One time the Great Spirit called all the Animal people together. They came from all over the earth to one camp and set up their lodges. Spirit Chief said there was going to be a change; there was to be a new kind of people. He told all the Animal people they would now each have a name.
“Some of you have names already; some have no names. Tomorrow, however, everyone will have a name. This name will be yours forever, for all your descendants. In the morning you must come to my lodge and choose a name for yourself. The first one to come may choose any name he wants. The next person will take any other name. That is how it will go. And to each person, I will give a responsibility.”
All the Animal people wanted to have powerful names and to be well-known. They wanted to be first at Old Man’s lodge in the morning. Coyote walked around saying he would be the first. He did not like his name … he was called Trickster and Imitator. Everybody said those names fitted him, but he wanted to be called something else.
I will take one of the three powerful names,” said Coyote. “The Mountain Person, Grizzly Bear who rules all the four-leggeds, or Eagle who rules the birds, or Good Swimmer, the Salmon, the chief of the Fish People. These are the best names; I will take one of these.”
Fox, who was Coyote’s brother, said, “Maybe you will have to keep the name you have – Sinkalip. People don’t like that name; no-one wants it!”
“I am tired of that name – Sinkalip!” said Coyote. “Let some old person who cannot do anything take it. I am a warrior! Tomorrow, when I am called Grizzly Bear or Eagle or Salmon, you will not talk like this! You will beg to have my new name, brother.”
“You had better go home and get some sleep, Sinkalip,” said Fox, “or you will not wake up in time to get any name!”
But Coyote didn’t go home. He went around asking the Animal people questions. When he heard the answers he would say, “Oh I knew that before; I did not have to ask!” This is the way he was. He lost his shirt in a game of hoop and stick, then he went home and talked with his wife. She would be called Mole, the Mound Digger after the naming day.
“Bring in plenty of wood now. I must stay awake all night. Tomorrow I must get my new name. I will be Grizzly Bear, and I will be a great warrior and a chief!”
Coyote sat watching the fire. Mole went to bed with the children. Half the night passed, and Coyote found himself getting sleepy – his eyes grew heavy and started to close, so he took two small sticks and wedged them between his eyelids to keep his eyes open. “Now I can stay awake,” he thought – but before long he was asleep, with his eyes wide open.
The sun was high in the sky when Coyote woke up. Mole made a noise that woke Coyote. She did not wake him up before this because she was afraid if he got a great name he would go away and leave her, so she said nothing.
As soon as Coyote awoke he hurried to the lodge of Old Man. Seeing no-one around he thought he was the first, and he went right in, saying very loudly, “I am going to be Grizzly Bear; that shall be my name!”
“The name Grizzly Bear was taken at dawn,” said the Great Spirit.
“Then my name shall be Eagle!”
“Eagle flew away at sunrise,” said Great Spirit.
“Well then I shall be called Salmon!” said Coyote.
“The name Salmon has also be taken,” said the Great Spirit. “All the names have been taken except yours; no-one wanted to steal your name.”
Coyote looked very sad. He sat down by the fire and was very quiet. The Great Spirit was touched
“Imitator,” he said, “you must keep your name. It is a good name for you. I wanted you to have that name, so I made you sleep late; I wanted you to be the last one here. I have very important work for you to do. The New People are coming and you will be their chief.
“There are many bad creatures on the earth. You will have to kill them, otherwise, they will eat the New People. When you do this, the New People will honor you. They will say you are a great chief. Even the ones who come after them will remember what you have done, and they will honor you
for killing the monsters and for teaching the New People the ways of things and of living.
“The New People will know nothing when they come … they will not know how to dress, to sing, to shoot an arrow. It will be for you to teach them all these things. And you will put the buffalo out for them, and teach them to catch salmon.
“But you will do foolish things too, and the New People will laugh at you. You cannot help this; it will be your way.
“To make your work easier, I will give you a very special power: you will be able to change yourself into anything; you will be able to talk to anything and hear anything talk to except the water.
“If you die, you will come back to life. This will be your way, Changing Person; do your work well!”
Coyote was glad. He went right out and began his work … he worked to make things right. This is the way it was with him, and thus it is to this day