In the Athapaskan cosmology, many figures played a part in making the world as it is today. Through trickery and transformation, Crow stole the sun and moon then threw them into the sky to shine on everyone. He tricked old time chiefs into giving him enough sand to create land, dropped fish into the rivers and lakes, and even made people from clay. The one who is credited with setting the world in order and providing humans with necessary skills and knowledge is a larger-than-life character known as Tsà’ Wëzhè or the Traveller who can be human or beaver. Many other animal/people characters appear in our stories such as Otter, Mouse, Wolverine, Bear, Frog and Salmon. Often these creatures are teaching lessons to people such as the boy who disrespected fish and went to live among the fish people. Other stories recount how animals were once large powerful creatures then were transformed to the animals they are today.
See the story "The Big Dipper" as told by Angie Joseph-Rear.
On a still winter day a black figure glides through the air; its large wings cast a looming shadow over the camp. Up close, the clumsy-seeming raven easily hops away from the dogs while stealing their food and cawing derisively. This quirky year-round resident can be a ventriloquist, a thief and a trickster. Small wonder that Crow or Raven plays a starring role in Athapaskan stories told all over the continent. He can be a hero or a villain but above all he is a survivor usually coming out on top in his dealings with others. There are many lessons to be learned from the stories of Crow. He is magical, he is lazy, he succeeds and he fails, but above all, Crow and his antics never fail to entertain. Crow is also credited with establishing the kinship rules that divided people into Wolf and Crow moieties or clans.
(Link: Story of Crow
The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Heritage Department and four young students produced this short animation at the Yukon School of Visual Arts, in the summer of 2011.)
Tsà’ Wëzhè / Traveller
“Well, you know we have our own laws, we know how to run our own affairs, we have our own way of doing things, our own ways of looking after the land … all those old, old people from long ago who know how to do all those things … they were told what to do by Tsà’ Wëzhè.”
Different peoples living all along the Yukon River have given him many different names; Tsà’ Wëzhè, Tachokaii, Ch’atailyuukaih, K’etetaalkkaanee, Esuuya’, Traveller, Smart Man and Beaver Man are just a few. Stories about his exploits include creating the Yukon River then travelling its length having adventures all along the way. He threw pieces of spruce, cottonwood and birch bark into water then cut across the country to a point farther downriver. Only birch bark had floated so he used this buoyant material to make a canoe, a valuable travel tool for First Nations people.
All along the river, he dealt with the giant men and animals which were terrorizing people. He killed cannibals, reduced other animals to their present size, taught them to stop eating humans and made the land safe for people. As well he imparted valuable lessons about how people should live in balance with the animals they relied upon for food, tools and clothing.
See the story Beaver Man Makes the Yukon River.
Raven. From the painting by Rob Ingram