With the arrival of John Cabot on North American soil there followed a steady stream of Basque, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen, French explorers and English colonists. The new arrivals soon began to affect the landscape for the continent of nations established there for hundreds of generations.
Kluskap, a Micmac spirit, had warned of this assault. "There will be white people who come and take this forest away from you. But I am going north, to make a place for you where no white person can ever come. No white person shall ever enter there. And this place will be a place where you may not come while you are alive. You will only travel there after you die on the Earth World."
In Huron mythology, the direction to escape the whites was west. The world was ruled by twins, Good Brother and Evil Brother. And in an epic battle, Good killed Evil, who returns in a dream, saying, "I am going to the far west. Hereafter all men will go to the west after death."
The Nuu'chah'nulth thought the whites were fish who had been transformed into men and had the faces of dog salmon.
The people of the eastern woodlands noted the differences in appearance and also described the different tools used by the white people.
"They are men of strange appearance... their skins are white like snow and on their faces long hair grows... These people have come across the great water in wonderfully large canoes, which have great white wings like those of a giant bird. The men have long and sharp knives and they have black tubes which they point at birds and animals. The tubes make a smoke that rises into the air just like smoke from our pipe."
The Squamish thought the whites were simply dead. When they saw a Spanish ship for the first time, a Squamish observer noted, "The people did not know what it was. At first they believed that the ship was a floating island with sticks growing on it, and cobwebs were hanging from the sticks... As they approached this monstrous thing they could see that it was a canoe of tremendous size... Then as they rested their paddles and looked at this great canoe, they saw a man on board. He was walking on the deck. They thought he was dead - walking; that he was from the spirit world, and that he was carrying his coffin on his back... You must understand that this man had a big beard, which was something new to the people, and above this great mass of black beard his face was white. Now, the only pale face the people had ever seen were on dead men."
The white people weren't dead, though they brought death in the form of smallpox, measles, influenza, diphtheria, typhus and mumps. These foreign diseases attacked native immune systems that hadn't had time to develop a defense against the new viruses.
It has been estimated that as much as ninety-three per cent of the North American Indian population was killed by imported European diseases, the silent gift that crept westward.