The Chinook creation story centers in Oregon, on Saddle Mountain. That’s where Thunderbird laid its eggs. Chinook oral history says the first men of the tribe came from the sky because they were the offspring of Thunderbird.
An Ogress rolled five of Thunderbird’s eggs down Saddle Mountain, and five men, each of different color, were born. The men then found and plucked women (who were in various stages of development) from the valley floor. This was the first Chinook tribe.
The traditional stories of neghboring tribes like the Nootka and Salish tribes are very similar.
Characters Found in Chinook Legends:
Blue Jay – A trickster hero of the Chinook and southern Salishan tribes. Bluejay is generally a benevolent being who is helpful to humankind, but he is also extremely foolish and careless, and Chinook stories about him are often humorous or even slapstick in nature.
Boqs (Siatco, Sasquatch, or Skookum): Large, hairy wild men of the forest, often known today as Big Foot. These different names come from different languages of the Chinook trade area.
Boqs is the most commonly used one in Chinook folklore (Skookum is also common, but since this word just means “big” or “powerful” in Chinook Jargon, it is used to refer to all sorts of creatures, not just Boqs.)
In most traditional Chinook legends, Boqs are dangerous man-eating monsters, however in others, they are more benign like the Halkomelem Sasquatch. This is another example of the Chinooks absorbing different versions of stories from their neighbors and trade partners.
Ioi – Blue Jay’s long-suffering older sister and the butt of many of his jokes. One of the most common storylines in Chinook legends involves Ioi making reasonable comments to Blue Jay which he then interprets in some ridiculous way. At other times, Ioi gives her brother sensible advice which he tells everyone was his own idea.
Shikla – A Transformer figure, common to the mythology of many Northwest Coast tribes, who brought balance to the world by using his powers to change people, animals, and the landscape into the forms they have today.
Talapus (Coyote) – Another Chinook trickster character. Some of the same stories were told by Chinook people with either Blue Jay or Coyote as the main character. Coyote is the trickster figure of the Interior Salish and Plateau tribes; since the Chinooks were the center of a trade network that included most of the northwestern tribes, it isn’t surprising that their mythology absorbed elements from many different tribes.
Bluejay was a trickster who enjoyed playing clever tricks on everyone, especially his sister Ioi. As she was the eldest sister, Bluejay was supposes to obey her. But he deliberately misinterpreted what she said, excusing himself by saying, “Ioi always tells lies.”
Ioi decided that it was high time for Bluejay to quit his playful life of trickery and settle down with a wife. She told him that he must select a wife from the people of the land of the dead, who were called the “Supernatural People”. Ioi recommended that Bluejay choose an old woma for a wife and suggested the recently deceased wife of a chief.
But Bluejay balked; he wanted a beautiful young and attractive woman. He found the corpse of a beautiful young girl and took it to Ioi, who advised him to take the body to the land of the dead to be revived. Bluejay set out on his journey and arrived at the first village of the Supernatural People. They asked him, “How long has she been dead?” “Only a day,” he answered. The Supernatural People of the first village then informed him that there was nothing they could do to help him; he must go to the village where people who were dead for exactly one day were revived.
Bluejay arrived at the next village the next day and asked the people to revive his wife. The people here too asked him how long she had been dead. “Two days now,” he replied. “There is nothing we can do; we only revive those who were dead exactly one day.” So Bluejay went on. He reached the third village on the day after that and asked the people to revive his wife. “How long has she been dead?” they asked. “Exactly three days now.”
“Most unfortunate,” they replied. “We can only revive those who have been dead exactly two days.” And so it went on from village to village until Bluejay finally came to the fifth village, where the people could at last help him. The people of the fifth village liked Bluejay and made him a chief.
But the trickster tired of the Underworld and wanted to take his newly revived wife back to the land of the living. When Bluejay arrived at home with his wife, her brother saw she was alive once more and ran to tell their father, an old chief, who demanded that Bluejay cut off all of his hair as a gift to his new in-laws.
When there was no response from Bluejay, the chief became angry and led a party of male relatives to find him. Just as they nearly caught him, Bluejay assumed the form of a bird and flew off again to the land of the dead. At this, his wife’s body fell to the ground lifeless. She went to meet her husband in the land where he was now an exile.
This story explains how the Chinook Indians were created.