Origins of Fire (Deer Steals Fire)¹

A long time ago, People did not have fire. Men did not have fire. Until one day an old man told his daughter, who was often very lazy, to stop her laziness and do something. The old man knew his daughter had a very nice bow and was a very good shot. He told his daughter to shoot her arrow into the navel of the ocean so that they could obtain fire.

In that time, there was a whirlpool in the navel of the ocean where sticks had rubbed together so much that friction caused them to alight with flame. Anything that fell into the whirlpool caught fire. The girl listened to her father and shot an arrow into the navel of the ocean, which shot a piece of flaming debris towards her. She took the flaming debris to her father. So it was that the father and daughter were the only beings to have fire.

The father built a house around his fire to protect it from thieves. Those who tried to steal the fire were trapped in the house and killed. But Deer had a plan to steal the fire for the People. Deer tied cedar bark dipped in resin to the tip of his tail. He traveled to where the old man and his daughter lived, singing and dancing all the way. As he got closer to their house, the daughter heard Deer sing, and fell in love with his voice and graceful dancing.

She watched as the Deer approached, dancing and singing so beautifully, and pleaded with her father that Deer be let in to sing and dance for them. Her father relented and let Deer come in. Deer told him he was cold and would like to warm himself by singing and dancing by the fire. The old man agreed but told him to not get too close to the fire.

Deer sang and danced around the fire, getting closer and closer to the fire as he did so. Finally, when he was close enough to the fire, he spun his tail, caught the cedar alight then leapt with his powerful legs out of the smoke hole in the roof of the house. He ran too fast and jumped too far to be caught. Deer brought fire to all the People. But the fire burned the hair on his tail and turned it black. That is how fire was brought to all and why Black-tailed deer have such dark tails.

¹ This tale comes mainly from documented stories of the Mowachaht (Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations/Nootka) , Tsimshian and the K’òmoks (Vancouver Island) people. This version more closely resembles the K’òmoks version. The book  Myths of the Origin of Fire  by James George Frazer and various retellings from Frans Boas of the tale iterate that this story was popular in that area. It has since spread across the Pacific Northwest and changed many times in its retelling.