“Raven Steals the Son”

Raven Steals The Son soapstone sculpture

2021. Soapstone 12" x 12" x 23"

In many cultures there are mythical characters with an ambiguous morality, for example, the Greek Daemon is neither good or evil, but hypocritically exhibits both characteristics, much like a human being. The Fox is the equivalent in Western Fairy Tales, and used in cautionary tales to exhibit the characteristics of cunning, guile, agility, among others, and yet still be a character that is vulnerable and relatable as well. Other examples include the Beaver which represents industry and foresight, or the Squirrel, which represents the preposterous term ‘husbandry,’ and so forth, as is known by every adult in the world.

The Greek Epic Hero plays a similar role to mythical anthropomorphized animals, stereotypical characters that populate a national literature as cautionary tales. Prometheus steals fire from the Gods and gives it to man. His reward is to be chained to a rock and have his entrails eaten by birds of prey every day for eternity. Ouch.

The Raven in Haida culture plays a similar role to Prometheus in Greek culture, stealing fire from the Gods, “It only took only an instant for the Raven to decide to steal the light for himself, but it took a lot longer for him to invent a way to do so.” (Reid 20).

There are other versions of the story, also known as “Raven Steals the Sun,” and features the bird holding the disc of the sun in it’s beak. That is the formal inspiration for this soapstone piece, 12" x 12" x 23". A baby boy is held by the head in the beak of a monstrous bird. The bird, squatting on it’s haunches, scoops the baby up in it’s wings. In fact, the bird is a humanoid figure with a raven skull for a head.

Who among us can’t identify with the feeling of being completely helpless in the grip of something irresistible, a child in a parents grip, an implacable monster, a bully, a mad dog bearing down on them, a runaway vehicle, or even a terrifying ride at the amusement park one has stupidly paid to experience?

“The Raven snapped up the light in his jaws, thrust his great wings downward, and shot through the smokehole of the house into the huge darkness of the world.” (Reid 23).

‘Pan-Indianism’ is what the categorization of North, Central and South American Indigenous Peoples as “Indians” is called. We are all called “Indians.” I have a Canada Indian Card and an Alberta Indian Card. Aboriginal is a similar term. Indigenous as well. These term mask out nationalities, I am Cree. The Cree Nation exists under the matrix of Canada, and spans Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Northern Quebec. A nationality is defined by a common language, common culture, and a common geographic area. Canada is primarily Cree.

Regarding misappropriation, our children are being misappropriated, not to mention Indigenous girls’ and womens’ lives being misappropriated. Canada is misappropriated. I may be said to be misappropriating this trope for my sculpture on the removal of Indigenous children from their group into non-Indigenous families, institutions, and societies.

I am Cree. I don’t have a Cree name, although I do have a Squamish name. It was given me by three generations of a Squamish family, Daughter, Mother, and Grandmother. The youngest was around thirty years old. They walked me to the Squamish River north of Squamish, B.C., and had me choose two stones out of the river. I was to tap them together as they gave me my name. It is the name of a powerful Squamish Medicine Man. I consider this a serious honour and responsibility. ‘Raven Steals the Sun’ is the Westernized trope of the Haida creation story, which is more accurately translated as “Raven Steals the Light,” by Bill Reid. “Raven Steals the Son” is therefore more like a pan-Indian cultural re-appropriation of a misappropriated myth, which is then turned inside out.

For example, Canada knew for more than a hundred years what was going on at the Indian Residential Schools, Paget’s [1908] report revealed that the “schools ran the gamut from good to deplorable. The majority - fifteen out of twenty one - were [deplorable.” (Milloy, 82). Deplorable conditions.

By extension of that litany of abuse and terror, the image of the baby in the monster's grip represents my childhood at the mercy of racist bullies in grade school, the grinding poverty I currently experience, the desperation of the artist knowing they must sell their work and that there is no interest in the grotesque, the helpless desperation of the once “well-liked” (Miller, 8.) salesman whose shoes are down at the heel. One feels their head in a vice.

Raven is meddlesome. Plays tricks and pokes into other peoples’ business. (Reid 33). When one is young, one thinks, The Raven. The Trickster. Steals the Sun. Has the world by the balls. That’s me. I’m the Raven! If you follow the story, sure, Raven steals the light, “The old man lifted the light, in the form of an incandescent ball [...] and tossed it to his grandson.” (Reid 22) Raven makes a clean getaway, the kernel of any successful crime. Raven flies along with the glowing ball in his beak and revels in the light he sheds, and Raven sees the world, previously cloaked in darkness as black as Raven himself. Raven thinks “I am like a God! I am shedding the Light!” But Raven, too, is in the light, and Eagle sees Raven for the first time. Eagle covets the Raven’s light and chases the Raven. In panic, Raven spills light here and there and everywhere and those lights become stars and the moon, and finally Raven loses everything to Eagle, drops the last bit of light into the sky as the sun, and flies away empty-beaked.

My artistic goal in creating this work is to make restitution for the duty I failed to keep by allowing these children to be stolen; to carve in stone that this was done here at this time, to commemorate the horror the individuals must feel at having their lives taken or being “stolen from their mother’s embrace,” and to reify Indigenous life so Western Culture might reflect on the injustice of these heinous actions deliberately undertaken.

That it is not our fault does not absolve us of responsibility for our children’s well-being, or assuage our collective guilt at our failure to prevent our children being taken from us. We were gulled into the Treaties, and we are gullible still. Our oppressors are not going to stop oppressing us, it is up to us to throw off our burden. Human beings are all our own worst enemies.

Hemingway said that if you follow any story long enough it ends in death. That is the story of life. We all lose everything. One-by-one or in bunches we lose our friends, family, career, self respect...in truth our lives are held in trust by the Grim Reaper from birth. Then, one day, we lose our lives as well. And that is the universal truth of Raven Steals The Son, “light reached in, (the old man) looked up and for the first time saw his daughter, who had been quietly sitting during all this time, completely bewildered by the rush of events [and the old man saw] she was as beautiful as the fronds of a hemlock against a spring sky at sunrise.” (Reid 24).

Works cited

Miller, Arthur, 1915-2005. Death of a Salesman. New York :Penguin Books, 1996.

Milloy, John S. A National Crime. The Canadian Government and the Residential School System • 1879 to 1986. University of Manitoba Press. Winnipeg. 1999.

Reid, Bill. The Raven Steals the Light. Drawings by Bill Reid. Stories by Bill Reid & Robert Bringhurt. Douglas & McIntyre. Vancouver. 1988.

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