Myths & Legends


Chinookan: Ioi from Marriage to the Shadow Lands

The Chinooks formerly dwelt on Columbia River, from the Dalles to its mouth, and on the Lower Willamette. With the exception of a few individuals, they are now extinct. Since the late 20th century, the purported Chinook Indian Nation, made up of 2700 members of several related peoples, has worked to obtain recognition in the United States as native tribe, a goal achieved in 2001 from the Department of Interior under President Bill Clinton. After President George W. Bush was elected, his political appointees reviewed the case and revoked the recognition.

The Chinookan chief physical characteristic was a high and narrow forehead artificially flattened. In the practice of cranial deformation they were unique in North America, although the practice seems global - with notably the Maya and the Inca being nearby examples.

Daniel Wilson served as president of University College, Toronto from 1880 to 1892 and as the first president of the federated University of Toronto from 1890–1892. He made the following observation of the Chinookan:

”The Chinooks are among the most remarkable of the flat-headed Indians, and carry the process of cranial distortion to the greatest excess. They are in some respects a superior race, making slaves of other tribes, and evincing considerable skill in such arts as are required in their wild forest and coast life. Their chief war-implements are bows and arrows, the former made from the yew-tree, and the latter feathered and pointed with bone. Their canoes are hollowed out of the trunk of the cedar-tree, which attains to a great size in that region, and are frequently ornamented with much taste and skill. In such a canoe the dead Chinook chief is deposited, surrounded with all the requisites for war, or the favourite occupations of life: presenting a correspondence in his sepulchral rites to the ancient pagan viking, who, as appears alike from the contents of the Scandinavian Skibssaetninger and from the narratives of the sagas, was interred or consumed in his war-galley, and the form of that favourite scene of ocean triumphs perpetuated in the earth-work that covered his ashes.”

Fortunately Chinook myths have been successfully collected and preserved before the culture went into terminal decline. The tales that follow gives us a glimmer of these remarkable people, collected by Lewis Spence in Myths and Legends of the North American Indians.
— Orly

The Story of Blue Jay and Ioi

The Chinooks tell many stories of Blue Jay, the tricky, mischievous totem-bird, and among these tales there are three which are concerned with his sister Ioi. Blue Jay, whose disposition resembled that of the bird he symbolized, delighted in tormenting Ioi by deliberately misinterpreting her commands, and by repeating at every opportunity his favourite phrase, "Ioi is always telling lies."

In the first of the trilogy Ioi requested her brother to take a wife from among the dead, to help her with her work in house and field. To this Blue Jay readily assented, and he took for his spouse a chieftain's daughter who had been recently buried. But Ioi's request that his wife should be an old one he disregarded.

"Take her to the Land of the Supernatural People," said Ioi, when she had seen her brother's bride, "and they will restore her to life."

Blue Jay set out on his errand, and after a day's journey arrived with his wife at a town inhabited by the Supernatural Folk.

"How long has she been dead?" they asked him, when he stated his purpose in visiting them.

"A day," he replied.

The Supernatural People shook their heads.

"We cannot help you," said they. "You must travel to the town where people are restored who have been dead for a day."

Blue Jay obediently resumed his journey, and at the end of another day he reached the town to which he had been directed, and told its inhabitants why he had come.

"How long has she been dead?" they asked.

"Two days," said he.

"Then we can do nothing," replied the Supernatural Folk, "for we can only restore people who have been dead one day. However, you can go to the town where those are brought to life who have been dead two days."

Another day's journey brought Blue Jay and his wife to the third town. Again he found himself a day late, and was directed to a fourth town, and from that one to yet another. At the fifth town, however, the Supernatural People took pity on him, and recovered his wife from death. Blue Jay they made a chieftain among them, and conferred many honours upon him.

After a time he got tired of living in state among the Supernatural People, and returned home.

When he was once more among his kindred his young brother-in-law, the chief's son, learnt that his sister was alive and married to Blue Jay.

Hastily the boy carried the news to his father, the old chief, who sent a message to Blue Jay demanding his hair in payment for his wife. The messenger received no reply, and the angry chief gathered his people round him and led them to Blue Jay's lodge. On their approach Blue Jay turned himself into a bird and flew away, while his wife swooned. All the efforts of her kindred could not bring the woman round, and they called on her husband to return. It was in vain, however: Blue Jay would not come back, and his wife journeyed finally to the Land of Souls.



The Marriage of Ioi

The second portion of the trilogy relates how the Ghost-people, setting out one night from the Shadowland to buy a wife, took Ioi, the sister of Blue Jay, who disappeared before morning. After a year had elapsed her brother decided to go in search of her. But though he inquired the way to the Ghost-country from all manner of birds and beasts, he got a satisfactory answer from none of them, and would never have arrived at his destination at all had he not been carried thither at last by supernatural means.

In the Ghost-country he found his sister, surrounded by heaps of bones, which she introduced to him as his relatives by marriage. At certain times these relics would attain a semblance of humanity, but instantly became bones again at the sound of a loud voice.


A Fishing Expedition in Shadow-land

At his sister's request Blue Jay went fishing with his young brother-in-law. Finding that when he spoke in a loud tone he caused the boy to become a heap of bones in the canoe, Blue Jay took a malicious pleasure in reducing him to that condition. It was just the sort of trick he loved to play.

The fish they caught were nothing more than leaves and branches, and Blue Jay, in disgust, threw them back into the water. But, to his chagrin, when he returned his sister told him that they were really fish, and that he ought not to have flung them away. However, he consoled himself with the reflection, "Ioi is always telling lies."

Besides teasing Ioi, he played many pranks on the inoffensive Ghosts. Sometimes he would put the skull of a child on the shoulders of a man, and vice versa, and take a mischievous delight in the ludicrous result when they came 'alive.'

On one occasion, when the prairies were on fire, Ioi bade her brother extinguish the flames. For this purpose she gave him five buckets of water, warning him that he must not pour it on the burning prairies until he came to the fourth of them. Blue Jay disobeyed her, as he was wont to do, and with dire results, for when he reached the fifth prairie he found he had no water to pour on it. While endeavouring to beat out the flames he was so seriously burned that he died, and returned to the Ghosts as one of themselves, but without losing his mischievous propensities.

Blue Jay and Ioi Go Visiting

The third tale of the trilogy tells how Blue Jay and Ioi went to visit their friends. The Magpie was the first to receive the visitors, and by means of magic he provided food for them. Putting a salmon egg into a kettle of boiling water, he placed the kettle on the fire, and immediately it was full of salmon eggs, so that when they had eaten enough Blue Jay and Ioi were able to carry a number away.

On the following day the Magpie called for the kettle they had borrowed. Blue Jay tried to entertain his visitor in the same magical fashion as the latter had entertained him. But his attempt was so ludicrous that the Magpie could not help laughing at him.

The pair's next visit was to the Duck, who obtained food for them by making her children dive for trout. Again there was twice as much as they could eat, and Blue Jay and Ioi carried away the remainder on a mat. During the return visit of the Duck Blue Jay tried to emulate this feat also, using Ioi's children instead of the ducklings. His attempt was again unsuccessful.

The two visited in turn the Black Bear, the Beaver, and the Seal, all of whom similarly supplied refreshment for them in a magical manner. But Blue Jay's attempts at imitating these creatures were futile.

A visit to the Shadows concluded the round, and the adventurers returned home.




Cree: How Rabbit Deceived Fox

Haida: Master-Carpenter and Southeast Wind