Each society has stories and legends which explain the existence of the people, the land and animals with which we share this world. They tell of a “Dreamtime” when animals, plants and humans talked with each other. This was the time when the world as we know it was formed, with everything in its place. Each society has its story of how the animals and plants and landscape found their place.
The Okanagan people are no exception. Theytus Books of Penticton, B.C. has published the Okanagan version of legends in a series of children’s books. The book How names were given explains how the Great Spirit called all the animal people together and told them a new people were coming. Before they would come, he had to change the animal people, and give a name and special duty to each one.
Included in the series is How food was given, which explains how the four chiefs—Bear, Salmon, Bitterroot and Saskatoon Berry—gave themselves so the new people who came would be able to eat. Included with this were the songs which would be sung in honour of those chiefs.
The book How turtle set the animals free explains how all the animals were slaves to the Eagle because they all raced and lost to him. They were all bound to slavery except for Turtle, who hadn’t raced him yet. He was directed by the Great Spirit to race the Eagle and set the animals free before the new people arrived. The book Neekna and Chemai, written by well-known novelist Jeannette C. Armstrong, tells of two young girls who go out without any warm clothing. It explains why you should respect the North wind when you go out.
Illustrated by Barbara Marchand, these books offer an interesting insight into why we should respect and honour the world around us. If you want to know why things are the way they are according to the Okanagan, these books are for you and your children. For more information contact Theytus Books at P.O. Box 218, Penticton, B.C., V2A6K3.