Who Speaks for Wolf?

Oneida (Iroquois) – USA / Canada


Almost at the edge of the circle of light cast by Central Fire –Wolf was standing. His eyes reflected the fire’s warmth with a colder light. Wolf stood there, staring at the fire.

         A boy of eight winters was watching Wolf –as immobile as Wolf–fascinated. Finally, the boy turned to Grandfather, warming his old bones from winter’s first chill.

         ‘Why does Wolf stand there and only watch the fire?’

         ‘Why do you?’ Grandfather replied. And then the boy remembered that he had sat there, ever since the fire was lit, watching the flames –until Wolf came. Now, instead, he watched Wolf. He saw that it was because Wolf was so different from him, yet also watched the fire, and that there seemed no fear in Wolf. It was this the boy did not understand.

         Beyond where Wolf was standing there was a hill –still so close to the Central Fire that the boy was surprised to see the dim outline of another Wolf face. This one was looking at the moon.

         Moon-Looking-Wolf began to sing her song. More and more joined her until at last even Wolf-Looks-at-Fire chortled in his throat the beginnings of a song. They sang for the Moon, and for each other, and for any who might listen. They sang of how Earth was a good place to be, of how much beauty surrounds us, and of how all this is sometimes most easily seen in Moon and Fire.

         The boy listened and –and wanted to do nothing else with his life but listen to Wolf singing.

         After a long and particularly beautiful song, Moon-Looking-Wolf quieted, and one by one her brothers joined her in silence, until even the most distant –crying ‘I am here! Don’t forget me!’– made space for the night and watched–and waited. Wolf-Looks-at-Fire turned and left the clearing, joining his brothers near the hill.

         ‘But I still don’t understand,’ the boy continued. ‘Why does Wolf look at Fire? Why does he feel at home so close to our living space? Why does Wolf Woman begin her song on a hill so close to us who are not Wolf?’

         ‘We have known each other for a long time,’ the old man answered. ‘We have learned to live with one another.’

         The boy still looked puzzled. Within himself he saw only the edges of understanding.

         Grandfather was silent for a time –and began at last to show cadences of a chant. The boy knew with satisfaction that soon he would understand –would know Wolf better than before– would learn how it had been between us.


         Grandfather chanted, the rhythm taking its place with Wolf’s song as something appropriate for the forest.

         LONG AGO

         Our People grew in number so that where we were

                   was no longer enough

         Many young men

                   were sent out from among us

                            to seek a new place

                                      where the People might be who-they-were

         They searched

                   and they returned

                            each with a place selected

                                      each determined his place was best

         AND SO IT WAS

                   That the People had a decision to make:

                            which of the many was most appropriate

         NOW, AT THAT TIME

                   There was one among the People

                            to whom Wolf was brother

                   He was so much Wolf’s brother

                            that he would sing their song to them

                                      and they would answer him

                   He was so much Wolf’s brother

                            that their young

                                      would sometimes follow him through the forest

                                      and it seemed they meant to learn from him


                   That the People gave That One a special name

                   They called him WOLF’S BROTHER

                            and if any sought to learn about Wolf

                            if any were curious

                                      or wanted to learn to sing Wolf’s song

                                               they would sit beside him

                                                         and describe their curiosity

                                                                  hoping for a reply


         ‘Has it been since that time that we sing to Wolf?’ the boy asked eagerly. ‘Was it he who taught us how?’ He clapped his hands over his mouth to stop the tumble of words. He knew he had interrupted Grandfather’s Song.

         The old man smiled, and the crinkles around his eyes spoke of other boys–and other times.

         ‘Yes, even he!’ he answered. ‘For since that time it has pleased many of our people to sing to Wolf and to learn to understand him.’

         Encouraged, the boy asked, ‘And ever since our hunters go to learn to sing to Wolf?’

         ‘Many people go, not only hunters. Many people go, not only men,’ Grandfather chided. ‘For was it not Wolf Woman who began the song tonight? Would it then be appropriate if only the men among us replied?’

         The boy looked crestfallen. He wanted so much to be a hunter–to learn Wolf’s song, but he knew there was wisdom in Grandfather’s words. Not only hunters learn from Wolf.

         ‘But you have led me down a different path,’ the Old One was saying. ‘It would please me to finish my first song.’

         The boy settled back and waited to learn.


         AS I HAVE SAID

         The People sought a new place in the forest

         They listened closely to each of the young men

                   as they spoke of hills and trees

                            of clearings and running water

                            of deer and squirrels and berries

         They listened to hear which place

                   might be drier in rain

                   more protected in winter

                   and where our Three Sisters

                            Corn, Beans, and Squash

                                      might find a place to their liking

         They listened

                   and they chose

         Before they chose

                   they listened to each young man

         Before they chose

                   they listened to each among them

                            he who understood the flow of waters

                            she who understood Long House construction

                            he who understood the storms of winter

                            she who understood Three Sisters

                   to each of these they listened

                            until they reached agreement

                            and the Eldest among them

                            finally rose and said:

                                      ‘SO BE IT–

                                               FOR SO IT IS’

         ‘BUT WAIT’

                   Someone cautioned–

                            ‘Where is Wolf’s Brother?

                            WHO, THEN, SPEAKS FOR WOLF?’


                   THE PEOPLE WERE DECIDED

                            and their mind was firm

                            and the first people were sent

                                      to choose a site for the first Long House

                                      to clear a space for our Three Sisters

                                      to mold the land so that water

                                               would run away from our dwelling

                                                         so that all would be secure within


                   He asked about the New Place

                            and said at once that we must choose another

                            ‘You have chosen the Center Place

                                      for a great community of Wolf’

                   But we answered him

                            that many had already gone

                            and that it could not wisely be changed

                            and that surely Wolf could make way for us

                                      as we sometimes make way for Wolf

                   But Wolf’s Brother counselled

                            ‘I think that you will find

                                      that it is too small a place for both

                                      and that it will require more work then–

                                               than change would presently require’



                            and would not reconsider

                   When the New Place was ready

                            all the People rose up as one

                                      and took those things they found of value

                                      and looked at last upon their new home


                   This New Place

                            had cool summers and winter protection

                            and fast-moving streams

                            and forests around us

                                      filled with deer and squirrel

                            there was room even for our Three Beloved Sisters


                   AND DID NOT SEE

                            WOLF WATCHING FROM THE SHADOWS!


                   They began to see–

                            for someone would bring deer or squirrel

                                      and hang him from a tree

                                      and go for something to contain the meat

                                      but would return

                                               to find nothing hanging from the tree

                                                         AND WOLF BEYOND

         AT FIRST

                   This seemed to us an appropriate exchange–

                            some food for a place to live


                   It soon became apparent that it was more than this–

                            for Wolf would sometimes walk between the dwellings

                                      that we had fashioned for ourselves

                                               and the women grew concerned

                                                         for the safety of the little ones

                   Thinking of this

                            they devised for a while an agreement with Wolf

                                      whereby the women would gather together

                                               at the edge of our village

                                               and put food for Wolf and his brothers


                   That this meant too much food

                            and also Wolf grew bolder

                                      coming in to look for food

                                               so that it was worse than before


         AND SO

                   Hearing the wailing of the women

                            the men devised a system

                                      whereby some ones among them

                                               were always alert to drive off Wolf



                   They soon discovered

                            that this required so much energy

                                      that there was little left for winter preparations

                            and the Long Cold began to look longer and colder

                                      with each passing day


                   The men counselled together

                            to choose a different course

         THEY SAW

                   That neither providing Wolf with food

                            nor driving him off

                                      gave the People a life that was pleasing

         THEY SAW

                   That Wolf and the People

                            could not live comfortably together

                                      in such a small space

         THEY SAW

                   That it was possible

                            to hunt down these Wolf People

                                      until they were no more


                   That this would require much energy over many years

         THEY SAW, TOO,

                   That such a task would change the People:

                            they would become Wolf Killers

                   A People who took life only to sustain their own

                            would become People who took life

                                      rather than move a little



         AT LAST

                   One of the Eldest of the People

                            spoke what was in every mind:

                            ‘It would seem

                                      that Wolf’s Brother’s vision

                                               was sharper than our own

                   To live here indeed requires more work now

                            than change would have made necessary


Grandfather paused, making his knee a drum on which to maintain the rhythm of the chant, and then went on.



                   OF A PEOPLE WHO DECIDED TO MOVE

                            ONCE WINTER WAS PAST


                   THAT FROM THIS

                            THE PEOPLE LEARNED A GREAT LESSON

         IT IS A LESSON

                   WE HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN


                  At the end of their Council

                            one of the Eldest rose again and said:

                                      ‘Let us learn from this

                                               so that not again

                                                         need the People build only to move

                                      Let us not again think we will gain energy

                                               only to lose more than we gain

                                      We have learned to choose a place

                                               where winter storms are less

                                                         rather than rebuild

                                      We have learned to choose a place

                                               where water does not stand

                                                         rather than sustain sickness


         AND SO IT WAS

                   That the People devised among themselves

                            a way of asking each other questions

                                      whenever a decision was to be made

                                               on a New Place or a New Way

                   We sought to perceive the flow of energy

                            through each new possibility

                                      and how much was enough

                                      and how much was too much

         UNTIL AT LAST

                   Someone would rise

                            and ask the old, old question

                                      to remind us of things

                                      we do not yet see clearly enough to remember


                   TELL ME NOW MY SISTERS

                            WHO SPEAKS FOR WOLF?’


And so Grandfather’s Song ended… and my father’s voice grew still.

         ‘Did the boy learn to sing with Wolf?’ I asked.

         ‘All may,’ my father answered.

         ‘And did the People always remember to ask Wolf’s Question?’

         My father smiled. ‘They remembered for a long time… a long time. And when the wooden ships came, bringing a new People, they looked at them and saw that what we accomplish by much thought and considering the needs of all, they accomplish by building tools and changing the Earth, with much thought of winter and little of tomorrow. We could not teach them to ask Wolf’s question. They did not understand he was their brother. We knew how long it had taken us to listen to Wolf’s voice. It seemed to us that These Ones could also learn. And so we cherished them… when we could… and held them off… when we must… and gave them time to learn.’

         ‘Will they learn, do you think, my father? Will they learn?’

         ‘Sometimes wisdom comes only after great foolishness. We still hope they will learn. I do not know even if our own People still ask their question. I only know that at the last Great Council when we talked about the Small Ones in their wooden ships and decided that their way and our way might exist side by side–and decided, therefore, to let them live… I only know that someone rose to remind them of the things we had not yet learned about these Pale Ones.’

         ‘He rose and he reminded us of what we had already learned, of how these New Ones believed that only one way was Right and all others Wrong. He wondered out loud whether they would be as patient with us –once they were strong– as we were now with them. He wondered what else might be true for them that we did not yet see. He wondered how all these things –seen and unseen– might affect our lives and the lives of our children’s children’s children. Then to remind us of the great difficulties that may arise from the simple omission of something we forgot to consider, he gazed slowly around the Council Circle and asked the ancient question:


                   TELL ME NOW MY SISTERS

                            WHO SPEAKS FOR WOLF?’


From Who Speaks for Wolf, by Paula Underwood, 1984, San Anselmo, CA: A Tribe of Two Press. Copyright 1984 by Paula Underwood. Reprinted with permission.




This story is a masterful adaptation of the Oneida tribal elder Paula Underwood, with which she intended to preserve as a gift for the children of the Earth the legacy left by the grandmother of her grandfather, Tsilokomah, the Keeper of the Old Things, an oral tradition with more than 10,000 years old, according to her.

Interestingly, Paula Underwood participated as a tribal representative at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Summit of the Earth, where the possibility of creating a Charter of the Earth was collectively discussed for the first time. Later, she would impart a master’s degree in peace studies in the same place where the Earth Charter Secretariat is located, at the United Nations’ University for Peace, in Costa Rica.

For Paula Underwood, the stories she had received from her ancestors were perfect vehicles for education, to the point that, for her, they were nothing more than ‘Learning Stories;’ that is, stories that teach how to live.



  • Underwood, P. (2002). Who speak for Wolf? In Three Native American Learning Stories (pp. 13-41).  Bayfield, CO: A Tribe of Two Press.


Associated text of the Earth Charter

Principle 3: Build democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.


Other passages that this story illustrates

This story by Paula Underwood covers all the categories of complex-systems thinking and those of the principles and values of the Earth Charter, so it is able to illustrate a large part of the text of the Earth Charter. In this sense, it is an essential story in any educational programme in which you want to make known the Earth Charter.