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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Land of the Ghost Dance

Eagle, the supreme spirit of all flying creatures, wanted to create people. So he sent two children to earth, a boy and a girl. They created more children, and in time there were many, many people everywhere on earth. It seems that no one ever died. More and more people were created, and soon the world was becoming much too crowded.

Everyone pondered the question of what could be done about the crowded conditions on earth? Then a boy died! His people were very sad to lose him, and friends gathered to comfort the family of the lost boy. They said to each other, "Let us not die, let us not die!"

Buy Coyote replied, "People must die, people must die!"

Soon thereafter the parents buried the little boy. But in their hearts, they were disturbed about what Coyote kept saying. Now they secretly wished that Coyote's child might die. Perhaps then he would understand somewhat of how they felt about losing their son.

A few moons passed, when Coyote's child became ill and he died. Coyote wanted so much to bring him back to life. He even followed his child's spirit to the land where the Ghosts danced about a fire. There he watched the spectacular cavortings of the Ghosts dancing continuously, enjoying their frolic.

Coyote built his own fire of wild parsnips to attract his child's ghost. When the Ghost clan smelled the burning parsnips, they could not stand the aroma and gave Coyote's child back to him. They returned happily to their homeland.

On their way, Coyote was so very delighted to have his child with him. Coyote asked, "What wish would you like to have me grant you?"

"Father, for ten years you must never scold me," replied the child.

All was happiness for five years, no one scolded Coyote's child. Then someone forgot and scolded him, and he died a second time. Again Coyote went to the Land of the Ghost Dance. Again the Ghosts saw Coyote return and said, "Go back, go back to your home and return the day after tomorrow to see your child."

Joyous at the future prospect of seeing his child again, Coyote practically danced all the way home. Because he was tired from the excitement of his journey, Coyote lay down to rest when he reached his home. The very next day, his friends found Coyote dead in his own bed. Coyote's spirit returned for the third time to the Land of the Ghost Dance, and for the third time was welcomed by his child and the other dancing Ghosts.

Shasta Indians used to say that no one should follow the dead to the Land of the Ghost Dance, or soon they, too, would become a new Ghost in the Land of the Ghost Dance!

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.