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Native American Legends

Pushing up the sky

A Snohomish Legend

The Creator and Changer first made the world in the East. Then he slowly came westward, creating as he came. With him he brought many languages, and he gave each one to each group of people he made.

When he reached Puget Sound, he liked it so well that he decided to go no further. But he had many languages left, so he scattered them all around Puget Sound and to the north. That's why there are so many different Indian languages spoken there.

These people could not talk together, but it happened that none of them were pleased with the way the Creator had made the world. The sky was so low that the tall people bumped their heads against it.

Sometimes people would do what was forbidden by climbing up high in the trees and, learning their own words, enter the Sky World.

Finally the wise men of all the different tribes had a meeting to see what they could do about lifting the sky. They agreed that the people should get together and try to push it up higher.

"We can do it," a wise man of the council said, "if we all push at the same time. We will need all the people and all the animals and all the birds when we push."

"How will we know when to push?" asked another of the wise men. "Some of us live in this part of the world, some in another. We don't all talk the same language. How can we get everyone to push at the same time?"

That puzzled the men of the council, but at last one of them suggested that they use a signal. "When the time comes for us to push, when we have everything ready, let someone shout 'Ya-hoh.' That means 'Lift together!' in all our languages."

So the wise men of the council sent that message to all the people and animals and birds and told them on what day they were to lift the sky. Everyone made poles from the giant fir trees to use in pushing against the sky.

The day for the sky lifting came. All the people raised their poles and touched the sky with them. Then the wise men shouted, "Ya- hoh!" Everybody pushed, and the sky moved up a little.

"Ya-hoh," the wise men shouted a second time, and everybody pushed with all his strength. The sky moved a few inches more. "Ya-hoh," all shouted, and pushed as hard as they could push.

They kept on shouting "Ya-hoh" and pushing until the sky was in the place where it is now. Since then, no one has bumped his head against it, and no one has been able to climb into the Sky World.

Now, three hunters had been chasing four elks during all the meetings and did not know about the plan. Just as the people and animals and birds were ready to push the sky up, the three hunters and the four elks came to the place where the earth nearly meets the sky. The elks jumped into the Sky World, and the hunters ran after them. When the sky was lifted, elks and hunters were lifted too.

In the Sky World they were changed into stars, and at night even now you see them. The three hunters form the handle of the Big Dipper. The middle hunter has his dog with him - now a tiny star. The four elks make the bowl of the Big Dipper.

Some other people were caught up in the sky in two canoes, three men in each of them. And a little fish also was on its way up into the Sky World when the people pushed. So all of them have had to stay there ever since. The hunters and the little dog, the elk, the little fish, and the men in the two canoes are stars, even though they once lived on earth.

We still shout "Ya-hoh!" when doing hard work together or lifting something heavy like a canoe. When we say "Hoh!" all of us use all the strength we have. Our voices have a higher pitch on that part of the word, and we make the 'o' very long - "Ya-hooooh!"

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