What Is Life?

"In the spring of 1890, Crowfoot lay on his deathbed. His wife and family pressed close to his couch as his breath grew more labored. But his mind was still lucid, and he felt the surging of love around him.

"Life outside his lodge was coming into leaf and bloom as he faced his final move through the arch of life to the other side of the circle. Death was coming to him as the earth itself was renewing.

"Crowfoot was a Canadian Blackfoot Indian leader. He was the Indian that in his earlier years had ceded 50,000 square miles of rich Canadian land to the Canadian government. Crowfoot had done so in good faith, knowing that the Blackfoot were facing new and profound changes. He was offered what seemed to be a workable alternative for the Blackfoot.

"As he lay on his deathbed, his people around him were starving. White hunters of the buffalo had moved onto Blackfoot lands and decimated the buffalo herds. The Blackfoot were not only dependent on the buffalo for food, but the animal provided shelter, clothing, even buffalo chips for their fires. The buffalo was woven into Blackfoot theology. The death of the buffalo signaled death for the Blackfoot.

"As he lay dying, his oldest daughter, standing near him in the death vigil, asked Crowfoot, 'What is life?' He could have talked of death and pain and of the sorrow he and his people were feeling so strongly at this time. He could have reflected on his own feelings of guilt. He could have seen the anguish of failure.

"Instead, he thought for a period of time, and a faint smile crossed his face as his old eyes lit with memories. He turned to his daughter and answered her:"

It is the flash of a firefly
in the night.

It is the breath of a buffalo
in the winter time.

It is the little shadow
which runs across the grass
and loses itself in the sunset.