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Origin of the Chinook People

This article has been archived from the now-defunct Chinook Indians site (www2.hawaii.edu/~wrogers/ChinookHome.htm) for educational purposes. Contents are the sole property of the authors. Please visit our Article Archive Index for further information. If you are the author of this article and would like to make changes to it, or if you are the author of another article you would like us to add to our archives, please contact us.

Origin of the Chinook People

The Chinook Indians, who lived near the mouth of the columbia river, and the Chelhalis, who lived a little north of them, told this story about their origin. It was probably first recorded by James Swan in 1857.

"Long, long ago, when old Man South Wind was traveling North, he met an Old Woman, who was a giant.

"Will you give me some food?" asked South Wind. "I am very hungry."

"I have no food," answered the giantress, "but here is a net. You can catch some fish for yourself if you wish."

So Old Man South Wind dragged the net down to the ocean and with it caught a little whale. Taking out his knife, he was about to cut the whale and take out the blubber.

But the old giantress cried out, "Do not cut it with a knife, and do not cut it crossways. Take a sharp knife and split it down the back."

But South Wind did not take to heart what the old woman was saying. He cut the fish crossways and began to take off some blubber. He was startled to see the fish change into a huge bird. It was so big that when it flew into the air, it hid the sun, and the noise of its wings shook the earth. It was Thunderbird.

Thunderbird flew to the north and lit on the top of Saddleback Mountain, near the mouth of the Columbia River. There it laid a nest full of eggs. The old giantress followed the bird until she found its nest. She broke one egg, but it was not good. So she threw it down the mountainside. Before the egg reached the valley, it became an Indian.

The old giantress broke some other eggs and then threw them down the mountainside. They too became Indians. Each of Thunderbird's eggs became an Indian.

When Thunderbird came back and found its eggs gone. it went to South Wind. Together they tried to find the old giantess, to get revenge on her. but they never found her, although they traveled north together every year.

That is how the Chinook were created. And that is why Indians never cut the first salmon across the back. They know that if they should cut the fish the wrong way, the salmon would cease to run.

Always even to this day, they slit the first salmon down the back, lengthwise....

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More stories to read:

 Native American salmon myths
 Legends about Thunderbird
 Legends about giants

Learn more about:

 Chinook myths
 Chinook language
 The Chinook people



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