Why Dog (and Horse) Is So Special

Posted July 20, 2010 by coyotecooks
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Storyteller

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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. http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/otherprehistoriclife/a/horses.htm

  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.” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1003802-2,00.html#ixzz0u7UTkdL5


Roots and Wings

Posted July 15, 2010 by coyotecooks
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American food, Native American Foods, Storyteller


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

Posted July 1, 2010 by coyotecooks
Categories: American Indian, Native American food

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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

The Origin of the Bear Clan

Posted May 20, 2010 by coyotecooks
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American food, Native American Foods, Storyteller

Tags: , , , , , ,

 Long time ago, the daughter of a chief was warned by her elders to be careful as she went to pick berries, because many bears were around. She went out anyway, and as she drew near the berry bushes, she stepped into bear dung.



Upset, she cursed the bears, as she tried to clean herself. Bear people emerged from the woods and abducted her. Inside their cave, she sat sadly in a corner, until a tiny thin voice spoke to her and she looked into the bright wise eyes of Grandmother Mouse.

“Tell them they must take you out to relieve yourself–and that as a proper person, you must do this in privacy.” Then Grandmother Mouse touched the gleaming copper bracelets that the young woman wore, indicating her high-class status. “Take off your bracelets and break them into small pieces and leave them on the ground.” Traditionally, copper was very valued by Native people…it is the one of the only metals that can be used directly from the ground without smelting.

When the young woman did as she was instructed, the Bear people inspected where she had gone to relieve herself and whispered to one another. “No wonder she complains of our dung. She is so high-class that she shits copper!”

Impressed, they informed the Bear Chief, who married the young woman, and thus the Bear Clan was begun. 






A Traditional Twana legend, retold by CoyoteCooks

There are many variations of this story throughout the Pacific Northwest, and a number of artists seem to take a great deal of enjoyment depicting the Bear Chief’s wife breast feeding her children, always shown in the form of cubs.  There’s an obvious concern about what happens when her babies start cutting their teeth… Here’s an example from the great Bill Reid. For those of you not that familiar with a number of Native traditions, during the time of legends, physical forms were more fluid than they are today, and individuals could often switch back and forth between an animal shape and a more human one.  For this reasons, it’s said the Bear People wore robes of bear skin, and upon removing them, looked like human people.  Some stories say that when the twin sons of the Bear Chief and his wife grew up, they put aside their bear skin robes and became famous hunters.

I had a request to do my “standard” acorn squash—which in my household means slicing one in half, scooping out the seeds and pulp, then plopping the halves like green bowls inside a shallow baking dish.  A pat of butter in each, then a sprinkle of garlic powder, ground pepper and a pinch of salt—and all I need is an hour or so in the oven at 400 degrees. I should warn readers that after moving into a new condo and confronting a very old oven…I hesitate giving an exact time and temperature.  I mean, in my years of cooking experience, I really don’t think a chicken should take more than 3 hours at 400 degrees to roast the way it went last Sunday.  I’m happy to report I have a new gas oven in the kitchen now, making things much more predictable.

I’ve written before about squash being Native American in origin–but I enjoy introducing Native foods to “new comers” to Turtle Island.  For example the gabanzo bean, or the chickpea…is thought to have originated many thousands of years ago in Turkey.  “According to recent studies, the domesticated form of chickpea contains nearly twice the tryptophan of the wild form, an amino acid that has been connected with higher brain serotonin concentrations and higher birth rates and accelerated growth in humans and animals.” http://archaeology.about.com/od/domestications/qt/chickpeas.htm

So–a healthy addition to the acorn squash…

But frankly, I sometimes get bored doing the basics, so I thought I’d try something a bit different.  I took garbanzo beans, straight from the can.  I placed them into a plastic baggie and poured in enough olive oil to coat them, along with a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  I then spread them out on a cookie sheet (well, on top of aluminum foil on the cookie sheet, making clean up a lot easier), and topped them off with pepper and salt, putting them into the 400 degree oven for at least 30 minutes.  If your oven is better than my old one, you’ll know they’re done when they’re nice and crunchy. When the acorn squash was ready to be served, I then added the roasted garbanzo beans in the acorn half.  I felt the spicy crispness of the garbanzo beans gave a good texture contrast to the savory softness of the squash.  I’m also thinking about doing another batch of the roasted garbanzo beans and tossing them into a salad for some extra crunch.

Origin of the Butterfly

Posted April 6, 2010 by coyotecooks
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American food, Storyteller

Tags: , , , ,

Long and long ago, there were two caterpillar people who loved each other very much, but as with all living things,  one of them died. The caterpillar woman mourned the loss of her husband. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, didn’t want to be around anyone. She wrapped her sorrow around her like it was a shawl and began walking. All the time she was walking, she was crying. For twelve moons (one year) she walked, and because the world is a circle, she returned to where she had started. The Creator took pity on her and told her, “You’ve suffered too long. Now’s the time to step into a new world of color — a new world of beauty.” The Creator clapped hands twice, and she burst forth as the butterfly. Just so, for many Native people, the butterfly is the symbol for everlasting life and renewal.

A traditional Sahaptin story retold by Coyote Cooks

Just as life repeats art, this legend sets a pattern the Sahaptin people use in accepting the loss of a loved one.

By the way, writing about the Butterfly legend was actually the first “official” (i.e., academic) publication I ever did, through the University of Manitoba Medical Journal.  My mentor, Carolyn Atteneave, recommended me to take over her obligation to submit an article.  Since then, I’ve tried to support her effort by asking others to work with me in publishing something professionally for periodicals, or textbooks.

 When a family member dies, a Palaxsiks is held.  The mourning ceremony of the Palaxsiks follows the “map” of this legend.   After the body has been buried, the surviving spouse, usually within a week of the burial, will be stripped of his/her regular clothing behind a blanket screen. Relatives from one side of the family have brought new clothes of dark colors that are used to dress the widow/widower. This indicates the cocoon stage. The hair is cut. But since hair continues to grow, and at one point, will return to its original length, this represents the psychological and spiritual healing that is taking place internally. Incidentally, the cut hair and the dark clothing also serve to mark an individual in the mourning process, so community members can acknowledge this and act accordingly. However, when a non-Native client begins therapy, a provider will have no way of knowing if the client is experiencing bereavement until a history is taken, and even then it may not come up immediately.

At the end of one year, there is a closure ceremony where the family members who received the clothes during the first ceremony bring new clothes of bright colors to dress the widow/widower. The bright colors represent the wings of the butterfly and also signify that the time of bereavement is over, and the individual is freed of the restrictions of the previous year.  For example, when in mourning, an individual is not permitted to take part in social dancing.  After the end of the year’s observance, the headstone for the dead is usually placed.

Community members are exposed to the story throughout the year.  Like many tribal nations, Sahaptin reservations will have dances that are considered “theirs” apart from the conventional “powwow” style competitive dancing that is acknowledged as “outside” and brought back during World War II where they were shared by Native soldiers from Oklahoma.  Just so, one such traditional dance is the “wilik wilik waashasha,” or Butterfly Dance.  It is performed by adolescent females who line up single file.  They pull their colorful fringed shawls over and begin to cry out loud as they walk in a circle. Again, this represents the cocoon.  The head drummer carefully watches, and when the lead dancer completes a circle, he or she will strike the drum twice.  This is signal for the dancers to spread their shawls across their shoulders.  They then begin a skipping dance as the song’s rhythm changes from its mournful march to a bright pattern.  The legend is normally told as part of the performance.  Just so, community members grow up hearing the legend told repeatedly, even when there are no deaths to be observed.  As a result, the knowledge of how to properly mourn is passed on so when a family must deal with death, the members know how to do so.

After the Palaxsiks is performed, a feast is provided to those who attend.  Over the years (in my experience) as more and more Latinos have come into the pacific northwest as migrant workers and intermarried with Native people, it’s now common for tamales to be served, along with more traditional foods, such as salmon or deer meat.

Cooking for someone you love is, from a Native American experience, a sacred process. I believe I mentioned in an earlier post, the closest to “home style” canned salmon I’ve found is at WholeFoods—Copper River Salmon.  I’ve also used leftover salmon I’ve baked, but the slightly smoky flavor really compliments alfredo sauce.  In full disclosure, I should point out I’ve never been served smoked salmon alfredo on the reservation, even at the luxury resort.  Here’s a quick and easy recipe.  Take about 8 ounces of fettuccine pasta that you place in boiling water for about 12 minutes or so, checking to see if it’s al dente, and then drain it.  In a sauce pan, plops a stick of butter along with a couple of chopped garlic cloves, browning the garlic to fully release its flavor.  Blend in a cup of heavy cream, along with a few sprinkles of black pepper.  Mix in a tablespoon of flour to help thicken the sauce and then gradually add a cup of grated Parmesan.  Crumble 8 ounces of salmon, along with a couple of spoonfuls of capers.  If you like, you can also toss in a cup of fresh spinach.  I always keep fresh basil in my garden to add another level of flavor.   Stir it all together for 3-5 minutes, until everything is fully heated and toss with the pasta.  We also enjoy an artisan crusty bread with a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil as a side…it’s great to dip into the sauce.

Why Bluejay Hops…

Posted February 18, 2010 by coyotecooks
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American food, Native American Foods, Storyteller

Tags: , , , , , ,

One of the last times I heard my relative Sobiyax (Bruce Miller) tell a story was at a conference in Las Vegas. He was in a wheelchair and looked frail.  I still thought of him as being so large and strong.  He had once punched out a horse.  He broke his hand.  When our van was blocked by a car that had parked too close, he managed to push it so hard, it tipped enough for us to back out. 

Diabetes had taken away one of his legs; a stroke would take his life a few months later.  At the conference, Sobiyax told the Twana story of “Why Blue Jay Hops.”



Long ago, long before the coming of the Great Flood, Blue Jay was hungry.  He was excited to hear Bear inviting people to his Longhouse for a feast.

 image courtesy of haidaheritagecentre.com

The food was placed in the proper ceremonial way, but there was no oil.  Now in those days, one would dip one’s food in oil, much the way today you might spread butter on your bread, or put dressing on your salad.

When the people saw there was no oil, they started to mutter, “Why Bear doesn’t even know how to give a feast!” 

Another commented, “No Oil! How Rude.  We should just go home.”


Bear heard what they said, and laughed.  “You want oil?” he called out.  “I’ll give you oil!”  And he danced out to the middle of his Longhouse where the fire was burning and the salmon was roasting.

He sang his Song and as he sang he rubbed his hands together.  Now bears have a lot of fat underneath their skin, and the heat of the fire started to make the fat melt, and it dripped out in the form of oil.  This was caught by his relatives in a large wooden bowl and passed around to his guests.

Someone was watching this and that someone was Blue Jay.  He envied the Power and magic of Bear.  Before the people left, Blue Jay called out, saying, “Next full moon, I invite all of you to my Longhouse for a feast!”

The following moon, the people gathered at the home of Blue Jay.  Once again, they were shocked to see there was no oil. 

“Blue Jay doesn’t even know how to give a feast!” 

“How rude!  No oil!  We should just go home.”

            Blue Jay laughed and shouted, “You want oil?  I’ll give you oil!”  And he danced out to the middle of his Longhouse, where the fire was burning.  He sang the Song of Bear, and began to rub his hands – really his feet – together over the fire in the manner of Bear.

            Now our Old People teach us that everyone has a Song. Part becoming an adult is learning what your Song is, so you can become all that you can be.  A Song can be given; a Song can be shared.  But a Song must never be stolen.

Someone was watching.  And that someone was the Creator.  The Creator was so angry, He made the fire jump up and it burned Blue Jay’s feet.  And that’s why even today when you see a Blue Jay, his feet are dark and twisted, as though they’ve been burned in a fire.

image courtesy of v4vodk    A Blue Jay can’t walk like a normal bird.  He can only hop.  Even today, Old People will say, “He hops like a Jay,” which means the person they’re talking about is a thief.

The Trickster best known to non-Natives is Coyote, but if you continue further up in the Pacific Northwest, Native people will tell Raven stories that sound very similar to those of Coyote. Among some of the Native communities in between, the stories will focus on Blue Jay, and the Winter Spirit Dances are sometimes called Blue Jay Dances.  In one story, Blue Jay rescues light, but in doing so, a door slams shut on his poor head, resulting in its odd flattened shape.

 image courtesy of vidterry

A resource I would suggest, not only for Native American material, is the NPR program, Sound & Spirit. Fantasy writer Ellen Kushner is the host and co-producer, and the program frequently features mythological themes. Click here (http://www.wgbh.org/programs/programDetail.cfm?programid=226) and then scroll down through the archived programs to discover a terrific show on Tricksters, as well as one on Native Americans, and yet another on Storytelling.

If you are looking for some written Native American resources, you might try a curriculum (http://www.nps.gov/archive/nepe/Education/SCHOOL2Aa_files/Education%20Guide.htm) created for the U.S. National Park Service.  In a number of Parks, staff will do “interpretive” work interacting with visitors, particularly children.

            One of my relatives, Elaine (“Choppie”) Miles, used to work summers portraying Sacajawea.  She became better known a few years later on the television program, Northern Exposure, playing the nurse, Marilyn. 

And finally—you might enjoy reading the words of Sobiyax, discussing ecology and the story of trees… http://www.salmonnation.com/voices/bruce_miller.html


As for this post’s recipe, I would suggest a tasty smoked salmon spread.  Sobiyax was very fond of this and would often sit watching television while sharing a version of this with friends and relatives, usually dipping into it with potato chips.  I’ve also used it as a sandwich spread with various other items.

Take about ¼ cup of mayonnaise or miracle whip—oh, who am I kidding…use real mayonnaise…the salmon deserves it.  Mix in at least 6 ounces of Smoked Salmon.  For me, canned Smoked Salmon was always “handmade.”  Sobiyax and others would work hard putting away dozens of jars to use through the year.  When I was teaching ethnic cooking, I would suggest Whole Foods, which carries small jars of Copper River Smoked Salmon  This  is about the closest I’ve been able to find commercially to what I would enjoy on the reservation.  Again—we live in the age of internet shopping, so I’m sure you can easily track Smoked Salmon down.  Squeeze in about a teaspoon of lemon juice.  I also sprinkle in a few drops of Frank’s Red Hot, but hey—I was shaped by years in the American Southwest.  Add a teaspoon of diced garlic, and mix in about as much Parmesan cheese (the canned stuff will do) as you did the mayonnaise.                                                                                                                  image courtesy of baconsaltblog.com If it’s a little too thick, you can add a splash of heavy cream, although I suspect Sobiyax would have just added some more mayo.  Blend or mix it up – and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not a big fan of smoothing everything out.  I much prefer to see (and taste) chunks of the Smoked Salmon rather than having it all come out to the consistency of cream cheese.

American Indian Storytelling–How Daylight Came To Be: Ant and Bear

Posted December 26, 2009 by coyotecooks
Categories: American Indian, American Indian Legends, Native American food, Native American Foods, Storyteller

Tags: , ,

<meta name="google-site-verification" content="EJL0jt83vkSM3ByoSicwfDy3sYsFknBSbEr1kHh15TA" />American Indian Storytelling–How Daylight Came To Be:

Long, long ago, so long ago, there was no light, there was only darkness.  In those days, the Ant people worked very hard.  But sometimes they would go looking for food, and could not find their way home again.

 Sometimes, they would hear heavy footsteps, and a monster would reach into their homes and steal and eat their babies, disappearing into the darkness again.


This monster was Tsimox, the Grizzly Bear.  Even now, bears will sometimes dig up the nests of ants to eat their larvae.


There was one person, Ant Woman, who was smarter than all the rest.  “If we had light, we could see to work.  We could find our way home.  We could watch for the monster Bear, who steals our children.”

Ant Woman decided to go to the house of the Creator, and ask for light on behalf of her people.  It was a long and dangerous journey.  She did not know it, but Bear followed her, to see what she would do.

“Oh, Creator,” she said, “give my people light, so we can see and work…”

But before she could finish speaking, Bear stepped in front of her, saying, “Don’t listen to her!  Don’t give this little bug person what she wants!  I want it to always be dark so I can sleep and be cool!”

The Creator replied, “There will be a contest—a dance contest—and the winner will get his or her desire.”

This was the very first Powwow, when people came together to compete in dance.  Just as now, people came from the four directions to see the dancing.  They brought all sorts of food to share with one another.

As soon as Bear saw all the different types of food, he became very excited and began to eat.

But little Ant Woman fasted.  She concentrated on praying on behalf of her people.  She pulled her belt tight around her waist, so she would not feel hungry.  Finally it came time for them to compete.

She stood up, and told the people, “I am Ant Woman—I dance for light!”  And then she did a fast dance, pulling her belt tighter and tighter.

When she had finished, Bear stood up and wiped the crumbs from his lips, saying, “I am Bear—I dance for night!”  Then he did his slow and lumbering dance.  When he had finished, he went back to eating.

For what we would now call four days and four nights they danced against each other.  Ant Woman did not eat during this time, continuing to fast and pray.  She pulled her belt tighter and tighter.

Bear stood up to dance against her, but he was now so fat and full, he could hardly move.  He was so tired and sleepy…  “I am Bear…I dance for…” and then he fell asleep right in the middle of his dance.  He began to snore loudly.

“Little Ant has won,” said the Creator, “but both the Ant and Bear are my children and I love them both.  For that reason I will give them both what they wish for—daylight for the Ant People so they can see and work, and night time for the Bear, so he can sleep and be cool.”

And so it is today we have day and night because of the wonderful little Ant Woman.  And if you see an ant today, you’ll notice she still has a tiny waist, so you know this story is true.  In the Twana language, the name for ant is “tlatlusid” which means “tied or cinched at the waist.”

A Twana story, retold by CoyoteCooks

This is a lovely little story that has a lot of memories for me.  Many years ago, several of us were involved with something called the Indian Readers Series, which was a project out of the NW Regional Educational Laboratory.  A number of American Indian reservations in the Pacific NW designated American Indian storytellers and artists to put some of their traditional legends into booklets that were geared to the reading levels of various grades.  My major objection to this was the fact the oral comprehension level of young children will be higher than their reading comprehension.  As a result, this story, which was retold and illustrated by my relative, Bruce Miller, had to be restructured to a Kindergarten reading level, which lost a lot of its intricacy.  I did the illustrations for a couple of other books in the series. I had always wished the laboratory had made audio recordings to supplement the material designed for the lower reading levels.

At one point, a dear friend of mine, Vi Hilbert, was doing American Indian storytelling demonstrations in her Native language of lushootseed. She saw me in the audience, and asked if I would come up and help her tell the story with her son, Ron.

If you are more familiar with NW culture, the story then carries many more layers of meaning.  One of the most important elements of the tradition among the Salish people is the Winter Spirit Dance, which incorporates the Vision Quest familiar to a number of Native Nations.  This can then be understood as part of what Ant Woman is doing…her focus on prayer and fasting.  In a number of Native communities, there is also the tradition of asking something from the Creator (health and recovery for a beloved, or in Ant Woman’s example—help for her community) and an offer to give something of oneself.  In the initiation process, it is not unusual for the person undergoing the ceremony to have a woven woolen sash or belt that is tied around the waist.  When the person ceremonially dances, he or she will often have helpers who will hold on to the belt and pull against it, helping to strengthen the dancer.  The initiation process, at least the Vision Quest aspect of it, often lasts for four days, although there are other legends and teachings about how someone may have one last much longer, or for a shorter period.

Different Nations have different versions of this legend.  My Aunt used to tell the Sahaptin version, where it wasn’t only Ant and Bear who danced—it was several different animals, each hoping for something special.  For example, Rabbit danced so it would always be springtime, so he would have tender green things to eat.  He lost the contest, but the old people say that you can still hear rabbit thumping on the ground—which means he’s practicing his dance, so next time he’ll win.

Just so, Ant Woman didn’t dance by herself, but with her relatives—the other insects with small waists, like the Wasp.

In thinking up a recipe to go with this story, I thought about what sort of things Bear might eat in the story, but I decided a recipe for insect larvae wouldn’t be a big hit for a lot of readers…

Thinking about so many special people in my life who have crossed over—Bruce, Vi, my Aunt Beans, I also thought about Roberta Wilson, a Lakota woman I met when I started graduate school.  One Saturday in her kitchen, she showed me how to make what she called wojapi in the Lakota language.  It’s a type of berry “pudding” that she would use on fry bread.  It’s a very simple recipe, but takes a bit to simmer down to intensify the flavor.

While traditionally it can be made with dried fruit—like dried chokecherries, because of Roberta, I’ve always associated it with freshly picked berries.  I prefer huckleberries, but I’ve also make it with blueberries.  You can experiment with what you have available.  Nowadays with so many frozen berry choices so easy to find at your local grocery store, you can discover what you enjoy the most.

One of the realities of being shown how to do something is that there really aren’t measurements, since amounts will vary according to how many berries you have, or how much wojapi you want to make.  Because there are no preservatives, I normally make wojapi in small amounts, with the expectation it will be used up in a day or two.  I’ve never tried freezing it.

Basically, the recipe consists of taking the amount of berries you want to use—a few handfuls of berries are what I will usually throw into a bowl.  I’ll mash them up with a potato masher, but I try to keep the mixture chunky, so I don’t do it too thoroughly.  Some wojapi makers prefer theirs to be smoother.  I then cover up the berries in a small sauce pan with water and start to simmer the mixture.  If the berries are sweet enough, I don’t feel a need to add sweetener to them.  Others may add honey or sugar to taste. 

Reducing the mixture down can be enough, but Roberta preferred to use flour to thicken it.  Personally, I tend to use arrowroot or cornstarch for thickening.  If you do too, make sure you mix the thickening agent separately into cold water and then when it’s smooth, add it to the simmering berry mixture.  If you add it in directly, it’s hard to keep lumps out.  For the small amount I make, I will rarely use more than a teaspoon of thickening agent. If it’s still not the consistency I want, I’ll add in a little more of the arrowroot or cornstarch.  If you put in too much, you can add additional water to thin it, until you finally get the balance you’re wanting.  When I get it just right, then I’ll take it off the stove and let it cool, although depending on who was watching me make it, it might not have much of a chance to cool before it was being spread on fry bread, or whatever carbs were at hand.  It also makes an excellent topping for ice cream.  I’m sure Bear would approve…