This piece is part of a Four Drum Series I painted on behalf of the Alberta Native Friendship Centre Association [link] The paintings were done on deer hide stretched over handmade wooden drum frames and represent important female figures in First Nations myth and legend.
Copper Woman is kept alive in the stories of the Pacific Northwest American tribes, specifically the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation living on Vancouver Island. Adapted from Daughters of Copper Woman by Anne Cameron:
The Creator made four levels of reality: earth, under-the-earth, ocean and under-the-sea. and then the Creator, who is neither male nor female, man nor woman, but both, and something more than either, more than both, populated each reality.
The Creator took the shells of the sea and the minerals of the rocks and from them fashioned a Skeleton. Then the Creator took the salt water of the ocean and made from it blood, to run in veins. The creator took handfuls of dirt and on skeleton fashioned a body, which was then encased in skin, made from the skin of the Creator and the same color as copper. Under her arms and between her legs the Creator placed soft-scented moss. A brain was added, and a heart organs were placed inside and then eyes to see. The form was given the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing, and then the Creator trapped the wind and placed it in her lungs and she became First Woman, she became Copper Woman.
Alone she found shelter alone she found food. She endured. Endured and survived. In the time of the first autumn storms, the Creator sent a craft of Supernaturals to teach Copper Woman how to survive on a better level than she had been able to find for herself. She was no longer alone. When it was time for the Supernaturals to go in their craft and prepare to return to their own home, Copper Woman began to weep. So much did she cry, her very head began to drain of all fluid, and as tears fell from her eyes, from her nose fell great amounts of thick mucus.
The supernatural women told her not to feel shame, not to bury the snot but to save it, even cherish it, and when she had learned to accept even this most gross evidence of her own mortality, then from the acceptance would come the means whereby she would never again be alone, never again be lonely. They told her that those times when body secretions flow, those times when a woman answers the call of the moon, are holy and sacred times, times for prayer and contemplation.
Copper women did as she was told. A few days later she noticed that the sand in the shell was moving every day she watched and became aware that the small living incomplete thing was growing into something. Soon his voice became deep and he roared with jealousy when Copper Woman spent too much time admiring something else.
One night the snot boy left his bed of fur and climbed in bed with Copper Woman.
With much pain and blood, there came from her a small version of herself, but altered. Copper woman looked at her daughter and felt the loneliness diminish until it was no larger than a small round pebble on the beach.
The kingdom of the Heavens was ruled by thunderbird. Thunderbird ruled with his wife Qolus. Qolus spent much time watching Copper women and her children. Especially Mowita, the oldest, the first born. Qolus wanted to leave the kingdom of the heavens and go to earth. So she changed her form. So completely did she change form she became the first man. He set about building a great house, greater then on earth to impress the Copper women and her daughter. Thunderbird in time became lonely and began to weep. The eldest daughter and her husband set about waterproofing the house. Copper women said she did not have to go into the house, which was getting very crowded; she would be safe with her magic. It was Time, she said, for her skin to split anyway, time for her to allow her children to go off on their own so that they would not stay tied to her forever. So she left her bag of meat and bones on the beach and went to visit with her friends the supernaturals.
For days the house floated. Raven was sent out and she brought back the promise of life, a sprig of cedar. The animals ran out side happily, then the daughters of Copper Woman prepared to leave. Four couples going off in four different directions, and from them came all the people of the world. From the survivors of the flood came the parents of black people, the parents of the yellow people, the parents of the white people and the parents of the brown-skinned people, and so we are all related, for we all come from the belly of copper Woman.
When old women was so old even she could not remember how old, she became old woman.
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