In Search of Underground Spirits at Grassi Lakes (The Legend of the Mako Oyadebi)

The Blackfoot and Stoney people were terrified of the pictographs, those red ochre paintings on the rocks, and they never camped near them.

They have never taken responsibility for drawing them.

Instead, the Blackfoot and Stoney people believe these pictographs are the work of small underground beings called the Mako Oyadebi.

I am fascinated by the legend of the Mako Oyadebi. It is said that these little human-shaped spirits are no bigger than badgers, and that the Creator, Waka taga, gave them special powers to care for the mountains and the west wind.

The Creator’s four sacred soils contained great powers and medicine, and it was the task of the little spirits to watch over these soils and to raise them from their world to be left in places for the Stoney people to discover. The coloured soils are used in spiritual paintings, on rock, on shields, and on skin.

The little spirits are elusive. Although I walk with a soft step above Grassi Lakes near Canmore, they fail to reveal their presence.

I sit on a rock near the pictographs, alone along a mountain path, and breathe in the crisp morning air. A raven lands on a nearby boulder and studies me. I study him back. I wonder what he wants. Perhaps he has a message for me. Perhaps a message from the Mako Oyadebi.

But before it can be delivered, approaching hikers disturb our confidentiality. And with a bow of his head, the raven flies off.

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Pictographs near Grassi Lakes

 

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The pictographs are slowly fading with time, weather, and human interference.

 

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