All aboriginal groups of Canada have stories to explain what the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights are. The People of the north though, have some of the best, seeing as they have lived in a world for generations where the sky’s come to life more brilliant than anywhere else during the winters.
One story is reported by the explorer Ernest W. Hawkes in his book, The Labrador Eskimo:
The ends of the land and sea are bounded by an immense abyss, over which a narrow and dangerous pathway leads to the heavenly regions. The sky is a great dome of hard material arched over the Earth. There is a hole in it through which the spirits pass to the true heavens. Only the spirits of those who have died a voluntary or violent death, and the Raven, have been over this pathway. The spirits who live there light torches to guide the feet of new arrivals. This is the light of the aurora. They can be seen there feasting and playing football with a walrus skull.
The whistling crackling noise which sometimes accompanies the aurora is the voices of these spirits trying to communicate with the people of the Earth. They should always be answered in a whispering voice. Youths dance to the aurora. The heavenly spirits are called selamiut, "sky-dwellers," those who live in the sky.
As a teenager, I remember going east to visit with my Cree relatives in Northern Saskatchewan, and seeing the Northern Lights for my first time during a very cold winters night. Standing outside on the frozen prairie I was in awe at the vibrant colors dancing across the northern sky. So intrigued by what I saw, I stood there for as long as I could in the cold, but when I could stand it no longer, I went inside my grandparents house.
Even then I could not resist looking out through an ice edged window within a dark room, to look out at the lights. To me this was something I was not accustomed to see during the winters on the southwestern coast of British Columbia. Amazed I was, for the Aurora Borealis is something that is one of the greatest spectacles made by the Creator.
Years later, I would find myself being a commercial fisherman. One night traveling across the open waters west to Haida Gwaii for a herring fishery, I went upon deck that night, and there they were dancing in the northern skies. I remember sitting on the hatch cover looking up once again in awe at sky fire. The boat was gently rocking from side to side in the ocean swell with the thrumming of a diesel motor below. A sky awash with countless stars with the northern heavens painted in yellows, greens, and reds – what a sight to