Archive for July 2010

Why Dog (and Horse) Is So Special

July 20, 2010

My most profound apologies to those I offended by the recent post “Why Dog Does Stupid Things,” who felt I did not respect the nobility of Dog.  In fact, it was suggested American Indians did not appreciate dogs to the extent non-Natives do.  I think it would be better understood the story I shared earlier is reflective of how some American Indians try to make sense of why, when Dog, who normally is so loving and caring….well, sometimes does stupid things.  When an Elder laughingly says, “Oh, why did you have to choose Dukwaps,” it’s an expression of affection in the same way when a mother has an extra cocktail (or two) at her daughter’s wedding and gets a bit silly; the response is not of condemnation, but affection.  I think one of the things it teaches is how one balances love with reality.  Those you love don’t always behave as you’d prefer…but you still love them.  When I was much younger, there was an American Indian man who was very much respected for the work and achievements he had accomplished in Native Journalism.  Unfortunately he had a problem with alcoholism.  He once told me, when he went home to his family on the reservation, “Even if you fart in their faces, they still have to take you in, because you’re family.”  There’s never a question about the love one has for Dog.  No matter what Dog does—you still love Dog.

One of the suggestions was that I tell an additional legend that’s also part of our tradition—that explains why there is so much fondness as well as respect  for Dog.  I should also mention that some of the coastal traditions report a nobility connection with Dog.  A High-Class woman had a secret lover who would only come to her at night.  When she shared with her closest friends she wondered who he was, they suggested she cover her hands with red ochre (paint) and smear his back when she next had relations with him.  They told her, “Look at the back of those you see in the village the next day.”  To her surprise, the next day, she saw Dog with smears of red paint on his back.

Now, depending on which Native Nation’s legend you know, when her father, the Chief, found out she had been having sex with Dog, some say Dog was killed (others say Dog later took on a human shape and went with her), and she was set adrift in a canoe.  Some say her brother went after her to protect her.  When she gave birth, her babies were puppies.  She and her brother watched over them.  But when her brother went hunting to provide for them, she discovered the puppy children would wait until they weren’t watched, and they would take off their puppy skins and turn into human shaped children.  Eventually, the mother and brother hid and when the children took off their puppy “robes,” the brother ran out and gathered their puppy robes and threw them into the fire.   Some say one of the puppy children was able to snatch his skin out of the fire and remained in that form.   The destruction of their puppy skins forced them to retain their human shape.  Various Native (American and Canadian) Nations trace their lineage from these children.  Of interest to Twilight-Eclipse  novel/movie fans, at least as many Native Nations claim their heritage is from the Wolf.


Long and long ago, Human Beings were created after the Animal People.  The Creator called the Animal People together and asked them to help the new Humans.  “They are weak and soft.  They will not be able to survive without your help.”  The Creator asked the Animal People to instruct the Human People how to gather and prepare food, the way Wolf and Bear and the others did so well.  The Creator asked others to teach them how to run and move; how to do weavings and how to build things with the skill of Beaver and others.


But to the surprise of the Animal People, the Human Beings not only learned quickly, but adapted their teachings to their own advantage.

The Animal People gathered together.  Many called out: “Human Beings will soon surpass us with the knowledge we have so generously provided them.  Soon they will overtake us and treat us badly.  We must kill them now so they do not dominate us!”

Only Dog and Horse argued on behalf of the Human Beings.  They asked the other Animal People not to kill them.  But the Animal People fought with one another, and Dog and Horse realized they could not win.  With great bravery—knowing the other Animal People might indeed kill them as traitors—Dog and Horse went to the Human village and warned them of the danger.  The Human beings fled and hid.

When the Animal People attacked the Human village, they found the Creator waiting for them.

“I asked you to help the Human Beings, and you responded by choosing to kill them.  To punish you, I will take away the power of universal language from you.  No longer will you be able to speak to one another as you have.  Because Dog and Horse sought to protect the Human beings, I will let them retain their Power of Communication.”

  Just so, even now, Dog and Horse are able to “speak” with Human beings in a way no other Animal People can.

A Sahaptin legend retold by CoyoteCooks

In the Sahaptin language, the name for Horse is “kusi” and the name for Dog is “kusi kusi.” Depending on how you think of things, this means a dog is a small horse, or a horse is a large dog.  As a child, I was always told in school we weren’t “really” aboriginal—that we just “beat” Europeans to North America by a few generations (if 50,000 years or more are considered a “few” generations) via an ice bridge from Siberia.  But the same science that tells us this also states Horse is originally from the so-called “New World” and crossed over exactly the same land bridges from North America to Siberia.  It seems to me bridges work both ways.  I don’t see why it isn’t just as possible American Indians crossed over the land bridges to start up communities in Siberia and elsewhere, following the hoof prints of Horse.

  According to current science, Hippidion, an early form of Horse, persisted in the so-called New World, until historic times.  A Cherokee elder told me it was her tradition Native people had Horses long before non-Native people arrived, although they were smaller and hairier than contemporary horses.  Many non-Native historians claim American Indians were only exposed to horses when the Spanish got careless and their horses ran away to become “feral.”  Looks like paleontologists give more accurate information than historians.

  American Indians had dogs long before non-Natives arrived.  Most of these Native dogs are “lost,” having interbred with the newcomers non-Natives brought with them (just as it’s been suggested the surviving Native Horses interbred with the newly arrived European horses).  For example, Elders in the Pacific Northwest talk about small wooly dogs—their fur was used to weave blankets.  “Finally, there’s the question of what makes people and dogs such inseparable friends. Using a number of behavioral experiments–most of them involving finding food hidden in scent-camouflaged boxes–a team headed by anthropologist Brian Hare of Harvard compared the ability of wolves, adult dogs and puppies to pick up subtle cues in human behavior. Both puppies and dogs showed a talent for finding the food using nonverbal signals from the researchers–even something as subtle as gazing toward the hiding place. That doesn’t surprise Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. Dodman says dogs can read “a look, a facial expression, a tone in your muscles.” Wolves, by contrast, are dolts when it comes to reading such signs–suggesting that the trait arose during domestication.”,9171,1003802-2,00.html#ixzz0u7UTkdL5


Roots and Wings

July 15, 2010


Long and long ago, there was a great Chief. 

He had a son, and loved him very much.  “One day,” he always told others around him, “my son will not only grow up to be a Great Chief, but a powerful Medicine Man as well.”

  The boy heard this, but did not think anything of it.

  When it was time, the boy was prepared for his Vision Quest.  For a girl this is when she is usually first tied to the Moon, and for boys, it is often when their nipples turn out.  Traditionally, the Vision Quest will take place on the top of a mountain, or by running water.  A child is taken to the place of the Vision Quest, mentored by a Medicine Person.  The Vision Quest helps a person discover who they are meant to be…a purpose and a reason for being.

  “My son,” called the Chief, “will become a powerful Medicine Man.  For that reason, I summon seven Medicine Men from the four directions to watch over him—to prepare him for his Vision Quest.” And so seven Medicine Men came, some from very far away.

In the traditional manner, they painted him with red ochre.  

This is considered to be a type of protection.  When someone is involved in spiritual things, he or she will shine, and it will attract the attention of things of the spirit.  Some of these are indifferent, some are dangerous and some are kind.  The red paint is to keep away those things that are not kind.

A Vision Quest will traditionally take 4 days and 4 nights.  During this time, the Seekers will not eat.  He or she will fast, and take only as much water as they can hold in their mouths at one time.  The first day went by, and there was no vision.  The second day…no vision.  The third day…no vision. 

 On the fourth day, when nothing had happened, the Medicine Men returned to the boy’s father.  “Perhaps he is not yet ready,” one said.  “There is no shame in this.  Different people grow in different ways.  Let us bring him back and have him try again at a later time.”

  “No,” the Chief replied.  “You know, and I know that the longer it takes for a vision to occur, the more powerful it will be.  That is why he has not received his vision.  Paint him again!”

  And so it was the Medicine Men returned to the boy, painting him again with more of the red paint.  A fifth day went by without a vision.  A sixth day.  A seventh.  The Medicine Men returned to the boy’s father.  “No one has ever fasted this long,” said one.
“We fear this is not his time,” said another.  “We ask that you let us bring him back.  Let him continue his Vision Quest at another time.”

“No!” said the Chief.  “You are all jealous because you know that he will not only one day be a Great Chief, but one day he will be more powerful than any of you!  Paint him again, and let the Vision Quest continue!”

The Medicine Men returned to the boy.  They repainted him.  Nine days went by without a vision.  Then ten.  Then eleven.  On the twelfth day, the Chief went himself to the place of the Vision Quest.  His son was gone.

Frightened, he ran through the woods, calling out his son’s name.  A small bird followed behind him.  Finally, exhausted, he sat down on the stump of a tree, his eyes full of pain—for he truly loved his son.

The little bird approached him.  “I was your son,” the small bird said. 

“All my life you would tell other people that I would one day be a Great Chief.  That I would one day be a powerful Medicine Man.  But never once did you ever ask me what I wanted.  I did not desire to be a chief.  I did not desire to be a Medicine Man.  I just wanted to be myself.  The Creator took pity on me, and gave me this shape to wear.  It is to teach parents that they must not force their own dreams on their children.  They must give their children roots and wings.  They must help their children become who they are meant to be.”

 In English, we call that little bird the Robin.  And so it is even today when you see a Robin it still wears the red paint from long ago.

A Sahaptin Legend retold by CoyoteCooks

This was a legend my Aunt Prunie used to tell.  One time I asked her to paint me for a powwow, and she took red paint and marked my forehead solid, and then used her thumb to remove the red ochre in four small and equal circles.   When I do traditional dancing, this is the way I continue to paint my face.

In the Pacific Northwest, the red ochre (and other colors) are often mixed with elk marrow used as a base, so the paint can be easily applied.  The elk marrow was also a salve that speeded up healing of the skin.  For example, an elder used it on me when I had developed some blisters from constant drumming while helping someone being initiated into Winter Spirit Dancing.  It was amazing to me how quickly the blisters vanished.

The tradition for many Native Nations is to have the first Vision Quest take place around puberty, but there are certainly stories of younger children who did this.  Over the years, when the American and Canadian governments attempted to suppress Native traditions, some people had to wait until later in life to be initiated or to go for a Vision Quest.  For some people, a number of Vision Quests might take place during a lifetime.

I was very happy with how the salmon turned out tonight.  I realize I keep mentioning several ways of preparing salmon, but I try to eat it at least three times a week, so I enjoy a variety of options.  For today’s marinade, I whisked together 2 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, the juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a couple of spoonfuls of sesame seeds.  I had wanted to add some roasted sesame seed oil, but was disappointed to discover I was out of it.   Given the fact it was supposed to hit 114 degrees (and the next two days it’s going to be 116…) I decided I could live without running to the store to pick up some more roasted sesame seed oil.  I wanted to add more honey, but I was also low on that so I sprinkled in another tablespoon of raw sugar into the mix. I left the salmon dressed in this for a few hours.  The sesame seeds seem to provide a nice thickening agent.  When I placed the salmon into a shallow Pyrex roasting pan, I shook out more sesame seeds on the top.  Popped it into a 400 degree oven until it was done, spooning the marinade over it again before serving.

To compliment the salmon I took fresh broccoli and spinach leaves and added salt, pepper, and crushed garlic.  I used a large skillet, adding water to the veggies and brought it to a boil.  After a few minutes, I used a slotted spoon to remove the broccoli and spinach into a bowl of water, and added ice.  This keeps the veggies a bright green and doesn’t let them overcook.  When I was ready to serve, I added them back into the water of the skillet and heated everything up again.  I then plated the veggies, sprinkling them with bacon crumbs and more sesame seeds.   I  placed a serving of salmon on top of the veggies. The smokiness of the bacon mixed wonderfully with the flavor of the salmon.

Why Dog Does Stupid Things

July 1, 2010

There’s a Twana word that has no direct translation into English.  Dukwaps. Elders say it means “Something so stupid, only a dog would do it.”












Long and long ago, The Creator was giving out gifts to all the Animal People.

To Eagle, The Creator gave powerful eyes to see.

To Bear, The Creator gave the ability to heal.

To Beaver, The Creator gave the skill of working with wood.

To Wolf, The Creator gave great hunting prowess.

At last, when the bag of gifts was almost empty,

The Creator looked inside and saw there was only one item left…Dukwaps.

 “Who wants Dukwaps?” called The Creator.

Dog (Who had already been given Faithfulness) yelled back, “—I’ll take it!”

 And so it is, even today, when a dog does something so stupid, only a dog would do it, Elders say, “Why did you have to choose Dukwaps?”


A traditional Twana story retold by CoyoteCooks

Yesterday when I was taking the dog to do her business, she ran back over to a rotting bird carcass I had yelled at her about the day before.She ran up a vet bill for over $200 a couple of weeks ago for eating things she shouldn’t.  This time she not only ignored me shouting at her to leave it alone, but ran off with it in her mouth to wolf it down.

 Why did Dog choose Dukwaps?

  For all the years I lived in Seattle, I always tried to grow basil on my windowsill.  This resulted in a few scrawny stalks and tiny leaves for a few weeks which then broke out in mites and then ladybugs who swooped in for the mites.  I always enjoyed the ladybugs. 

 Imagine my delight to move to Arizona and discovering how much basil loves the constant sun as long as I water constantly.  I enjoy going out nearly every afternoon as I prepare dinner and harvesting not only fresh basil, but fresh mint from the abundance that spills over its pot.  The  basil and mint plucked from a few feet away on the patio combine nicely with fresh cilantro in a tasty mixed greens  salad and dressed with various vinaigrettes.  For an extra kick, I’ll add in some crumbled feta.  I’ve also discovered a stilton and apricot cheese at Trader Joe’s that is a great addition to the salad.  This trio also rocks when I toss in some bean sprouts and garlic while  making spring rolls as long as I add some shrimp or pork.

For a recent dinner, someone else took over duties and enjoyed being creative with the salmon and the fresh basil and additional herbs.  When the red onion he was cutting up unexpectedly fell apart,  he was inspired to take the slices and to place them in what he called “gills” but I thought looked more like the design of scales.  It looked so good I decided to take a photo before grilling it.  I’m happy to say it tasted as good as it looked.  Lately I’ve been using a marinade of honey whisked with a berry (blue/rasp) vinaigrette that does well under the broiler…a sweeter taste than the citrus combination  that’s my old reliable.

 While I love basil, I had never really spent much time looking into its origin, other than knowing it isn’t Native American.  We have a Native mint, which in Sahaptin is called shuka-shuka and is used in making tea–the scientific name is Clinopodium douglasii.  Mint and Basil are related.  The word Basil comes from the Greek basileus and it means “royal” or “king” and some have suggested it was often used in preparations for the nobility.  It’s also called the “king of the herbs.”   Although in the states we associate it with Mediterranean cooking, it appears to have come from the Iran/Indian area of southern Asia, where it’s been grown for over 5,000 years.

 Now excuse me, I have to check on the dog to make certain she isn’t being dukwaps