An Indigenous Fable: How Maskwa (Bear) Lost His Tail

Deep Freeze Fête’s cultural fables

Adapted by Melissa-Jo Belcourt | Cree Translation by Wayne Jackson. Arts on the Ave has allowed RCP to post this fable online.

In the beginning, Bear had a long, beautiful bushy tail of which he was quite proud. Bear was vain and loved to show off his tail to all the other animals. Now Coyote being the trickster, loved to play tricks, and one day decided to teach Bear a lesson.

It was winter, and the lake had frozen. Bear was out of his den, and Coyote knew Bear would be hungry, so he decided to lure Bear with some fish. Coyote knew bear loved to eat fish, so he cut a hole in the ice and stacked many fish next to it.

When Bear saw all the fish, he was excited. He asked Coyote to teach him how to catch so many fish. Bear swore he would do everything Coyote told him, so Coyote agreed. Coyote took Bear to another spot in the lake and cut a hole in the ice.

Coyote turned to bear and told him he must put his bushy tail into the water and sit very still to catch the fish. Coyote warned Bear that Bear should not think of anything because fish can read thoughts. Coyote went off into the bushes and said he would tell bear when to pull his tail out of the water.

Indigenous culture has many fables to enjoy. | Rebecca Lippiatt

Bear did as he was told. He did not move and he did not think. Coyote watched Bear sitting so still and laughed and laughed, rolling upon the ground. But soon, Coyote grew tired and went home.

The next morning, Coyote went back to the lake, wondering if Bear had gone home. It had snowed during the night. When Coyote approached the lake, he saw a mound on the ice covered with snow. The mound was Bear, who had fallen asleep.

Quietly, Coyote crept up to Bear, and began to shout: “Now, Bear! Now! Pull your tail up, now!”

Hearing the commands, Bear woke up and immediately tried to pull his tail out of the water. As he pulled, a loud snap was heard. Bear turned to look, thinking he had caught a lot of fish. But there were no fish. Bear’s beautiful tail had frozen in the water and broken off when he tried to pull it out.

Groaning, Bear yelled at coyote. Bear was angry because he lost his beautiful tail through Coyote’s trick, but he learned a valuable lesson.

To this day, Bear continues to have a short tail, and still does not like Coyote. Sometimes in the woods, a bear’s groaning can be heard. Bear groans because he is remembering the trick Coyote played long ago.

What is the lesson trickster Coyote taught Bear?

Feature Image: In this Indigenous fable, Coyote plays a trick on Bear.



How Maskwa (Bear) Lost His Tail
tânisîsi maskwa ê-isi-wanihtât osoy

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