Origin Stories About the Sun and Earth Creation Stories

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Origin Stories About the Sun and Earth

Creation Stories

by Norman H. Tribbett

Forest County Potawatomi Tribal Member
Legend- A non-historical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical.

Myth - A traditional story - usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation.

Tale - A narrative that relates the details of some real or imaginary event, incident or case.

Included among the many tales and myths of Native American groups is a genre called the creation story. Many of the stories or tales or myths of Native Americans also have the common element of what is described as grand mythology. There is almost always the hero who possesses traits attributed to the human being. In Tlingit myths the hero is often a raven. In the Algonquin language cultures, the hero is called Glooskap. Depending on the ability of the storyteller a story may be simple and straightforward or a story may be abstractly complex and leave the reader with questions apropos interpreting(s)1.2.

 The following Potawatomi story is a sample of a simple tale. This piece was furnished by Paul Johnson of Eagle River, Wisconsin in November of 1928. The story is the anglicized product taken from the Paul Johnson original. I am providing a copy of the final product. This is called

Night and Day.

 In the beginning of things there was no light, everything was dark. So the animals left it to Bear and Rabbit to decide what to do about it. The Bear wanted it to be night all the time so that he could go around and hunt in the dark as he usually does at night. The rabbit want daylight some of the time. The Bear said "kit-dba-kit, which means night. The Rabbit said "wau-bin" in a high small voice. This means day. He was afraid that if it were dark all of the time the bears would soon kill and eat all of the rabbits and other small animals.

 So they decide to have a contest. They should together each trying to outdo the other. The Bear growled out "kit-dba-kit, kit-dba-kit, kit-dba-kit," and the Rabbit cried as fast as he could,"wau-bin, wau-bin, wau-bin." The rabbit repeated his words many time before the Bear growled his words twice. Pretty soon the Bear got confused and made the mistake of growling "wau-bin", wau-bin, wau-bin," instead of "kit-dba-kit, kit-dba-kit, kit-dba-kit." And so daylight came. The Rabbit had won the contest.

 They were seated facing each other at this time. The Bear was very angry and tried to strike the Rabbit. But the Rabbit was too quick for him. The Bear's paw just brushed lightly across the Rabbit's face and hit him on the nose. As he turned away the Bear's other paw caught his tail and pulled nearly all of it off. There was little left of the long tail which Rabbit once had. So that is why we have day and night, and Rabbit a short face and a short tail.2

 The reader notes that the characters in this story are animal heros. The use of animals with humanlike abilities is one of the characteristics found in Native tales. These animals are almost always found in the environment from where the Native group telling the story originates. In the northwest salmon are used in the story while in the southeast, an alligator may be found in a story.

Certain references in Native American tales do become complex. The Native American creation story stretches the rubber band between what is believed by Christians today and what some Native Americans believe today. For some Native Americas today there is no difference between God and the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit is often referred to in Native American tales.

At last Great Spirit completed plans for the creation of the human beings. With the help of the Star People, the first humans were placed on Earth. Great Spirit told the humans that the Earth was their mother and that she and her other children would teach them the deep secrets of life so that they would always be in balance. Great Spirit also told the humans that the animals and birds were their sisters and brothers along the path of the Sun Trail. 3

 In the above myth the Great Spirit and Star People may leave the reader wondering how to interpret what is being said. Henry Schoolcraft, a highly respected Indian Agent in the Upper Great Lakes region in the early 1800s, recorded the following story which has been handed down in several Native communities in that region of the country. Schoolcraft's legend was published in 1856 under the title Osseo or the son of the evening star. The following is a 20th century version told by Natives in the Upper Great Lakes. Schoolcraft's tale and the 20th century tale are similar except that the lodge in Schoolcraft's tale is not made of metal and most the family come back to earth in the form of birds. In Schoolcraft’s work, the inside of the lodge is described as having changed poles into “glittering wires of silver.”4

 Living in a village near the lake was a family with ten beautiful daughters. The youngest daughter was the most beautiful of all. But she, unlike her sisters, was not interested in the many men who came courting. She instead loved the beautiful, special, and secluded natural places near her home. Even after all of her sisters had married, the youngest and most beautiful daughter continued to ignore her suitors, preferring to spend her time in the special places she loved so much.

 Her family often criticized her and warned her that some day she would end up being alone with no chance left of ever getting married.

 Then one day an old man, who was scarcely able to walk and obviously very poor, came to call on her. Soon he was visiting every day and it became evident that the youngest daughter very much enjoyed spending her time with the strange and enfeebled old man. Her family simply could not understand her bizarre behavior and , needless to say, they were completely shocked when the daughter announced that she had agreed to marry him!

 She insisted that this was her choice and soon after, she married him despite the family's efforts to dissuade her. Many in the village laughed at her and taunted her for having made such a terrible choice of a husband, especially when she had been seriously courted by so many handsome, young, and promisingly prosperous men.

 Shortly thereafter the entire family, including the bizarre couple, was invited to a special feast some distance from the village. As they walked along they could not help but notice the faint flicker that they thought was the Evening Star.

 Finally the group came to the place of the feast. They saw that the feasting lodge appeared to be made of some kind of strange metal and was unlike any they had seen before; yet, they entered this strange lodge so as not to offend their host, who they really did not know, but of whom they had heard wondrous things.

 As soon as they entered the strange lodge, it began to shudder and then seemed to lift away from the ground. The family soon realized that the lodge had indeed lifted off the ground and -- not only that -- it was moving away from the Earth!

 The youngest daughter's husband began to utter joyous sounds. When the family turned to look at him they were astonished to see that his appearance had been almost complete transformed. Rather than old, he had been transformed into a handsome youthful man. He explained to them that he was not from earth and that his appearance on earth as an old man was because of the earth's environment.

 Finally they came to another world, somewhat like earth, but far From the earth in another star system. They learned from the husband's people that his predicament on earth was caused by others with evil intent. The family was also told that there kind would need guidance as they lacked balance in their own lives. His people explained that a group of beings from their world would be sent with the family back to the earth to try to provide the guidance they needed.

 When it came time to meet those who had been chosen to accompany them back to earth, the family saw that their companions were very small. The humans were told that these beings were called the "Paueeseegug" or "Little People."

 They were then directed to follow the Paueeseegug into a craft similar to the one that brought them to the faraway planet. Shortly thereafter the craft began to rise and the family knew they were on their way back to the Earth.

 When the craft was over the upper Lake Michigan area, it began to descend slowly. Finally it hovered over a group a group of islands located between the present -day Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

 It is said that to this day the Paueeseegug still live in that group of Islands and that sometimes they may even be seen dancing and singing on the moonlit beaches. 3

It is possible that the “similar” craft in this version of the story are the birds referred to in Schoolcraft’s original work. Again, the interpretation is difficult. Stating that mankind has evolved from life forms not of this earth is not a belief the Christian community or other religions would embrace.

Native American stories are both of an oral and today written tradition. The creation story is but a part of the body of works which remain today defined under the heading legends of the Native American. Legends have been defined as non-historical or unverifiable stories handed down. And there is no clear delineation separating the creation story from this body of work. Can we who have been conditioned in a Judeo-Christian culture and live in a world of monumental technological changes dismiss the possibly that there may be some truth to the stories we have classified as myths?


 1. Leland, Charles. The Algonquin Legends of New England or Myths and Folk Lore of the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Tribes. Boston Houghton, 1884.

2. Swanton, John. R. Tlingit Myths and Texts. Washington G.P.O., 1909.

3. Boatman, John F. My Elders Taught Me Aspects of Western Great Lakes American Indian Philosophy. Lanham University Press of America, 1992.

4. Williams, Mentor L. Schoolcraft's Indian Legends. East Lansing Michigan State University Press, 1991.

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