Read the following stories two times and answer the questions that follow.
How Coyote Got His Name
A Story Told by Many Plateau Tribes
A long time ago….
None of the Animal People had names. They had no way of addressing one another other than “Hey you!” or “Cousin”. And after a while they decided they each needed a name.
So one day the Animal People went to the Old Man who made everything and told him they each wanted a name. They were tired of not having a word that gave them their identity.
“Are you sure?” Old Man asked.
“Yes!” they said in unison. “We all want names.”
“All right” he said. “Tomorrow at first light I will be at the bend of the river in the clearing. I will have a basket of names for you. Whoever gets there first will have the pick of the names. They will get the best name. Whoever is second will get the second best name and the third the third. I will give names until they are all gone. Be there early” he said.
All the animals were very excited. Finally they would get a name. They talked to one another and shared their excitement. All the animals except Coyote talked in this way.
He was saying, “I am going to get the best name. You will all be jealous of my name because it will be the best. Your names will not be as good as mine. And do you know why I will get the first and best name? Because I will stay awake all night. I will not sleep. I will be there first and I will get the best name of all!”
He talked like this for a long time. The Animal People were all getting tired of his bragging and were getting ready for bed. “It is late Coyote. You should go to bed so you can get up early” they said to him.
“No!” he cried. “I am not going to bed. Didn’t you hear me? I am going to stay awake all night!”
“Whatever,” the Animal People said. “Good night Coyote.” And they all went to their beds and were soon asleep.
Coyote stayed awake talking and bragging to the fire how he would have the best name. But after a while the fire went out. So Coyote stared to talk to the moon and the stars about his plans. He was getting so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. So he put little sticks between his eyelids to keep the open.
But after a while, no matter what he did, he fell into a deep sleep.
When he woke up it was not morning. The sun was high in the sky. It was past midday. Coyote yelped, “My name!” and he ran to the clearing at the bend in the river.
When he got there he saw Old Man getting up and picking up his basket of names. Coyote rushed up. “Hey! I want my name!” he yelled.
“You are late aren’t you?” asked Old Man.
“That doesn’t matter!” cried Coyote. “I am here now and want my name.”
Old Man sat down again and said, “Okay, what name do you want?”
Coyote said, “Grizzly Bear! I want to name of the strongest being on the earth.”
“Sorry,” said Old Man. “That name is already gone. Grizzly Bear was here first as the sun rose and got that name.”
“All right, I will take the name Silver Salmon, the greatest swimmer in the rivers” Coyote said.
The old man said, “That name is gone as well. Silver Salmon was here second and got that name.”
“Nooooo!” howled Coyote. “How about Eagle, the highest flying of all the birds?”
“That name is gone too.”
“Just here a little while ago.”
”The last one here before you. You can see his little slimy trail going into the woods” said Old Man.
Coyote whimpered, “Do you have any names left?”
Old Man looked into the basket. “Wait” he said. “There is a name stuck to the bottom of the basket.” He scratched and tugged at something stuck to the bottom of the basket and pulled out a scrap of something. He pulled it out and looked carefully at it. “It says Coyote. That will be your name. If you want it.”
“I guess I’ll take it” Coyote said. He was sad.
“That’s okay Coyote” said Old Man. “You must get the world ready for the people to come. You have monsters to kill. You have important things to do.”
And so Coyote got his name. And that is all.
Blue Jay and Moon
A Coast Salish Story
A long time ago….
The moon came out at the same time and in the same place every night. Each night the people could tell where the moon would be and when. They began to time their lives by the moon.
And because the moon brought light to the world the people began to do things that they usually did during the day. They would hunt and fish and travel. They knew they could do these things because the moon was always so predictable.
But one night the moon did not appear at the time it always did. It did not appear at the place it always did. They people were at first puzzled.” Is this the time? Are we sure that is the place? Maybe we are mistaken.”
Then the people got worried. “Maybe something happened to the moon. Maybe there is something we forgot to do.”
Then they became frightened. “Oh no! The moon will never return! We will be in darkness forever!” The people began to weep and cry.
Blue Jay heard the people crying and felt sorry for them. He knew there had to be something he could do to help them. He decided to go to the Sky World and find Moon. He told the people of his plan.
As he was getting ready to leave an old man approached him carrying a stick. He said, “Blue Jay. If you are going to see Moon I have something you need.”
Blue Jay said, “Thank you, old man, but I am in a hurry. I must leave right now. I have no time to talk to you.” And Blue Jay flew away.
Blue Jay flew to the great mountains. At the foot of the mountains he found a great tree. It was enormous. He began to fly up the tree hopping and jumping from branch to branch. When he came to the top of that tree he looked and behind it was an even bigger tree.
He jumped into that tree and began to fly and hop up its branches towards the top. As he neared the top of the tree he heard a voice call to him.
“Blue Jay! Blue Jay! Is that you?” It was Owl sitting and looking at Blue Jay. “What are you doing up here?”
“I am going to the Sky World to find Moon,” Blue Jay said. “He did not come out tonight and the people are worried. I will found out what happened to him.”
Owl said, “Well if you are going to see Moon, I must warn you about him….”
But Blue Jay interrupted. “I am in a hurry Owl. I cannot stay and talk to you.” And Blue Jay flew on.
When he came to the top of this great tree he found behind it an even bigger tree. So he hopped into this tree and flew higher and higher until he reached its top. Behind this tree was the Sky World. Blue Jay flew in the Sky World until he saw the house of Moon. The door on the house would open and close, open and close. Between the opening and closing of the door he could see Moon inside the house sitting on a chair and carving something.
Blue Jay flew to the door and tried to get in. The door was swing open and shut and he tried to time his jump so the door would not hit him. He leaned his head in and the door slammed on his head.
“Ow!” Blue Jay cried. “Ow!”
Moon heard the loud crash and came to the door. He got a stick and put it in the jamb of the door so it would not slam shut. “Blue Jay,” he said. “What are you doing here?” He carried Blue Jay into the house.
“I came looking for you!” Blue Jay yelled. “Where have you been? The people below are frightened because you did not appear. They are worried something happened to you and they will never see you again. And here I find you sitting in your house doing nothing.”
“Blue Jay, be careful how you talk to people. You are sounding very rude. Duk-we-bah, the Transformer told me I must not come out each night at the same time and place. The people are taking me for granted. They must pay attention and be aware of things. So I decided I would come out later tonight in another place.”
Blue Jay squawked, “You should not have done this! Because of your selfish decision, the people are scared. And because I want to help them I flew all the way here and now have a big painful knot on my head! All because of you!”
Moon said, “Blue Jay, you continue to talk rudely. Without respect. You are getting me angry.”
Blue Jay yelled, “I don’t care. All of this is because of you!”
“From now on this shall be your voice Blue Jay. You will always sound as though you are yelling and squawking. So you will not forget to be respectful. Also as a punishment for your rudeness that knot on your head that makes your head feathers stand up, that shall remain as well.”
So this is why Blue Jay has a rough voice and appears to have a knot on his head and why the moon no longer comes out at the same time and place. And that is all.
The two stories just told, “How Coyote got His Name” and “Blue Jay and Moon” are Trickster tales. In these stories, usually the Trickster does something wrong. What behaviors or actions do you see in these stories that are wrong?
All actions have consequences. What consequences do you see in these stories?
What mistakes do you think were made by the Coyote and Blue Jay in these stories. What could they have done differently in your opinion?
In both stories the tricksters did not seem to think out the consequences of their decisions. Why do you think they did this? Can you give an example from your own life where you did something rash, without thinking through possible outcomes? What could or should you have done differently in your own story?
In both stories people try to give the trickster advice, but he does not listen to them. Why do you think this is so? Can you give an example from your own life where you disregarded the advice of others and wished later you had listened to their words?
Tricksters seldom change in the stories. They don’t learn and always get into bigger trouble in the next story. We humans are different. We can learn from our mistakes or the advice and counsel of others. Can you think of major changes in your life that came about because you saw the mistakes you have made and wanted to change?