A long time ago, there was a broad and beautiful land bounded by two rivers. This land was inhabited by a tribe of wise wolves who hunted and governed the land fairly. Though they sometimes disagreed, they always resolved their conflicts with tests of strength or cunning and never resorted to killing each other.
One day a wolf named Sugmanitu was patrolling the eastern riverbank and found a pair of rabbits, bedraggled, exhausted, their lungs half filled with water. They must have floated downstream from another land. Sugmanitu took pity on the rabbits and carried them out of the deep forest to the middle of a meadow where the sun warmed the earth, and dried them with her own fur.
As she did so, the first snowflakes began to fall.
Sugmanitu said to herself “These strange creatures know nothing of this land, if I do not help them they will not live to see the spring.”
She sought out the council of Deer.
“Why don’t you just eat them and be done with it? Don’t you fear that which you do not understand?” Deer asked.
Sugmanitu replied: “That is not our way, Creator has told us to welcome all strangers.”
“Then go to the marsh, and bring them the last fresh leaves before winter sets in. Pick the greenest, most tender shoots you find.”
Sugmanitu did according to Deer’s wisdom.
Then she stopped by Beaver’s pond.
“Why don’t you just eat them, it would be easy enough and save you much trouble? Beaver asked.
Sugmanitu replied: “Creator did not make me to eat other animals because they might cause trouble but only as I have need. We must welcome them as we would desire to be welcomed in strange lands.”
“Then dig for roots in the soft mud, and when you find fat ones, break them off and give them to the rabbits. But take care not to tire yourself out: winter is coming and you will need your strength.”
So, according to the wisdom of Deer, and Beaver, she brought the rabbits roots and leaves for food. Then the wolf dug a deep burrow for the rabbits to live in.
After all the arrangements had been made, Sugmanitu asked the rabbits to come to her den.
There Sugmanitu, along with others of her tribe, Deer, and Beaver, gave thanks to creator for the changing of the seasons. Buck and Doe Rabbit came too, though when they prayed, they claimed they came from a different creator. All ate and were satisfied.
Winter came and went.
In the spring, when the tender blades of grass first pierced the snow, Sugmanitu remembered her new neighbors. She visited the rabbit den carrying two fat roots as gifts, one for each of the rabbits.
But when she arrived, Sugmanitu was surprised to see a dozen small bunnies scamper into their den. Buck Rabbit came out to greet Sugmanitu, while Doe Rabbit quickly ushered her children inside, away from the wolf. As they scampered away one asked “Will she really eat us mommy?”
As Sugmanitu was leaving, Buck Rabbit said, “I must ask you not to return here, Sugmanitu, for you are not like us and this land was given to us alone by our creator.”
“Creator gave this land to all of us, Buck Rabbit, to share–not to own.” replied Sugmanitu.
“You do not know our god. He commands us to produce, not to share, wolf. Please respect our boundaries.”
Sugmanitu left, troubled by what she had seen and heard.
Over only a few cycles, the rabbits grew in number. They chewed rings in the bark of trees, making magnificent forests into stands of leafless, bare trunks. They consumed the grass of the meadows down to the roots, turning fields that were green in the spring, and gold in the fall to barren plains of dust.
The more they multiplied, the more they took and all other creatures began to suffer.Starving, Deer tried to cross the river for food but he was too weak to make the swim. Bedraggled, exhausted, his lungs half filled with water, he lay on the banks and begged for help from the rabbits. They walked past him, never even looking at him. Deer lifted his head one last time and called out to the children of Sugmanitu.
“Eat of my flesh, for in this way, you will live for a little while longer. Remember a time before the rabbits, proud Children of Sugmanitu.” The wolves gathered round Deer, honoring him and his sacrifice. They spoke no words to their elder. Each wolf sat facing out, part of a circle tight fitting, snarling as curious rabbits tried to peek in and see the dying Deer. And when deer breathed his last, each wolf in his or her own turn, faced inward and placed its forehead against Deer’s before partaking, taking his life into their own.
Though Beaver was close to the rabbits, he too suffered. His pond became a rabbit watering hole. But soon there were so many rabbits they drank Beaver’s pond dry. Beaver was forced to cross the river to the land of the rabbits, where he worked to dig ugly, but efficient square ponds for the rabbits in their old country.
They said “Why are you so ungrateful? You should be thankful for this job otherwise you would have no water to drink and no place to go.”
Beaver kept silent, for he knew he could be sent away by the whim of any rabbit. But he thought to himself “I did not come here by choice, but only because your colony destroyed my pond and my land. I had a place and I was happy and grateful there; if it weren’t for you I would not have needed to leave. Why should I be grateful to you for that?”
In the land between the rivers, Sugmanitu’s tribe was forced far up into the mountains where the snow never melted. It was the only place the rabbits found no use for.
On the anniversary of the Sugmanitu’s first feast with the rabbits, With-his-ribs-showing, a son of Sugmanitu, driven by hunger, snuck down off the mountain into a camp of rabbits. There, laughing and with full bellies, the rabbits told a strange story: “When we came here, the wolves, deer, and beaver had nothing, not even fur. We rabbits taught them what was safe to eat. Buck Rabbit himself killed game to feed the wolves. Buck Rabbit and Doe Rabbit dug a burrow with their own paws where the first feast was held. We’re thankful to Creator for making us able to pull ourselves up by the fur of our own haunches. Everyone who lives in this land between two rivers should be thankful tonight.”
Unable to hold back With-his-ribs-showing, stepped into the firelight. His lean form and gums shrunken from malnutrition terrified the rabbits.
“It was your insatiable appetite that drove uncle Beaver away and killed uncle Deer, and forced us into the mountains–this was not Creator’s will, nor was it Sugmanitu’s, who welcomed you into this land and taught you how to survive.”
The bravest among the rabbits answered “That was many generations ago: ancient history. I did not drive out Beaver. I did not starve Deer. None of us were even alive when that happened, or when your kind moved into the mountains.”
“In this you have spoken truly. Yet here you are, and would not be if you or your fathers and mothers hand honored the ways taught to you by Sugmanitu. You say all should give thanks, but you do so with a full belly, while mine is empty, while Beaver is in exile, and Deer is dead. Yet what you give thanks for was stolen from us. That which you are grateful for is not even true for were you to give thanks in truth you would first need to repent.”
“Our ancestors warned us about savages, that you would eat us.”
“Your ancestors did not warn you because they understood us to be savages for they never understood us. They warned you about savages because they understood themselves.”
With-his-ribs-showing turned to the rabbits smiling, his long white teeth gleaming in the firelight.