An Otter Legend
Derived from the Cree Indians
As the story is told, in the days when the earth was new and there
were no men but only animals, the sun was far away in the sky. It
was so far away that there was no summer. It was so far away that
the trees and the grasses did not grow as they should.
He-Who-Made-the-Animals saw how it was that there was not enough sun
to heat the earth, and so he fashioned a snare. The Sun did not see
the snare in his path, walked into the snare, and the snare held him
Then the sun was close to the earth. In fact, the snare held the sun
so close to the earth that there was no night. Day after day the sun
shown and the earth dried and the grasses withered. There was not
enough food or water for the animals and they desperately called a
council. "Sun," the animals said, "You give too much heat to the earth."
"Set me free from this snare" the Sun said, "and I will go away."
"But if you go away, then there will not be enough heat." "Set me
free," the Sun said, "and I will come to the edge of the earth in
the morning and in the evening; then at noon-time I will stand straight
above the earth and warm it then."
The animals sat around the council fire and they said, "Who is going
to set the sun free?"
"I shall not do it," Wildcat said. "Whoever sets the sun free must
go so close to the sun that he will be burned to death." Lynx said,
"Whoever sets the sun free must chew the leather thong that holds
him; the sun will burn him to death before he can do it."
"I shall not do it," said the deer, the wolf and the raccoon. "I shall
do it," Otter said. "How can you do it?" said the animals. "You are
too small, your teeth are for fish, and your fur has already burned
away." None of the other animals liked the otter because he played
too much. They did not think he was brave.
"Let him try," Bear said. "He will burn to death, but we will not
miss him. He is of no use to us. He looks silly now that his fur is
gone." The animals laughed.
Ignoring the taunts, the otter set off to the place in the sky above
the earth where the sun was held by the snare. Otter took many days
to get to the sun. The sun burned him. The sun was so bright, Otter
had to close his eyes. When he reached the sun, Otter began to chew
on the leather thong that held the sun. His skin was burning and blistering,
his eyes were hot stones. But Otter did not stop chewing.
Suddenly he chewed through the leather. The animals saw the sun rise
into the sky. The animals felt the cool winds begin to blow on the
earth. Otter had freed the sun from the snare.
Time passed. Otter lay in the center of the council ring. There was
no fur at all left on his body. His skin was burned and scorched and
his flesh was falling off his bones. His teeth were only blackened
He-Who-Made-the-Animals also stood in the center of the council ring.
"Otter," he said, "the animals will not forget what you have done
for them. I will see that they do not forget," and he gave Otter new
strong teeth, tireless muscles, keen eyesight, and a powerful tail
to help him in his hunting and in his play. He did not have to give
him bravery. But he gave him new fine fur that was like down on his
skin, and a second coat of fur to guard the first so that he would
not get cold in water or in winter. Then he gave him joy so that he
would always be happy in his otter's life, and Otter has so remained
until this day.
- Contributed by John Mulvihill