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Native American Stories About Abandonment

There is a common misperception that abandoning children, elders, and sick people was common practice among Native American cultures. This is definitely not true-- for every legend or piece of oral history in which a person is abandoned, there are a hundred more in which children, elderly people, and the sick and disabled are painstakingly cared for.

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However, there have definitely been times when Native American tribes would abandon family members to their deaths, particularly in tribes of the far north and during times of famine, and there are several Native American legends dealing with this situation. Additionally, in Native American folklore, young heroes are sometimes deserted by a cruel parent, step-parent, or other relative and must find a way to survive on their own, similar to European stories like "Hansel and Gretel." These two types of legend sometimes overlap with Native American stories about lost children-- in some cases the same story is told by two different communities with the child hero intentionally being abandoned in one version, and unintentionally becoming lost in another. A third motif which is sometimes found in Native American stories is an adult being stranded in a remote place or left behind in the middle of the night to punish them for their crimes or antisocial behavior (as a form of exile or shunning.)

Legends About Abandonment

Iyash's Betrayal * The Abandonment of Ayas * The Jealous Father:
    Cree and Ojibwe legends about the epic hero Iyash, abandoned by his father after a false accusation.
*Beaver Medicine * The Story of Two Brothers:
    Blackfoot variant of the same story, in which the hero (Akaiyan) is unjustly abandoned by his brother.
    South American Indian legend about a woman left behind by her family because of her stinginess.
*The Boy Who Had Dog Power:
    Lenape legend about an abandoned boy and dog becoming powerful together.
*A Story About Respect * The Useless Grandfather:
    Versions of a widespread folktale about a boy who shames his parents into retrieving his abandoned grandfather.
*The Deserted Children:
    Gros Ventre legend about two abandoned children who gained magical powers and took revenge on their cruel relatives.
*Case of the Severed Head:
    A similar Cheyenne legend, in which two children violently abandoned by their father gain magic powers and win the day.
*The Blind Hunter:
    Cree legend about a blind man abandoned by his family, who finds a way to restore his sight.
    Dene oral history about a woman abandoned in the wilderness by her cruel husband and mother-in-law.
*The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dogs:
    19th-century legend about an abandoned deaf boy who brought the first horses to the Blackfeet.
*Evening-Star and Orphan-Star:
    Caddo legend about an abandoned boy becoming a star.

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends
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Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival:
    A wonderful novel by an Athabascan author, based on a traditional legend of two abandoned elders surviving in the wilderness.
The Magic Hummingbird:
    Beautiful picture book illustrating a Hopi folktale about two abandoned children who save their people from a drought.
The Orphan and the Polar Bear:
    Charming children's book by an Inuit author about a polar bear who comes to the aid of a bullied boy.
Eagle Boy:
    Northwest Coast legend about an orphan boy abandoned by his tribe who returned to help them with important eagle medicine.

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