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Legends and Stories of the Okanagan

How Coyote Learned to Catch Fish in a New Way

as told by Josephine Shuttleworth

One day long ago, so long ago that the ashes from ten thousand campfires could not number the winters since that time, the Coyote was traveling along on his way. Before he had gone very far he came to a teepee. He decided to go in to see who lived there, and find what they were doing.

In the teepee lived two fish hawk people. They wore their hair combed upward and forward from the back of their heads, and tied in a crest such as the fish hawk carry to this day. Their teepee was swept clean. As the Coyote glanced around he saw only the fish hawk man and woman. He could see nothing to eat, and he wondered what they would give him.

The Fish Hawks were mind-readers. They knew what he was thinking. “You don’t have to worry,” they assured him, “we’ll have something for you to eat.”

The Fish Hawk went out and picked four willow sticks – slim, new willows as grow along the river - and brought them into the teepee. After he had held them in the fire to make them soft and pliant, as you yet do when you want to braid the willow sticks on which to string your fish, he stuck them in his hair.

Then, he flew up to the smoke-hole and sat on the teepee poles. Not far from the teepee he had cut a hole in the ice through which to fish. With a long curving dive, he dropped down into the hole, as fish hawks yet do. When he came back into the teepee he had whitefish strung on his willow sticks.

The Coyote was pleased to see the fish. When the Fish Hawk woman had roasted them for him he ate all he could; but he was not able to finish them, she had roasted so many. What was left they told him to take home. When he was leaving, with his parcel of roast fish wrapped in a woven tule sack, he asked the Fish Hawk to drop in for the sack the next day.

 

As soon as he was in his own teepee again, he started to clean it up. He tidied it until it was as bare as the Fish Hawks’ teepee. Then he fixed his hair in the same way that the Fish Hawk people did, and tied the Coyote woman’s hair in the same manner. When this was done to his liking he sat down to await the Fish Hawk’s coming.

 

“I’m in a hurry,” the Fish Hawk said when he looked through the door, “I’m going right back, just stopping in for my tule sack.”

 

But the Coyote wouldn’t have any of it. “You must come in,” he urged, so the Fish Hawk came in and sat down. “You don’t have to worry,” said the Coyote, just as the fish hawk had done the day before, “we’ll have something for you to eat.”

 

He went out and picked four willow sticks and brought them into the teepee. After he had softened them in the blaze of the fire, he stuck them in his hair. Then he started to climb up to the smoke-hole. He had a terrible time doing it, but gradually made his way up the pole, falling sometimes and just hanging on when he was tired. “Chrrr, chrrr, chrrr,” he sang, in imitation of the Fish Hawk, whenever he had a rest.

 

At last he reached the top and sat on the teepee poles. He had a hard time making up his mind to jump to the hole he had cut in the ice. When he did attempt the dive, he missed the hole and landed so hard on his head that he was knocked unconscious. While he was lying there, the Fish Hawk came out. He took the four willow sticks from the Coyote’s hair, and diving in the hole himself, came up with two fine strings of whitefish. Then he picked up the Coyote and dragged him into the teepee. When they were inside, the Coyote came to his senses.

 

“Those are Fish Hawk’s tricks, not Coyote’s,” the Fish Hawk told him earnestly, and he started home with his tule sack.

 

When he had gone, the Coyote roasted the fish in his own fire. He ate every speck of it himself, not even a tail for the Coyote woman. “That is a very good way to catch fish,” he said, as he laid himself down for a comfortable nap.