OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the annular solar eclipse crosses over North America on Saturday, Oct. 14, tribal nations across the U.S. are using the occasion to pass down cultural teachings, share stories and ensure members, especially younger generations, learn sacred traditions.
Here are a few examples:
For the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the 66 tribal towns each have a unique story surrounding eclipses, Chris Hill, a cultural specialist for Native American programming in Tulsa Public Schools, said.
The story he grew up with was that a rabbit being chased by a little boy transformed into a “little person” and offered the boy three wishes. After food and friends, the boy asked for shade. So, the little person lobbed cornmeal at the sun, covering it, and proclaimed the moon and sun have been brought together. The little person then teaches the boy a “friendship dance.” The eclipse symbolizes that friendship.
“During that time of the eclipse, we all pay homage, we all get silent. We all basically don’t do anything during that time. But we also prepare medicines for that time, too,” Hill said.
Dawn Standridge of Wheelock Academy recently told Beavers Bend Cabin Country the story of Fʋni Lusa – a hungry, mischievous black squirrel who decided to eat the sun.
The Choctaw people decided to scare Fʋni Lusa away by making a lot of noise. So they yelled, hit pots and pans together, and shoot guns into the air until the sun returned.
In celebration, they yelled, “Fʋni Lusa-hosh Mahlatah!” which means “The black squirrel is frightened!”
Standridge says the Choctaw Nation is hoping to keep this tradition alive in 2024, when the total solar eclipse is set to pass through Choctaw Nation.
A similar story is told in Cherokee tradition, although the animal is slightly different.
A giant, hungry frog swallowed the sun, and sometimes the moon. When that happened, the Cherokee people would make noise on drums or turtle shell rattlers. The men would shoot guns and the women would bang pots and pans to scare off the frog until the sun returned.
The Seminole people also told of a great, hungry frog.
“When the sun is eclipsed, the Seminoles believe that a toad frog comes and gradually eats away the sun’s surface until it completely disappears. They fire guns (formerly arrows) at the toad frog to prevent the eclipse. When Josie Billie was a small boy, he remembers that people at his father’s camp shot off guns and raised a great clamor when either the sun or the moon suffered eclipse,” wrote Irvin M. Peithmann in 1956.
Peter Le Claire, a tribal historian, wrote, “The old Poncas thought that when an eclipse came the sun was dead. They called an eclipse Mí-t’e, which means ‘dead sun.'”
For the Diné, or Navajo, an eclipse is about solemnity — not spectacle. It marks the end of a cycle and the power of when the moon and sun are in alignment. When the sun is blocked, it is undergoing a rebirth. It also is seen as the moon and the sun embracing each other.
“There’s so many things we’re not supposed to do as Diné people compared to other tribes, where it’s OK for them to look at the eclipse or be out or do things,” said Krystal Curley, executive director of nonprofit Indigenous Life Ways.
Don’t: Look at the eclipse, eat, drink, sleep or engage in physical activity.
Do: Sit at home and reflect or pray during what’s considered an intimate, celestial moment.
Paul Begay, a Diné cultural adviser for guided hikes with Taadidiin Tours in Antelope Canyon, said he was taught from a young age that deities are responsible for creation starting with the first man and first woman, who traveled through four worlds.
Begay described an eclipse as a disturbance, or death of the sun, which is considered a father figure in Navajo culture. Out of respect, he said, all activity stops.
“It’s just a show of reverency, a show of being the way the holy people would want you to be,” Begay said. “Of course, the eclipse will subside in due time and activities go back to normalcy.”
Shiyé Bidzííl, who is Diné and Lakota, said Lakota believe they descend from “Star People,” and he wants to educate his children on the significance of the celestial alignment.
In southern Oregon, GeorGene Nelson, director of the Klamath Tribes’ language department, said the story she learned is that a grizzly bear is trying to eat the moon. Meanwhile, a frog jumps on the moon and the moon decides to keep the frog as his wife so she can chase away the bear. The frog ends up married to the sun, too.
“Our people used to gather when these eclipses started happening… calling for the frog to come,” Nelson said. “When the eclipse is over with, then that’s the frog being successful in chasing the grizzly bear.”