Agnes Pilgrim

Story 4 – Pushing Up The Sky

Teaching Four:

A problem with our ability to talk to and learn from elders today is that the role of elders has changed. They are no longer seen as powerful teachers and guides, but rather as a group that are of little use in a modern technology driven world. Even Native tribes create special elders programs and thus segregate them from the tribal community as if their age was a major characteristic that separates them from everyone else.

Read the following story twice before you consider the story questions that follow.

Pushing up the Sky

A Snoqualmie Story retold by Grey Eagle – Ken Jackson (Anishanabe)

A long time ago….

The world was very different than it is today. The sky was dark and heavy and very low and almost touched the earth.

Because the sky was so low the people had to walk around bent over. If they stood up straight they would bump their heads. So this is how they walked.

After some time the people began to argue about small things and became angry at one another. Then they began to fight, pushing and shoving each other.

There was a little girl who saw her people arguing and fighting. She knew this was not right, but because the sky was so low upon her people, that was all they did. She knew she had to do something so she thought and thought and thought and had an idea.

She walked out of her house and went to the center of the village. She put both her hands on the sky and pushed up as hard as she could. She felt the sky move up a tiny bit. She knew if the other people in the village helped they could push it up some more. She called the people out of their houses and told them her plan, but they were grumpy and told her it would never work. She pleaded with them to try and so they did. They all felt the sky move up a little more.

This was a very smart little girl. She explained if they invited all the other tribes in the area to come to their Snoqualmie village and everyone worked together they could push the sky up and out of the way. They could push it to where it belonged. And the people agreed with her and they invited all the other tribes to come to their village to a very important thing.

So all the invited tribes came to the village and were told the plan of how they would push up the sky. They all agreed it was a good idea, but someone pointed out a problem. Each tribe spoke a different language and so they each had a different word for “push.” How would they know when to push together?

They all talked and argued and thought, but no one had an idea as how to solve their problem. But they knew if there is a problem that no one person could solve that they needed to talk to an elder. Elders bring the wisdom of their years to any problem. So they went to the oldest man in the village and explained the problem to him.

The old man said he needed to think about it for two days. They came back in two days and he told them they shall use the word “ya-how” to push together. “Ya-how” means push together and work together. He said when he called out the word they would all call out together and push up on that heavy sky. He then told some of the men to go into the forest and cut down tall trees to make poles. And this was done.

So everyone put their hands on the sky and waited. The old man called out “ya-how!” and they all echoed him by calling out the word and pushing together. He called it out again and again and each time they all responded and kept pushing up on the sky.

When they pushed the sky as high as their hands allowed them to, the old man told them to use the poles to continue pushing the sky up using the same word. And so they pushed the sky higher and higher until it reached where the sky is today.

The people say if we work together we can do great things, even push up the sky.

And that is all.

Story Questions

What advice did the elder give that did more than solve the simple need to find a common word to work together?

What do you think was the point of thinking about the problem for a while before answering? Do we modern folks expect an immediate response or will we wait for a wise response?

The old man did not explain his reasoning for his decisions. Why did the people go along unquestioningly?