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Native American Skunk Mythology

The skunk is one of several North American animals whose name has Native American origins. It is not known exactly which tribe first taught colonists the word for "skunk," since the names are extremely similar in many different northeastern Algonquian languages (skonks in Mohegan, škakw in Lenape, squnck in Wampanoag, zhigaag in Ojibwe, etc.)

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Skunks often play the role of monsters in Native American legends. Skunk's spray is usually said to have been fatal in the distant past, but after his defeat by a hero or other animals, becomes merely annoying. Some tribes did not eat skunks because of a superstitious belief that skunk meat was poisonous (which is not actually true; people in other tribes ate skunk meat with no ill effects.) Crossing paths with a skunk was considered bad luck in some tribes, and skunks were sometimes even associated with evil sorcery. But in some southeastern tribes, such as the Muskogee Creek, skunks are admired for their stalwart self-defense and usually appear in folktales defending themselves and their families from threats or taking justifiable revenge on other animals who have behaved badly. The Cherokee ascribed medicine powers to skunks and believed that a skunk's odor can ward off disease, so during times of plague, dead skunks were sometimes hung over people's doorways!

Skunks are used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Skunk Clans include the Creek (whose Skunk Clan is named Kunipalgi or Konepvlke), the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw. The Hidatsa also had a Skunk or Pole-cat Society, which was a ceremonial organization of young women associated with the celebration of war honors.

Native American Skunk Gods and Spirits

Aniwye (Anishinabe)

Native American Legends About Skunks

*Koluskap and the Giant Skunk Story:
    Maliseet story about their culture hero Glooskap changing a monstrous skunk to its present size.
*Chicago, Place of the Skunk * Skunk Woman * The Woman Who Became A Skunk:
    Ojibwe and Menominee myths about a woman who turned into a skunk.
    (Some of these versions make more sense if you know that "skunk" and "onion" come from the same word in Algonquian languages!)
*An Opossum Becomes Disliked Because of His Pretty Tail:
    Fox Indian legend about a skunk taking revenge on a vain opossum.
*The Good Looking Woman * The Pretty Maiden:
    Lenape legends about a girl punished for being rude to Skunk.
*Monster Skunk Myth * Legend of the Giant Skunk:
    Cree myths about how the animals defeated a giant skunk monster, which turned into modern-day skunks.
*Gluskonba and the Snow-Bird:
    Abenaki legend explaining how the skunk got his appearance and odor.

Recommended Books of Skunk Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
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Skunk Medicine:
    Eclectic collection of stories about skunks, including several traditional Native American legends.
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 skunks.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian tales about animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.

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