________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008

cover Beaver Steals Fire: A Salish Coyote Story.

Confederated Salish & Kootenay Tribes. Illustrated by Sam Sandoval.
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press (Distributed in Canada by Codasat Canada), 2005.
64 pp., pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 978-0-8032-4323-1.

Subject Headings:
Salish Indians-Folklore.
Kootenai Indians-Folklore.
Coyote (Legendary character)-Legends.

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Gail de Vos.

**** /4


A long, long time ago, the only animals who had fire lived in the land above, up in the sky. The animals on earth had no fire. They gathered and had a meeting. They wondered how they could obtain the fire from the sky world. The animals were very cold and needed to keep warm during winter. They made their decision, and they said, "The one who has the best song will be the leader of the raiding party to the sky world to steal fire." …

So Coyote went to the meeting lodge, where he was asked to sing. Coyote sang his song. Immediately they liked his song, and they began to dance. That was when Coyote was appointed leader of the raiding party.


And so begins the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes' traditional story of obtaining fire. Once the raiding party arrives in the sky world, Coyote appoints Beaver to steal the fire from Curlew. The fire is successfully brought to earth and passed from animal to animal so that all may benefit from its warmth.

internal art

     Engaging watercolour illustrations in earthy tones by Salish tribal artist Sandoval complement the simply written tale that, while telling its story straight and true, incorporates Salish terms for the animal protagonists. The note to teachers and parents offers relevant information regarding the role of fire in Salish cultural history and its ongoing role for contemporary society. The "Brief Guide to Written Salish and the International Phonetic Alphabet," by Shirley Trahan, presents sufficient information for non-Salish speakers to correctly pronounce the Salish words incorporated in the tale.

     The book was chosen as the picture book winner of the First American Indian Library Association Native American Youth Services Literature Award in 2006 and is part of a larger fire-education project focusing on native use of fire and the principles of fire ecology. An interactive DVD, Fire on the Land, contains a retelling of this story. Also available is a 25 minute DVD based on the picture book and hosted by the Salish elder and cultural leader, author Johnny Arlee. More information regarding the project and the DVDs can be found at www.cskt.org/tr/fire_firehistorproject.htm

     The story is prefaced by a request not to use or read this story aloud outside of the winter season. "The elders usually bring out the stories in November and put them away again when the snow is gone—usually by late February or March." ("A Note to the Reader.") It is with some trepidation that I offer this book review at this time of the year. Please respect their request.

Highly Recommended.

Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of seven books on storytelling and folklore.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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