Native American Legends
The Legend of the Big Bird
A Chippewa Legend
Dene Suline/Soline (Chipewyan) Indians were known caribou eaters
as early as 1600, coming down from northern Canada as far south
as Lake Superior and Minnesota.
They spread into numerous tribes, separated mainly by physical
boundaries, such as lakes, rivers, and mountains.
Their distinctive language of the Athapascan family is heard far
and wide between the West and East Coasts, and even southward among
the Apaches and Navahos. Dene Suline/Soline (Chipewyans) are an
extremely imaginative people, and nature is interpreted by them
in a pleasing and poetic manner. For instance, the Dene Suline/Soline
(Chipewyans) might describe two trees, as "two trees growing
side by side, so neither will tire of living alone."
Big Bird was a widow of the tribe's most famous Chief, Peace River.
She lived with her son and beautiful daughter on the bank of a large
stream. Her great ambition seemed to be to secure a rich husband
for her daughter, suitable to her birth position.
So she asked her son to go to the riverbank and watch unceasingly
to see if he could discover a stranger passing through suitable
to be her son-in-law. One day the boy came running home to his mother
with a beaming face and reported, "There is somebody passing
by whom I would like to have for a brother-in-law."
Big Bird seemed delighted with the news, and took an armload of
bark and went down to the river to meet the expected bridegroom.
On her way, she placed the bark on the path for him to walk upon.
She saw how magnificently dressed he was in a white skin costume
covered with shell-beads. At their camp, she and her daughter had
prepared a meal of unusual splendor and set it before their handsome
Now it happened there was an old dog in the camp, which the young
man objected to, and he would not eat until the dog was removed.
Big Bird, wishing to show her guest every courtesy, complied with
his request, took the dog out, and had him killed and left in the
bush. The invited guest then enjoyed his supper, and they all went
Next morning when Big Bird arose to make a fire, no wood was in
the tipi. She went out to fetch some, and became startled to see
the dog lying with his eyes removed, with his flesh pecked all over,
and with the footprints of a three-toed animal all around the dog.
When she returned, she asked everyone to take off their shoes.
they all did so, except the stranger, who said he never removed
his shoes. However, Big Bird kept insisting, telling him she had
a beautiful pair of new moccasins for him that would match his handsome
costume. At last, she appealed to his vanity and he consented.
While quickly removing his shoes he said, "Kinno, kinno,"
meaning "Look, look!" but just as quickly put them on
again. The boy saw his feet and called out, "He has three toes!"
The stranger denied this statement and said, "I did it so quickly
that you just imagined I have only three toes. You are mistaken."
After breakfast, he told his new wife that he wanted to go for
his clothes, which were some distance upstream at his camp. He wished
for her to accompany him. She thought her husband's conduct rather
strange and not according to their tradition. At first she objected,
but when he told of the many gew-gaws he wished to show her, she
decided to go with him.
They got into their canoe and started off, the man sitting in the
bow and the woman in the stem. In a short time, rain began to fall
heavily. She noticed the rain washing off the shining white stuff
from her husband's back and black feathers began to appear!
"Oh, I have married a crow!" she thought to herself.
When he was not looking, she tied his long tail to the crossbar
of the canoe. He turned and asked, "What are you doing?"
"Your coat is so fine, I'm working with the beads to lay them
straight." "I see I have married an industrious wife,"
he said as he resumed his paddling.
She then wondered how she could escape. So she said, "This
point we are passing is famous for wild duck eggs. I'd like to go
ashore and get us some for our supper." He consented, but as
soon as she was out of the canoe, she ran up the bank and disappeared
into the forest.
The crow tried to get out quickly to follow her, but because his
tail was tied to the canoe, it was impossible. So he had to content
himself with calling after her, "Caw! Caw! Once again I have
tricked your people." He leisurely proceeded to untie his tail,
and in his original black crow feathers flew away in search of another
Big Bird welcomed her daughter home, grateful to be rid of the
three-toed stranger. "We can all be more selective in the future
when it comes to choosing in-laws," she advised her two younger
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