Native American Creation Stories

 

Originally passed only through oral tradition, these stories explain mysteries and transmit cultural values.  Many explain how the Earth was formed, how geographical features such as mountains, rivers, lakes, and valleys were created, and how plants, animals, and humans came to be.

 

Cherokee

The world was an island suspended from rawhide ropes (NSEW) until water beetle brought up mud to form land.  Buzzard’s flapping wings created mountains and valleys.

 

Mojave

People lived underground but ran out of food and sent hummingbird up to look for more.

 

Eskimo

Raven—Creator of all life—flew out of the darkness and created plants.  Man emerged from a pea pod.

 

Haida

Raven—Bringer of life—saw people in a clam shell and urged them to come out.

 

Crow

Coyote was surrounded by water and asked two ducks to bring up mud to form land.  Then coyote made plants, other animals, and finally women.

 

Nez Percé

A monster was eating Coyote’s friends, so Coyote asked to visit them.  Once inside Monster, Coyote cut out his heart and set fire to his insides.  He strew pieces NSEW to create four tribes and created the Nez Percé from Monster’s blood.

 

Navajo

First man and woman created the moon from a turquoise disk and the sun from a crystal.  Their infant created all people.

 

Iroquois

A woman fell from the sky, and Muskrat brought up mud to create land for her to land on Turtle’s back.  The woman had two sons—one good and the other evil.  After creating the sun/darkness, mountains/valleys, plants/beasts, animals/poisonous reptiles, the brothers fought.  Good won and banished evil below earth.

 

Hopi

The world had for levels.  People originally inhabited the lowest, but climbed to the next level when they ran out of food.  When the second level became too crowded, they rose again.  People became hedonistic in the third level—dancing, feasting, and ignoring their duties.  Hence, they searched for light.  Spider’s web gave some light, a white deerskin painted with turquoise became the moon, and Coyote created stars when he opened a box of sparks.  A plain girl was jealous of a beautiful girl and killed her rival, beginning the first death.  KIVAS

 

Chippewa

“Serpent and the Great Flood”

After Serpent seized his cousin, Nuna-bozo sought revenge and shot Serpent.  Before he died, Serpent flooded the earth.  Nuna-bozo made a raft to save some people and animals.

 


 

Trickster Tales

 

Told for entertainment, to educate children, and to transmit cultural values and taboos.

In Native American stories, tricksters are often coyotes, ravens, or hares.

 

 

Nez Percé

The creation story of Coyote and the Monster is also a trickster tale.

 

Okanogan

“The Great Spirit Names the Animal People: How Coyote Got His Name”

The Great Spirit announced that he would be passing out names the next morning.  Eager to be Grizzly, Eagle, or Salmon, Coyote planned to be first in line, but he overslept and had to keep his own name.  Great Spirit felt sorry for Coyote and gave him the power to shift forms.

 

Menomini

“Manabozho and the ‘Hell-Diver’—The Duped Dancers”

Manabozho tricks a group of birds into dancing around him with their eyes closed.  He kills them one at a time until Hell-diver opens his eyes and alerts the others.  As punishment, Hell-diver gets red eyes and loses his tail.

 

Winnebago

“Wakdjunkaga, Trickster”

Coyote and Fox were hungry and needed a place to live, so Trickster changed himself into a woman, using an Elk’s liver and kidneys.  After having sex with fox, jaybird, and nit, Trickster then went to marry the chief’s son.  After having three sons, Trickster was chasing his mother-in-law when the Elk’s liver fell out, revealing his identity.

 

Wishram

“The Origin of Eternal Death”

After their wives and children died, Coyote and Eagle went off on a journey and found an old woman who kept the dead alive.  Coyote kills her, tries to take her place, but ends up opening the box of dead people and letting them loose—creating eternal death.

 

Karok?

“How Coyote Stole Fire”

People were very cold in the winter, and many young and old people died.  Wanting to help them, Coyote went to the mountain and stole fire from the Fire Beings.  One grabbed his tale, turning the tip white.  Squirrel caught fire, but it singed his back and curled his tail.  Chipmunk then carried it until a Fire Being clawed at his back, giving him three black stripes.  Frog then took fire, but a Fire Being seized and broke off his tail.  Frog flung fire into wood, and Coyote showed people how to coax it out.

 

Winnebago

“Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb”

Stubborn, Trickster disobeyed the warning and ate the laxative bulb.  At first it gave him violent gas, which at one point he used to pull a prank on some people.  Then, Trickster started defecating and couldn’t stop.  Covered in his own waste, he searched for water.  Forked Oak, Red Oak, Slippery Elm, and Basswood helped him find water.