How the Columbia River Came To Be

An excerpt from ‘How the Columbia River Came to Be’ by Marilyn James, Sinixt elder and storyteller.

This story is about a time long ago, so long ago that there was no Columbia River and next to nothing alive on the landscape.

Sin-ka-lip (Coyote) was wandering around looking for something to eat, but all he could find was a Coyote’s Breakfast: a drink of water and a look around. Then, his radar indicated that there was a beautiful woman in the vicinity.

Now, Coyote was a real scoundrel and a scamp, especially when it came to women. He believed himself to be quite debonair but was actually creepy and repulsive. His hair stood on end, he had an uncontrollable thumping of the hind leg and he drooled heavily.

So when he saw a beautiful woman named Rain, it was hard to imagine that he had a chance in the world to get her attention. But for all his flaws, Coyote had a way about him. He began to sing a magical love song to Rain. And in spite of herself, Rain fell deeply, head-over-heels in love with the despicable Coyote. As he sang his love song, Coyote promised Rain a gift if she shared her own gift with him.

Knowing that she was irrevocably in love with Coyote and that there was nothing she could do about it, Rain reached into her chest, tore her heart from her breast and cast it down. Where her heart landed and her heart’s blood seeped became the headwaters of the Columbia River.

As Coyote continued to sing his love song, Rain cradled him in a warm,wet embrace and together, they began to travel across the landscape. Eventually, the two of them found their way into the land of Rain’s cousin, Ocean.

“To me Coyote actually embodies the human condition,” says Marilyn James. “We are capable of some pretty miraculous behaviour, but we can rarely get beyond ourselves to perform at anything other than our most mundane capacities. We almost wouldn’t be human if we weren’t fallible, frustrating and endearing. Like Coyote.”