Native American Legends
Lessons for Life ... and Sometimes Just for Fun
Just about all the art I create is based on the traditional arts of my ancestors and on the legends that have been handed down by my people from generation to generation.
My goal is to make the characters in these legends come alive, and to make the images they incorporated into their arts appeal to contemporary tastes.
So my art features the Creator's right-hand man Coyote, who helped the Creator make the world and helped the Creator teach people about the way things should be. And it features a host of other characters and stories as well ... She Who Watches, the Huckleberry Sisters, Salmon, Eagle and Owl ... and many more.
My intention is always to honor the stories of my ancestors, as well as to educate and entertain people just as the stories of my ancestors have done for so many thousands of years.
She Who Watches
She Who Watches, whose Native name is Tsagaglal, is an image created in stone. Unlike most of the rock images found in the region, which are either rock etchings (petroglyphs) or rock paintings (pictographs), She Who Watches is both.
She sits high up on a bluff, overlooking the village of Wishxam, the village where Lillian's great grandmother used to live.
She Who Watches was the first rock image that Lillian ever saw or knew anything about, and it was only because an elder took her to see it. The elder thought it would be good for Lillian to learn something of her heritage and of her grandmother's village.
How the Story Goes ...
This is the legend that the elder told Lillian about She Who Watches, and the story that Lillian now tells:
There was this village on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge. And this was long ago when people were not yet real people, and that is when we could talk to the animals.
And so Coyote — the Trickster — came down the river to the village and asked the people if they were living well. And they said "Yes, we are, but you need to talk to our chief, Tsagaglal. She lives up in the hill."
So Coyote pranced up the hill and asked Tsagaglal if she was a good chief or one of those evildoers. She said, "No, my people live well. We have lots of salmon, venison, berries, roots, good houses. Why do you ask?" And Coyote said, "Changes are going to happen. How will you watch over your people?" And so she didn't know.
And it was at that time that Coyote changed her into a rock to watch her people forever.
You Can Visit She Who Watches
She Who Watches and other rock images can be viewed by special arrangement at Columbia Hills State Park, which is located off Hwy 14 between Lyle and Maryhill.
Please stay on the trails and do not touch any of the images. Please, at all times, show proper respect for the images, not just because they offer an amazing glimpse into the history of the region, but because many Native people feel they are sacred.
Traditional Stories Serve to Educate People
Native American "stories" are not just stories for the sake of entertaining. They often do entertain. But, more often than not, they are a means for handing down cultural meaning and understanding, for building a common sense of identity, and for teaching people about the laws that govern their behavior.
Stories are meant to bind past and present, and to come alive each time they are told. They are magical and they are meaningful.
Stories told in the Columbia River / Plateau tradition often feature Coyote, otherwise known as the Trickster. Coyote's "tricks" however, are not just for fun. More often than not, Coyote stories educate people about Creation and about the way people should live. Sometimes Coyote behaves well and so he serves as a positive model for people, and sometimes he behaves badly, and shows people what they should not do.
Historically, story telling was reserved for the winter, when no other work could be done. Winter was the time for resting, for gathering around the fire, and for educating young people about the natural laws that governed the behavior of people, animals, and plants. Usually, the message in the story is left for the person hearing to determine.
Books of Interest
If you're interested in learning more about the legends of the Columbia River people, look into one or all of these books:
- Grandmother, Grandfather and Old Wolf
- Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest
- Coyote Was Going There