Cree Legends of Pelican Narrows
Transcribed and edited by Prentice G. Downes; Woodcuts by Annie Downes Catterson
12 X 9 inches, 30 pages
We have reason to be thankful, therefore, that Annie Downes has given us this exhilarating series of Adam Ballantyne stories - The Story of Chakapas (1987), Wisakyjak and the New World (1991), The Legend of the Mimigwesseos (1999), and, now, Kyass.
As she did in the preceding three volumes, Annie has drawn upon her father's unpublished collections of Cree lore in presenting this book. In so doing she honours the heartfelt tribute he paid Adam and the many other Indian friends in Sleeping Island.
These strange tales are made all the more otherworldly by the prints that accompany them, for Annie Downes's brilliant woodcuts express an imaginative and emotional affinity with the spirit world of the Woodland Cree. Her pictures also remind us, palpably, that in culture the supernatural was indivisible from the natural; turning these pages, we can smell that northern wilderness - cold water, ice, poplar and black spruce, woodsmoke - and feel in our nerve-endings something of the immemorial way of life recalled for Prentice Downes by that venerable raconteur, Adam Ballantyne.
— Robert Cockburn, from his introduction
'... Adam Ballantyne was, at the time he told me these stories, a man probably about seventy-five years old. This was in the summer of 1937. I saw him again in the summer of 1947 and he was still quite alive. As he was not a Christian Indian there was no definite record of his birth. He spoke no English and the stories were told to me in his native Cree language.... Adam was a member of the Pelican Narrows Band, a forest dwelling, hunting people found at Pelican Lake in far northeastern Saskatchewan, Canada. Though these Indians have long been exposed to the white man and the white man's various religious concepts, as one can see, the more ancient beliefs still persist, at least among such of the old men as Adam. He himself occupies a curious postion in the band. Though the younger members are inclined to ridicule his ancient beliefs, when all the white man's religion, his nostrums, painkillers and pills fail, they turn to the old medicine man—Adam.'
Prentice G. Downes
'P.G. Downes was a naturalist, cartographer, geologist and a teacher. Above all he was a northern traveller. During the summer from 1936 to 1947 he packed only what he could carry on his back and set out for the Canadian North travelling the wild rivers and crossing lakes few white men had ever seen.... Adam shared with Downes stories, myths and information about his people, especially the dream life and spiritual world of the Woodland Cree. "To the Cree mind, all the world was spirit-bearing and animistic. He and the world about him were a completely dual world of the physical and its spiritual counterpart." Downes carefully recorded all that he heard and gathered in his journals. He knew that the old ways of the North were being fast forgotten... He had travelled a great distance "in order to learn the things of long ago."'
Annie Downes Catterson
Annie Downes Catterson has illustrated this trilogy of Cree stories that the raconteur Adam told her father. Annie is a practising artist and teacher of art in Chicago.
Eighteen stunning woodcuts from Wisakyjak and the New World, the second book in the series, are available in a limited edition portfolio or as individual prints.