wrestlers on TV. I was happy to see Chris Chavis become the great Tatanka.
His first two years, he went undefeated. He had feuds with Rick “The Model” Martel, Bam Bam Bigelow, and won the 40-man Bashed in the USA battle royal. I was proud of the man for his place in the wrestling industry. I was witnessing his career going so well after missing much of Wahoo McDaniel’s wrestling career. I thought Tatanka would become a champion for sure.
“At WrestleMania IX, Tatanka received his first televised title shot in the WWF, against Shawn Michaels for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Tatanka won the match by countout.” This was another win, but unfortunately, titles cannot change hands on a countout. I was happy for the win but disappointed at the outcome of no championship.
Vince McMahon and his company should have just given him the title. It would have been “over” because the fans were so into the Native American. If Vince had any concerns, he should have thought about the merchandise money that would have come flooding in for him and Tatanka. Tatanka would have looked awesome with the belt strapped around his waist. A missed opportunity from WWE (WWF, at the time).
As a boy, I remember only one Christmas that we spend in the trapline. Other Christmases we would spend on reserve, whether at my parent’s house in Hall Lake or my maternal grandparents house in town at 101 Reserve. The Christmas in trapline was very different.
On the days leading up to Christmas, my paternal grandparents would talk about their other family members that I don’t think I ever met. It was always fascinating to me when they would sit and talk, occasionally laughing or sympathizing. It was a time of reminiscing old times and old friends.
When a certain person had done something crazy: “wahwāy, nanātohk māna ikī itahkamikiso” (Oh boy he used to do all kinds of things).
If there was a tragic story: “tāpwī māna nikī kitimakinawaw“(I would feel so sorry for her).
If nimosōm or nōhkom mentioned an old rival of my grandfather (actually a good friend of his), he would energize up a bit and say: “Ha, nikī mākwihāw māna kākī māsīhitowahk” (Boy did I ever give him a difficult time when we wrestled). At this time, my grandfather would look at me and gesture with his hands how he held them up before a wrestling match.
On Christmas day, my parents gave us gifts that we usually received every Christmas. At my grandfathers’ cabin, where I showed up every day before daylight, they were saying their Christmas greetings “mithomakōsīwikanisi” to each other and giving each other gifts they had at hand. They were not wrapped or neat, but it would be appreciated and accepted with a “tīniki” or “kinanāskomotin.”
Things were a bit more serious as giving was important and should be done, but not at the expense of surviving the long cold winter, by giving away your boots or mukluks (maskisina). The thankfulness shown seemed very genuine to me, it was an important lesson to learn. That afternoon, our auntie took us sliding “īsōskocowīyahk” on a very steep hill, it was a great time.
All that was different to me because my maternal grandparents in town, on the reserve, would do the whole Christmas thing. Great feasts and happy faces and gift giving that I loved very much as a child. The main language used was English with some Cree thrown in by my maternal grandparents. Those were happy, carefree memories that I cherish to this day.
Santa Clause was called wīsahkīcāhk and that is where I first heard the term. “wīsahkīcāhk kiwī kīyokākonow tipiskāki” (Santa Clause is going to come visit us tonight).
At the cabin when my paternal grandfather mentioned wīsahkīcāhk in his stories, I imagined Santa Clause as the main character. It was weird but funny when I think about it now. It was not until later that I found out about the Cree legend, possibly from Sesame Street, but I am not sure, it was so long ago.
The Christmas on the reserve was in stark contrast with the Christmas at the trapline but I am happy to have experienced both. I can only imagine now, how a Christmas would be for a modern family from the reserve today. No technology after the batteries have died, and even then, there would be no Internet access. The videos and audio files would be there but there would be little time enjoy such things when you need to go out and get your own food from the land. There is also getting your own water from the lake and getting your own wood and chopping it for firewood.
On the plus side, there is an abundance of trees in the forest you can take home to decorate, with whatever you can find. I know it doesn’t seem glamorous, but it needs to be done when you are out there. Relaxing in bed, is so much better after a long hard day, you won’t feel like climbing a tree to get a signal.
nimosōm – my grandfather
nōhkom – my grandmother
maskisina – footwear
īsōskocōwīyahk – we are sliding
tīniki – thank you
kinanāskomitin = I thank you/I am thankful for you/I am grateful for you (#CreeSimonSays).
To two or more people
mitho-makosīkīsikanisik – Have a good Christmas
To one person
mitho-makosīkīsikanisi – Have a good Christmas
iskocīsa – batteries
nīhithaw ātathōhkan – Cree Legend
makōsīwikanimistik – Christmas Tree
(I made up this descriptive word, if there is a proper way to say it, I would be happy to hear from you)
As a little boy in the trapline, my late grandfather used to tell me many stories after a day of checking snares and traps. I wish I could remember them in detail but they are pretty much a blur at this point in my life. I also remember when i turned 8 years old and knew how to read. I would return the favour to my grandfather by reading Archie comics and translating to Cree as he sat intently listening to the shenanigans of the ‘ol gang.
The stories he told me were enhanced with his use of hand gestures and body language to emphasize the main points. His tone of voice would change, depending on the situation in his stories. His great humour would shine through, as his shoulders would bounce up and down as he bellowed in laughter. I was mesmerized by his masterful telling of legends and some that were his very own. I will tell the story of the time he thought he tracked a wehtigo (wendigo in other areas) at his trapline in another blog entry.
Story telling has a big part of my life since then and I used to tell stories to my children, right off the top of my head, as they listened to my sensational stories without planning them first. I wrote a few in detail as they are on my website: https://firstnationstories.com . I am happy to share what I remember for everyone to read and hopefully share themselves to people they care about. Have great evening.