Arts & Récits Autochtones - Dress Man

Dress Man

2015 - Lauréat de récits

The sun was rising, painting the sky with pinks, purples, reds and oranges; the breath from Dress Man’s mouth appeared as a cloud of smoke when he left his tepee. It was still cold out with the frost holding onto the grass, waiting for the heat to release it, wetting and clinging to his moccasins. Dress Man gathered his belongings, and headed North towards the valley; it was time to hunt.

Lisez l’histoire de Keestin O'Dell

Keestin O'Dell

Edmonton, AB
Frog Lake First Nations
Âge 22

Une note d'auteur

This story is about one of my ancestors Dress Man, who I was told by my Grandfather was the first person to learn the round dance ceremony and the first round dance songs. This story is both a moment in Aboriginal history as well as a moment in the culture, for it introduces how one of our ceremonies, the round dance came to be. Dress Man gives up a piece of what he has earned in order to heal another person, this is a reoccurring aspect in our culture, in that we must do all that we can to heal one another. Especially in the round dance when community members and non-community members come together to help each other heal by bringing in this sense of unity and medicine from within.

Although I am the author of this story, I cannot take full ownership of this story, for these stories don't belong to any one person but to all people. I was told this story by my grandfather, he was told by his mother, and so on, now I am passing it on to you.

Dress Man is a story that is rooted in our cultural history, he has brought a ceremony to us, while Dress Man is also a story of a moment in history for it explains the origins of one of our most used healing ceremonies.

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Dress Man

The sun was rising, painting the sky with pinks, purples, reds and oranges; the breath from Dress Man’s mouth appeared as a cloud of smoke when he left his tepee. It was still cold out with the frost holding onto the grass, waiting for the heat to release it, wetting and clinging to his moccasins. Dress Man gathered his belongings, and headed North towards the valley; it was time to hunt.

He moved up and down the hills, through the grass, and trees all without catching any or seeing any animals. Dress Man carried only the necessary supplies with him, his bow, arrows, a knife, and his axe, some pemmican, tobacco and his medicines. He moved the through trees, up the pine hills, and finally down into the valley where he knew the Elk came to drink and rest. This is where Dress Man hunted and waited, the valley had a small stream moving through it, when sitting quietly he could hear it sing, echoing through the valley and inside his head. The valley already had trails all along its sides, like veins running through and under the trees. These hills had spirits; spirits that lived lives, spirits that got sick, spirits that have thoughts and feelings just like the human beings. When the day began to fade and sun went down west, Dress Man saw him. A buck in the distance, through a wall of trees and brush, standing alone with its head held high, scanning.

Dress Man stood slowly, feeling every twig, stick and the movement of the dirt under his feet. Breathing from his nose and out from his mouth, controlling the speed of his breath and the rate of his heart, he drew his bow. The sinew from the bow dung into the creases of his fingers with the wood of the bow perfectly formed to his hands, years of use and the wood understands you and your hands; his bow as an extension of his body. In the time it took Dress Man to get ready his eyes never left the buck, the buck still unaware of Dress Man. Release.

He gave the buck tobacco, sat by him and prayed, giving the buck thanks for giving himself to Dress Man, so that he may feed himself, his family and others in his camp. The buck laid there, its fur silver with underlining of brown, the antlers off white and tall. Dress Man sat near the animal for a while, examining it. He gathered trees and branches to create a makeshift sleigh so that he could bring the buck home that evening. He fashioned some rope of out the bark and linings of the popular trees on top the valley. By pushing his knife along the trees bark he could create long strings of rope that were strong and smooth, he used this to tie the branches and wood together. Dress Man made his sleigh, with five pieces of wood horizontally down and five longer pieces vertically with two long pieces at each end so that he could grip it and pull it behind him.

He moved the buck onto the sleigh and began his long journey back home. The buck was heavy but the sleigh helped by gliding easily over the grasses and dirt. Dress Man was no longer in his prime but he was never a weak man, his arms and legs burned pulling the buck, but he was used to the work. He used his legs and kept his arms locked at his sides, so that all his power would be used in his lower body. He began ascending the valley; breathing heavily in and out, breathe in through the nose and out his mouth. To focus on his breathing was to keep his body workin’ to keep his body calm, to make sure he doesn’t shut down. Once Dress Man got to the top of the valley, he stopped to rest and catch his breath. He sat down next to the buck and listened to the sound of his own beating heart. He looked out on the valley, and examined where he was, thinking about how long of a journey it would take to get home. Branches break in the distance.

Dress Man stood up quickly, looking between the trees and down trails for what made the noises, but there was nothing. He was no longer at ease and peace but needed to know what was out there, carelessly making sounds. An animal that brakes branches and announces its presence is usually a careless one, an animal perhaps he thought that would wanted his buck. Bears, coyotes, wolves, Dress Man didn’t know the answer to what was watching him, but he knew to leave quickly over waiting to find out. He gathered his composure quickly and moved out with a new hurriedness he wasn’t concerned with before. He was speed walking down the trail he had come through earlier in the day, no longer with his focus on his breathing and movement, but on simply moving.

After a while Dress Man began to slow down and simply walk again. He felt as if he was being followed, the forests have spirits and these spirits watch us. He could hear scurrying around him, behind him, beside the trails, in front of him. It sounded like dozens of little feet; he knew something was out there, moving closer to him. By the sounds of the steps and the way they moved only the bottom branches of the trees he knew it was a small animal, maybe a fox or multiple foxes. Little creatures were near he remembered.

These creatures were small spirit people who lived in the valley in which he just hunted, he knew stories of them from his grandfathers, they were tricksters but never did no harm. The little spirits were miniature people, small but fast and usually very quite. Dress Man kept his eyes forward and refused to look behind him or around him, so that he would not meet any spirits. But soon he realized, the buck he was dragging was getting heavier. The buck was only difficult when he was climbing up the valley, when he had to pull it over stones, across bush lines and through the mud, but now Dress Man was moving down hill and the path was clear of any obstructions, yet, the buck was still getting heavier and heavier.

He listened more intently to the sounds around him, he could the listen footsteps run out of the forest and walk up behind him, but he still would not look anywhere but forward. Every time he heard the footsteps leave the sides of the trails he could feel the buck getting heavier.  His legs burned more intensely with the new added weight to his kill, his arms fell behind his shoulder blades straining his back. More footsteps, more weight. He soon fell to snails pace in which he only took one small step at a time, his head pushing forward, arms behind him, and his whole body leaning forward. He was holding his breath and knew he had to stop.

He let go of the sleigh and released his body from the weight of it all. Dress Man stood up as tall as he could, breathed in deep cold breaths through his mouth and closed his eyes. He stood for only a minute with his eyes closed and catching his breath as to take in the situation in which he was. Dress Man turned around to face the buck and found exactly what he was expecting, little men sitting on top of his kill. There were five of them, all sitting on top the buck with their knees up to their chest, dark brown skin and long black braids flowing down the sides of their chests. They didn’t say anything but only stared at dress man, examining him.

“Why do you do this? I killed this Elk myself, I gave it tobacco, prayed and gave thanks for his sacrifice. I hunted this Elk so that I can feed myself, my family and any others who may need food.” Dress Man spoke loudly to the little people with his hands moving along with his words. “I must take him home, please. What do you want?” The little spirits only stared at him again. They both stood there examining each other, Dress Man wanting to their intent and the spirits, perhaps wondering if Dress Man could help them.

One of the little men stepped off the buck and looked up towards Dress Man. “Our old man is sick.” He said. “He can no longer go out and hunt, he is starving. We fear that he may pass away soon from the hunger.” Dress Man now understood what they wanted. “Help us Dress Man, give us your Elk, bring it to our home and feed our Old Man, so that he does not waste away. He is becoming frail and we wish to see him live many more years. So I ask you again, offer up your kill to us so that we may save him.”


Dress Man agreed.


With the help and guidance of the little people Dress Man brought the Elk back towards the valley, along the small stream where he heard the water sing and further into the woods than he has traveled before. On the bottom of the valley, there laid a clearing among the pine trees covering the valley there it stood, a small plain teepee barely large enough to five people.  A small fire burned in front of it, some wood, but no food. The little people asked Dress Man to enter the home and leave the Elk outside. When he entered he found a frail old man, he was lying down on his side, his skin cracked like dried out hides.

“Hello, I am Dress Man. I’ve brought you an Elk so that you may eat and regain your strength.” He spoke out to the old man. The old man sat up and faced Dress Man. “Thank you Dress Man.” He said with his voice barely reaching his ears. “For helping me and the spirits, I will give you the gift and knowledge of the round dance.”

Dress Man stayed in the old man and little peoples home for four days and fours night to gain the knowledge of the round dance. The Old Man taught him the first round dance songs, how to do the round dance ceremonies and how to heal others. “When you sing these songs Dress Man, others will be healed by them, your people will heal each other, like how you have helped heal me.” After the four days, Dress Man left with this knowledge of the round dance, round dance songs and the medicine of healing. When he got back to his camp, he showed his people the new ceremony. Dress Man began to sing loudly and dance sideways in a circular motion. He was the first person to ever round dance, soon others joined. With this knowledge the peoples learned a new way in which they could heal one another, passing on the healing ceremony that is the round dance for generations.