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Wendell George | The importance of Coyote stories

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Little Joe was so new to his tribe’s culture he asked his Twasen (uncle, meaning respected elder), “Why do we tell Coyote stories?”

Twasen answered: “Our people didn’t have a written language so there were no books to record history. In the winter time the family would all gather around the fire to tell stories. There were many different stories but the children enjoyed Coyote because he was always in trouble but somehow managed to get out of it. The stories usually had a moral lesson for the young ones.”

“Talking animals are pretty common in all our cartoons today.”

“Yes, Walt Disney created an industry and made a fortune. As usual we Indians invented it and the European Western mind capitalized on it!”

“But I don’t like most of today’s cartoons because they are too violent.”

“I agree violence is poor content but people want a fast-paced story.”

“Coyote is not my idea of a hero. Why is he used?”

“Coyote is a complex mythical figure and many don’t understand him. For native people he is the ultimate negative example. His greatest flaw is pride and self-importance.”

“What is the Indian name for Coyote?”

“In the Salish language it is Sin-ka-lips for the upper Columbia River tribes and Semyow for the lower. It has two meanings depending on how it is used “Trickster” and “important” which, of course, Coyote prefers.

“What is Coyote really like?”

“Coyote reflects human traits such as laziness, foolishness, selfishness but is a skillful planner and has concern for others. He is incomplete and imperfect but he has fun, and what he lacks in dignity he makes up with unlimited energy.

“Then is he more comedian like Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse in today’s slapstick cartoons or the Road Runner bird running over Wile E. Coyote?”

“Yes, but many Indians saw him develop from a trickster to a transformer.”

“What does he transform?”

“The Spirit Chief in Naming of the Animals gives Coyote the task of Finishing the People.”

“I didn’t know that People weren’t finished.”

“People are a work-in-progress. They have free will but have grossly abused it. Spirit Chief said How-we-yen-chuten (Creator-God) wanted Coyote to guide people back to the true path.”

“Why would Coyote want to take on such a big task?”

“Because Spirit Chief said if he was successful people would respect him.”

“Did Coyote agree?”


Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks). He can be reached via email at His books are available at local book stores, tribal museum and Amazon.