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Native American Muskrat Mythology

The muskrat is one of several North American animals whose name has Native American origins, though they are a bit obscure. Early American colonists in New England originally called the animal a "musquash," which they reported was the name for the animal in a local Algonquian language. Unfortunately this word was never recorded in a dictionary and the Algonquian languages of that region are no longer natively spoken, so the original form of the word has been lost to time, but "musquash" was probably a fairly accurate rendition. (Some known words for "muskrat" in related Algonquian languages include the Abenaki word moskwas, Lenape word temuskwus, and Powhatan word mussascus.) However, English-speaking Americans then combined the word "musquash" with their own familiar word for a rodent, "rat," to form the modern word "muskrat."

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Muskrat plays the role of Earthdiver in several Native American tribes, being the only animal to succeed at diving to the ocean floor to bring up earth for the Creator or culture hero to make land with. In some Algonquin traditions, Muskrat is a female figure who becomes the mother of humankind. Muskrats are considered lucky animals in other tribes, and some folktales include muskrats bestowing wealth or hunting success on humans who treat them respectfully. Some Native Americans also believe that muskrats can predict the weather.

Muskrats are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Muskrat Clans include the Chippewa tribe (whose Muskrat Clan and its totem are called Wazhashk) and the Menominee tribe.

Native American Muskrat Gods and Spirits

Musquash (Abenaki)
Wajashk (Anishinabe)

Native American Legends About Muskrats

*How Muskrat Created The World:
    Stories about Muskrat the Earth-Diver from the Blackfoot, Ojibway, Mohawk, and Potawatomi tribes.
*Abenaki Creation Story:
    Abenaki stories about the Muskrat's importance in creating the earth.
*Creation of the World * Muskrat and the Origin of the Earth * Muskrat and the Flood * Manabozho and the Muskrat:
    Ojibwe legends about Muskrat bringing earth for the new world.
*Muskrat and the Creation of the World:
    A Potawatomi version of Muskrat's dive, in which the other animals pitch in to help him.
*Michabo and the Muskrat:
    Algonquin legend about Muskrat diving for earth and marrying the culture hero Michabo (Nanabozho.)
*Nipmuc Creation Story:
    Nipmuc legend about the Muskrat helping to create the earth and teaching the people to build lodges.
*Beaver and Muskrat:
    Menominee legend about Beaver stealing Muskrat's tail.
*The Beginning of the Cree World:
    Cree creation myth featuring Muskrat as the finder of earth.
*Dotson'Sa, Great Raven Makes The World:
    An Athabaskan myth about Muskrat helping Raven to make the earth.

Recommended Books of Muskrat Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

Muskrat Will Be Swimming:
    Excellent children's book about a contemporary Native American girl who finds meaning in the legend of Muskrat.
Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies:
    Book by a Karuk elder about the meanings of Indian animal spirits, including a chapter on muskrats.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian tales about animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.



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