Genealogically speaking, I am aware of, at best, very shallow roots. So I can’t say that’s ever been a question I lost sleep over.
But apparently, many people do.
The Salish believe we’re largely the result of a trick played on Old Man Coyote by that rascally Mountain Sheep. In the beginning, Old-Man-in-the Sky created the world, draining the land of water and corralling it into the big salt holes, leaving only lakes and rivers and dry land.
Everybody seemed happy with this except Old Man Coyote who trotted up to Sky World to have a cry and a chat. Old-Man-in-the Sky, seeing Old Man Coyote crying, asked him, in a rather peevish way, what he had to complain about.
“I’m very lonely because I have no one to talk to,” bawled Old Man Coyote.
A bit concerned that fickle Old Man Coyote’s tears were going to undo all the hydroengineering he’d accomplished, Old-Man-in-the Sky gave his weepy friend a rawhide bag and bid him bring it back filled with red soil from the mountains. “I will make people to keep you company,” he promised.
Old Man Coyote travelled far to find the red earth and when he’d filled the bag he was tired and slept. That’s when Mountain Sheep, the trickster, came upon him and ignorant of the design of his labours, dumped the red soil out of the bag, refilling the lower bag with white soil and the upper part with red soil.
When Old Man Coyote returned to Old-Man-in-the Sky, the sun was entering sleep and neither of them could see very well what was in the bag. Old-Man-in-the Sky took its contents and made two men and two women, telling Old Man Coyote these were his people and to stop bothering him.
Returning to dry land, Old Man Coyote breathed life into the forms and was surprised to see both red people and white people. “Caramba! Mountain Sheep,” he thought.
He resolved his dilemma by putting the white people on land near the big salt hole and keeping the red ones on his land so he wouldn’t be lonely. And that’s how red people and white people came into being.
Or, if you prefer, in the beginning, for Apache people, there was nothing. From this darkness, a disc, yellow on one side and white on the other appeared, suspended in the nothingness. A small bearded man, Creator, sat within the disc.
Looking into the darkness, he caused light to appear, yellow streaks of dawn to the east, a kaleidoscope of colours to the west.
From the sweat of his brow was created a cloud upon which sat a little girl, Girl-Without-Parents. While she pelted Creator with questions, he, again from his own sweat, created Sun-God and Small-Boy and the four of them, gods all, pondered what to make next.
After tossing off Tarantula, Big Dipper, Wind, Lightning-Maker, and clouds to house Lightning-Rumbler, Creator sang Earth into existence. Not much larger than a bean, the four gods kicked nascent Earth and made it larger. Wind was sent inside to blow it up while Tarantula spun cords in all four directions and stretched Earth to immeasurable size.
After singing the sky into existence, Creator sent Lightning-Maker around the world and he returned with three incompletely formed creatures, two girls and a boy. Hustling them into a sweathouse, Creator finished each upon their emergence. He named the boy Sky-Boy and made him chief of the Sky-People. He put one girl, Earth-Daughter, in charge of the earth and crops; the other, Pollen-Girl, he charged with the health of all Earth-People.
Then Creator made animals, birds, trees, all that was.
Warned by Pigeon about a great flood coming, Creator made a tall piñon tree and Girl-Without-Parents crafted a large ball of piñon gum where she put all the others. When the flood receded, she led them out of the piñon ball onto the new earth.
Creator bid them adieu, leaving Lightning-Rumbler in charge of clouds and water, Sky-Boy to look after Sky-People, Earth-Daughter to tend crops and Earth-People, Pollen-Girl to care for their health and Girl-Without-Parents in charge of all.
Before he left, Creator gifted them with fire and left Big Dipper in the northern sky as a reliable guide.
But in the beginning of Judeo-Christian time, God created the heavens and earth and a cycle of light and dark He called day and night.
During the second cycle, God separated the waters with a firmament He called Heaven.
In the third cycle, God separated the waters and dry land, creating Seas and Earth. On Earth, he created plants and trees bearing seed and fruit. It was a good thing.
The sun and moon and stars were created during the fourth cycle and all living creatures that swam and flew during the fifth.
After populating the Earth with creatures big and small during the sixth cycle, God created man and woman in his own image and gave them dominion over all living things and bid them be fruitful and multiply.
Then he kicked back and watched the fun begin.
And so it goes. Across the planet, people now vanished and people still going about the business of life spun creation myths to explain the inexplicable: Where do I come from? They created greater and lesser gods to explain life, fire, storms, volcanoes, plague and the other great mystery: What becomes of me after I die?
Many of the creation myths endure. They’re woven into the social fabric of a people; they give succour and sometimes guidance. They’re the foundation of collective wisdom.
But few carry the seed of hubris.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II, in what amounted to a hair-raising statement, claimed evolution was “more than just a hypothesis.” Not necessarily fact but not heresy. After he died, in 2005, the Catholic church had barely let his body cool down before joining the Intelligent(sic) Designers in their holy war against science, Darwin and evolution. The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, termed the former Pope’s statements “vague and unimportant” while terming neo-Darwinian thought “dogma.”
Dogma? Well, if it takes one to know one—as the schoolyard taunt used to go—who better to identify dogma than a cardinal of the one true faith?
This really wouldn’t be important were it not for the notion, espoused by more than one theologian, the Catholic Church, as the Body of Christ, cannot sin. Individuals can sin. Even the Pope can sin. But the Church is without sin and therefore has nothing to apologize for ... ever. So don’t hold your breath waiting for it to apologize for the growing, unmarked body count at Canadian residential schools.
We shall see.