Native American Legends
Spirit Chief names the Animal People
A Salish Legend
Hah-ah' eel-me'-whem, the great Spirit Chief, called the Animal
People together. They came from all parts of the world. Then the
Spirit Chief told them there was to be a change, that a new kind
of people was coming to live on the Earth.
"All of you Chip-chap-tiqulk - Animal People - must have names,"
the Spirit Chief said. "Some of you have names now, some of
you haven't. But tomorrow all will have names that shall be kept
by you and your descendants forever. In the morning, as the first
light of day shows in the sky, come to my lodge and choose your
names. The first to come may choose any name that he or she wants.
The next person may take any other name. That is the way it will
go until all the names are taken. And to each person I will give
work to do."
That talk made the Animal People very excited. Each wanted a proud
name and the power to rule some tribe or some part of the world,
and everyone determined to get up early and hurry to the Spirit
Sin-ka-lip'- Coyote - boasted that no one would be ahead of him.
He walked among the people and told them that, that he would be
the first. Coyote did not like his name; he wanted another. Nobody
respected his name, Imitator, but it fitted him. He was called Sin-ka-lip'
because he liked to imitate people. He thought that he could do
anything that other persons did, and he pretended to know everything.
He would ask a question, and when the answer was given he would
say: "I knew that before. I did not have to be told."
Such smart talk did not make friends for Coyote. Nor did he make
friends by the foolish things he did and the rude tricks he played
"I shall have my choice of the three biggest names,"
he boasted. "Those names are: Kee-lau-naw, the Mountain Person
- Grizzly Bear, who will rule the four-footed people; Milka-noups
- Eagle," who will rule the birds, and En-tee-tee-ueh, the
Good Swimmer - Salmon. Salmon will be the chief of all the fish
that the New People use for food."
Coyote's twin brother, Fox, who at the next sun took the name Why-ay'-looh--Soft
Fur, laughed. "Do not be so sure, Sin-ka-lip'," said Fox.
"Maybe you will have to keep the name you have. People despise
that name. No one wants it."
"I am tired of that name," Coyote said in an angry voice.
"Let someone else carry it. Let some old person take it - someone
who cannot win in war. I am going to be a great warrior. My smart
brother, I will make you beg of me when I am called Grizzly Bear,
Eagle, or Salmon."
"Your strong words mean nothing," scolded Fox. "Better
go to your swool'-hu (tepee) and get some sleep, or you will not
wake up in time to choose any name."
Coyote stalked off to his tepee. He told himself that he would
not sleep any that night; he would stay wide awake. He entered the
lodge, and his three sons called as if with one voice: "Le-ee'-oo!"
They were hungry, but Coyote had brought them nothing to eat. Their
mother, who after the naming day was known as Pul'-laqu-whu - Mole,
the Mound Digger - sat on her foot at one side of the doorway. Mole
was a good woman, always loyal to her husband in spite of his mean
ways, his mischief-making, and his foolishness. She never was jealous,
never talked back, never replied to his words of abuse. She looked
up and said: "Have you no food for the children? They are starving.
I can find no roots to dig."
"Eh-ha" Coyote grunted. "I am no common person to
be addressed in that manner. I am going to be a great chief tomorrow.
Did you know that? I will have a new name. I will be Grizzly Bear.
Then I can devour my enemies with ease. And I shall need you no
longer. You are growing too old and homely to be the wife of a great
warrior and chief."
Mole said nothing. She turned to her corner of the lodge and collected
a few old bones, which she put into a klek'-chin (cooking-basket).
With two sticks she lifted hot stones from the fire and dropped
them into the basket. Soon the water boiled, and there was weak
soup for the hungry children.
"Gather plenty of wood for the fire," Coyote ordered.
"I am going to sit up all night." Mole obeyed. Then she
and the children went to bed.
Coyote sat watching the fire. Half of the night passed. He got
sleepy. His eyes grew heavy. So he picked up two little sticks and
braced his eyelids apart. "Now I can stay awake," he thought,
but before long he was fast asleep, although his eyes were wide
open. The sun was high in the sky when Coyote awoke. But for Mole
he would not have wakened then. Mole called him. She called him
after she returned with her name from the Spirit Chief's lodge.
Mole loved her husband. She did not want him to have a big name
and be a powerful chief. For then, she feared, he would leave her.
That was why she did not arouse him at daybreak. Of this she said
nothing. Only half awake and thinking it was early morning, Coyote
jumped at the sound of Mole's voice and ran to the lodge of the
Spirit Chief. None of the other Chip-chap-tiqulk were there. Coyote
laughed. Blinking his sleepy eyes, he walked into the lodge. "I
am going to be Kee- lau-naw," he announced in a strong voice.
"That shall be my name."
"The name Grizzly Bear was taken at dawn," the Spirit
"Then I shall be Milka-noups," said Coyote, and his voice
was not so loud.
"Eagle flew away at sunrise," the other replied.
"Well, I shall be called En-tee-tee-ueh," Coyote said
in a voice that was not loud at all. "The name Salmon also
has been taken," explained the Spirit Chief. "All the
names except your own have been taken. No one wished to steal your
Poor Coyote's knees grew weak. He sank down beside the fire that
blazed in the great tepee, and the heart of Hah-ah' Eel-me'-whem
"Sin-ka-lip'," said that Person, "you must keep
your name. It is a good name for you. You slept long because I wanted
you to be the last one here. I have important work for you, much
for you to do before the New People come. You are to be chief of
all the tribes.
"Many bad creatures inhabit the Earth. They bother and kill
people, and the tribes cannot increase as I wish. These En-alt-na
Skil-ten - People-Devouring Monsters - cannot keep on like that.
They must be stopped. It is for you to conquer them. For doing that,
for all the good things you do, you will be honored and praised
by the people that are here now and that come afterward. But, for
the foolish and mean things you do, you will be laughed at and despised.
That you cannot help. It is your way.
"To make your work easier, I give you squas-tenk'. It is your
own special magic power. No one else ever shall have it. When you
are in danger, whenever you need help, call to your power. It will
do much for you, and with it you can change yourself into any form,
into anything you wish.
"To your twin brother, Why-ay'-looh, and to others I have
given shoo'-mesh. It is strong power. With that power Fox can restore
your life should you be killed. Your bones may be scattered but,
if there is one hair of your body left, Fox can make you live again.
Others of the people can do the same with their shoo'-mesh. Now,
go, Sin-ka-lip'! Do well the work laid for your trail!"
Well, Coyote was a chief after all, and he felt good again. After
that day his eyes were different. They grew slant from being propped
open that night while he sat by his fire. The New People, the Indians,
got their slightly slant eyes from Coyote.
After Coyote had gone, the Spirit Chief thought it would be nice
for the Animal People and the coming New People to have the benefit
of the spiritual sweat-house. But all of the Animal People had names,
and there was no one to take the name of Sweat-house--Quil' sten,
the Warmer." So the wife of the Spirit Chief took the name.
She wanted the people to have the sweat-house, for she pitied them.
She wanted them to have a place to go to purify themselves, a place
where they could pray for strength and good luck and strong medicine-power,
and where they could fight sickness and get relief from their troubles.
The ribs, the frame poles, of the sweat-house represent the wife
of Hah-ah' Eel-me'-whem. As she is a spirit, she cannot be seen,
but she always is near. Songs to her are sung by the present generation.
She hears them. She hears what her people say, and in her heart
there is love and pity.
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