The God of the Bible has skillfully sewn timeless principles into many Alaska legends. In Native culture, inspiring lessons stitch children to their heritage. Often anthropologists overlook the craft that touches the hearts of Native peoples, but we hear an echo of God’s counsel in their stories.
One tale guides us to the Biblical principle of selflessness and warns how that a lifestyle of greed can shape us into someone we never wanted to become. The Tlingit Indians of Southeast Alaska tell this story:
Game and fish had moved far away from the hunting grounds of a starving Tlingit warrior, his young wife, and his elderly mother. They survived by foraging berries and roots.
The warrior traveled for weeks to find new hunting grounds, and while he was gone his young wife discovered a peculiar way of summoning schools of candlefish (hooligan) to the shore. She kept the secret, and ate fish each night by herself, burying the bones carefully so that no one would know.
One night, the warrior’s elderly mother smelled candlefish frying—but when she asked for some, her daughter-in-law told her she had only been dreaming.
The young woman grew stronger and more vibrant as her husband and his mother grew weaker. One night the warrior followed his wife to the seashore and discovered her shameful secret. Fearful of the warrior’s wrath, the young woman fled up a mountain.
She kept climbing and felt herself growing smaller as her conscience troubled her over denying her starving family the candlefish. Standing upon a great boulder she cried out loudly—but only a soft “hooting” came from her lips. She felt feathers sprouting from her arms, then her face.
The warrior reached the boulder just as the young woman’s change was complete. He watched the small owl, staring at him with his wife’s pleading eyes, and he reached out to her—but she backed away from his open hand. Humanity in her large eyes slowly faded. She stretched her wings, and fled to the forest, hooting mournfully.
Her husband had hoped to woo her from her selfishness with kindness, but greed had captured his wife’s heart and transformed her.
Forever in the Alaska bush, one may hear the plaintive call of the owl, reminding us of a young woman who paid a price for her selfishness.
Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.
Then he [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”