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NORTHWEST COAST STORIES
 
 
 


Eagle by Roy Vickers
 
 

Nature Lessons

Eagle soared high in the summer sky above the green trees.  He was watching the village on the other side of the forest.

    Eagle was worried because many of the people who lived there had chose to Ignore Nature's lessons.  They did not respect their world or the other plants and creatures that lived within it.  Instead of living in harmony, they fought with other people and destroyed the forest, birds, animals and fish.  Friends abandoned them, and wood and food became harder to find.  As time passed, each day became more miserable than the one before.  But instead of changing, these people continued to abuse the few remaining gifts Nature had given.

    Eagle flew to a place where people had made different choices.  There, people used the forest wisely, never taking more than it could offer.  they respected the other people, fish, birds and animals and made sure they all had a home.  For these people life was good, for as they took care of Nature, Nature took care of them.

    Eagle flew down and called to them, "Across the forest is a place where people are destroying all that Nature has given them.  We must help them before it is too late."  With that he transformed the people into magical animals, fish and birds and led them to the other village.

    They began to teach the people about Nature's ways and show them there are both good and bad choices.  They taught them that if they choose not to honour the forest and animals around them, then Nature will take those gifts away.  If they choose to respect the world around them, Nature will take care of them forever.

    At first the people did not believe them.  It was hard not to take all the wood and food when they were cold and hungry.  But the people began to try, and slowly their world changed.  The forest began to grow back and the birds, fish and animals started to return.

    It was difficult to do, and the people had just begun to learn.  That is why today Eagle still soars over the forest, watching carefully to see that they continue to respect Nature's lessons.

from:        Eagle's Reflection and Other Northwest Coast Stories
author:    Robert James Challenger
 
 

COHO LEARNS TO JUMP
 
 


Salmon Run by Sue Coleman

On a cold winter night, a young boy sat in a carving shed watching his grandfather work on a totem pole.  The boy asked, "Grandfather, how did you learn to carve such a big log?"

    Grandfather smiled and sat down with his grandson by the warm fire, "Let me tell you the story of Coho salmon.  That will help you find the answer to your question.

    "Coho was born in the river.  When he was very young, just like you, he swam down the river into the ocean.  Along his journey he watched others and learned from them.  He also learned from his own mistakes and successes.  Soon he knew when to use his strength and when to use his knowledge to survive.

    "Coho liked to try things, so one day he decided to see what was above the ocean waves.  He swam straight up and shot through the surface of the water into the air.  Coho felt the warmth of the sun on his scales; he saw the birds in the sky and the animals on the land.  But all too soon he fell back into the sea.  He did not give up.  He practiced his jumps, each one getting higher and longer, until he could jump almost to the sky itself.

    "When Coho grew old, like me, he returned to the river where he was born, but it had changed.  Wind had toppled an old tree across the channel, blocking the way for all the salmon.  But Coho knew how to get past.  He showed the other salmon how to jump.  One by one they swam up the river, leapt into the air and landed on the other side of the log.  When all the fist were past the log, Coho went on to the place of his birth where he helped spawn the next generation of salmon."

    Grandfather paused for a moment and picked up a small piece of wood.  He smiled and said, "That is why on clam days out on the ocean we see salmon practicing their jumps, so they will not be stopped by any obstacles on their journey."

    Grandfather hand the boy a chisel and the small piece of wood. "Watch me and learn from what I do.  Practice, and learn from your mistakes.  Do not give up just because your first try is not successful.  That way, you will know what to do when you reach the big log and begin carving it into your own totem pole."

from:        Eagle's Reflection and Other Northwest Coast Stories
author:    Robert James Challenger
 
 

BEAR'S GIFT


Bear and Cub, Sue Coleman

The campfire crackled and gave warmth to the old man and children gathered around it.  Beyond the light of the fire, the forest was dark and full of shadows.

    One of the children said, "I'm glad you are here, Grandfather, because you are big and strong like Bear.  You can protects us from wild animals."

    The old man placed a log on the fire and as the sparks flew into the night sky he said, "Well, Bear was not always the great beast we know today.  When Bear came to the forest he was small - so small the other animals and birds did not even notice him.

    "But one day when Bear was wandering in the forest, he came upon Raven lying on the ground.  Raven was hurt and could not fly.  Bear did not know what to do.  He was not big enough to lift Raven and take him to safety.

    "Raven said to him, "If I make you strong, will you help me?"

    "Bear was not sure how Raven could do that, but he said, "Yes, I will take care of you."

    "Raven touched Bear's back and immediately huge muscles bulged beneath the fur.  Bear used his new strength to pick up Raven and carry him back to his den.  As he had promised, Bear took care of him until Rave could fly again.

    "Before Raven left, he said to Bear, "You have been a good friend.  From now on, every time you help someone you will grow bigger, stronger and more respected."

    The old man stopped to place another log on the fire.  Then he said, "Bear has helped many others through the years and that is why he is now the biggest, strongest and most respected animal in our forest."

    Grandfather smiled at the children gathered around him and said, "Bear started small and grew with each good thing he did.  He did not use his strength to scare others; instead he used it to help them.  In turn, they gave him all the respect he deserved.

    "As you grow up, remember the story of Bear.  Know that true respect comes only as gift form others."

from:        Eagle's Reflection and Other Northwest Coast Stories
author:    Robert James Challenger
 

BIG FIGURE


Potlatch Village

    There were no schools in the days of which I speak, but there was a spot near the forest, a playground, where children used to play.  One little boy that played there had a knife--what kind I don't know, it happened a long, long time ago.

   The other children wanted to borrow that knife but the boy told them, "My mother and father won't allow me to lend it.  My mother said you might cut yourself with it, then blame me.  My father said you might lose it and never return it.  That is what my parents told me."

    Well, you know what kids are like.  the children decided they would not play with the little boy with the knife.  "Let him go by himself," they said to one another.  They taunted the boy and teased him.  Their backs were to the forest.

    Suddenly the boy with the knife cried, "Hey I see a big figure in the trees!"

    The children did not turn around and look but kept their backs to the forest.

    "You're just saying that because we won't play with you," they shouted.

    "No, I'm not," argued the boy.  "There it is again!  A big figure.  It's watching us."

    But the children would not listen.  "You're just trying to fool us but it won't work," they chided. "We're not going to have anything to do with you."

    "It's coming!" screamed the boy.  "It's coming!"

    The children saw it then.  It was a big big man, bigger than any other.  He had hair all over his body and his eyes were set deep in his face.  He carried a large basket on his back.  The children's strength drained out of them in fear.  They were helpless.

    The woods giant grabbed the boy that had the knife first and threw him in his basket.  Then he threw all the rest of the children on top of him.  He set off through the forest while the children peeked through the cracks of the basket, trying to see where he was taking them.

    The boy with the knife was right at the bottom of the basket and could hardly move with all the children on top of him.  Finally he was able to cut a slit in the basket big enough to squeeze through and he dropped to the ground.  The man did not notice, and the boy ran back to his village crying.  "Big Figure has taken all the children!"  The men of the village gathered together.  They asked the boy to lead the way that Big Figure had gone.  they traveled over roots and under logs.  At the place the boy had fallen through the basket the trail became harder to follow.  They could see where something big had gone through the bush and followed that till eventually the trail ended at a large cave.

    The men of the village could dimly see some of their children hanging by the feet in the dark cave.  A huge figure of a man was tying up the other children's feet and putting pitch in their eyes.  His wife and children were helping him.

    "What are you doing with our children?" the villagers cried.

    "We're going to smoke them," answered the giant.

    "Those are our children!  We want to take them home with us," said the villagers.

    "We're going to smoke them and eat them," replied the big man.  He and his wife finished tying the children's feet and started hanging them up one by one, with the other children.

    "Don't do that," the fathers of the children pleaded.  "Let us take them home with us."

    The big man started building a fire under the children.  Then he said to the men, "Why are your faces so nice and smooth nd not rough like mine?  You have nice eyes.  They don't sink way in your head like mine do."

    The villagers thought fast.  One of them said, "You can have a face just like ours.  We can fix you up.  Go outside and get a big flat rock and another small rock with a sharp end."

    So the man did what they asked.  It was easy for him to carry the big flat rock because he was so strong.  Then the men of the village said to the giant, "Lie down and use this flat rock for a pillow.  We're going to fix you up just like us."

    "How long will it take?"  he asked as he lay down and put his head on the flat stone.

    "Just four days," they answered.  "Close your eyes.  Close your eyes tight."  Then they took the rock with the sharp end and sunk it between the big man's eyes.  He was dead.

    "How long is he going to lie there?"  asked the giant's wife.

    "Oh, about four days," answered the men.  They took their children, untied their legs and removed the pitch from their eyes.  Then they went home to their village where the people were very happy.

From Kwakiutl Legends, as told to Pamela Whitaker by Chief James Wallas, Hancock House Publishers Ltd.  Blaine,WA 1981.  ISBN #0-88839-094-??
 

BIG FIGURE AND THE SMOKED SALMON


Shaman, D. Gordon

    A family was camped by a river so that they could put up salmon for the winter.  The salmon they had caught were hanging in a split cedar smokehouse.

    One day before he went to bed with his family in the shelter they had made, the eldest boy went into the smokehouse and noticed some gaps between the fish that were hanging there.  "Some of our smoked salmon seems to be missing," he told his father.

    "We're the only ones here," his father replied.  "Our family is camped all alone.  Just forget about it--we'll get some more."

    The next morning when the boy built the fire in the smokehouse, he noticed even more of the smoked salmon was missing.  "Tonight I am going to hide in the smokehouse and find out who it is that is taking the salmon," he announced.  "I will have my bow and arrow with me, but if it is a man that comes I will not use it."

    That night they did not bank the fire very high and it soon went out.  The boy hid in the corner of the dark smokehouse and waited.  Except for the rush of the wind in the cedar trees and the voice of the river, the camp was quiet.

    It was not long before the boy heard a new sound--footsteps.  Heavy footsteps were approaching the camp.  They came closer and closer and stopped just outside the smokehouse.  The boy was frightened, but he had his bow and arrow ready.

    Slowly the roof of the smokehouse lifted up.  The boy pulled his bowstring taut.  He dimly saw a huge hairy arm reach in toward the salmon and sent his arrow where the arm was coming from.

    There was a terrible cry that woke up the others.  "I think I got it!  I think it's the woods giant!"  shouted the boy to his parents.  "Let's go after him."

    "We will wait till morning," said his father.  "He will be a lot easier to trail in the daylight and if you wounded him he might be dead by then."

    The family rose early the next morning.  The boy, his father and younger brother headed out on the trail of the giant.  The trail they found had a few drops of blood on it.  It led deep into the forest and ended at a cedar bark house.  A pool of fresh water was nearby with a tree leaning over it.

    "You wait here," the father said to his elder son," and your brother and I will skirt around the back of the house."

    While he was waiting, the elder boy climbed up the tree, as it was a good place to see from.  Soon a large hairy girl came out of the cedar bark house with a bucket in her hand and walked over to the pool of water that the tree leaned over.

    When she stooped to scoop up some drinking water, she saw the boy's reflection in the pool.  "My, I didn't know how pretty I was," she exclaimed.  "I'm different from the rest of my family.  Their eyes all sink in their heads and mine don't.  They are hairy and I have smooth skin."

    The boy above her moved in the tree, and a branch broke and fell into the water.  The girl jerked her head up and saw him.  "Oh, it is you that I see in the water," she cried.  Then she paused and added, "My father has been terribly sick since he came home last night.  Can you come and help him?"

    "I'll get my father," the boy answered.  "This must be where the person lives who was stealing fish from us," he said when he reached his father and brother.  "I think he is very sick from my arrow.  His daughter wants us to help him."

    "Okay," said the father, "let us go in."

    They went in the cedar bark house and a big hairy man more than six feet tall lay almost dead with an arrow deep in his chest.  His wife and children were standing around him.

    The boy who show the arrow walked up to the big man and tried to pull the arrow out.  It would not come out straight, and he had to twist it this way and that way.  Finally it pulled free.

    "I feel better already," said the giant weakly.  "You have helped me, so I will give my daughter to one of you to marry."

    "No!" cried the elder boy.  "I do not wish to marry your daughter."

    "I do not wish to marry your daughter either," exclaimed the younger son.

    "Have you another offer, then?"  asked the father of the two boys.

    "Yes, my offer is this.  You may use us on your totem pole and mask.  No one else can make our likeness, only you.  You can make the mask just like our face."

    The father and his sons accepted the giant's offer and went home.  They took their arrow with them.
    No one else had a mask like theirs.  It was a frightening mask with the eyes sunk deep in the head.

From Kwakiutl Legends, as told to pamela Whitaker by Chief James Wallas, Hancock House Publishers Ltd.  Blaine, WA 1981.  ISBN #0-88839-094-??
 

RAVEN'S GREAT ADVENTURE

Raven, by Todd Jason Baker

The Innu carve strange and beautiful figures, representing people, animals, birds, fish, and supernatural characters, then paint them with bright colours.  The tallest red cedar trees are selected for totem poles, and are used for landmarks as well as illustrating the legends told from generation to generation.

On one of these poles was carved a stunning Raven, but he had no beak!

The Raven in Alaska was no ordinary bird.  He had remarkable powers and could change into whatever form he wished.  He could change from a bird to a man, and could not only fly and walk, but could swim underwater as fast as any fish.

One day, Raven took the form of a little, bent-over old man to walk through a forest.  He wore a long white beard and walked slowly.  After a while, Raven felt hungry.  As he thought about this, he came to the edge of the forest near a village on the beach.  There, many people were fishing for halibut.

In a flash, Raven thought of a scheme.  He dived into the sea and swam to the spot where the fishermen dangled their hooks.  Raven gobbled their bait, swimming from one hook to another.  Each time Raven stole bait, the fishermen felt a tug on their lines.  When the lines were pulled in, there was neither fish nor bait.

But Raven worked his trick once too often.  When Houskana, an expert fisherman, felt a tug, he jerked his line quickly, hooking something heavy.  Raven's jaw had caught on the hook!  While Houskana tugged on his line, Raven pulled in the opposite direction.  Then Raven grabbed hold of some rocks at the bottom of the sea and called, "O rocks, please help me!"  But the rocks paid no attention.

Because of his great pain, Raven said to his jaw, "Break of, O jaw, for I am too tired."  His jaw obeyed and it broke off.

Houskana pulled in his line immediately.  On his hook was a man's jaw with a long white beard!  It looked horrible enough to scare anyone.  Houskana and the other fishermen were very frightened, because they thought the jaw might belong to some evil spirit.  They picked up their feet and ran as fast as they could to the chief's house.

Raven came out of the water and followed the fishermen.  thought he was in great pain for lack of his jaw, no one noticed anything wrong because he covered the lower part of his face with his blanket.

The chief and the people examined the jaw that has hanging on the halibut hook.  It was handed from one to another, and finally to Raven who said, "Oh, this is a wonder to behold!" as he threw back his blanket and replaced his jaw.

Raven performed his magic so quickly that no one had time to see what was happening.  As soon as Raven's jaw was firmly in place again, he turned himself into a bird and flew out through the smoke hole of the chief's house.  Only then did the people begin to realize it was the trickster Raven who had stolen their bait and been hooked on Houskana's fishing line.

On the totem pole, Raven was carved, not as the old man, but as himself without his beak, a reminder of how the old man lost his jaw.   Author Unknown
 

RAVEN STEALS THE LIGHT

 

Raven, Artist Unknown

A similar account of this oral narrative appears in Eskimo mythology.  The Tanaina legend below from Nondalton closely resembles another Athabaskan tale by the Upper Tanana Indians of Tetlin and Northway.  In that version, however, RAven becomes a piece of moss.

There once lived a very powerful and rich chief who had a beautiful young daughter.  Somehow, the chief got the sun and the moon and he hung them up in his house.  Because he had the sun and the moon, it became dark everywhere.

Because of the darkness, the people could not hunt or fish.  When they went out to find wood to burn in their fires, they had to crawl around in the forest feeling with their hands, until they found something which might be wood.  Then they would bite it to make certain that it was indeed firewood.  Raven learned that the great chief had taken the sun and moon, so he went to his house to take it back.  He asked the chief if he would return the sun and moon, but he would not.  So the smart black bird devised a plan.

He saw how the chief's daughter went to a small stream to get water every morning, so he hid near there and waited for her to return.  When he saw her coming down the trail, he turned himself into a fingerling, a tiny fish, and jumped into the water.  AFter the girl arrived, she filled a bucket with water.  Then she dipped her drinking cup into the stream and Raven, disguised as a fingerling, quickly swam into it.  She did not see Raven and drank the water.

Insider her body, RAven turned into a baby and so the girl became pregnant.  AFter a short time the daughter gave birth to a baby boy which was really Raven.  The baby grew fast and was soon a young boy.  The grandfather was very fond of his grandson and would do anything for him.  One day the boy began crying for something.

The chief asked him, "What do you want, grandson?"

The boy pointed to the sun and moon hanging from the ceiling.  The chief decided to let him play with them if it would make him stop crying.  So the boy took them outside and played with them for a while, but then the threw them high into the air.  When the old chief ran out to see what had happened, Raven became himself again and flew away.  Since that time there has been light.
 

DANCING SPIRITS
 

Kwakiutl Totem

By Crying Wolf
 

Grandfather, many have tried to destroy what you have created.  The Dancing Spirits have reached deep within my heart.  they shall protect the Sacred Circle you have created in my heart.  Your gift of such a Sacred Dance is as a precious breath of Mother Earth.  The rage of her nostrils shall not harm the ground the Dancing Spirits have danced on.

My Grandson, know that the beauty of this Sacred Circle, you are just a part of.  Your brothers build along side of you, take this hand and increase your strength.  Seek his wisdom for a river runs swift when streams become as one.  You shall honour his deeds for his hand reaches for yours as the Mighty Redwoods reach for the Sacred Skies.

Old One, I shall be as the STanding Bear, his strength has carried him through harshness.  Your teaching of the Great Warriors that have turned into dead tress is wise.  In how many seasons will they turn into stone?  Those before me shall keep the Dancing Spirits buried in my heart.

Young Warriors, what you have built let it stand Mighty as the Paha Sapa.  We cannot change the past but Father Sun will guide our tomorrows.  It is I that has granted you the Dancing Spirits.  You have learned well my sons that Warriors turn into trees and then stone.  Listen to the words the Great Winds have carried to your ears.  You cannot live on the empty promises of those that cause hunger to your women and children.  My son, let no man break the Sacred Circle of the Dancing Spirits.
 


SACRED FLIGHT

Bald Eagle

 

By Crying Wolf
 

Grandfather, the Might Eagle has much wisdom, for it follows the footsteps of the old one.  You new journey takes you beyond the Great Waters.  You shall always walk at my side, for in you I have found my way.  I have listened to the trees, their song has touched my heart.  This sacred place among the mountains and clouds shall be filled with your spirit?

Grandson be as fresh winter snow for it provides new waters.  For it is I, Eagle Guides His Arrows, that shall provide for you.  Keep your visions keen as the sight of the Eagle, your strength as his great wings.  our paths are of the same, the sky has many shades.  When the sacred rains come they are for your pleasures.

Grandfather your bow has much strength, your arrows have soared to great lengths.  Your great shield has protected your heart, from many enemies.  In all my strengths, I shall find the wisdom to carry my own shield.  The White Eagle has left me with a saddened heart.  In the Sacred Sky, I shall see your face, Father Sun shall carry your warmth.

Young brave go and hunt well for many go hungry.  It is you that shall become as I.  The Mighty Eagle always grasps for the arrow of wisdom.  Feed not your people the meat that fills their stomachs.  I have gifted you with the many ways a spirit can be filled.  My lance has found the hides that have kept your people warm.  We have found much wisdom in the many seasons throughout our journey?

Grandfather my heart has cried and my tears are silent as this Sacred Flight.  I shall see the Eagle catch his meat and my arrows shall fly in the same winds.  Have a safe journey grandfather, for the footsteps you leave I shall follow.

Crying Wolf is an Indian poet and artist living in Southern California.  These two pieces speak to the eternal struggles we face and the strengths we find in our ancestors.
 

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