Various Tribes Legends and Myths:
Mythology & Sacred Concepts:
While a Great Spirit constitutes the basis of Indian theory, the tribes believe in multiple deities, which are surrounded by mythology. In accordance with their views of nature and spirit, they constantly appeal to these powers, at every step of their lives. They hear the great Spirit in every wind; see him in every cloud; fear him in sounds, and adore him in every place that inspires awe. While cultures and customs varied among the tribes, they all believed that the universe was bound together by spirits of natural life, including animals, water, plants, the sky, and the Earth itself.
Native American culture struggled to survive after the white man invaded their lives. Living through forced moves, war, starvation, diseases, and assimilation, these strong and spiritual people managed to keep their many legends and stories alive. Passed down through the generations, these many tales speak of timeless messages of peace, life, death, and harmony with nature.
The sacred beliefs of many tribes are largely formulated and expressed in sayings and narratives having some resemblance to the legends of European peoples. There are available large collections of these tales and myths from the Blackfoot, Crow, Nez Perce, Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Arapaho, Arikara, Pawnee, Omaha, Northern Shoshone, and others. In these, much interesting information can be found. Though each tribe has its own beliefs and sacred myths, many have much in common.
A deluge or flood myth is almost universal in the Plains tribes as well as with the Woodland Indians. Almost everywhere it takes the form of having the submerged earth restored by a more or less human being who sends down a diving bird or animal to obtain a little mud or sand. Of other tales with common threads are the “Twin-heroes” – the Woman who married a star and bore a Hero,” and the “Woman who married a Dog.” A star-born hero is found in myths of the Crow, Pawnee, Dakota, Arapaho, Kiowa, Gros Ventre, and Blackfoot. Indian mythologies often contain large groups of tales reciting the adventures of a distinguished mythical hero with supernatural attributes, who transforms and in some instances creates the world, who rights great wrongs, and corrects great evils, yet who often stoops to trivial and vulgar pranks. Among the Blackfoot, for instance, he appears under the name of Napiw, also called “Old Man.” He is distinctly human in form and name. The Gros Ventre, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Hidatsa, and Mandan seem to have a similar character in their mythology.
The “Old Man” also appears in the mythologies of the adjoining cultural areas, such as the area between the Plains and the Pacific Ocean. Some tales appear similar but are attributed to an animal character with the name and attributes of a coyote. Under this name, he appears among the Crow, Nez Perce, and Shoshone, on the western fringe of the Plains, but rarely among the Pawnee, Arikara, and Dakota and practically never among the tribes designating him as human. Among the Assiniboine, Dakota, and Omaha, this hero is given a spider-like character called Unktomi.
In addition to heroes, many animal tales are to be found, which often explain the structural peculiarities of animals due to some accident. For example, the Blackfoot trickster, while in a rage tried to pull the lynx asunder, causing it to have a long body and awkward legs. In other cases, the tales narrate an anecdote about the origin of life itself. In some tales, the ending includes how some aspect of life was “ordered to be,” explaining a natural phenomenon or mythical belief.
There are also tales in which supernatural beings appear in the form of well-known animals and assist or grant favors to humans. In the mythology of the Plains tribes, the buffalo is a favorite character and is seldom encountered in the mythology from other areas. The bear, beaver, elk, eagle, owl, and snake are also frequently referred to, but also occur in the myths of Woodland and other tribes. Of imaginary creatures, the most conspicuous are the water monster and the Thunderbird. The former is usually an immense horned serpent who keeps underwater and who fears the thunder. The thunderbird is an eagle-like being who causes thunder.
Migration legends and those accounting for the origins and forms of tribal beliefs and institutions make up a large portion of the mythology, formulating a concept of the religion and philosophy of various groups.
“In ages past, our old ones were the storytellers. This was the way things were passed along to the generations that followed. For this reason, the aged people made it a point to remember every detail so they could relate it at a later time. They were the word and picture carriers making history and spiritual values alive and important. In recent times we have made our old ones think they are not so important. We spoof their stories and make them feel foolish. The truth is that we are ignorant of what is precious and how to ‘a da li he li tse di — appreciate age. Rigidity can creep in and set even the young mind if there are no soft memories, no laughter, no times too deep for tears. Age is grace — a time too valuable to waste.”
— Joyce Sequichie Hifler from her book A Cherokee Feast of Days