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The Hoopa Story of the Origin of the Yellow-breasted Chat

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“The mythical hero Yimantuwinyai knew that salmon existed, but had been searching for them in vain until Mink came and told him that a woman had all the world’s salmon penned up across the ocean at the edge of the world. Yimantuwinyai collected some madrone berries and then journeyed to that place where she lived. Once there, he became her guest. By eating his madrone berries (which look like salmon eggs) and talking about them as if they were salmon eggs, he fooled the woman into thinking there were salmon where he came from too. This made her less wary of him. She served him salmon and eels, and he spied on her to find out where she kept them. He saw that they, along with all kinds of other fish were penned up in a lake nearby. After smoking himself in the sweathouse one evening, he ordered his flute to play music by itself so that the woman would think he was still there. Meanwhile he went out to dig an outlet from the lake. When he finished, the water and the fish flowed out in a stream which encircled the world. In front were the silversides (salmon), and leading them and all the other fish was one fish all by itself, the Salmon Leader. Yimantuwinyai said that every year when spring comes, Salmon Leader will always lead the salmon upstream. And he told the old woman who had owned and guarded the salmon that she would be called “Salmon’s Grandmother” and henceforth would eat only berries… Then Yimantuwinyai went off to teach people how to prepare (for food) the fish he had released. Salmon’s Grandmother followed behind crying for the fish. She came to Hoopa following her fish, and she still comes in the fifth month. Salmon’s Grandmother is that bird we call the yellow-breasted chat.”

This excerpt is reprinted with permission, and it also appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Klamath Bird Observatory’s quarterly newsletter, The Klamath Bird.

Source: Steinberg, S.L., Dunk, J.R., & Comet, T.A. 2000. In Hoopa Territory. Published by Hoopa Valley Tribe.