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Native American Folktales: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Nora Jarvis

Nora has a Master's degree in teaching, and has taught a variety of elementary grades.

A folktale is told by one person to another and gets passed down through the generations. Native American tribes all over the country are known for their folktales, which storytellers made come alive. In this lesson, you'll learn about creation stories and trickster stories from the Ojibwe and Salishan tribes and more.

Folktales

A good storyteller can make a story come alive, sometimes using songs and voices. Native American storytellers passed stories down from generation to generation, with the stories changing slightly each time, as each person made the story their own. Some stories were just told aloud and some were written down in picture form.

Folktales are an important part of Native American culture. The stories were usually about animals and the land around them. A tribe that lived in the desert might write about cacti or snakes. A tribe that lives in the mountains might write about pine trees and wolves. The two most common types of Native American folktales are creation and trickster stories. Let's look at some examples from a few different tribes.

Creation Stories

A popular type of story in Native American folktales is the creation story. Tribes used these stories to explain why the world around them looked and behaved the way it did. Some creation stories are about the beginning of all humanity, while some explain something smaller, like why an animal has a distinctive trait.

The Ojibwe tribe tells a story of how the rainbow was made. Nanabozho, a trickster-god in other stories, wanted to paint the plain white flowers in a meadow. He had pots of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet paint sitting out. Some birds were flying and chasing each other across the sky. Their wings dipped into the paint pots and spread the paint across the sky into the shape of a rainbow.

The creation story from the Ojibwe tribe tells how rainbows are made
rainbow

A creation story from the Creek tribe explains why opossums have a bare tail. Opossum asked Raccoon how he got such a nice, bushy tail, and Raccoon explained that he wrapped bark around part of his tail, and then singed it in the fire to create the dark rings. Opossum tried this method, but the fire was too hot! He burned all the hair off his tail, leaving it bare forever.

Trickster Stories

Another type of story that frequently comes up is the trickster story. A trickster is a character that is sneaky and tries to trick other characters, but it usually backfires on them and they end up being tricked! Tribes told trickster stories for several reasons and they usually had a moral, or lesson, to be learned. These stories also attempted to explain the worst parts of human impulses: tricksters can be mean, sneaky, or rude to other characters.

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