Athapascan - The Raven
Among a number of Athapascan-speaking tribes of the Northwest Coast and Alaskan tribes, Raven is not only a powerful supernatural creator, but also a trickster.
There once lived an old couple who wished to see their only daughter married to a rich man. When anyone arrived at their camp, the old man sent his son down to the landing to count the bone beads on the stranger's clothing, so that he could be received according to his rank. One day the boy came running in saying that a man had come who would make a good brother-in-law, for he had a number of fine beads.
The mother went down to the riverbank and saw a richly dressed stranger whom she also thought would make a suitable husband. She noticed that the shore was wet and muddy, so she got some bark and tore it into strips for the stranger to walk upon. She invited him to enter their tipi and seated him next to the girl.
The visitor pointed to a dog that was tied in the corner of the lodge and said, "I can't eat while that animal is in here." Thinking that only a very great personage would be so particular, the woman took the dog out into the forest and killed it. The next morning as she went for wood, she noticed that the earth around the dog's body was marked with bird tracks and that its eyes had been picked out. She returned to the camp and insisted that all the people take off their moccasins and show their feet, because she had heard that Raven could deceive people by appearing in human form. The stranger, who was indeed Raven, took his moccasins off and slipped them on again so quickly that his scaly bird feet were not noticed.
The girl had agreed to marry Raven, and he demanded that she leave with him at once, before he could be found out. Promising that they would return in a few days, he took his bride down to his canoe. As soon as the couple set off down the river, it began to rain. Raven was seated in front of the woman, who noticed that the rain was washing something white off his back. This made her suspicious, and she resolved to escape. Reaching forward, she succeeded n tying the ail of Raven's coat to a crossbar of the canoe. Then she asked to be set ashore for a minute, saying that she would come right back. Her husband told her not to go far, but she started to run for home as soon as she was out of sight among the trees. after a while Raven decided to follow her. He found that his tail was tied, and to get free he had to resume his true form. As he flew over the girl, he cried out, "Once more I cheat you," then caw-cawed and glided away.
The girl got home safely and told her mother that her rich husband was Raven, who had come to them covered with lime, which the rain had melted. Raven was always cheating the people, so they finally took his beak away from him. After a time he went up the river and made a raft, which he loaded with moss. Floating down to the camps on it, he told the people that his head was sore where his beak had been torn off, and that he was lying in the moss to cool it. Then he went back upriver and made several more rafts. When the people saw these floating down toward them, they thought that a large group of warriors was coming to help Raven regain his beak.
They held a council and decided to send a young girl to take the beak to an old woman who lived alone at some distance from the camp. Raven, who had concealed himself among them and heard the council's plans, waited until the girl came back. Then he went to the old woman and told her that the girl wanted her to return the beak to him. Suspecting nothing, the old woman gave him his beak. He put it on and flew away, cawing with pleasure at his success. The warriors who had been on the rafts proved to be nothing but the tufts of hummocks of bog moss which are commonly known as *tetes de femmes".
Retold from an account in the Journal of American Folk-Lore, 1900.
From the Archives of Blue Panther