Native American myth/tradition supports Bigfoot? A critical look.

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Because it’s very much in the spirit of this blog, I thought I’d reproduce a piece by JREF forum poster “kitakaze” on the validity of claims about the Native American evidence for Bigfoot. It’s an interesting reminder of how history can be more easily co-opted to suit certain agendas by taking advantage of ignorance – ignorance of the past and of cultures and traditions alien to our own. Spurious claims are much more plausible when the audience has no frame of reference, and especially if they recognise that indigenous cultures are important to world history. This case, that Native Americans had Bigfoot myths, or even lived side-by-side with such creatures, reminded me of the Welsh Prince-Finds-America post I wrote a while ago. It sounds plausible, but once you start to do some research, or even just ask somebody who’s already done some, the names, places and people are shown to be just handy labels for some seriously wishful thinking. See what you think, and check the original thread for some comments:

It is my assertion that Native American traditions do not support the existence of bigfoot and that what is put forth by bigfoot enthusiasts as evidence for the existence of bigfoot has been cherry-picked and misrepresented. In my opinion this at best amounts to a collection of boogeyman tales not significantly different than that of countless other cultures.

A good example of this is the lengthy discussion in the ‘Simple Challenge for Bigfoot Supporters‘ thread on the JREF Forums regarding kushtaka (kû’cta-qa), a mythical being in the traditions of the Tlingit people of northwestern North America. We were told that kushtaka was a well-known and supported term for bigfoot and after much discussion and examination by skeptics the claim was dropped after the ‘Land Otter Man’ nature of the myth was established.

More recently we were told of the bukwus of the Kwakiutl people of Northern Vancouver Island:

One tribe dresses as animals and all the animals are known creatures except the sasquatch or buk’wus as they call them. They just consider it another primate and think nothing strange about its existence.

This poster was apparently unaware of the legendary Thunderbird and its place in Kwakiutl mythology. As for the supposed sasquatch/bukwus, again, critical examination reveals…

From the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture:

Like the Dzoonokwa, Bukwus is a wild creature of the woods. Described as a “chief of the ghosts”, he tempts travellers to eat his food, which transforms them into wild spirits like himself. The Bukwus dance is performed during the Tlasula.

From northwestcoastnativeartists.com:

Bukwus, the wild man of the woods, is a supernatural ghost like figure. He is associated with the spirits of people who have drowned. He lives in an invisible house in the forest and attracts the spirits of those who have drowned to his home.

Bukwus also tries to persuade humans to eat ghost food so that they will become like him. The Bukwus was a significant character for the Kwakiutl people.

One of the main proponents of correlations between Native traditions/mythology and bigfoot existence is a lady we’ve enjoyed much discussion with on the subject in the past here, US Forest Service Archaeologist Kathy Moskowitz Strain. Kathy is a bright women with a fine sense of humour who has over the years invested much study on the matter. She has a book on the subject forthcoming that is due to be released sometime this year IIRC. Kathy is a well-known bigfoot proponent/researcher who has appeared on the History Channel series Monster Quest a number of times. She posts here under the handle ‘Hairyman’.

Here is a youtube clip of her speaking on Native myths/traditions and bigfoot on the ‘Gigantopithecus: The Real King Kong’ episode of Monster Quest:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=vUThgEGxjEM

I find myself in disagreement with some key ideas of Kathy’s on the subject and think some can be illustrated by her comments in the above Monster Quest clip. For example, the statement “…as a scientist and archaeologist it doesn’t make sense to me that tribes would give names to imaginary creatures.” I find it difficult following Strain’s reasoning here. It seems to presuppose the idea that Native American cultures did not have mythical creatures when, as is clear with the example of the ubiquitous Thunderbird, we know this to not be the case.

She also states in the clip “that Native Americans have literally a hundred names for these creatures and I’m still discovering them.” Interestingly she then lists a few and includes the word ‘sasquatch’ which we have often been told to be a native word. Once again, upon further examination the word turns out to be a neologism coined in the 20’s by a British Colombian school teacher, J.W. Burns:

Formal use of “Sasquatch” can be traced to the 1920s, when the term was coined by J.W. Burns, a school teacher at the Chehalis, British Columbia Indian Reserve, on the Harrison River about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. Burns collected Native American accounts of large, hairy creatures said to live in the wild. Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark wrote that Burns’s “Native American informants called these beasts by various names, including ‘sokqueatl’ and ‘soss-q’tal'” (Coleman and Clark, p. 215). Burns noted the phonetically similar names for the creatures and decided to invent one term for them all.

Over time, Burns’s neologism “Sasquatch” came to be used by others, primarily in the Pacific Northwest. In 1929, Maclean’s published one of Burns’s articles, “Introducing British Columbia’s Hairy Giants,” which called the large creatures by this term.

Here is a partial list (from here) of tradtional Native names from the eastern United States provided by Strain that are supposed to represent bigfoot:

The list is not all there is, just what picked out quickly from a list of several hundred:

Tribe – Traditional Name – Translation

Alabama-Coushatta – Eeyachuba – Wild man
Algonkian – Yeahoh– Wild man
Caddo – Ha’yacatsi – Lost giants
Cherokee – Kecleh-Kudleh – Hairy savage
Cherokee – Nun’ Yunu’ Wi – Stone man
Chickasaw – Lofa – Smelly, hairy being that could speak
Chippewa – Djeneta` – Giant
Choctaw – Kashehotapalo – Cannibal man
Choctaw – Nalusa Falaya – Big giant
Choctaw – Shampe – Giant monster
Comanche – Mu pitz – Cannibal monster
Comanche – Piamupits – Cannibal monster
Creeks – Honka – Hairy man
Iroquois – Ot ne yar heh – Stonish giant
Iroquois – Tarhuhyiawahku – Giant monster
Iroquois/Seneca – Ge no sqwa – Stone giants
Menomini – Manabai’wok – The Giants
Micmac – Chenoo – Devil cannibal
Mosopelea – Yeahoh – Monster
Ojibwa – Manito – Wild man
Seminole – Esti capcaki -Tall man
Seminole – Ssti capcaki – Tall hairy man
Seneca – Ge no’sgwa – Stone giants

Here’s another list of Native American names alledged to correlate to bigfoot compiled by Kyle Mizokami, Henry Franzoni, Jeff Glickman. Some examples of some of the more ambiguous entries:

Name>Tribe>Translation

Skanicum – Colville Indians – “Stick Indians”

Steta’l – Puyallup/Nisqually Indian – “Spirt Spear”

Qui yihahs – Yakama/Klickitat Indian – “The Five Brothers”

Kushtaka – Tlingit Indian – “Otter Man”

Tah tah kle’ ah – Yakama/Shasta Indian – “Owl Woman Monster”

Gilyuk – Nelchina Plateau Indian – “Big Man with little hat”

Ge no’sgwa – Seneca Indian – “Stone Coats”

Atahsaia – Zuni Indian – “The Cannibal Demon”

Misinghalikun – Lenni Lenape Indian – “Living Solid Face”

Wsinkhoalican – Lenni Lenape Indian – “The Game Keeper”

Hecaitomixw – Quinault Indians – “Dangerous Being”

Yé’iitsoh – Navajo Indians – “Big God ”

It’s nice that they have a great big list put together but one wonders how they established a link to bigfoot or if it just ‘felt right’.

One of the prime examples that I have seen put forward by bigfoot enthusiasts countless time is Dsonoqua, The Wild Woman of the Woods. A classic boogeyman type figure, she is a mythical being of the Kwakiutl people of the northern tip of Vancouver Island and the adjacent BC coast who is said to be a stealer of children.

One thing that is a bit frustrating is the wide variation of spellings of Dsonoqua when rendered in the Roman alphabet. Here is a link to the Kwakiutl Tales Index collected and translated by Franz Boas circa 1910, which contains this entry entitled “The Dzô’noqwa”.

The tale is somewhat reminiscent of The Brothers Grimm’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’.

This is from reknowned Canadian artist Emily Carr’s book ‘Klee Wyck’ (1941) entitled ‘D’Sonoqua’, and below are some images [- see whether you think Dzô’noqwa/D’Sonoqua, or any other claimed Native American depictions of “bigfeet”, objectively fit with the Sasquatch/Bigfoot myth, or whether they are part of a rich mythological tradition in its own right – bshistorian].
totem_dzunukwa.jpgdson.jpgtsonoquad.jpgaa265a.jpg

I think what you have here is the classic case of footers highjacking a native myth and trying to wrench it into bigfoot evidence. It seems clear from all that I’ve seen so far that dsonoqua was held by the Kwakiutl to be a boogeyman type figure and not the representation of a species of 8ft giant bipedal primate that they shared their land with. I will look further into this.

Thank you for those observations, kitakaze – needless to say (and for what it’s worth!), I agree. Anyone stumbling across this piece should check out the JREF forum for further and future discussion of these claims about the “bigfeet”, and more besides.