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        Idaho | Activity 3.6: The Legend of Spirit Lake

        Students hear a legend from the Kootenai Tribe, and then split into groups to retell the legend in their own words.

        Lesson Summary

        Students hear a legend from the Kootenai Tribe, and then split into groups to retell the legend in their own words.

        This lesson is part of "Great States: Idaho Unit 3: American Indians" where students will learn about the indigenous peoples who inhabited what became the state of Idaho long before the arrival of other groups. Although the arrival of white explorers came relatively late, their impact was profound and continues to reverberate in the lives of tribal people today.

        Learning Objectives


        4.SS.1.3.3: Identify and discuss similar and different key characteristics of American Indian tribes in Idaho.

        Supplemental Standards:

        Boise District 413.10: Identify characteristics of American Indian tribes and other cultural groups in Idaho. 



        Oral lore transmits history, art, and legends through generations. Due to their unwritten nature, these stories are modified through time. Read this Kootenai tribe legend aloud to your students. It is also available as a printable PDF for your convenience. "The Legend of Spirit Lake" [PDF]

        The Legend of Spirit Lake

        According to a Kootenai legend, Spirit Lake in Idaho was once called “Clear Water”. But the events of the following story caused the name to be changed to “Lake of the Spirits.”

        Once upon a time, the Chief of the Kootenai Tribe had a daughter named Fearless Running Water. She was in love with an Indian brave named Shining Eagle. However, a hostile tribe to the East was led by a cruel and aging chief named Yellow Serpent. Yellow Serpent wanted to marry Fearless Running Water or else he threatened to make war on the Kootenai people. To keep the peace, it was decided to give him his wish.

        But Shining Eagle and Fearless Running Water would not obey. They ran away to a high cliff and bound themselves to each other with woven “wedding rushes”. Pledging their love for all eternity, they leaped into the water and were never found. But on moonlit nights many have claimed to see them drifting along in a phantom canoe. And in the spring when the ice floes begin to melt and shift against each other, strange mournful sounds are heard. Some believe these are the cries of the young lovers of Spirit Lake.

        * * * * *

        2.  Ask your students: What parts of this story might be true and what parts make it legend?

        3.  Break the class into small groups. Taking turns, have students re-tell the legend to their groups to the best of their ability.

        4.  Reconvene and have students compare their stories to the original version. How were they different? Were key points the same? Did students use their own words? Explain that stories passed down through generations can change too from their original telling.


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