Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
April 22, 2000 - Issue 08

How the Great Holy Being Honored Beloved Meadow Lark
by Long Standing Bear Chief

Spring is here. In fact, it appears as though it never left. My elders often told stories that foretold the future based upon their long history of observing nature. These warm days in the waning days of winter remind me of the time one elder told me how to predict the coming winter. He said that when the geese fly high going south in the fall, that is a sign that the winter is going to be cold and full of snow. If, however, the geese fly low, it is a sign the winter is going to be warm, the way is has been for this record year of mild temperatures.

Last fall, the geese did not go south until early winter. When I saw them, the geese were walking south, carrying a picnic basket.

Every elder I knew as a child told stories. One such elder was my mother's father, who often invited me to sit on a block of wood on the shady side of their log home when I was a child. He was especially fond of waking very early to sit outside and listen and watch the world wake up.

So my grandfather would wake me up very early, as the Sun Up Man was rising over the horizon, and tell me, "Grand Man, you better wake up and come help me greet the day. The birds and animals are starting to talk and sing for the Great Holy Being. It is a happy and holy time you cannot miss."

So I would get up and we both would sit on a block of wood and enjoy the sun as it warmed those spring mornings.

On one such occasion, my grandfather told me about the gift of the yellow shirt and the black necklace.

This is the story he told me:

There was a time when the earth was pure and clean, and all living things spoke the same language. The people, the things that fly, those that crawl, swim and live in the earth could talk to one another. There was peace and harmony because there was respect for everything and everyone.

Then evil spirits came among the living beings on the earth. The things we speak of as being evil are those that are against life. They are bad people and things that do not want to see life lived in peace and harmony.

Long ago, all living beings gave honor and respect to each other. In that long ago time, there was one nation of people who were good messengers. They were the bird people we now call Meadow Lark. They were people who liked visiting and keeping everyone informed about the good things of life. Whatever good was taking place in the camps, the joyful Meadow Lark sang about it so all beings of the universe would know about it.

The song of the Meadow Lark is enjoyed by everyone. Every spring day when the sun is coming up, you can hear the pretty song of our Meadow Lark relatives. It is this time of day one hears all living things talking and singing to the Creator, iits-tsi-pah-tah-pii-op, the Source of Life. This is when Meadow Lark helps to pass the good word of what is going to happen during the coming day. This is the way Meadow Lark has always been. He follows the good road of the summer season, singing about the good things of life.

All the relatives of Meadow Lark who lived on earth respected and loved him for the good he brought into their lives. They prayed for him and asked the Creator to bless Meadow Lark in some way. Because of this, the One Maker of All Life came to learn about the good that Meadow Lark was doing for his relatives.

As a result of these prayers, asking for an honor to be given to Meadow Lark, The Great Holy Being gave a gift for all to see. The gift was the yellow shirt and black necklace that he proudly shows while he sings his summer song.

This beautiful gift matches the pretty song we hear every day when all the creation sings and talks to the Creator in their own way.

This story is to remind us that kindness is remembered for a long, long time. The gift of kindness is always rewarded.

Listen to the song of the Meadow Lark

Meadow Lark

Long Standing Bear Chief, a member of the Blackfoot Nation, is a writer, educator and lecturer. Now living in Xuupinish (Yakama for Toppenish), he can be reached by writing P.O. Box 430, The Blackfoot Nation, Browning, Montana 594l7. E-mail

Meadowlark Notes

Sturnella neglecta (stir-NEL-ah nee-GLEK-tah) is the name scientists gave the western meadowlark, one of America’s most popular birds. In fact, it may well be the most beloved bird on the vast grasslands of the Great Plains.

The western meadowlark is best recognized by the broad black “V” on its yellow breast. The upper parts are a mixture of brown and black that blend in well with its grassy habitat. Males and females are similar in appearance. They are also similar to the eastern meadowlark, but are darker.

Western meadowlarks are about eight to eleven inches long and weigh about three ounces.

Meadowlarks in Action:
Eastern and western meadowlark male both defend their territory by singing while perched on tall weeds, posts, or trees and while in flight.

The two species have very different songs. Indeed, it is the beauty of the western meadowlark’s song that makes it so popular.

The home of the western meadowlark begins on the eastern edge of the Great Plains. From there it ranges west to the Pacific Coast and from southern Canada south to Mexico. In the northern part of its range, meadowlarks may move southward in the fall.

Meadowlark habitat is primarily grasslands. In the mountains of Arizona and Colorado, meadowlarks range as high as 12,000 feet.

Western meadowlarks are ground-feeding omnivores. About 65-70% of their diet consists of animal food, mostly insects. They will also eat the flesh of other birds found dead on roads.

Plant foods include grains and weed seeds.

Family Life:
Meadowlarks nest on the ground in a small depression, which may be the hoof print of a cow or horse. They line their nests with grasses, pine needles, and horsehair. Sometimes their nests are covered with a dome of grasses with an entrance on the side.

They often lay five eggs, though they may number three to seven, between April and August. The eggs are usually pinkish white, spotted and speckled with brown and lavender.

The female incubates the eggs for thirteen to fourteen days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest when eleven or twelve days old. Meadowlarks usually raise two broods in a season.

In the fall, meadowlark families gather in small flocks. Flocks of ten to seventy-five birds may be seen feeding together in fall and winter. At other times, pairs may forage together.

Meadowlarks and People:
The western meadowlark is one of the most popular birds over much of its range. In fact, it is the state bird of Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oregon. At one time, it appears to have represented South Dakota as well.

Only the cardinal has been officially adopted by more states. But the area covered by the “meadowlark states” is much greater than the eastern states represented by the cardinal.

Learn about the home of the Meadow Lark

Prairie Habitats

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