Cree Legends

Witiko "a.k.a. Windigo"

Cree Legends

It was winter and people started out to their traditional traplines away from the Fort Albany river. Two families decided to camp along what is now known as Ghost river. This is long before contact, when Cree people traveled freely to any destination as far as they could go. This river was near Fort Albany and Attawapiskat by kilometres both sides. People either used dogsleds at that time. These two families trapped small game such as beavers and martens, snared rabbits and they enjoyed the landscapes by the riverside.

Soon enough, spring came and as the land started to turn green, ice melted on the river. They went inland to avoid the break-up of ice on the river. It was a pleasant time of the season, warm weather arrived, sun shone most days and gentle rains fell leaving nature to smell wonderful. As they set about the business of preparing skins, the men went by their canoes they built during winter to get ready for this moment. They left their women to tend to camplife and to their duties of caring for their children and keeping the dogs fed. While they were away, the women got busy with food preparation, they went net fishing with their own canoes which were made of moose hide and they were round. These were for setting the nets and to check them the net day for fish. The children were left with a grandmother to watch them and who also cut up meat for their supper. She had a small mikwam (domed smoking tent) to dry meat and fish. The children played nearby within earshot of her. The dogs sat in the shade of trees.

The women returned with more fish to be cleaned and smoked to be eaten during summer. The men paddled in later that week, the days had been rewarded with more food. Geese, ducks and muskrats. They had enough food to last until winter.

As the summer and autumn passed the families had barely enough food, as they fed their dogs as well. Two dozen dogs to pull the sleds. Dogs were work animals and they were treated well. One of the children became ill and the grandmother who was not very old used a dogsled to take him home. It was not a difficult trip as it was mid-winter and freeze up had already taken place. The families were not concerned, so they went trapping again. Once more, the men went out. This time they found no animals. What was wrong?

They returned to the camp without any animals. They had enough food to last to the end of winter. A relative who had come along was told to take the dogs and sled back to their community. The rest of them planned to return home by canoes once the break-up in spring took place. A storm took place and unaware that a tree was felled by lightning and that it landed on the canoes, causing damages. It was only in the morning one of the men who saw the tree ran over to check on the canoes. After removing the poplar tree off the canoes, he saw the damage was not too extensive. They will have to repair them which may take a few days to do.

The women went net fishing. They went to check the nets the next morning and they returned without any fish. They spoke among each other and they asked why there were no animals or fish? Soon, they started to run out of food. It was the end of summer. They had rationed out the food, but trapping and fishing brought them back with no food. By late fall, they started to feel hopeless and the children would cry from hunger. Day in and day out, the men went out, but soon they could no longer continue out of starvation. Soon, the men argued and fought over nothing. The women tried to calm their husbands. Finally, one man grabbed a big branch and he hit the other with it. It was a fatal blow. The man's wife screamed and ran to her injured husband and helped him into the house. It was too late, he died.

The man said we need food and the only way we will survive is to eat. Looking at the tent of the other family. The women gasped and said, "No, we cannot eat a human body." That was taboo. He glared at them and yelled, "What will the children eat?" The woman stood by the opening of her teepee. She held a hatchet and said, "You will not pass into my teepee!" Her two children who were about 4 and 5 peeked out, frightened at what went on outside.

The man with a growl rushed at her and swinging the log he used to hit her husband, hit her as well on the temple, killing her instantly. In his rage, he turned on the children and beat them to death. After his rage subsided, he looked around, looked at the blood that was all over everything, everywhere. He looked at what he had done. Breathless, shaken by his killings of his friend and his family lying dead, he ran to his teepee. His wife fearfully looked at him and their little daughter ran to her, clutching her mother. The father looked at them and said, "We must eat." The wife nodded and obediently helped her husband wash and clean the bodies. He said to his wife, "We will pile wood and burn the children's bodies." She nodded in agreement. As time wore on, soon there was no food to eat. The man energized by the cannibalism they committed went to trap and his wife went net fishing. They both came back with no food. Days passed into weeks. They hoped someone would come looking for them. They were past the time they should be back.

The man's stomach was aching and the cries of his children from hunger were unbearable. He looked at his wife and then at the children. The woman realized what he meant by that look, stood up, and shouted at him, "No! Not our children!" He pushed her aside, as her screams woke the children but they never knew what hit them as their father hit their heads with his killing log. He looked away, he waited until no sound came from them. He said they will do the same as they did to the other children. The next day after the morbid deed was done, the wife could not bear the thought of living without her children. In her despair, she ran at her husband with a knife, but he grabbed his log in a defensive move and hit her face. She fell as her neck broke on impact. He turned as she fell, he yelled out his pain to the sky. He threw the log out to the water, but it fell on the shore.

He did eat the body of his wife, but slowly over days, weeks, and months he changed and in his spiritual anguish and anger he became 'witiko' a cannibal. He would scream out his anger and he hunted man. People who came to the camp later after two years passed, they found only the remains of the teepees, all tattered to shreds from winds and animals who came to the campsite. The canoes were still on piers where one man was going to repair them. By now they were leaning over from the piers' weather wear.

They camped one night and the moon was full and shone on the water. They talked among each other wondering what became of the families. Yes, there was the blood splatters inside each teepee. Did a bear or wolves attach them? As they were falling asleep, they were awakened suddenly what a shrill and horrible scream coming from the forest! They jumped up and ran outside. There were four of them, hunters. They looked about and the silence was too quiet. There was no breeze and the trees stood still. The moonlight shone on the land.

Suddenly, a dark and hairy form fell from the sky. The men were attacked by taloned hands and the creature was swift as it moved about them. Two men were shouting in agony, "What is this?" "Who is this creature?" They fell as their throats were slashed swiftly. The others fled to their canoes and they paddled off far from that horrible creature. "Witiko! That thing is witiko!" They yelled to each other as they paddled into the daytime. That is how the story became a legend about a man who killed his friend's family, then his own family.

Read next: I See You
IniniwiIskwew Nina
See all posts by IniniwiIskwew Nina