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Native American Stories About Betrayal

The betrayal of story characters by their trusted friends and family, or by people they have previously shown kindness to, is a dramatic plot element that is common in literature worldwide, including traditional Native American stories and legends. Of course, betrayals are very negative behavior in every world literature we know of. In Native American legends betrayers are usually either the villains of the stories, or trickster characters in their worst aspects. In some stories, however, characters who have betrayed people that trusted them end up seeing the error of their ways and being forgiven. It is a common element of Native American teaching stories that characters who do bad things are sometimes able to learn from their mistakes and become better people.

One special note about a story: we have had several emails asking us about a Native American legend regarding a boy who is betrayed by a rattlesnake he saved, like this one. This is not actually a traditional Native American story-- it is told by some contemporary Native American storytellers, often with an attached warning about drugs and alcohol, but it is actually one of Aesop's fables, The Farmer and the Viper, and never appears in original collections of Native American folktales.

Legends About Betrayal

The Badger and the Bear:
    Lakota legend about a greedy bear punished for betraying a badger family that had helped him in his time of need.
Iyash's Betrayal * Ayas * The Jealous Father:
    Cree and Ojibwe legends about an epic hero betrayed by his father and stepmother.
*Bull Turns Round * Beaver Medicine * The Story of Two Brothers:
    Similar Blackfoot legends, in which the hero is betrayed by his deceitful sister-in-law.
*The Foolish Dogs:
    Narragansett story about the dogs being punished but forgiven for betraying the people.
*Why the Weasel Is Nervous:
    Cree legend about Weasel betraying the culture hero in an attempt to win a wife.
*The Blind Hunter:
    Cree legend about a blind hunter betrayed by his wife.
*The Boy Who Became Strong:
    Dene legend about a hero betrayed by his own mother.
*The Foundling Who Was Befriended By Wolves:
    Legend about a wolf pack that helps a Cree man take revenge on a sister-in-law who betrayed him.
*Little Friend Coyote:
    Blackfoot war story about a treacherous tribe that murdered enemy warriors under pretense of peace.

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends

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 elders abandoned by their families.
Adopted by the Eagles * Spotted Eagle and Black Crow:
    Two illustrated children's books based on Sioux legends about a hunter betrayed by a jealous friend.



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