a supernatural being belonging to the spiritual traditions of Algonquian-speaking First Nations in North America.
Depending on the many First Nations that speak an Algonquian language, including the Abenaki, Siksika, Mi’kmaq, Algonquin, Ojibwe and Innu, the spelling and pronunciation of the word “windigo” differs. Wendigo, wheetigo, windikouk, wi’ntsigo, wi’tigo and wittikka are all alternative versions of the same term. Other names, such as atchen, chenoo and kewok, are also commonly used to refer to the windigo.
According to most Algonquian oral traditions, a wendigo is a cannibalistic monster that preys on the weak and socially disconnected. In most versions of the legend, a human becomes a wendigo after his or her spirit is corrupted by greed or extreme conditions such as hunger and cold. In others, humans become wendigos when possessed by a prowling spirit during a moment of mental or emotional weakness.
Origin and History:
The wendigo legend existed in Algonquian oral history for many centuries, long before Europeans arrived in North America. Stories have circulated on the Western frontier in the 1800s, among Plains First Nations peoples and employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). Some HBC traders’ records describe encounters with Indigenous spiritual leaders claiming to descend into “fits” of religious passion. Indigenous peoples often accused these people of being wendigos; HBC traders sometimes described them as mad. In some cases, community members or relatives of the accused killed the suspected wendigo as a precaution. In one example, three men killed Cree spiritual leader Abishabis after he became greedy and killed a First Nations family — which led others to believe that he was a wendigo.
1. Legends of the wendigo coinside with the beliefs, social structures, and traditions of the people who tell these stories. For some, it serve as a reminder about what can happen when individuals are left outside of the community.
Extreme hunger, cold, and isolation were ever-present and threatening facts of life for many First Nations people living in the northern boreal forests. In fact, most wendigo stories begin with an individual or small group trapped in the cold wilderness without food for an extended period. Wendigos were said to kill lonely travelers or a transform into a member of a group before eventually killing other humans it encountered.
2. Greed and resource sharing.
Human survival often depended on communal cooperation. Any individual who refused to share local resources, especially in times of great deprivation, would be a social pariah.
3. The injustices that Indigenous peoples have faced in Canada.
A more contemporary symbol which encompasses the historical pain from residential schools, the restriction of rights in the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop and similar policies. Armand Ruffo’s film, A Windigo Tale (2010), for example, uses the monster to tell a story about the inter-generational trauma of residential schools. For some Indigenous persons, the wendigo represents the forces of colonization.