One aspect of Native American mythology not as common to European mythology is the use of children as heroes in myths and fables. Although Native Americans are not alone in such usage, their tribes and clans have more stories that center around children than any other culture on earth.
Some believe that fact stems from the belief that children are imbued with a range of values and morals that are widely accepted across the world. For example, most children are considered to be innocent in nature. By that very fact alone, they are believed to be more closely related to the Great Spirit, God or other diety.
Once adulthood begins, people move further and further away from that which is pure in nature toward the opposite end, which could and probably will embrace some form of evil. For this reason, it made sense to Native Americans that the younger the spirit, the more likely it would make the right and proper choice.
Somewhat contradictory; however, is the fact that these child heroes are often pictured as growing or maturing unusually quickly; showing intelligence or skill way beyond their tender years. Case in point, Arrow Boy of the Cheyenne tribe.
According to legend, Arrow Boy was born only after his mother suffered a four year pregnancy. She died shortly after his birth. He was left to be raised by his grandmother.
Thankfully, Arrow Boy progressed quickly from infant to toddler to young brave. He walked and talked long before his allotted time and educated himself in the ways of his people.
While still small, Arrow Boy took it upon himself to enter the great council and proclaim himself a Shaman. Uncertain what to think of the boy’s claims, those in power ultimately chose to drive him away. It was a mistake they would pay dearly for when, along with him, Arrow Boy took the buffalo they needed for clothing and food.
Arrow Boy traversed the great mountains until he stumbled upon a cave in which he found a council of great Shaman from every tribe. They accepted him immediately and taught him their most important ceremony – the bundling ceremony. It was in preparation for him to return home in honor, bringing prosperity and peace back to his people.
Ultimately, Arrow Boy became a hero of his people. But first it took the unwavering faith of a little boy to make it happen.
In a tale I shared from my personal research into Cherokee mythology I found the “Native American Myth: The Red Indian Paintbrush.” It was the story of a young brave who refused to accept defeat. Instead, he found a way to take tragedy and turn it into triumph.
In another “Native American Myth: The Three Sisters,” it showed how the purity of love could make the world a better place. In still another, “Native American Myth: Why it Rains,” shows the sheer power of love. Finally, in “The Story of Echo” a young Cherokee girl named Sensi shows the strength of the human spirit.
Native American myths and legends are rich in these types of highly spiritual and uplifting stories of belief, faith, hope and love. Many of them are inspired by heroic children. One might ask why, but there is no need. The answer is quite simple. It’s because Native Americans as a people highly prized the pure essence of children in a way that we as a people no longer do.
By contrast, we treat our children with disrespect. We often talk down to them and act annoyed when they ask questions. Sometimes we consider them more like property rather than treating them as the blessings they truly are. It makes one wonder which of the two – the white or the red man – was really the savage race.
After all, it is we who brutalize and sometimes kill our children. It is we who exploit and sell them into slavery. It is we who refuse to demand that laws be enforced protect their innocence. Sometimes we don’t even believe them when they share their stories of abuse or molestation.
Perhaps if we realized all of the lessons our children could teach us, the way Native Americans clearly did, we would be a better people as a whole. Maybe then there would be no child pornography. Perhaps all the clubs and groups that are allowed to have sex with children unchallenged would be put away. Maybe parents would think twice about using children as slave labor.
There is much to be learned from myths and legends. But perhaps the greatest lesson that Native American mythology can teach us is how to revere our children.