Indigenous Blood Suckers

Across the oceans of time, few creatures have captured the Imagination quite as vividly as the Vampire. This beast in human shape has stalked our collective unconsciousness from time immemorial, and it’s easy to see why. They are Us. Or they were. Undead creatures that, at least on a casual glance, can be mistaken for humans. Stalking us in plain sight and drinking the blood of the living to sate their ever-increasing thirst for life and worse, making their victims into one of them. While, in modern myth, they are beautiful, sensual creatures, in earlier legends state that they resemble humans only in the vaguest sense. Two Legs, and two arms, a head and chest, etc. But a look at them in good light reveals a corpse-like monster, with sunken eyes and jagged teeth, and claws made of the bones that have torn through the carrion flesh of their fingertips.

Beautiful, or disgusting, however, these creatures, in all their forms, can be found in stories from all across Europe. With such diasporic spread of this creature, one might be interested to look for the Native American version of the Vampire Legend.

This person would find themselves sorely disappointed.

In short, there are no true “vampire” stories among the North American First Nations.  Oh, sure, there are plenty of Blood Drinkers, many man-eaters, scores of things that change their skins, (And we won’t be naming them or talking about them, thank you very much). The tales of these people are Rich and Beautiful, with no shortage of disturbing, poignant monsters. But there are no vampires among them. That’s because, for all their post-human monsters, each of these creatures lacks some key feature of the Vampire. (It should be noted that the creatures mentioned herein spring from old belief systems, and as such, many people still believe in them. I am not here to prove or disprove any of them, [and I certainly am not going to be saying any names out loud or otherwise drawing attention!] but this is a note to remain respectful of other cultures beliefs.)

For a purely logical perspective on the argument: A vampire is made up of several key features. For instance, even as far back as the grecian Vrykolakas, a vampire was born as a normal, mortal, flesh and blood human. Of course, a vampire must slake themselves on the blood of the living, otherwise they could be considered any other type of revived and shambling corpse. Last, and most certainly not least, a vampire must be able to make a living person into another of their kind, regardless of how the process is accomplished. Many First Nations creatures and stories tell of beasts that drink blood or eat the flesh of the living. After all, these often serve as cautionary stories for the young and the foolish. Places that must not be gone and creatures best left alone. A bear is, after all, as strong and terrifying a creature as any that could be found in the realm of fiction. Other stories tell of walking cadavers, and bodies forced to wander the world after the spirits have departed. Still other creatures can turn the unwary into one of their own number, either by teaching their ways, or by passing on their own curse. However, while one could find one or two of these in several narratives from the Indigenous peoples of America, not a single creature combines all three of these key factors.

Quite apart from that, however, is the cultural perspective that must be included in this. Because, frankly, the vampire is a distinctly European creature, and to apply that title to any culture beyond Europe is to apply a colonial lens to an important piece of another culture. Stories, after all, serve a very important part in any society, and monsters make up a crucial piece of many stories. Like many cultures, the American Indian has similar creatures to vampires within its tales, but it is reductive to call them vampires. After all, just as each European country has their own history, language, and cultural stories, so too does each of the First Nations have a distinct heritage, separate from one another, and further separated from Eurocentric lore.

It is, to put it simply, far more respectful, (and far more interesting,) to study these stories as wholly separate from the Vampire.

After all, the Wendigo may be a former human surviving on the flesh and blood of the living, but it tells a very different story, and teaches a very different lesson than the vampire stories of European folklore. It comes to us from the Anicinàbe people, who are very different than the Kwakwaka’wakw, and their story of the Bukwus. Both of these differ incredibly from the vampire, because, at the end of the day, although these tales share vampiric elements, they don’t come from the same place, nor teach the same lessons.

The vampires speak to us, as humans, at a very basic level. We are drawn to them, in all the forms they’ve taken over the years because they are our reflections. At its worst, the figure of the vampire is everything that we shouldn’t want to be. Manipulative. Given completely to carnality at the expense of any sort of decency. So Hungry and gluttonous that they will not stop until they’ve pillaged and devoured absolutely everything in their sight. In short: The ultimate colonizer. This is a part of the vampire that we should be trying to eliminate, not emulate.

And that is why it’s important to remember: There is no Native American Vampire.

Read the full version with graphics in our Beltane Edition.

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