- from a Puget Sound Salish Myth*
one time, all the animals were people with fierce spirits
who stalked a dark earth. And all people were animals. The
people who were animals suffered because they were cold
and hungry and afraid.
day, Doquebuth, The Changer, came and took pity on them.
He changed the fierce people into animals. They became less
fierce, except for Bear, Cougar and a few others.
changed those who were once animals into people and taught
them many things. The people were glad and made a big feast
for Doquebuth and his companion, Raven.
Whidbey Island, a green gem nestled in Puget Sound, Washington,
Native Americans lived in a land of plenty.
taught the women how to scrape the inner bark from the cedar
tree to make woven clothing.
men and women wore little, but the women made a fiber skirt
from the bark of the cedar, and men wore a loincloth. They
wore blankets over the shoulder fastened at the neck with
a wooden pin, and buckskins and other animal skins when
the weather became cold.
women used cattails, nettles, and roots along with the bark
of the cedar to weave mats and baskets. There were many
uses for the mats. They were not only used in the longhouses
and potlatch houses, but also covered the top of temporary
houses at the camps.
taught them how to weave goat wool, dog hair and fluff from
the fireweed into blankets.
Joseph Whidbey landed on the island that would bear his
name in 1792 he saw curious white shorn wooly dogs. The
women of the tribe tended to the dogs, the only domesticated
animal they had. They wove their hair, mixed it with mountain
goat wool, duck down, and fireweed cotton, into blankets.
The women cared for the dogs, which were an important sign
of her status. Later the natives preferred the white men’s
blankets, and sadly the fluffy white dog gradually disappeared.
cultivated the fireweed by burning berry fields, which caused
the plant to grow in greater numbers.
natives cultivated the land. By burning the fields they
provided ideal conditions for the fireweed, nettles and
camas, important to their survival, to thrive.
Camas was a staple of their diet. It was a whitish bulb
from the lily family and resembled a potato. This was so
important to the diet that they burned the prairie periodically
to encourage its growth. To harvest, they used a curved
digging stick, their only agricultural tool. Pioneer Flora
Engle wrote of an “Indian potato” that was delicious,
snow white and mealy when boiled, more flavorful than other
potatoes. They dried the camas and ate it throughout the
winter. Later it was replaced by the more productive white
man’s potato, and the camas, like the small white
dogs, disappeared from the prairies.
gave the men bows and arrows to hunt deer and elk for food.
and small game were an important source of food, and the
skins could be fashioned into clothing. Whidbey natives
did not hunt elk, but the mainland Skagits came and hunted
showed them how to make nets and cast them into their waters
to catch the Salmon People. He told them to put the bones
of the Salmon People back into the water so they could be
reborn and come back again and again to feed the people.
natives made nets with a string fashioned from nettles.
The Salmon was very important but even when the salmon didn't
run, there was no scarcity or famine. There were so many
sources of food. In addition to shellfish and meat from
hunting, there were other foods they took from the land.
many varieties of berries, which still grow on the island
today, helped to round out the diet: strawberries, blueberries,
salmon berries, salal berries, thimble berries, blackcaps
and blackberries. They dried the berries for the winter.
When they wanted to use them they added water, making a
kind of soup or juice. The Snohomish made a cake from dried
blueberries. They mashed the berries together with a little
water and dried it again to make a cake. Natives also ate
hazelnuts, a kind of wild carrot, tiger lilies, crabapples,
rose hips, and made a tea from kinnikinnik. Another important
food, which they encouraged by prairie burning, was the
bracken fern. They ground the starchy root into flour for
making bread. There was fish oil and seal oil for cooking.
The women prepared the meals.
gave them knowledge to turn cedar trees into canoes so they
could go wherever they wanted, how to fell trees by burning,
then cut planks to make houses.
used all of the trees, but the canoe, critical to an island
people, was made of cedar, dug out of a tree and carefully
worked. They made planks from the trees and used them to
build their longhouses and potlatch houses. Snohomish Indian
Harriette Dover described her grandparent’s long-house
to author Dorothy Neil: “It was 400 feet long, made
from dressed cedar logs. The poles supporting the roof were
all carved like totems, and inside the big building it was
just one big room where everyone lived.”
stole the sun from Gray Eagle's bag and put it into the
sky to give light to all the creatures on earth. And so
the people were no longer cold and hungry and afraid.
myth tells us a lot about the life of Whidbey Island natives.
They learned how to perfectly adapt to their environment
and how to use to best effect the native plants and animals.
This must have seemed like a gift from God. They had everything
they needed to live a comfortable life and teach their children,
confident that their home would always be a land of plenty.
is another myth the Skagits told about Doquebuth
- the Myth of the Creator
and the Flood.