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Home » Creation stories » Creation stories from the Pacific Northwest and Great Plateau

CREATION STORIES FROM THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST AND GREAT PLATEAU

Written by Graham | Created: Tuesday 31st December 2019 @ 1025hrs | Revised: Wednesday 30th September 2020 @ 2356hrs

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CHELAN

Long ago, the Great Chief Above made the world, before forming and naming the animals who were to dwell in it. Once finished, he prepared to leave, telling them that he would return to create humans, who would have charge over them. He then returned to the sky.

After twelve moons, the people returned to meet their Creator in accordance with his wishes. By this stage, Coyote was emerging as a canny animal, and was made leader of the beasts by the Creator after he led a number of the animals to enquire with the Creator about changing their forms. This was rebuffed, whereupon the Creator said that he would not create humans this time, but would instead fashion a water-borne animal, Beaver, from which the first humans would arise. The animals were to capture this new creation and, having slain him, divide his flesh into twelve parts, into which the various animals were to breathe life, thus forming the first human tribes.

After the Creator leaves, with the promise to return again in this eastward land, he prophesies that his creation will begin to do wrong to the animal people, which takes the form of mountains swallowing them and the wind devastating the population. There is now infighting among them, as the advent of predation has taken place. Coyote does fine work in his new role, pacifying mountain and wind and binding the North Wind by a new decree of his own, that it should only slay those who mock it.

Unfortunately, Coyote's new-found powers cause him to become hybristic, regarding himself as the equal of the law-giving Creator. He disobeys the Creator's orders a second time. Eventually, Coyote was directed by the Creator to go out into the ocean to an island as punishment for his arrogance, where he stood with a white suit to the east and black suit to the west. The four Wolf brothers replaced him as leaders of the animals.

It was the youngest of them who was tasked with securing Beaver, the eldest having proven himself too lacking in intellect to carry this task out. The four then embark on a series of abortive attempts to catch Beaver. Eventually, the youngest of them launches a spear which finds its mark, although this had the corollary that the Youngest Wolf was dragged down the stream along with it. He counsels his brothers that, if he does not return with Beaver in three days, he will have perished.

Three days later, Youngest Wolf makes a triumphant return, carrying the corpse of Beaver. However, rather than the twelve pieces the Creator had decreed they divide the animal into, they only manage to cut it into eleven. These pieces are carried to the various locations where the tribes created from them - including the Nez Perce, Spokane, Methow, Flathead and Blackfoot.

The people are then sent up to Lake Chelan where, in the middle of the lake, stood a cliff, onto which the Creator had drawn a series of petroglyphs, which provide information about how they ought to live.


CHINOOK

The Thunderbird is a being which is part man, part spirit. He made a nest on Saddle Mountain in present-day Oregon, USA. However, the eggs lain within the nest were disturbed by an ogress, who rolled five of them down the side of the mountain. From these hatched five men of different colours.

Thus, the first male members of the Chinook tribe came to the earth from the sky, where they were born to the Thunderbird. These men then noticed a number of female forms, in various stages of development, growing in the valley in which they arrived. These were plucked from the floor of the valley, thus bringing the Chinook nation into being.


HAIDA

Among the Haida people, Raven - or Yáahl - is a powerful figure.

Yáahl is responsible for the creation of Haida Gwaii, the archipelago in which the Haida dwell. These were brought forth from the primordial waters after Yáahl became bored of living in an entirely watery environment. Some stories suggest that the first land was a reef upon which the great beings dwelt. Yáahl flew over this structure without finding a place to land, which caused him to visit the sky world, where he met the daughter of the Chief, Gray Eagle, who had recently borne a child, who Yáahl groomed as his replacement, naming the child Raven Child.

He created light by releasing the sun from a tiny box, and making the moon and stars to govern the night, having found them attached to the sides of Gray Eagle's longhouse. Humans were brought forth from a cockle shell which Yáahl discovered on a beach, or else were drawn from the ground in order to attend a gathering he had arranged.

Yáahl then enabled humans to have a good life by using his wits to win fresh water, shelter and salmon for the humans. He also stole a firebrand from Gray Eagle's domain in order to provide humans with warmth. This action resulted in the bird's characteristic black colour: originally, Yáahl was covered with white feathers, though these became black with the soot arising from the brand.


INTERIOR SALISH

This account comes from storytellers of the Kalispel (Pend d'Oreilles) and the Bitterroot Salish (Flathead) nations.

In the beginning, the earth was the domain of Amotken, a paramount deity described as a kind, elderly man who dwells in heaven.

Amotken brought humans into being by creating five women out of hairs from his head. These he asked what they wished to be. The various answers determined their respective spheres of influence: -

  • the Mother of the Earth;
  • fire;
  • water;
  • goodness; and
  • wickedness.

This being done, Amotken decreed that wickedness would rule the earth during its formative ages, but goodness would eventually overcome her and triumph.


KLAMATH

The Klamath people, inhabitants of present-day Oregon and California, tell of two ancient opposing forces who ruled the upper and lower worlds. The great spirit Skell was the ruler of the sky, while his enemy Llao ruled the underworld from his base beneath the mountain Giiwas, known in English as Mount Mazama. When time began and the world came into being, Llao was able to gain access to the "above-world" - Skell's domain - by means of a hole leading to the summit of Giiwas, which enabled him to nigh on touch the stars which bedecked and bejewelled Skell's realm. The followers of both spirits would often gambol together in animal form.

Nonetheless, this primordial golden age was not to last. The first signs of enmity occurred during a visit to the above-world, during which Llao was introduced to the beautiful Loha, daughter of the chief of the Klamath. He was immediately enraptured, only for his entreaties to be rejected curtly, with Loha declaring that she despised this hideous chthonic creature. As is often the case when receiving such a slight, Llao was overcome with anger.

And the anger of a deity, once provoked, is not an easy thing to assuage.

As a result of Loha's rebuff, Llao decided to take out his rage on her tribe, causing fire to rain down from the heavens by means of a curse. The beleaguered Klamath sought Skell's aid, whereupon the lord of the skies descended to the summit of Mount Shasta and initiated an intense battle with Llao, leading to two medicine men to desperate ends: the pair jumped into the pit atop Mount Mazama as a sacrifice to assuage the anger of the two spirits. This did not end the conflict, though: it merely inspired Skell to press home his advantage and, when he had defeated Llao, he drove him deep into the netherworld and covered the hole through which he gained his egress with water, thus forming Crater Lake.

This initial triumph proved to be only the first phase in a prolonged cosmic conflict, marked by changing fortunes on both sides. At one point, Llao even managed to slay his nemesis, whereupon his triumphant acolytes took Skell's heart up a mountain. However, this victory was short lived: Skell's loyal retainers claimed the heart, thus enabling him to return to life. The war was ended in Skell's favour during the "Last Great Battle," in which Skell slew Llao and threw his dismembered corpse into Crater Lake. As most of the denizens of that body of water were Llao loyalists, Skell's followers told them that the body parts were actually those of their leader. Thus, unwittingly, Llao's own retainers put paid to any chance of his return. His head was the only part of Llao to avoid becoming fish food, instead gradually transforming into a small landmass, today's ominously-named Wizard Island.


KOOTENAY

Coyote created the sun from a ball of grease.


MODOC

ACCOUNT 1

In the beginning, the Old Man, Kumush, went down to the world of the spirits beneath the earth with his daughter. They found a beautiful realm filled with spirits who gathered to sing and dance. By morning, they returned to their charnel houses, becoming bones again.

This led Kumush to want to take some of them up to the surface of the earth to create a new people. However, every time he tried this, he ended up dropping some of the bones. They made several such unsuccessful attempts.

They eventually made it to the upper world, and threw down the remaining bones. Those thrown westwards became the Shastas, others to the north the Klamath and so on. Those left at the place where Kumush emerged became the Modoc people.

Kumush and his daughter taught the people how to live, before departing to the place where the sun rises and following the road of the sun to the middle of the sky, where they remain to this day.

ACCOUNT 1

In the beginning, Kumokums dwelt at Tule Lake. He reached down into the depths and took some earth, which he tamped down to form a small eyot. Suddenly, he was on an island in the midst of the lake, with dry land beyond it on all sides.

He then fashioned the natural features of the land, pulling out trees and creating animals.

He slept bneneath the lake during the winter, but made a small home so he could see how things were going. Someday, he will wake up.


NEZ PERCE (NIMIPU)

The Sky Chief fashioned the earth from a lump of clay, which he rolled until it assumed the proportions it has today. This was covered with soil, while Sky Chief also made the heavens and underworld. These three worlds were connected by means of a tree. Next, he made the animals and a wolf-man, before making the first woman from the tail of this wolf-man. This couple were the ancestors of the Indians.

A subsequent event focusses on Coyote, and centres upon the sacred mound known as the Heart. After creation was accomplished, this region was the home of a monster which sucked in plants and animals, leaving the earth barren for miles around. The only animal found who was willing to do something to address this dire situation was Coyote, who appeared to be immune from the monster's depradations. Coyote approached and hit the monster in the maw, which caused it to open for a moment, whereupon Coyote jumped in.

Inside the monster, Coyote found the animals the monster had swallowed alive - if not particularly well. He set a fire, which caused smoke to pour forth from the monster's orifices, enabling their escape. Simultaneously, Coyote set about the monster's heart with his flint, killing the beast.

Coyote emerged and his ally Fox sliced up the monster, with the portions used to create the various tribes: Blackfoot, Flathead, Crow, etc.

The valley which had formerly been the monster's domain, however, remained empty. Coyote had blood on his hands, and sent Fox to get water so he could wash them. The drops of blood and water gave rise to the Nimipu.


NLAKA'PAMUX

In the beginning, the earth was covered by water. Old One descended via a cloud, having decided to fashion something.

The cloud came into contact with the waters, creating a fog, within which Old One plucked five hairs from his head or body and threw them down, creating five perfect women. These he asked what they wished for their futures.

The first of them asked to be granted many children and to pursue pleasure above all things. She wished to be the mother of a nation of villains. The second also wished for descendants, but requested that these be a righteous folk. Old One praised her for this answer and said that, in this way, her way would triumph over the self-centred desires expressed by the first woman.

The third woman wished to become the earth, a place where her sisters and their offspring could live and thrive. Thus, she became the Earth Mother. The fourth woman planned to become fire, in order to make the food of the people more easy to digest. The fifth wished to be water, and was made into the waters within the earth.


NOOTKA

The Makah of the extreme north west of Washington State, USA and their neighbours the Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island share a common origin myth.

In the beginning, the earth was empty of all modern animal life. Instead, there was only grass, sand and a strange group of creatures with mixed traits, sharing a human and animal nature. Then, the Ho-ho-e-ao-bess (the "Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things"), the brothers of the Sun and Moon, arrived on earth with the purpose of creating human life.

To this end, they gathered all of the creatures together, turning some into animals and some into trees and shrubs. Among their number was a thief, who lived by stealing food from those creatures who eked out a living by hunting and fishing. This fellow they transformed into Seal, casting him into the ocean. The best of the fishermen they transformed into Great Blue Heron, forming the bill of this bird from the spear of the fisherman. Another fisherman, who also lived by theft - his most notable item being a shell necklace he stole - was made into Kingfisher. Two others were well-known for their appetites. These became Raven and his wife, Crow. Bluejay's son was transformed into Mink, after he decided he wished to be neither a bird nor a fish.

Eventually, the Ho-ho-e-ao-bess began finalising their plans to create man, giving orders to the various animals decreeing how the earth ought to be prepared. Thus the earth was made into the state it was in when the Indians came into being.


SKAGIT

In the beginning, all was covered in the waters of the primordial ocean. Suelick made four brothers - Schodelick, Swadick, Hode and Stoodke - who were tasked with the formation of the earth and its population.

When they came down to the earth, Schodelick, the eldest brother, arrived in the lands later populated by the Skagit, where he made a man, a woman and a tract of land. He also fashioned the fish of the water courses and taught the man and woman how to make use of them to survive. Subsequent to this, Schodelick created the plants and animals and taught his people how these too could be made use of.

After completing his work, Schodelick met with his brothers at a waterfall near Marble Mount, and took up a station near a big rock under the cataract, where he remains today. After he first entered the water, he became hungry, which has led to the institution of a ceremony among the Skagit.

After Schodelick left them, the three brothers went to Okanagan and created the land and its inhabitants.


SNOHOMISH (SDOHOBICH)

The Sdohobich or Snohomish people, who describe themselves as the Sdoh-doh-hohbsh, are a people of the Puget Sound area of Washington state in the USA. They tell of a creator deity, Dohkwibuhch, who formed the world in the remote east, creating populations one by one and assigning a language to each group in turn. He eventually came to Puget Sound and, struck by its natural beauty, decided to end his westward migration there and make a hope for himself. The remaining languages he assigned to groups living in the area.

This did not, however, endear Dohkwibuhch to the locals, who were angry at being unable to communicate with neighbouring tribes. Another group who were not best pleased with the creator were tall people, as Dohkwibuhch had made the sky so close to the earth that they were constantly bumping their heads upon it. The tall trees too were an issue, as they allowed any climbing them - regardless of how unscrupulous they might be - access to the world of the sky.

In order to rectify the latter two issues, a council of wise men was convened, where a strategy was developed for the lifiting of the sky. This would, however, require the active participation of everyone the world over in its raising. Fortunately, one phrase common to all languages allotted by Dohkwibuhch was yah-hoh, meaning "lift together": this fortunate circumstance enabled the wise men to oversee the work of lifting by issuing a suitable command.

Sadly, three hunters did not receive tidings of this plan, and were trapped in the sky world along with the four elk they were pursuing as the sky was lifted. The seven creatures eventually became the handle and bowl of the Big Dipper.


SQUAMISH

The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh or Squamish know of a creator, Keke7nex Siyam, who sent three supernatural entities known as Xáays or "Transformers" (cf Halkomelem Xa:ls and Lummi Xe'las or Xelas).

In the beginning, the earth was covered in water. Eventually, the tops of the mountains emerged above sea level, which led to the formation of land. The earliest ancestor of the Squamish was X̱i7lánexw, who was given a salmon trap and an adze, along with a wife.

Some time later, his wife became pregnant. X̱i7lánexw was unaware that his wife was with child, but had a vague idea that something was coming having seen a bird which precedes the three Transformers. These give him instructions to announce their advent to the people. He takes his canoe down the Cheakamus (Chʼiyáḵmesh) River and meets them, giving them moss to eat. X̱i7lánexw returns home to see his wife in labour, bringing the knowledge that she was to give birth to a child.

Another figure who appears in tales of the Transformers is Slhx̱i7lsh, who is transformed into Siwash Rock.

The Squamish also tell of a great deluge which occurred at Chʼiyáḵmesh. There were few survivors. One of these was mourning the people lost to the waters, but met the Thunderbird, who gave him food and other aid. As he continued down the Cheakmus River, he was told by the Thunderbird to make a home for himself at a certain point, whereupon he was given a wife.

Other ancestors of the Squamish were two men who appeared at the villages of Chekw’élhp and Sch’enḵ, named Tseḵanchtn and Sx̱eláltn, who repopulated the land in the wake of the flood.


SYLIX (OKANAGAN)

In the beginning, Old One formed Earth from a woman, telling her she would be the mother of all people. Thus, the Earth - however much changed - is alive. Her movements are the cause of the earthquakes.

Eventually, after creating Earth from the human woman, Old One rolled some of her flesh into a series of muddy balls. The first batch of these he made into the Ancients, the inhabitants of Earth at the beginning of life. These were of a hybrid nature, with both human and animal facets. All had the gift of speech. The only subsequent animals not numbered among them were the deer, who were created as they are now.

In addition to the Ancients, modern-type humans and animals also existed, having been formed from the last of the balls of mud rolled by Old One. These he had fashioned into human shape and breathed into them the breath of life. Unfortunately, the first humans were the most helpless of all the Old One's creatures, who were easy prey for the self-centred Ancients. In a similar manner, the humans lacked wits, and could not determine what was prey and what was a fellow human, thus resorting often to cannibalistic practices. To rectify this, Old One dispatched Coyote to rid the world of the monsters and other impious Ancients, and to bring knowledge to the early people to give them the skills needed to enjoy a good, productive mode of life.


TLINGIT

In the beginning, the Great Spirit brought everything into being, which he proceeded to store in a series of boxes fashioned from cedar. These were given to the various animal spirits, and contained seeds, along with fire, water and the mountains. To Seagull was given a box containing the light of the world. Seagull was very protective of this, and would not allow it to be opened. Thus, the people appealed to Katce'de (Raven), who devised a plan to have Seagull yield his prized possession. When begging, flattering and trickery failed to have the desired effect, Katce'de turned to a more drastic course of action: he stuck a thorn into Seagull's foot. Eventually, the pain caused by the thorn caused Seagull to drop the box, out of which came the sun, moon and stars.

Katce'de was also credited with gaining water, by convincing the keeper of water that he had soiled his bed. When he threatened to tell the other spirits, thus bringing shame upon the keeper of water, the poor fellow offers Katce'de a boon in return for keeping silent on the matter. Katce'de asks that he share the water with him. Katce'de, however, had another trick, putting ash on his tongue in order to convince the keeper that his thirst was unquenched after what seemed considerable drinking. However, Katce'de was not drinking the water, but collecting it in a seal's bladder, which eventually fills with all of the water, whereupon Katce'de flees.


TSIMSHIAN

In the beginning, the chief in the sky ruled his tribe and had a variety of children. Among them were Walking-About-Early and The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky and a third son who fell sick and died. He also had a daughter, Support-of-Sun. The world below was still dark.

One day, the body of the chief's deceased son began to shine: he had been sent by the sun to stop the mourning of the people. The lad, however, refused all food. He met two slaves, a male and female, called Mouth-at-Both-Ends. He ate all the food in their settlement. The chief gave him a Raven mask and called him Giant or Raven-Giant, giving him a bladder of seeds and suggesting he visit the mainland and plant food.

Raven-Giant also took with him light which he had purloined so his plants could grow, which he took from heaven by hiding in the bucket of the chief's daughter, causing her to become pregnant.

Otherwise, the major characters were Raven-Giant's siblings. Of these, The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky was the most quick-witted and the most annoyed by the tenebrous state of the world. He and Walking-About-Early made a stick of cedar and fashioned a mask from it. They lit the mask and The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky put it on, then went eastward. From then on, every day he dons the mask and runs across the heavens from east to west.

Initially, though, he went so fast that the people, seeing the light and finding it to their liking, asked the chief to have The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky slow down. He told his father, however, that doing so would cause the mask to burn up.

Eventually, Support-of-Sun said she would try to slow down The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky. When he proceeded from the east, she appeared in the south and called upon him to wait. She caught him and tried to hold him, but he broke loose.

Meanwhile, the chief opined that Walking-About-Early was not as clever as his younger brother, which led Walking-About-Early to begin to weep. When The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky came home, Walking-About-Early covered his face with charcoal and fat and told his slave to greet him when he came up in the east. When The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky entered the smoke house, some light reflected onto the charcoal-bedecked visage of Walking-About-Early and caused a reflection. This is the origin of the moon. The-One-Who-Walks-All-Over-the-Sky took his rest and sparks emerged from his mouth as he slept, becoming the stars.

Finally, the sky chief made animals in our world. There was dissention among them when they were asked about the course and cycle of the sun and seasons. Eventually, though, they came to a decision.


TUTUTNI

In the beginning, there was no land, only sky, fog and a flat ocean. On the surface of the water, there was a sweat lodgge, in which two men lived. These were the creator Xowalaci and his friend. While Xowalaci spent his time inside, his friend remained outside.

One day, the friend saw something over the sea with two trees on it. This came into contact with the sweat house and began to expand greatly. The friend reported this to Xowalaci, who smoked a pipe and blew the smoke on the land to solidify it, causing grass and flowers to grow.

Xowalaci then made five mud cakes. One, which was heavy as a stone, he dropped into the water and listened for the sound of it finding the bottom. He dropped the other four until the land approached the surface.

Then came the waves. Xowalaci scattered tobacco seed as they receded, which became sand. The same took place again. There was yet more land. Xowalaci stomped on it to make it hard.

Now, Xowalaci saw the tracks of a human, and realised that this was trouble. He poured a deluge onto the land to get rid of this pest, but the tracks always returned. By this stage, Xowalaci mixed grass and mud to make a house, into which he placed the first two figures of people. These became a pair of dogs, which mated and produced pups.

Xowalaci attempted to mix in white sand, but this time snakes emerged. Next, he tried with some of the bad dogs, but this only produced water monsters.

Xowalaci devoted more and more thought to this problem, until his friend made a suggestion that he try. He decided that he would smoke tobacco that night and see if anything came from the smoke. Three days of this, and a house appeared in the smoke, followed by a beautiful woman. She was lonely, so Xowalaci gave her in marriage to his friend and said that their children would populate the earth. In order to accomplish the generation of these first humans, Xowalaci brought sleep upon her, and send in his friend. In her dream, she was visited by a man.

The woman gave birth, but longed for the child's father, searching for a decade, during which the child almost died from neglect. She returned and told her son about the dream.

By this stage, Xowalaci told his friend of the woman's return and her pining, so he went to her. This first family, together at last, produced many offspring, who formed many tribes.

Xowalaci, content with his creation, left for the heavens.


YAKAMA

The Great Chief Above lived alone in the sky, above a world which was entirely covered by water. He descended to the shallows and threw up handfuls of mud to create the first land. Some became mountains covered by ice and snow.

Next, Whee-me-me-ow-ah caused the trees and other plants to grow, then made a man from a ball of mud with instructions to live by hunting the other animals. When the man became lonely, Whee-me-me-ow-ah made him a woman for a helpmeet. The woman then approached Whee-me-me-ow-ah after having a dream, asking how to better serve her husband. Whee-me-me-ow-ah gave her an intangible secret in a basket, which she taught to her daughters and granddaughters.

Eventually, the people multiplied and became fractious. Mother Earth became increasingly exasperated and shook the mountains, causing rocks to fall into Big River, blocking its flow and forming rapids and cascades. This resulted in the deaths of many people and animals. Whee-me-me-ow-ah will, however, undo this one day.

The spirits of those who have died live atop the mountains, looking on at their children and awaiting the time when Whee-me-me-ow-ah allows them to re-occupy the bones that once carried them.

Sir Graham ATLANTIS WITCHES CREATION VOYAGES