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Native Languages of the Americas:
Legends of the Woodland Tribes

This is our collection of links to Woodland Indian folktales and traditional stories that can be read online. We have indexed our Native American 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. On this page, we have included myths and legends from the Anishinabe, Wabanaki, Iroquois, Menominee, Cree, and Lenape tribes. These tribes of the Eastern Woodlands are culturally distinct but do share many cultural similarities, including much of their folklore.

Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Woodland legend for this page or think one of the ones on here should be removed, please let us know.

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Important Woodland Indian Mythological Figures

Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Woodland Indian mythology.

Culture Hero: Many of the Northeastern tribes have a powerful character in their stories called a "culture hero" or "transformer" by anthropologists. The people themselves tend to call him a "teacher," although the term "culture hero" has caught on with many storytellers. The Woodlands culture heroes are generally postive figures who strive to help humanity in various ways, including transforming the world to be more hospitable to them, slaying monsters, and teaching them the arts of civilization. The culture hero may be mischievous or act like a buffoon in some of his stories, but in an ultimately lovable way. He is not a dangerous or malicious being, and is usually a highly respected figure, even if he is not necessarily taken seriously at all times. Some examples of Woodland Indian culture heroes are the Anishinabe hero Nanabozho, the Wabanaki hero Glooscap, the Cree hero Wisakedjak, and the Iroquois hero Good Mind (or Ioskeha.). There are some significant differences in the life story and powers of these heroes, but they are generally similar figures, and sometimes the same story is told in different tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing.

Great Spirit: Most of the Woodland Indian tribes shared a belief in a benevolent Creator god, best known in English as the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit is usually conceived as a divine spirit with no human form or attributes and is rarely personified in Woodland Indian folklore. Most often the Great Spirit is depicted as communicating with humans through dreams. The Ojibwe name for the Great Spirit is Gitchi Manitou, and other Anishinabe and Central Algonquian tribes have similar names; the Iroquois tribes call him Raweno or Taronhiawagon; the Lenape know him as Kitanitowit; and the Wabanaki tribes call him Tabaldak or Gici Niwaskw.

Spirit Grandmother: Many of the Woodland Indian tribes feature the grandmother of the culture hero as an important mythological character. The most important are the Iroquois goddess Sky Woman, the Anishinabe heroine Nokomis, and the Wabanaki Grandmother Woodchuck. In most stories the grandmother figure raises the hero after her daughter dies in childbirth, although she is sometimes portrayed as an adopted grandmother instead.

Ice Cannibals: Evil man-eating spirits of the north. The best-known Woodland Indian ice monster is the Windigo of the Anishinabe and Cree tribes. Variants from other tribes include Chenoos and Kee-wakw. Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some legends; in others, Woodland Indian people who commit sins (especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into a Windigo as punishment.

Little People: Little people are a staple of Woodland Indian folklore in every tribe we know of. They are usually described as child-sized nature spirits with formidable magic powers. Their role in legends varies from mischievous but generally benevolent creatures, to dangerous spirits who must be treated with caution and respect, to unruly and capricious gremlins who may steal children or commit acts of sabotage. Each tribe has its own name for these creatures. The best-known are the Pukwudgies of the Wampanoag and other southeast Algonquian tribes.

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 most Woodland people. The best-known Native names for them are Animiki, Pinesi, and Chequa.

Water Panther: A powerful mythological creature something like a cross between a cougar and a dragon. It is a dangerous monster who lives in deep water and causes men and women to drown.

Horned Serpent: An underwater horned serpent, common to the legends of most Woodland tribes. It is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans.

North Wind (also known as Winter or Biboon): The spirit of Winter. In some Woodland tribes Biboon plays a somewhat adversarial role and is defeated by the spirit of Spring; in others, he is one of the four winds and plays his seasonal role in harmony with the rest of nature.

Rolling Head or Flying Head: A horrible, vampiric sort of creature from the folklore of Iroquois and Central Algonquian tribes, usually created when a man murders his unfaithful wife and her disembodied head returns from the dead to seek revenge.

Woodland Indian Folklore

*Ojibwe Oral Tradition: * Potawatomi Oral Tradition * Menominee Oral Tradition * Oneida Oral Tradition:
    Online collections of Woodland Native American folklore from Indian Country Wisconsin.
*Anishinaabe Children's Legends:
    Fourteen Woodland Indian legends told by Chippewa and Menominee students.
*Koluskap: Stories from Wolastoqiyik:
    Nineteen Maliseet stories.
*Manabozho's Adventures * Indian Superstitions and Legends * Malecite and Passamaquoddy Tales:
    Indian Why Stories * Iroquois Myths and Legends:
    Online books of Woodland Indian myths and legends.
*Creation of the World * History of the Anishinabek * Legend of the Potawatomi * Abenaki Emergence Myth
    Micmac Creation Myth * Gluskonba Makes the People * Haudenosaunee Creation Story:
    Woodland Native American myths about how the world began.
*Nanabush * Nanabosho and the Woodland * Nanabozho * Gluskabe * Gluskab * Gluskabe:
    Articles on the Woodland Indian culture heroes.
*Ottawa Flood Myth * Algonquin Flood Myth: * Great Serpent and the Great Flood:
    Woodland Indian flood myths.
*How the Anishinabe Became One People * A Potawatomi Story:
    Potawatomi legends of how the Algonquian people came to be allies.
*A Gust Of Wind * Manabozho's Birth * Manabozho's Wolf Brother:
    Anishinabe myths about the culture hero Weneboozhoo's birth and childhood.
*Manabozho and the Muskrat * Nanabozho and the Origin of the Earth * How Muskrat Created The World
    Waynaboozhoo and the Coot: * The Creation of Turtle Island:
    Woodland Indian myths telling how the earth was formed.
*Wunzh, Father of Indian Corn * Mon-Daw-Min * The Legend of Indian Corn * The Strange Origin of Corn
    Corn Mother * First Mother, First Father * First Mother Saves the Penobscot * First People and the First Corn:
    The Coming of Corn: * The Story of Corn:
    Legends from many tribes telling how corn came to the Woodland Indian people.
*The Union of Corn and Bean:
    Ottawa Indian legend about why corn and beans are always planted together.
*Glooscap and the Water Monster * Koluscap and the Giant Skunk * Koluskap and the Giant Beaver * Passamaquoddy Allegory:
    Sugarloaf Mountain * Gluskabe and the Monster Frog:
    Woodland Indian tales of culture heroes protecting the people by turning monsters into animals.
*Manabozho and the Theft of Fire * How the Birch Tree Got Its Burns * How Fire Came to the Six Nations:
    Woodlands Indian stories about the origin of fire.
The Gifts of the Little People * Geow-lud-mo-sis-eg * The Little People * Makiawisug:
    Woodland stories about the Little People.
*How Gluskabe Stole Tobacco: * Grasshopper and the Tobacco:
    Abenaki and Menominee stories about the origin of tobacco.
How Glooscap Found Summer: * Spring Defeats Winter:
    Woodland Indian stories about the origin of the seasons.
The Lazy Rabbit * Rabbit and Otter * Rabbit Calls a Truce:
    Wabanaki stories about rivals Rabbit and Otter.
Why Opossum's Tail is Bare * Opossum's Pretty Tail:
    Woodland Indian legends about a vain opossum losing his beautiful tail.
*When Squirrels Were Huge * Klouskap and the Squirrel * Glooscap Shrinks the Animals * Gluskabe the Transformer:
    Woodland legends about how the squirrel got its small size.
*Algonquin Legends:
    Several Algonquin Indian legends.
Gluskabe Changes Maple Syrup * Gluskabe the Transformer * How the Indians Got Maple Sugar * Manabozho and the Maple Trees:
    Woodlands Indian myths about the origin of maple syrup.
*The Origin of the Thunderbird * On the Trail of the Thunderbird:
    Woodland Indian legends about the Thunderbird.
*The Horned Serpent:
    The legend of Weewillmekq/Jipijka'm, the Wabanaki horned serpent.
Gluscabi and the Wind Eagle * Why We Need Wind * The Bird whose Wings Made the Wind:
    Gluskabe decides to stop the wind from blowing, and learns a lesson about the world.
*Wiza'ka'a and the Buzzard * The Trickster's Great Fall and his Revenge:
    Central Algonquian legends about the trickster Wisaka falling from the sky and punishing Buzzard for it.
*Nanaboozh and the Turtle:
    Ottawa legend about how turtles got their shells.
*How Fisher Went to the Skyland:
    Woodland legend about the Big Dipper.
*The Creator Visits:
    The Creator rewards a family's generosity. In English, Micmac, and Maliseet.
Indian Summer * Nibubalnoba, the Indian Summer:
    Woodlands legends about the origins of "Indian summer," the brief recurrence of summer-like weather before the snows fall.
When Tcikabis Trapped The Sun * The Sun Snarer * The Little People Ensnare the Sun * Snaring the Sun:
    Woodland stories in which the sun is trapped in a snare.
*Wenebojo and the Dancing Geese * Manabozho and the Hell-Diver * The Shut-Eye Dance:
    Stories about Woodland Indian tricksters convincing gullible prey animals to shut their eyes.
Wisakatchekwa and the Birds:
    Woodland Indian stories about trickster heroes being carried off by an unwisely lassoed flock of birds.
*The Reed Dancers * Manabush and the Tree Holders:
    Woodland stories about a humorous mistake of Manabozho's.
*Why Porcupine Has Quills:
    Woodland Indian stories about Manabozho helping Porcupine defend himself.
*Skunk Woman * Chicago, Place of the Skunk* The Woman Who Became A Skunk:
    Woodland Indian legends about a man whose wife turned into a skunk.
Glooskap and Mikchich * The Changing of Mikcheech * Turtle Marries the Chief's Daughter:
    The adventures of Glooskap and his uncle the Turtle.
Glouscap and the Baby * Gluskabe and Dzeedzeez:
    Gluskabe is outmatched by a baby. (Wasis means "baby" in Passamaquoddy, and Dzeedzees means "baby" in Abenaki.)
*Saga of Iyash * The Legend of Ayas:
    Stories about the epic hero Ayas, in Ojibwe and Cree with English translation.
*The Girls Who Wished to Marry Stars: * Women Who Married Star Husbands:
    Ojibwe and Mi'kmaq legends about two foolish girls who marry stars.
*The Girl and the Windigo * Cannibal Giants of the Northern Forest * The Girl Chenoo: * The Windigo Baby: * The Girl and the Chenoo:
    Woodland mythology about the fearsome windigo monsters.
*How Dogs Came To The Ojibwas:
    Chippewa legend about the first dog.
*Mishebeshu * The Underwater Panther:
    Woodlands Indian stories about the water monster Mishipishiw.
*Algon and the Sky-Girl:
    Algonquin legend of a man who married a star.
*Gluskonba and the Four Wishes * The First Pine Trees * The Fearful Warrior * Three Wishes
    The Sun's Wishes * Spirit Rock * The Legend of Spirit Rock:
    Woodland legends in which the culture hero grants the wishes of different people, but careless or greedy wishes turn out badly for the wisher.
*The Flying Head * Dagwanoenyent * The Flying Head Story:
    Iroquois legends about the Flying Head monster.
*The Spirit Bride:
    Algonquin Indian legend of a man's visit to the afterworld.
*The Dream Fast * The Boy Who Became A Robin:
    Ojibwe legends about the first robin.
*Legend of the Bear Family:
    Origin of the Penobscot Bear Clan.
*Arrowhead Finger:
    Legend of a Penobscot girl who bore a medicine child.
*Raccoon Learns A Lesson: * The Deceived Blind Men * Wisakatchekwa and the Blind Men:
    Woodland Indian folktales in which trickster figures play pranks on blind men.
*Pamola, A Penobscot Legend:
    Penobscot story about a woman who married the bird spirit of Mount Katahdin.
*The Legend of the Birch Tree:
    Woodland legend about a young man who became the first birch tree.
*Why Wolves and Dogs Fear Each Other * How Dogs Came to Live With the Indians:
    Woodland legends about Dog defecting from the Wolf people to the humans.
*Origin of the Trailing Arbutus:
    Legend of the Potawatomi/Ottawa tribal flower.
*The Meadow Dandelion * Shawondasee and the Golden Girl:
    Ojibway folktales about the South Wind and the Dandelion.
*The Legend of Nanabozho & Animoshak:
    A humorous Anishinabe folktale about Nanabozho and the tails of dogs.
*Mooin, the Bear's Child:
    Micmac legend of a boy adopted by a bear.
Wisakatchekwa and the Birds:
    Woodland Indian stories about trickster heroes being carried off by an unwisely lassoed flock of birds.
*Oochigeas and Invisible Boy * Mi'kmaq Indian Cinderella * The Hidden One * Mi'kmaq Cinderella Interpretation:
    Micmac and Maliseet versions of the French 'Cinderella' story.
*Thunder Mountain:
    Potawatomi legend about a battle between a thunderbird and a horned serpent.
*The Owl Husband:
    Legend of a Passamaquoddy girl who married the great horned owl.
*The Snake Husband:
    Peoria legend of a careless woman who was led astray by a rattlesnake.
*They That Chase After The Bear (A Star Story) * Chasing the Bear:
    Woodland Indian legends about the origin of the constellations.
*Blue Flower:
    Folktale about a loyal Passamaquoddy girl.

Recommended Books on Woodlands Indian Mythology

Algonquian Spirit:
    Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Woodlands Algonquian tribes.
The Mishomis Book: Voice of the Ojibway:
    Excellent book by a Native author exploring Anishinabe legends and traditions.
Ojibway Ceremonies:
    A good book on Woodlands Indian spirituality and ritual life by an Ojibway author.
Ininatig's Gift of Sugar:
    A wonderful book for kids illustrating Woodlands Indian traditions of maple sugarmaking in the past and present.
Raccoon's Last Race * How Chipmunk Got His Stripes:
    Children's picture books illustrating Woodland Indian legends, by acclaimed Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
The Deetkatoo:
    Great collection of traditional tales about little people from the Woodland Indian and other tribes.
Living Our Language:
    Ojibwe legends and oral histories.
Legends of the Iroquois:
    Legends and traditional stories told by a Mohawk elder.
Legends, Traditions and Laws of the Iroquois:
    Collection of Iroquois mythology and oral history told by a Tuscarora chief.
*The Birth of Nanabosho * Nanabosho Steals Fire * Nanabosho Dances * Nanobosho, Soaring Eagle, and Great Sturgeon:
    Series of well-told Nanabozho stories by an Ojibwe author. The first one, Birth of Nanabosho, is especially good.
Thanks To The Animals:
    Charming picture book telling a Passamaquoddy story about a lost child protected by the animals of the forest.

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