This is a short First Nations ghost story taken from Franz Boas’ 1895 text, Indian Myths and Legends from the North Pacific Coast of America, which was translated from German by Dietrich Bertz.
The city of Nanaimo – where I live – received its name from the Anglicized spelling of Snanaimuq (Snuneymuxw or Snuh-NAY-Moo), which is the name of the First Nations people whose traditional territory I live in.
The Origin of Fire
In the beginning, the ghosts (of the dead) owned fire.
Mink set out to make war on the ghosts and to rob them of fire. When he got to the houses of the ghosts he heard a child crying in the chief’s house. It was in its cradle, suspended from a branch. Mink stole the child and carried it to the house of his grandmother.
When the ghosts noticed that their chief’s child had been stolen, they pursued the fugitives. They reached Mink’s house and saw him dancing in front of it. He had sprinkled feathers on his head so the ghosts were afraid and didn’t dare attack him.
They said, “Let’s make a trade; what do you want in exchange for the child?” Mink’s grandmother replied, “My grandson doesn’t want to have anything.” The ghosts continued, “We don’t have any clothing. When we died we were only wrapped in woven blankets. Do you want those? Wouldn’t you like to have furs? They were given to us when we died.”
“No” Mink retorted.
“We were given only elk hides and tanned deer hides; only the fire drill was given to us.”
“Good,” Mink called out then, “that’s what I want.”
The ghosts gave him the fire-drill and he returned the child to them.