Great Spirit gathered all the Animal People together to tell them that New People were coming. All the Animal People were going to have names that would be theirs forever, handed down to future generations. The Animal People were told to come to Great Spirit’s lodge the next morning at dawn and each in turn would receive their names. First come, first served.
Coyote hated his name. He didn’t want to be known as Trickster or Imitator. He wanted a great name that the Animal People would respect and honor. He would ask to be called Grizzly Bear for his strength. If that name was taken, he would ask to be called Eagle, for his swiftness. If that name was taken, he would ask to be called Salmon, the powerful swimmer. Satisfied with his plan, he stayed awake all night, putting twigs in his eyes to keep them from closing. He intended to be first so he could have the name he chose.
The next morning, he was pleased to see no one was around. Surely he was first to appear before Great Spirit. Joyfully he asked to be called Grizzly Bear. Great Spirit spoke, “Grizzly Bear was already here. He has taken his name.
“Oh,” said Coyote, delighted he had a strategy. “Then I will be Eagle.”
“Eagle has come and gone. He has taken his name,” said Great Spirit.
“Then I will be Salmon,” responded Coyote.
“That is impossible. Salmon has taken his name,” said Great Sprit.
Coyote was too upset to think of another name. “What name has not been taken?” he asked Great Spirit.
“All the Animal People have come and gone. You are the last to appear before me. No one wanted your name.” Coyote looked so miserable, Great Spirit said, “I made you sleep so you would be last to come. I need you to be who you are, Coyote.”
“But I don’t want to be who I am. I want a new name.”
“I need you to keep your name. I need you to be who you are. I have important work for you to do. The New People who are coming do not know anything. You know how to laugh and cry. You are brave and cowardly, wise and foolish, hard-hearted and kind. I need you to teach the New People how to be fully human, for that is who they are, human beings.”
Coyote was not convinced. “But if I am foolish, they will laugh at me. When I am cowardly, they will not respect me. How can I teach them?”
Great Spirit reassured him. “When you are foolish and wise, cowardly and brave, mean-spirited and kind, they will understand that no one is always foolish, always brave, always uncaring. You will see them through bad and good times. To help you do your work, I give you special gifts. You can change into any shape you choose. You can understand and talk to all who speak to you. If you die, you will be reborn. Shapechanger, go and do your work. You will do it well.”
Coyote felt his heavy spirit lighten and his heart fill with joy as he went out into the world to meet the New People, ready to do the work of Great Spirit.
Wit and wisdom from around the world and through the ages. Tales by Nancy King.