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This legend tells the origin of Killerwhales.

There once was a young man named Naatsilanéi. He was a very good hunter. Because he was such a good hunter his brother-in-law were jealous of him.

So one day they took him away out to a large bare rock in the sea. There were many seals and sealions on that rock. While Naatsilanéi was on the rock the brothers-in-law started paddling away in their canoe. All except the youngest brother-in-law wanted to leave Naatsilanéi on the big rock. The youngest man tried to help him by getting the brothers-in-law to go back. But they finally did leave Naatsilanéi and went back to their camp.

Not having anything to do Naatsilanéi slept a lot. One day while he was still sleeping he heard someone come up to him. He heard, "I've come to help you."

When he looked, there was no one around. So he pulled the blanket up over his head again. Again he heard the same voice, "I have come to help you." Now he knew that something was there that would help him.

He made a little peekhole in his blanket. Through the hole he saw a seagull coming toward him. Before the seagull could speak, Naatsilanéi said, "I have seen you already!" Then the seagull told Naatsilanéi that he would be asked to cure somebody. He would be asked to help a sick person. If he cured the sick person, he would be rewarded.

At low tide Naatsilanéi went down to find seafood. Seafood was the only food he could find on this rock. While he was looking around the rocks, lifting the wide kelp hunting for food, he found a place that seemed to be a door. He entered the door and was inside a large house.

At the back of the house was a sick man-the chief's son. As soon as Naatsilanéi looked at the sealion, he could see why he was sick. There was a broken spearhead in his back. Asked if he could cure him, he replied, "Yes."

He began to act like a medicine man. He asked for water. Singing like a medicine man, he circled around the dying young man. After using the water to wash the wound, he took hold of the spearhead. He gave it a little turn and pulled it out. That's all there was to that. He could easily see why the sealions had not been able to see the spearhead themselves.

When he was asked what he wanted for payment the seagull advised him to accept one of the bags hanging from the ceiling. So he asked for one of the bags, which is the west wind bag.

The sealions gave it to him, telling him the bag would take him ashore from this rock. He was warned not to think of this island where he was at. He was only to think of his home at all times. So he got inside the bag. He was pretty much on his way toward land when he thought of the island. He felt the bag bumping on the rocks. There he was right back on the island again!

The sealion people came out, put him in the bag again and set him adrift. He drifted towards land again. But this time he thought and thought only of land. Very soon he was bumping against the beach on the mainland.

At night when everyone was asleep he came to his wife. He asked her for his carving tools. That was all he took. Then he went back to a place where he set up his dwelling.

Then he started carving killerwhales. First he used cottonwood. He carved eight of them. Eight different killerwhales. When he finished carving he dug a big hole like a pond in front of his dwelling. He set them there on the beach. He told them to go out and bring him all the fish, seals, or whatever food they could get. The killerwhales jumped into the pond. There was a lot of commotion, a lot of foam in the pond. But very soon the killerwhales came drifting up again out of the water.

Next he carved from red cedar. Again when he finished carving he set them on the beach. Again he instructed them to go after food. And again the same thing happened. The killerwhales just drifted back to shore.

Next he tried hemlock. The same thing happened. Then he tried other kinds of wood.

Finally he tried yellow cedar. Again he carved eight killerwhales. He lined them up on the beach. He talked to them. When he had finished talking they jumped into the water and swam out to sea. This time they stayed underwater. They brought back to him codfish, red snapper, king salmon, halibut, seals, or whatever they could get hold of because those killerwhales were made to be good hunters. Every day they brought back a lot of seafood. Before too long Naatsilanéi had filled his house full of food. Whatever the killerwhales had brought for him.

Then one day he saw his brothers'-in-law clan moving to another camp in their canoes. He set the killerwhales on the beach. He lined them up. Then he instructed them to swim out and wreck all the canoes. "Let those people drown because they were the people who left me on the rock to die. All except the youngest. He was the only one who tried to paddle back to help me."

Then the killerwhales went out and wrecked all the canoes. The young boy was thrown on the wreckage by the killerwhales. Two killerwhales had the wreckage behind their fins and brought him back to shore.

After this happened Naatsilanéi again lined up the killerwhales on the beach. He started talking to them, as if they were human beings. Finally he told them even though they were made to kill they should not harm human beings because it was a human being who had carved them. So to this day killerwhales will not harm any people at all even though they can kill anything that is in the water or in the sea.

Whenever Tlingits see them going by at sea, they consider them as hunters going out hunting. They ask them to bring food.

Whenever killerwhale fat is thrown into the fire it crackles like yellow cedar burning.

To this day, people who belong to Naatsilanéi's clan may use the killerwhale as their crest. They call themselves the killerwhale people. The crest may be used on their blankets, shirts, moccasins, dancing hats and helmets, totem poles. The crest may be identified by the dorsal fin and the sharp teeth.

At Klawock you can see a totem pole which shows Naatsilanéi with the killerwhales he had carved.

Tlingits call the killerwhale "KEET."

Teaching Unit on "Keet" >>>