Native American Legends
A Tlingit Legend
In a time before there were any killer whales there lived a very
able sea lion hunter and a highly skilled carver named Natsilane.
He was from Kake and when he took as his wife the daughter of a
chief on Duke Island, he decided to live among her people. He was
accepted into her family and because he tried hard to prove himself,
he soon had a place of honor as an accomplished hunter and spear
His desire to please won him the admiration of the youngest of
his brothers- in-law but the oldest ones misunderstood his intentions
and became jealous and so began to plot against him. The men decided
to get even with Natsilane on the day of the big seal hunt.
After much preparation, the day of the big hunt arrived and Natsilane
along with his four new brothers paddled their canoe toward West
Devil Rock, out in the open straits. The wind was blowing fiercely
and the waves were high but Natsilane was determined that the hunt
would be successful. When the canoe neared the rocks, he leaped
toward shore and plunged his spear into the nearest sea lion before
it could escape. Unfortunately, the point broke off and the lion
slipped into the water. Worse yet, Natsilane saw that his brothers,
over the fierce objections of the youngest, were paddling away-
abandoning him on the deserted island with no food or weapons. Their
betrayal stung him deeply and after a time, he pulled his cloak
up over his head and fell asleep.
Natsilane awoke the next morning to the sound of his name. He saw
a sea lion that looked like a man beckoning to him to go with him
down beneath the waves into the Sea Lion's House. At the great house
he met the chief of the sea lions who asked him if he could help
his injured son. Natsilane saw that the young lion had his spear
point embedded in his body and with some effort was able to remove
it and the son was healed. The chief was very grateful and after
granting Natsilane even greater skills, arranged for his safe return
to the village.
Natsilane met with his wife and after telling her his story, he
made her promise to keep his return a secret. He took with him his
carving tools and went into the woods to carry out a plan of revenge
on the older brothers-in- law who had betrayed him. Remembering
the Sea-Lion Chief's promise, he asked him for help and began carving
a large black fish, a killer whale of spruce the likes of which
had never been seen before. After three tries and much improvement
in his carving skills, he fashioned a whale of yellow cedar and
when launched, came to life and swam out to sea.
He called the black fish to him and ordered it to find his brothers-in-law
when they returned from their hunting, destroy them and their boat
but spare the youngest boy. The black fish set out and found them
late that afternoon. black fish capsized the boat breaking it in
two and drowned the older three brothers by keeping them from shore.
The youngest made it back safely along with his story of the great
black fish and his brothers' treachery.
The villagers now came to wonder if Natsilane had carved the great
black fish and given it life. Not long afterward, a strange black
fish with teeth was seen near the shore and at times would leave
a freshly killed seal or halibut there for the villagers. Natsilane
had instructed it never again to harm humans but instead, to help
them. As he continued to help the villagers, they realized that
the "Killer Whale" was a gift from Natsilane and so they
took it for their crest. Natsilane became a legend to their village
and some have claimed to have seen him riding the seas on the backs
of two great black fish.
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