ANIMAL STORIES AND LEGENDS
AND TEACHINGS


N - Z

Native People come from an Oral Narrative Tradition. Storytelling was a "sacred" process because it provided The People with social, cultural and historical contexts.  In other words, the oral narrative acted as a social cohesive for the entire tribe and constituted the 'cultural grounding' of Indigenous people for thousands of years.

  Speeches/Stories were a crucial part of ceremonial occasions. Often long and complex, they covered a variety of moods and issues thus constituting one of the most important links in an oral tradition designed to pass on knowledge to succeeding generations. There are a lot of similarities in story content from tribe to tribe.  During celebrations, ceremonies and gatherings, stories were shared among tribes; often even given as gifts much like songs were given as gifts. The stories would then be revised according to the region from which the tribe came.  If, for example, a gift of a story was given from the Plains to a coastal tribe, the creatures would become water creatures as opposed to flat land creatures such as buffalo. Also there are shared stories, for example, Great Flood stories such as the Women Who Fell From the Sky is both Anishinaabe and Haudenaussaune. What follows are 'abridged' versions some of which were originally quite long and intricate.

 

   

ORCA - 'NEEXL

     Storie11.gif (67958 bytes)

"Tsimshian Orca Clan Story goes like this:  I used to be a beautiful white wolf; Noo Halidzoks created only one of me because she thought I was the most beautiful of the four-leggeds.  I wandered throughout the world looking for someone like myself because I was really lonely. I came back very unhappy because my quest confirmed I was the only white wolf. I fell into a deep sleep.  I had a terrific vision and when I awoke I rushed to find Noo Halidzoks. "Ts'i'is (Grandmother), I have had a great vision; it calls for me to go below the great waters and sing the history of the world.  I am so very lonely in my present form."  Noo Halidzoks was sad, but realized the power of my vision and turned me into a shiny black whale. To remind me that I used to live on land as a wolf, she painted the white markings on my sides.  I sank below the great waters singing my song and all the other swimming creatures rushed to greet me as their new family member..

"I am also held in great awe for my power and size, it was believed I could capture a canoe and take it underwater to transform the occupants into Whales. Thus even to this day a Whale near the shore is considered to be a human transformed and trying to communicate with his family. You will recall the story of Luna. In 2001, he became separated from his pod in Nootka Sound on the west coast of B.C. He arrived on the eve of the death of Chief Ambrose Maquinna of the Mowachaht-Muchalath First Nation. The MMFT believed that Luna embodied the spirit of their deceased Chief and was given the name "Tsux'iit", in honour of the late Chief. He stayed for four years until his untimely and unnecessary death.

I am also a popular symbol for romance as I mate for life and look dashing in my black and white tuxedo, I'm hard to resist by the ladies! Like wolf, I stay with my family and travel in pods."


Story: Natcitlaneh was abandoned on an island by his brothers-in-law who were jealous of his prowess as a hunter. He was rescued by the Sea Lions and taken to their village in a cave where he healed their Chief. In gratitude, the Sea Lions gave him supernatural powers which enabled him to carve eight wooden Orcas. These Whales came to life when they were placed in the sea and avenged him by killing his brothers-in-law.

As a mark of respect, Natcitlaneh built a house and named it Orca House. According to the legend, the ancestors visited the house located at the bottom of the ocean to obtain rights to use the Orca as a crest.

 

 

OTTER -PLOON

"I am a powerful symbol of the feminine. I am grace, empathy, gentleness, laughter, curiosity. Do not take me lightly for I am a powerhouse of positive thinking and action. I am independent and dance to the music of my own life and my own beliefs. I am confident in my appearance and intelligence and in my ability to walk lightly on Mother Earth and in a good way. I streak smoothly through my world, not jealous, not judgmental. My purpose is to elevate the world in an uplifting way. I am agile, swift, strong, protective - I am WOMAN!"

 

 

wpe51721.gif (175555 bytes) OWL - GWITGWINIIWKS

"I am also called 'Night Eagle' and traditionally sit in the East, the place of illumination on the Medicine Wheel. Since time immemorial, many two-leggeds have been afraid of the night, the dark - in other words, the unknown. Night is my friend. Some Native people are fearful of me and call my feathers "deceiver feathers" - because my feathers are silent - you cannot hear me when I fly or strike my prey. I am powerful medicine - the old adage 'wise as an owl' is very true. I may be silent, but I sees and hear everything.- where others are deceived I clearly understand and therefore do not see myself as a deceiver unless I choose to live my life in this negative way, Instead, I choose to see and know what is out there in a good way. I speak meaningful speech when it matters and when it will be heard. I am the totem of mystics, medicine and spiritual leaders, clairvoyants. I cannot, therefore, be a deceiver for these powerful people carry integrity, courage, leadership, wisdom, honour, respect, love and humility."

 

 

 
PANTHER

"I steal softly and silently through my world pausing for a moment from time to time to sniff the air.  My blackness blends with the inky stillness of the water and trees.  Slowly I looks around, my powerful citrine eyes, fasten on the yellow moon. I need only blink once in acknowledgement of that connection. I give a soft sigh of contentment, for where I am standing at this moment in time in this place is where I am supposed to be. Slowly I move on feeling the branches of the trees brush softly against my gleaming coat. I need only blink once to feel that connection. I am at peace in my world. I roam Turtle Island under different names: Melanistic Puma is one such name (melanism meaning the depth of black colouring in my coat). I am quiet, mysterious, but when I am in female form I will fight fiercely in the protection of my family. There was a time on the Pacific Northwest coast when I was a powerful guardian spirit. I did not speak often, but when I did, the Tsimshian listened. I also understand that living in the present, although there is risk, is where I am happiest.  The past is gone, the future is waiting, the present is now. I need only blink once in acknowledgement of those connections."

 

 

Animated Rabbit RABBIT - STUKWLIIN

 "I have no natural defense system because I am a nervous "prey" animal. I carry the specter of fear always and am so frightened of being preyed upon, that I use the very energy I am afraid of to bring such attitudes and actions to me. I am always at risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, I understand that fear is something to be acknowledged and dealt with, not to be buried deep into the recesses of the ancient brain so that it informs all my daily actions and decisions.

My teaching is to tell you to breathe the fear out, start journaling, find a way to get them out of your system so that you are not weighed down. I am a burrowing animals; find a safe place to burrow so that you can clear your thoughts and open your heart to new possibilities and use your ears to listen, really listen."

Story: Years and years ago, an Elder once asked Thunderbird, "Why do Rabbits have such big ears?" The Answer: "In order to listen hard at what was around it, so that it would be able to survive another day without becoming someone else's lunch!" The Elder laughed. It was also a way of telling Thunderbird to shut up and listen, which she took to heart! 

 

 

  RAVEN - GAAX   

"To West Coast Native people, I represent the symbol of creation, change and adaptability. 

  • I am the ultimate transformation figure and culture hero. I can't help but 'crow', I'm very proud of who I am. I did, after all organize the original world when it was in chaos.

  • I have the ability to magically change to whatever is required. 

  • My medicine gives you the courage to try new things and not to be afraid of the unknown. 

  • My black feathers shimmer with different hues suggesting changeability - an awakening; to empty your spiritual cup from time to time and fill it with new ways of being and thinking.  Black is the colour of seeking answers. Raven actually used to be  white, but while trying to steal the light so that the humans could see got stuck in the smoke hole of the lodge of Grandfather Sky and the smoke caused Raven's feathers to turn black

  • I have the ability to see people's pain and people's love. This is why Raven comes to a high loft to sit and watch people and the same reason Raven comes to sing at the graves. 

  • I do represent and evil or bad omen, but rather, is the representative of the power of love and the courage it takes to believe in love unconditionally.

  • Often, I am depicted as a "Trickster". You have no idea how I really, really HATE THAT! It short-changes and limits my vast influence on the lives of humans. This trickster think is a really dumb post-European contact view. I guess it was because it was difficult for the missionaries to place me up alongside Jesus Christ. It was better to view me as a satanic and foolish than a benevolent, kind, giving and generous figure with great humanity. I am a groovy fella!  

  • Indeed, I did engage in many "tricky" activities, after all I am human, but it was always with the best of intensions to solve a problem in the bigger picture of life.  I am credited with giving humans their first conscious thought. So my message to those Trickster believers, DEAL WITH IT!"

 

 

SALMON - HOON

Instinct, Persistence, Determination. 

"The Pacific Northwest Coast people believed that I was actually human with eternal life and I lived in a large house far under the ocean. In the Spring, I put on my Salmon disguise and offered myself to the villagers as food. How unselfish am I! The People believed that when my entire skeleton was returned to the sea, my spirit would rise again and change into Salmon people. In this way, the cycle could begin again the following year. This is a true story, when I am respected I come back.

I am considered to be the staple food of many coastal communities and I was brought to the rivers and seas by Raven because he was worried the humans would go hungry. Nice guy, Raven! The Haida tell of how Raven stole me from the Beaver people by rolling up their stream and landscape like a carpet and flying away. It was so heavy that he could only fly a short distance at a time. He would stop wherever there was a tree to rest. The Beaver people transformed themselves back into Beavers in order to stop him. They would gnaw down the trees that Raven stopped at and each time some of the water and me would escape the rolled up landscape forming great streams and rivers of my people. Cool story."

 

 

Storie10.gif (208556 bytes)  SNAKE BGW5.gif (47884 bytes)

"I am powerful and teach about change, about creativity, In the ssss-pring, I shed my ssss-kin and looks forward to the year with a changed mind and heart. I am al about healthy sexual, physical, spiritual, and emotional energy. It is the energy of wholeness, spiritual knowing, and the ability to experience anything willingly and without resissss-tance. I am very powerful medicine because I teach you that we are universal beings with ability to 'shed our skins' and experience new ways of being in the world. Transsss-mutation is my life.  Ssss-it with me in the rays of Grandfather Sun and hear my ssss-tories."

 

SPIDER - SGYET

"I  wove the fabric of the universe. My red children refer to me as 'Many Legs' (Spider) and I connect the past with the future, creating endless possibilities. I am female medicine and as Spider-woman I am a major Pueblo goddess. I am a skilled and powerful weaver and weave the patterns of destiny. My web contains its dreams, its future, its past and present. I am the weaver of fate. I am wise, creative and have much divine inspiration. I can shape shift because I understand the patterns of illusion and get along well with Dragonfly. I am the quintessential female energy for the creative force of life and very, very powerful.  Dream with me, for I will hold your dreams in my web."

 

 

Storie12.gif (322635 bytes)  SWAN - GAK  

"Some folks thought I was born looking like an "ugly duckling", I thought I was kinda cute and I didn't let the unkind words of others get to me. My gentle nature and belief that there was a plan for me did not cause me to question my looks. Instead, I accepted the way things were and that my life would be a noble one. Eventually, my patience paid off and I was transformed into a beautiful white swan. Listen to me, wherever it is you are at this moment in time is where you are supposed to be.  Do not deny who you are, what you know or what you feel, for these are the messages from your Ancestors. Acknowledge your feelings and float on the heartbeat of Mother Earth's blood."

 

 

TRANSFORMATION FIGURES


"According to certain legends, everything was human, until I, Transformer came along to designate and change each living thing into a particular species. Mother Earth's Red children believed that animals could be supernatural and change their appearance at will. Similarly, humans could transform into animals, birds, fish and mythical creatures when it was propitious to do so, or as a result of some socially unacceptable behaviour. Transformation figures teach humans about change - the willingness to alter form and mind as we evolve to higher and higher spiritual plains throughout our lives. Raven, Coyote and Thunderbird are three such powerhouses of change, protection and consciousness. Watch for us, you never know when we will appear."

 

 

TURKEY - K'ASK'OOSM WAHUU

"Okay, so like Frog, I'm not the best lookin' dude in the photo album, but like Tatanka, Buffalo, I am very generous by giving my life willingly to humans so they can live another day. That's really has to count for something! My INNER beauty is in my generosity and willingness to provide food for sustenance.  All I ask in return is to use my beautiful feathers to honour and respect my sacrifice and my caring.  Hence. it is gratifying to see my feathers are often found on regalia and headdresses of Mother Earth's Red children (Haudenosaunne). In other words, it ain't always about Eagle! My meat is one of the sacred foods eaten at great ceremonies all across the world."

 

 

TURTLE - MIZHEEKAY (OJIBWA) 

"I am the oldest symbol on Mother Earth according to both Haudenausaunee and Anishinabe teachings which tell us that North America was created when tiny muskrat brought some earth from the bottom the ocean and placed it on me because I had the strongest and widest back. I often bury my thoughts, like my eggs, in the sand, and allow Grandfather Sun and Great Mystery to hatch new ideas. I teach you to bring your ideas out into the light. If you align with the Hare, bigger,  stronger, faster does not always lead you where you really want to go, because by the time you arrive you might not always remember why you are there, or even how you got there, for that matter.  My well developed and deliberate thoughts are best. My slow, steady pace gives you time to learn life's lessons and enjoy the journey while being grounded in the rhythms of the Earth Mother.

My shell was also used as a calendar by Mother Earth's Red children with the thirteen large patterned squares counting out all the full moons of the year. The 28 small squares on the outside counting the days of each lunar month. There are teachings everywhere in Mother Earth's world."

 

 

 VULTURE 

"Okay, okay, I agree, I'm not even up there with Frog and Turkey in the looks department! It's not my fault that I have a sad and homely look about me. Did it ever occur to anyone that I have a really, really thankless job. Huh, didja? Looks can be deceiving and I remind you that exterior beauty is fleeting, that it is the whole person that needs to be accepted and embraced, I have my own strengths. I carry very powerful medicine because I literally clean up after you! We all need people like me in our lives. I'm patient, I wait for my changes, I don't not intrude or pass judgment. I simply wait for the opportunity to help clean up a mess. It doesn't get much better than that to have a good, solid citizen like me to help you out when you need it, so get over how I look!"

 

 


WHALE - LBUUN 

"I sing the history of Mother Earth. My characteristics are similar to the wolves for they are my immediate earthly family. They raise and protect each other's young an communicate their thoughts to the world, so do I. Overall, I still have my connections to the land because I must come to the surface to breathe. My songs are about the relationship between the Universe and Mother Earth. My medicine asks you to find and acknowledge your own personal history, and to recognize and to honour what you know. Look to your past find my song that will release the music to sing your memories. Do not be afraid, because to visit your memories is to reconnect to your whole self (past, present and future), and to bring your spirit into harmony with  Great Mystery."

 

 

WINDIGO AND WENDIGO
(Algonkian)

WINDIGO
"Speaking of ugly, I am a huge mysterious human-like creature living deep in the forests of Quebec, Minnesota and other Northern states. Native American legends are full of fearful tales about me with good reason. I am a tall, pale monster from another world. Hikers and hunters who become lost are lured with visions of food and shelter only to fall into my clutches and become my next meal. White settlers considered my presence to be a death omen. A sighting of the 30-foot-tall, glowing creature, with a star upon his forehead, was always followed by an immediate death in the family.

I have many definitions, almost as many as there were Native Tribes before the Europeans came to this continent. I AM AN ACTUAL ANIMALOnly a powerful medicine man or woman could destroy me because I could not be killed with conventional weapons."

WENDIGO - THE SPIRIT OF THE LONELY PLACES
I AM THE SPIRIT OF WINDIGO. Human who insisted on venturing alone into the wilderness should fear the Spirit of the Lonely Places,  As you travel in lonely places, I am always behind your back.  As you tramp through bush or forest, hills or desert, with no other company but your thoughts, you become slowly aware that I am following you. No matter how quickly you may turn, I move faster. You see nothing except perhaps the slightest movement of shadow. 

I sometime acts as a protector because a powerful medicine woman or man has intervened and caused me to swoop down down to attack evil-doers; legend states I drag and force evil-does to run until his feet catches fire. At that point, he is either taken up into the sky or keeps running until he dies; in either case, he is never seen or heard from again thanks to spirit doctor intervention."


AN INTERVIEW WITH THUNDERBIRD ABOUT WINDIGO

Where did the word come from:
"The correct name as I was taught is WITIKO - which is an Algonkian root word for something like “he who lives alone”. “Evil spirit” has also been used."

Where does Windigo live primarily?
"Most of the Windigo stories emerged from the Subarctic by the Cree and Ojibwa peoples. The area consisted of five million square kilometres of forest and tundra, snow and ice inhabited by maybe 60,000 people. What else was there to do when holed up in shelters through the long freezing winter months but to come up with all sorts of scary stories."

Why such a malevolent creature?
"The Windigo stories, it is surmised, came out of the fear of dwindling supplies and starvation. Underlying fear that glimmers in Windigo stories is the constantly desperate struggle to survive - food ran out, the weather was prohibitive, cannibalism was an inevitable result. There is nothing worse than being alone, cold and hungry - the mind begins to play tricks. As a result, Windigo became this huge creature, 20-30' feet high, with a block of ice surrounding it, particularly its heart, he was lipless, great bloody fangs, and bloody feet, hissing breath you could hear for miles, great speed and supernatural strength. He is a shapeshifter that could blend into mountains, forests and winds. He’s coming to get you; eat your flesh so that he can live. AND THAT’S THE GOOD NEWS!"

What's the bad news?
"If you come into the presence of one you can turn into a Windigo yourself, a mindless, wandering cannibal. Again, Windigo is the fear personification of both physical and spiritual famine. It can take the form of half-phantom, half beast that roams the forest, or a personality disorder or mental illness that causes its victim to become crazed and rendered into a cannibalistic zombie - starvation will do that."

Are there any changes to the understanding of what Windigo is?
"Windigo is now considered more about spiritual damage and state of mind; mental illness can be called being possessed by Windigo."

Do you still believe in Windigo?
"Well, insofar as any of the old stories that offer teachings go, I still believe in Windigo. It can be great uncontrollable rage at what was done to Native people since The Change. It can be used as a teaching for Children, to tell them how anger can consume the spirit - a form of cannibalsim. The old stories called it a monster; it is still a monster in the modern world because loss of spirit can turn you into a Windigo. It is still a dark, malovlent, self-destructive part of the human condition."

Can Windigo be mistaken for another monster?

"I don’t think so, it is what it is; the descriptions are very clear. Sasquatch does not have a heart of ice and is not thirty feet high; Windigo is not a werewolf."

 

 

WALRUS - T'IIBN

"Okay, so I belong in the not so pretty section of Mother Earth's photo Album, there are a lot of us come to think of it. I ain't purty, but I am a sacred staple of the Mi'Kmaq people of the east coast and the Inuit of the north. I am a huge animal weighing up to 4000 pounds (only elephants are larger), that can feed many people for many days. I am a strong with a relatively easy going personality. Alas, as a mainstay of the local diet I am becoming scarce. I need to be looked after.  I am also a shape shifter because I do change colour from the grey to a pinklish hue. You don't have to be gorgeous to be magical. I am strong, and a protector of my kind."

 

 

WOLF - GYIBAAW 

 
 "I am tribe's greatest teacher. The forerunner of new ideas who returns to the clan to teach and share medicine.  I have a strong sense of family, as well as a strong individualistic urge. . In other words, you can be part of society yet still embody individual dreams and ideas. The moon, which is feminine, is the power ally for me and holds the secrets of knowledge and wisdom. It is the sharing of great truths that the consciousness of humanity will attain new heights.  The gift of wisdom comes when you have walked enough pathways and found enough dead ends to truly know the forest! To live is to grow. Howl at the moon with me for the voice is the juice of the soul.

I am a fierce protector and will protect pups that are not my own if a sister has been killed. Mother Earth's Red children learned from me in this regard and in the old tribes the children were raised by the entire tribe and any adult would have laid their life down for any child. Why? Because they were the future. I am also the land manifestation of the Killer Whale as they both mate for life, protect their young and do not separate from their families. The Wasgo is a combination Wolf and Killer Whale."

Story: The Wolf crest (Tsimshian) is a result of an ancestor who visited the houses of the wolves where he was taught certain songs and dances. Upon returning home, he discovered that he had been away for four years, although he thought it had only been four days. He found that he was possessed by the spirits of the Wolves. Of all the animals, Wolves have the strongest supernatural powers. They are the most proficient hunters of land animals and were greatly respected for their cleverness. Since Wolves might bestow this hunting prowess on people, they were often called upon as spirit helpers. As Wolves mate for life and live in close family units usually travelling in packs, they are regarded as a family-oriented symbol in West Coast Native culture.

WOLF TEACHING

There is an unspoken conversation with death between me and my prey. The outcome of the hunt is usually settled in the first moment, the moment of eye contact between us. What transpires between those moments of staring between predator and prey is a complex exchange of information regarding the appropriateness of a chase and a kill. This encounter is the conversation of death.

The conversation falters noticeably when I encounter domestic stock, animals that have had the language of death bred out of them. The domestic horse will almost always panic and run. It will always be killed. When I encounter a herd of sheep, I kill in anger and frustration, because there is no fight to live. Therefore, I have not accomplished anything.

There must be that ritual and choice. There is nobility in such a death. I grow strong eating an animal that knows how to die with it's whole heart. I waste away on the flesh of animals that do not know how to live or how to die.

Predator and prey grow stronger together by means of a series of tests, through all the years of their lives; tests that pit them against each other at both psychological and psychological levels; tests that weed both culturally and genetically. This story is also a metaphor use it wisely."

 

 

ABOUT THE INDIGENOUS ORAL NARRATIVE: AN OVERVIEW

Father Sky continued to turn (meaning as the years went by) more and more technology has entered the lives of humans, and my role as a keeper of sacred knowledge began to fade. It all started "back in the day" with the invention of the printing press which started the erosion of the oral narrative. The stories became words in books, but the subtle nuances, understandings and knowledge were lost. They became 'stand alone' narratives and the connections to the culture from which they originated was irretrievably severed. Moreover, the Internet has shrunk the planet even more and people can  move around wherever they desire even to the most remote places with the simple click of a mouse.  It seems that this encroachment into unfamiliar territory includes collecting and retelling cultural histories without a real understanding of the culture from which the narratives come. And....we no longer have the patience to sit quietly and listen to the truth.

Unfortunately, today the modern teller is seen merely as an entertainer primarily for children, who works for very little (expectation usually being no payment) and simply recites words. A far cry from the once important person who had professional  status in the community.

As a chronicler of Indigenous culture, I am reclaiming the honour and professionalism as a cultural guardian charged with the responsibility of being a powerful voice of change within the modern world. This vital aspect risks being lost in the mists of time as the world speeds up and our attention spans wane.

The true role of the Narrator is to teach about our cultures cultures, morals, spirituality, laws, and social values, that govern a community. Using the Oral Narrative as the forum, knowledge, values and beliefs are passed to future generations. Wilwilaaysk, All My Relations.

 

 

For a variety of stories and meanings

 Animal: A-M               

Cosmos, Creation                

                 

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