Native American Mythology:
Salmon Boy

Native American mythology is full of stories about the relationship between people and animals. The Haida indians of British Columbia have an interesting myth about a boy who becomes a salmon. The Haida, like all the tribes in their area, rely on the salmon as a major food source. This story teaches respect for the salmon, as we should respect all living creatures, especially the ones we use as food.

A long time ago, a young Haida boy was hungry and his mother gave him a piece of fish to eat. The boy looked at the fish, but refused to eat it saying it was moldy. I guess he ate something eventually because soon he went out to play with the other children. They were swimming in a nearby river. The boy joined them, but swam far out and drowned in the swift current. The salmon people caught his soul and took it to their village under the sea.

Once in their village the fish changed into human form. The village was like his own with houses and children playing in a stream. The similarity of the salmon people's village to indian villages on land is a common feature of native American mythology. When the boy said he was hungry, he was told to take one of the children from the stream, cook and eat it. There was one condition, however: after eating it he had to return the bones, scales and whatever else was left to the stream. After the boy ate he heard a child crying. The child told his mother that his eye hurt. The salmon people asked the boy to be sure he had returned all the left over parts of the fish to the river. The boy looked on the river bank and found an eye he has missed before. He threw the eye in the water and the child stopped crying.

When the salmon people returned to the rivers in British Columbia in the spring, the boy went with them. He was caught by his own mother who recognized him by a necklace he was wearing. She set the fish aside and after a day or two the boy's head emerged from the fish's mouth. After a few more days the boy came out entirely leaving the fish skin behind. Thereafter, the boy became a shaman, a medicine man, who taught his people the way of the salmon.

Salmon boy had always said that after he died his body was to be returned to the river from whence it came. When he was old he caught a strange fish that he realized was his own soul. He stuck a knife in the fish and died instantly. The indians did as he had asked and put his body in the river. It is interesting that the theme of death and resurrection is as important in native American mythology as in other religions.

For all it's wild adventures, native American mythology takes a very practical view of life. The moral of this story is conservation or recycling. What we take must be put back. If we have to account for everything we take we will be much more careful about the environment.






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