When First Man and First Woman first came to walk upon the earth, they had only each other to rely on, as the animals walked separately. At this beginning time, Power flowed freely among the Fur People, but even the animals suffered from the cold and starving times of winter. It was during one such winter that Woman gave birth to First Daughter. Food was scarce, and the ice threatened to penetrate their shelter yet Man and Woman were content. They had found tenderness and love in the small squirming infant. In the evenings, as they sat by the fire and planned for the warmer days to come, their happiness joined with the flames to brighten the clearing.
Wolf Mother looked on at the fire lit scene and cried. Her babes were dying from cold and hunger, and she herself was near death. Resolutely she made her decision. Returning to her den, she took the last remaining pup by the nape of the neck and carried the weakly mewling cub to the human camp. As she entered the fire-lit ring, First Man lunged to his feet, spear in hand, anxious to protect his family. First Woman held out her arm, holding him back. “Wait,” she said, “This is not an enemy, but is a mother with young, like me. They are only cold and hungry, as are we. Let it not be said that we deprived our sisters of what little warmth they can gather from our fire.”
Struggling with her burdened heart, Wolf Mother laid the pup at the woman’s feet. “Hear me, Woman,” she declared, “This is True Heart, my own daughter, my last remaining cub. The starving time has killed her brothers and sisters, and will soon be taking me. I wish life for my child, and for this, I will offer her to you. Raise her with the love and tenderness you give your own child. Treat her with kindness, and in return, she and her children will serve you for generations to come. They will be your eyes, ears, and nose to protect you and to hunt for you. The partnership will bring blessings to you both.”
Awed by the sacrifice, First Woman picked up the pup and, nestling it with her own infant, offered the shivering pup her own warm milk. “We thank you for this blessing,” First Man said. “We will do as you have asked.”
“See that you are true to your word. If you fail to honor your promise, if you fail to provide love and care, all mankind will pay. There will be hatred and killing dividing your families and clans. Even the Great Spirit will turn his back to your pleas.” Then Wolf Mother melted back into the darkness and disappeared, seeking solitude for her final hours. So it was that First Dog came to live with man.
True Heart and her offspring became protectors for First Woman, hunters for First Man, and companions and guides for First Daughter. Man and Woman kept their promise to Wolf Mother, but it was First Daughter who loved the dogs the most, and walked in their ways. When First Daughter entered womanhood, she took a mate and moved away. True Heart’s youngest daughter, Joy, went to live at her fireside. And when Daughter’s time of confinement drew near, Joy kept watch, assuring no harm would come to her family. It was during this time of waiting that True Heart appeared in camp.
“My child, I have come to say good-bye. I have lived a long and happy life, but now my time is come. My eyesight is failing, my teeth are dull, and my bones ache. I am no longer of use to Man and Woman and so must leave.” She turned and stumbled away into the dark.
“WAIT!” Joy sobbed, “Mother, don’t leave us!”
True Heart hesitated and looked back. “I must go. My life here on earth holds no value.”
First Daughter struggled to her feet. “True Heart, you have been my friend and my teacher, but this time you are wrong. Your life is important to us. You are still a beloved member of our family and your worth cannot be measured in what you can or cannot do.” Then she turned to Joy. “I’ll need special herbs the shaman has. Fly like the wind, little sister, and bring me herbs to soothe your mother’s pains. But take care, for the trip is far and treacherous. I will wait here and pray that you can get them in time.” Suddenly Wolf Mother appeared before them. Glistening with sister stars, she had come down from her spirit home in the skies to help if she could. Now she turned to Joy.
“Go, granddaughter, and do as you are told.” Then she breathed her spirit into the young pup. “Dance with the snow crystals floating on the wind. Run as fast as Sister Moon as she lights the way before you.” Joy gave a quick yip in acknowledgement, and leapt into the air. She raced across the sky to the south, leaving a trail of glittering colored lights. As quickly as she had gone, she returned again with the precious herbs.
Daughter took the bundle from Joy and prepared the life-sustaining draught. Turning back to True Heart, she said,” You have shared your life with me and served me. Now it is time for me to serve you. Come lay by my fire and let me bring comfort to you in your end days.”
True Heart came and nestled down by First Daughter’s side. Daughter gave her the draught and fed her nourishing stew from her own bowl. “You must eat and stay strong. Soon I will be giving birth, and I will need your help.” The old dog sighed and sank into a restful trance. Daughter gently stroked her fur and sang to her. “Sleep, True Heart, and let your spirit heal. Wake, True Heart, and be strong again. Live True Heart, for you are needed to share your love and lore with our children.”
As the medicine took effect, Daughter turned to Wolf Mother. “Thank you for your blessings. Your gift to Joy has saved a life most precious to me. What can I offer you in thanks?”
“Your love is all I could ask for,” the spirit replied. ”Indeed, it is I who should be giving thanks for the way you have cared for my own daughter. It is I who should offer a gift.” She turned to Joy. “Granddaughter, you have done well. The gift of Moon Dancing that I gave you to speed your help, will belong to you and your children forever.” She turned back to Daughter. “And you and yours shall be their keepers for as long as you use this gift for good, for as long as Power flows in this world.” She moved away to leap back into her home in the night sky. Then she hesitated once more. “Joy, you are well named. When I hear your song, my heart is filled with earthly emotions. Let your voice join the Dance of the Moon and Snow so that all generations can share in its beauty.”
The song of Joy and the Moon Dancers fills the night. Distant peoples hear the song and cry with them. Some cry with fear of emotions they don’t understand. Others cry with loneliness that echoes the mournful tones, but the blessed hear deeper and feel the thrill of love, the song of Joy. And if they look up, they can see a ribbon of sparkling colors trailing across the northern sky as Joy and her children dance with the snow and moon.