The Wolf in Native American Folklore
The Native Americans believed the earth and
everything in it was a huge, living web, sharing one common spirit. The animals were not lesser
beings, but part of the "four-footed" tribes, which provided special help to their human
relatives. And every stone, plant, and animal was a teacher whose traits could provide a model
for human behavior.
Wolves held a special place in almost all
Native American tribes. They were admired for their strength and powers of endurance, and
taught the tribes many skills. They taught the tribes about sharing, cooperating while hunting
and looking after the young, caring and having pride in their tribes. They showed the Indians
how to move in the forests -- carefully and quietly. The hunters looked for signs of them, for
when game was scarce, the wolves would be gone. And after killing the prey, a good hunter always
left a piece of meat behind. Some tribes thought that we were the creatures most patterned
after the wolf, and not the other way around. Contrasting with European folklore, where wolves
are usually depicted as evil, Native American folklore has wise wolves that teach lessons to
their human counterparts.
There is a Lakota story about a woman hurt
and left behind that became a part of a wolf pack. She stayed with them for many years, but she
finally realized that she had to return to her people. She brought with her many skills of the
wolf, such as predicting weather far in advance and alerting the village when there were animals
or other humans nearby.
The wolf, more often than not, was called a
female. It held great magic, possessing the power of night, the healing powers of the spirits,
and the wisdom to instill courage. There is an Omaha story in which a wolf guides a wounded
warrior back to his camp, alerting him whenever there are enemy warriors nearby and showing him
the easiest path. In the Cherokee tribe, there was a clan called the wolf people. They would
never kill a wolf, believing the spirit of the slain wolf would revenge its death. The Cherokee
also believed that if a hunter showed respect and prayed before and after killing an animal,
the deer, the wolf, the fox, and the oppossum would guard his feet against frostbite. To the
Hudson Bay Eskimos, the wolf was a poor woman who couldn't find enough for her children to eat.
The family grew thin and weak and were changed into wolves. The pain of the mother can still be
heard when she calls out howling. The Pueblo Indians, on the other hand, believe that the wolf
was a gift from their mother creator Ut'set. The wolf, the bear, the badger, and the shrew were
sent to use their magic and harden the earth. When they did, the ground was no longer too wet
for the people to walk on. And for the Tewa Indians, the wolves held the powers of the east,
and were one of the zenith power-medicine animals.
The Indians watched the Europeans come
and kill the wolves. They thought it was akin to the story of Cain and Abel, for wolves are
men's brothers. The Blackfoot and Lakota believe that a gun used to shoot a wolf will never
shoot straight again.
Information from Running Deer's Longhouse
Used with Written Permission.