Native Languages of the Americas: Nanaboozhoo Stories and other Potawatomi Legends
This is our collection of links to Potawatomi folktales and traditional stories that can be read online.
We have indexed our American Indian legends section
by tribe to make them easier to locate; however, variants on the same
legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to
each other, so you may also want to visit our page comparing
the stories from the Anishinaabe tribes (which
include the Chippewa, Ottawa, Algonquin, and Potawatomi Indians), since the mythology of those
tribes are very similar.
Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Potawatomi legend for this page or think one of the ones on here
should be removed, please contact us and let us know.
Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Potawatomi mythology.
Nanabozho or Wiske (also spelled
Nanaboozhoo, Nanaboojoo, Nanabush, Wisake, and several other ways.)
Nanaboozhoo is the benevolent culture hero of the Potawatomi and Anishinaabe tribes (sometimes referred to as a "transformer" by folklorists.)
It is pronounced similar to nah-nah-boh-zhoh in Potawatomi. In some Potawatomi communities the name "Wiske" is used for the same character.
Nanaboozhoo shares some similarities with other Algonquian heroes such as the Wabanaki
Napi, and Cree
Wesakechak, and many of the same stories
are told in different Algonquian tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing.
This means "Great Spirit" in the Potawatomi language, and is the Potawatomi name for the Creator (God.) Kche Mnedo
is a divine spirit with no human form or attributes (including gender) and is never personified in traditional Potawatomi folklore.
In more recent times, influenced by Christianity and by the stories told by other tribes of Oklahoma, Kche Mnedo is sometimes
represented by Potawatomi storytellers as male and/or having human form. The name is pronounced similar to kih-cheh muh-nih-doh in Potawatomi.
Nanaboozhoo's wise old grandmother, who raised him. Pronounced noke-muss.
Nanaboozhoo's brother, who was killed by evil water spirits and became the ruler of the land of the dead. His name is pronounced similar to chee-bee-ah-boose.
An evil man-eating spirit of Potawatomi and Anishinabe legend. Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some legends; in
others, Potawatomi people who commit sins (especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into a Windigo as punishment.
It is pronounced ween-dih-goh.
A deer spirit of the Potawatomi and other eastern Woodlands tribes, associated with fertility and love.
Like many Native American animal spirits, Deer Woman is sometimes depicted in animal form, other times in human form, and
sometimes as a mixture between the two. Although Deer Woman was usually considered a benign spirit who
might help women conceive children, some stories portray her as a more dangerous being who might seduce
men, especially adulterous or promiscuous men, and either lead them to their deaths or leave them to pine away from lovesickness.
Among contemporary Native American people of Oklahoma, Deer Woman often plays a "bogeyman" sort of role, said to trample
to death incautious young people.
Underwater Panther (in Potawatomi, Nambi-Za, Nampe'shiu,
Nampeshi'kw, Nambzhew and other ways): A powerful mythological creature something like a cross between a cougar and a dragon. It is a dangerous monster, both
respected and feared, which lives in deep water and causes men and women to drown. Its Potawatomi name is pronounced
Cigwe' (also spelled Chequah and other ways):
Thunderbird, a giant mythological bird common to the northern and western
tribes. Thunder is caused by the beating of their immense wings.
Although thunderbirds are very powerful beings, they rarely bother humans,
and were treated with reverence by Potawatomi people. Their name is pronounced
similar to chee-gweah (rhymes with "yeah.")
Mnito (also spelled Mneto or Mji-Mnito):
A fearsome horned serpent that lurks in lakes and rivers and eats people. The only thing they fear is thunder, for the Thunderbirds are
their sworn enemies and have the ability to strike them dead with thunderbolts.
Pa'is (also spelled Ba'is and other ways):
Magical little people of the forest, similar to European gnomes or fairies.
In most stories, the Little People are portrayed as mischievous but generally friendly nature spirits, who may play
tricks on people but are not dangerous.
Mermen (in Potawatomi, Nibinabe, Nigaunabe, Nikanabe', and other ways):
Small water-spirits. They are sometimes described as being shaped like European mermaids, with human torsos and fish tails. Other times they are described as
looking like a small underwater person.