Coyote Stories: A Salishan Trickster

Salish creation stories

“Everything you need to know about life is in the Coyote stories- if you just listen carefully.” Flathead elder, Joe Cullooyah

The Salish-speaking Spokane Indians occupied a wide territory, much of it along the drainages of the Spokane and Little Spokane Rivers. Like other Interior Salish peoples, they have their origin stories to explain how the world came to be--many of them focusing on the figure of Coyote.

In Beaver Steals Fire, people learn how difficult it was to bring fire from the sky world and how important it is to animals and humans. Traditional stories are told in winter months, for if someone tells a story in the summer, Coyote could cause cold weather to occur by shooting a mist out of his penis. Coyote is the principal creator in many stories, a trickster but also a well-meaning creature.

Here is just one of the many Coyote stories: Beaver Steals Fire, as told by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes:

“A long time ago, the only animals who had fire lived in the sky. The earth animals wanted fire to keep warm, and decided that whoever sang the best song would be the leader into the sky to steal fire. Beaver and the animals tried to sing, but they were not satisfied. Then they heard Coyote sing and all the animals began to dance and named Coyote the leader.

"Wren, coyote’s friend, shot arrows into the sky world, creating a ladder. Wren climbed up the ladder and dropped a rope for the animals to climb up. Curlew, the guardian of fire, was at the river watching his fish traps and the animals followed him back to his camp, where the fire was kept.

"Beaver pretended he was dead, floating in the river, and Curlew grabbed him and wanted to skin him and dry his hide. Suddenly, Eagle landed on Curlew’s house and he ran outside to catch him. That is when Beaver stole the fire. Beaver took the fire and swam down the river, climbed back down the rope. That is how the animals brought fire to us.”

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