"Nalukataq" Artwork and Story

Susan with her 5' wide and 9' tall painting on Tyvek kite material  (1.5 x 2.75 m)
The yəhaw̓  exhibition at ARTS at King Street Station, runs from March 23-August 3, 2019 featuring the work of over 200 indigenous artists https://yehawshow.com/  

“The Creator has left the sky too low. We are going to have to do something about it, and how can we do that when we do not have a common language? ...We can all learn one word, that is all we need. That word is yəhaw̓ - that means to proceed, to go forward, to do it.”
— taqʷšəblu / Vi Hilbert (Upper Skagit) in her telling of Lifting the Sky

A suggested fictional interpretation of “Nalukatuq” artwork, by artist Susan Ringstad Emery (Inupiaq/Nordic)

The Legend of the Smallest Star which fell from the Sky 

After the people of Turtle Island came together and lifted the sky, one of the tiniest stars could be seen winking at the bottom of a palm-rimmed bay under rippling green-blue waters.  It had apparently shaken loose during the great effort by all the people to lift the sky. 

One of the skilled divers of the island people dove agilely down below the surface…down, down, down past the turquoise shallows, into the indigo deep.  Up he came, carrying the brilliant little orb-shaped star to the surface. 

The glimmering sphere was brought before the elders of the island people. They advised that the people in the far northern lands of Turtle Island could return the tiny star to the sky and directed that it should be taken to the far north. 

With the star wrapped in palm-leaves, some of the bravest of the island people paddled the precious small treasure across the heaving seas until they eventually reached the opposite shore, where the people of the tall green trees had their longhouses.  After greeting the people of the land, there followed many days of feasting and storytelling.  After all, it hadn’t been long since the people of Turtle Island had all joined together to lift the sky, the stories were still new and being told wherever the people gathered. 

Soon enough, after a few days, the people of the tall green trees packed the twinkling star in a carved cedar box, laid carefully upon a soft hide and packed around with the now-dried palm leaves.  The soft tanned hide was given by the people from the plains to help protect the little star. The people of the plains were amongst the many who had also been visiting the longhouse during the time of feasting. 

The people of the tall green trees bid farewell to the island people, the people of the plains, and the others who were visiting.  The long dugout canoes of the people pointed north.  The warriors began paddling.  Their adventures were too many to relate here, and would need an entire book to tell. 

When the people of the far north received the carved cedar box with the little shining star packed in dried palm leaves and laid upon a soft hide, the entire village met together in the qargi (men’s house/community house) to discuss how to put the star back into the sky.  When they’d decided upon a plan, their strongest men tossed their most lithe and skilled hunter in a nalukataq, blanket toss.  Up and up he flew with the star in his mittened hands.  With each throw the strong men tossed the hunter higher and higher into the sky, but he could not reach high enough to place the star back into the heavens!  Next they tried their most athletic young men, but none of them could get high enough either.  After many more tries, the men’s arms began to tire. 

Some of the ladies took places around the blanket toss and one suggested they let the littlest girl try.  Some said contrarily, “It will never work, we have already tried our nimblest hunters and youth.  This little girl cannot accomplish what they couldn’t.”  Do you think this stopped them from trying?  Of course not, because the wisest knew that even the smallest among us might accomplish great and unexpected things. 

The girl needed help to get up onto the hide for the blanket toss.  Once she was in place, the ladies and men began to toss the little girl higher and higher into the night sky.  The girl looked down and saw the village in the distance, looking like a miniature town.  She looked down at the people below as they became smaller and smaller.  She closed her eyes to the dizzying sight.  Next she felt the rushing wind, sounding like the whoosh of raven's wings, and feeling like many unseen hands bearing her upwards.  The cold air burned her cheeks as she rose.  When she opened her eyes, she saw she was amongst the stars!  Instinctively tossing the little star from her hands, she saw it streak upwards, leaving a trail of light, until it miraculously hung suspended and twinkling amidst its family in the heavens! 

The village rejoiced with feasting, dancing and sharing stories about the smallest star which had fallen from the sky and its return with the help of their littlest girl and the shared effort of the villagers, the island people, and the people of the tall green trees.  They would always remember that by working together, they could accomplish much, and to respect that each villager has something to offer, even the very smallest among them.   

Feel free to share, story and artwork rights reserved Susan Ringstad Emery


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