Deer Woman belongs to the legends of the Anishinaabekwe, Lakota, Potawatomi, Creek, Omaha, and Ponca tribes. Her story is known to Native American people who see her three-sided nature in different ways.
She is first known as the young woman. As a young girl, sleeping in her mother’s tent, she dreamed of her future life as wife, mother, woman member of her tribe. The story tells of her awakening to the sound of drumming and chanting. Being curious, she crept to the fire circle and joined in swaying to the music. However, she was discovered by males who chased her and attacked her. She escaped into the woods and asked for help as they caught her near an apple tree. Her cries for help brought a herd of deer, who had bed down for the night nearby. Spirits of the forests, they sensed her danger. Walking around her, in groups of two and three, they tried to hide her. And then, a magical thing happened, she lost her human body and found she had become a deer. The men could no longer see her, gave up looking and returned to the fire.
Her first transfiguration is as the Deer Woman (Waawaashkeshi kwe) who is half human and half deer. who lures men into the forest to prove their worthiness to become an adult male member of the tribe. If found wanting, she, it is said, leaves them ever-changed into a person who can never find happiness with a human female. In the extreme, if they are fooled by her appearance as a young woman and do not heed the warning of “always checking her feet”, they may be found trampled to death the next day.
Her second nature is that of a deer. For her, the memory of human live still is strong. Some have seen what they thought was a deer near an encampment but have been surprised by the animal’s lack of fear of humans. Some have reported, there being a deer one minute and a young woman appearing the next. Whenever there is music, there have been reports of a strange woman who dances outside the edge of the fire for a short time and then a deer appears.
Her third transfiguration is that of an old woman who has antlers on her head. She is seen at the rite of passage ceremonies and acts as a guide who brings wisdom to those who must make the journey from child to adult.
Deer Woman (English), Waawaashkeshi Kwe (Anishinaabekwe), Thauca Winyan (Lakota), lives in our forests as this shape-shifting spirit, who can never really join the world of animal or woman. In many ways, she is like a real woman, a Mermaid (half human-half deer) and a Fairy Godmother (who helps and uses magic ). Ever-transforming, she represents the uneasy passage that we all must travel between change and custom in our lives.
The telling of Deer Woman’s story is to bring awareness of the missing and murdered indigenous women and men situated along the Great Lakes.