Alaska: Origin of the Chilkat Blanket

Judson's note about the blanket: "Although the patterns of the Chilkat blankets vary, nearly all of them show, in symbolic weaving, the bear with his heart between his eyes, Gonaqadet the sea spirit, the boy, and the father of the chief's daughter. In some of them also, the raven and the thunderbird figure. Only the Indians can really interpret the various weavings, and their interpretations vary."

This story is part of the Alaskan Legends unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of Alaska, edited by Katharine Berry Judson (1911).

Origin of the Chilkat Blanket


IN the days of the animal people, long, long ago, all the animals were divided into different tribes. In those days also, animals could take off their furry skins; then they looked just like people.

Now in those days long ago, a group of women once went out to search for wild celery in the early spring. They found it growing here and there, and spent all day gathering it. Then they tied it in bundles and started home with it on their backs.

Now among these women was the daughter of a chief. She picked twigs as she followed in the trail in the evening light, and then slipped into the footprints of a brown bear. The jolt loosened her pack. She stopped to readjust her bundle of celery. She said sharp words about bears. Then she hastened on to rejoin her companions who were already lost in the dusk.

Suddenly the chief's daughter heard footsteps behind her. A handsome young man joined her. Soon he asked her to be his wife. The chief's daughter consented, so she went home with him.

They walked far, far into the woods until they came to Bear village. Then the chief's daughter knew that her lover belonged to the Bear tribe. After a while the chief's daughter became unhappy. She wanted to go back to her father's home, but the Bear tribe watched her so she could not escape.

One day chief's daughter reached the shore. Out on the water she saw a fisherman in a boat, and she called to him to rescue her. The fisherman touched his canoe with his killing club and in one bound it sprang to the shore, just as the Bear and some of his tribe appeared. The fisherman began to fight Bear, but he could not kill him. Then the chief's daughter told him to strike Bear between the eyes, because his heart was there. So Bear was killed.

The fisherman took the chief's daughter in his canoe. But behold! — he was no fisherman at all. It was Gonaqadet, the spirit of the sea. So the woman married Gonaqadet, who was very kind to her.

After a long while, the chief's daughter became unhappy again. She wanted her son to be trained by her people, as the custom was. Then Gonaqadet permitted her to return to earth with the boy, but he made her promise that she would weave him a blanket telling of her life and his courtship.

So the woman returned to earth from the sea. Then she wove for Gonaqadet the blanket. This was the first Chilkat blanket.

Now one day Yel, the Raven, wandering along the seashore, entered a great cavern under the sea. There he found Gonaqadet, wearing a beautiful Chilkat blanket . Gonaqadet welcomed Raven, and offered him food. He placed food before him in two long carved platters. After Raven had feasted, Gonaqadet taught him many dances and gave him a copy of the blanket pattern. Then Raven taught the people how to weave the blankets, but he taught the Tsimshian tribe first. Afterward the Chilkats learned how to weave them.

(illustration from Judson's book)

(500 words)

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