Coyote Rescues Hawk: A Chumash Story

Coyote Rescues Hawk is a traditional Chumash story, retold by Alan Salazar, who is a Chumash tribal elder and storyteller. This book is illustrated by Mona Lewis, who uses natural colors in her illustrations. In the story, a hawk, Khwitš, paddled off with a couple of other bird friends in a canoe to go fishing. Trying to catch a great swordfish, he becomes tangled in his fishing line and is pulled down to the swordfish’s crystal house at the bottom of the ocean.

His bird friends talk with the golden eagle, who is the chief of the village. He suggests that they ask Coyote to rescue Khwitš, since Coyote is very clever. Coyote is a trickster in many Native American traditions. Coyote heads down to the home of the swordfish and learns that the powerful swordfish are transformed into men by a mystical fog when they come to their crystal home. Coyote hides beneath some whale bones and, when the men find him, he tricks them into racing with him on the following day.

Whale bones from the Channel Islands Maritime Museum

Grabbing the tail of one of the swordfish as he turns from a man into a fish, Coyote hitches a ride to the surface. As he emerges from the water, he calls to his friends, including a dolphin as well as birds, and they help him rescue the hawk.

One of the swordfish-men accuses Coyote of cheating, but Coyote disagrees. “You never said I could not use the help of a friend,” he says. “Just because I have friends that are willing to help me does not mean that I cheated. It means I am smart enough to have powerful friends.”

Coyote feasts with the others and tells his friends a less-than-accurate story about how he rescued the hawk. “[They] all enjoyed the story…They did not believe the story,” the story ends, “but they enjoyed it.”

Read the story to your students and share the illustrations.

Stories about Coyote, and other trickster tales, often have feature less than honest or honorable behavior, even though things turn out well in the end. In this story, Coyote intentionally gives the swordfish-men food that upsets their stomachs until they beg him for an antidote. He cheats in the race and deceives the captors of the hawk in order to rescue him. Then he boasts to his friends, telling them a completely different story. Even his claim that he is smart enough to have powerful friends is a little bit unsavory. Discuss Coyote’s choices with the class. If your students are old enough, consider a debate on whether Coyote made the right choices.

The Chumash

The Chumash are Native Americans from central and Southern California, including the Channel Islands. The Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation website gives the background of this group’s history. Use a map of California and the map on p. 9 of the picture book Coyote Rescues Hawk to identify  the places mentioned at the history website.

The website mentions the traditional Chumash boats, called tomol, and Coyote Rescues Hawk shares instructions for making models of these canoes, which are part of the story as well. On p. 67, you will find two ways to make a paper model. If you examined the model ships of the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, this would be a good time to compare the Chumash ships with the European-style ships in that post.

Online resources with information on the Chumash:

  • The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History has information about the Chumash with many details that will be interesting to kids. They also have a book, The Chumash People, with extensive information about Chumash history and way of life, suggestions for activities, games, songs including sheet music, and art projects.
  • The California Frontier Project has information that should be comfortable reading for middle school.
  • Dark Water Journey is a first-person story of a tomol journey which should be appealing to high school students.
  • The Chumash Museum has a collection of educational resources from videos to worksheets.

It’s important to recognize that there are still living Chumash people. Just as Ancient Egypt is part of history but there are still Egyptian people, we can learn about Chumash history without neglecting the fact that there are still Chumash people in California and elsewhere.

Coyote Rescues Hawk has a section on the Chumash language and on the history of the tomol, as well as a section on using natural colors like ocher to paint your model boats.

You might also enjoy “Chumash Legend of the Dolphins,” on p. 43 of Ghosts of Santa Barbara and the Ouija Valley, a local author’s collection of ghost stories and spooky tales from this region of California. This story tells how Hutash, the Earth Mother, transformed Chumash people into dolphins.

With the dolphin-humans and the swordfish-men in Coyote Rescues Hawk, you have a good start on a study of shape-shifters, one of the subjects included in our Arctic Data Unit.

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