Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
February 26, 2000 - Issue 04

By Vicki Lockard

The American wilderness is symbolized by a whole range of animals native to our great continent, from the powerful image of the Grizzly Bear, to the sly antics of the Coyote. But, perhaps, no creature so well characterizes the North American spirit as does as the Raccoon, Procyon lotor. Ranging all across the continental United States and Canada, even reaching down into parts of Mexico, the Raccoon (and its procyonid cousins the Coati and the Ringtail) hold a very special place in the collective body of Native American folklore and mythology. The Raccoon is the trickster, the sly and crafty one who may appear slow, but who is quick and agile; the opponent who outsmarts his enemies, and who uses his hands like a human. The Raccoon is the survivor, who lives alongside man as if to show him that he cannot truly conquer the land.

Above all, however, The Raccoon is intelligent and determined. It seems at times as if he can find his way into any closed container, or out of any cage. And he's cute, too. What more could you ask for from a species?

The original names for the raccoon and its closest relatives come from the tribal languages of Native Americans. All tribal names had descriptive meanings chosen to distinguish each kind of animal from others in some way. However, not all of those meanings have survived the centuries, and many of the names themselves have vanished from memory. Among those that eventually found written record are these:

Names describing agile forepaws

Algonkin asban, one who lifts up things
Abnaki ah-rah-koon-em, they rub, scrub, scratch
Atakapa welkol, (wilkol, wulkol, wutko), they rub and scratch
Aztec mapachitl, they take everything in their hands
Biloxi-Sioux atuki, they touch things
Chinook q'oala's, they scratch
Chippewa aasebun, aissibun, they pick up things
Choctaw shauii, graspers
Cree essebanes, they pick up things
Creek wutki, they rub and scratch
Delaware eespan, one who picks up things;
wtakalinch, one very clever with its fingers
Lenape eespan, hespan, they handle things;
nachenum, they use hands as a tool
Menomini aispan, they handle things
Mohican sha-we, grasper
Natick asban, they pick up things
Ofo-Sioux at-cha, one who touches things
Ojibway aispun, essepan, they pick up things
Seminole wood-ko, one who rubs
Shawnee shapata, ethepata, grasper
Takelma swini, picks up things with hands
Tschimshean que-o-koo, washes with hands
Yakima k'alas they scratch

Names describing face

Dakota-Sioux weekah tegalega, magic one with painted face
Hopi shiuaa, painted one
Huron-Iroquois attigbro, blackened (face);
gahado-goka-gogosa, masked demon spirit
Mandan nashi, blackened face and feet
Mexico (tribe not given) macheelee, white bands on face
Nicaragua (tribe not given) macheelee, white bands on face
Wyot cbel'igacocib, one with marked face

Names implying magic (both sexes)

Cheyenne macho-on, one who makes magic
Dakota Sioux wee-kah, (wee-chah, wee-kahsah, wici, wicha) one with magic;
wee-kah tegalega, magic one with painted face (or wici)
Omaha, Osage, Otoe mee-kah, (mee-chah, mee-kahsa) same meaning as wee-chah and variants one with magic
Sioux macca-n-e, one who makes real magic
Yankton Sioux wayatcha, (same root word as wee-kah)

Names describing big tail (long tail, ringed tail)

Chinook siah-opoots-itswoot, long-tailed bearlike one
Huron ee-ree-ah-gee, those of big-tailed (long-tailed) kind
Iroquois gah-gwah-gee, cah-hee-ah-gway, big (long) tailed ones
Sioux shinte-gleska, ring-tailed ones
Seneca kagh-quau-ga, big (long) tailed
Wyandot ee-ree, big-tailed, long-tailed ones

Names comparing to dog

Arawak ah-ohn, dog, of dog kind
Guyana mayuato, doglike leaper
Huron-Iroquois agaua, doglike one
Klamath wacgina, tamed like dog
Narragansett ausup, night doglike one
Taino ah-ohn, ah-oon, of the dog kind
Tupi agwara, doglike leaper

Names indicating eaters of crabs, crayfish

Choctaw shauii, graspers (of crayfish)
Guyana mauyato, doglike leaper on crabs and crayfish
Kiowa seip-kuat, pulls out crayfish with hands (seip-mantei, crayfish)
Tupi aguara-po-pay, doglike leaper on crabs, crayfish (used by other tribes in the Tupi trade-jargon area)

Names for pelt only or sewn pelt garment

Algonkin match-koh (for pelt or pelt sewn into poncho-type coat)
Algonkin-Roanoke macquoc
Narragansett mohewonck, pelt sewn into poncho-type coat (wonck=coat)
Ojibway matchigode, raccoon fur garment for women
Wocoon auher
Alaska/Canada tsick-re-buck, Indian version of schupp/raccoon?
Iroquois tschoe-ra-gak, Indian version of schupp, used by traders asking first for schupp and then raccoon skins--neither word known to Indians?

Names without literal meanings

Blackfeet kaka-nostake
Brazil (tribe not given) guassini, guachini
Caddo o'at
Canada (tribe not given) ottaguin, ochateguin
Iroquois tcokda
Mikwok patkas
Nez Perce kai-kai-yuts
Nootka klapissime
Pima va-owok
Suislaw pilquits
Taos pah-suh-de-na, water?
Tillamook dEwu'si, living raccoons; wEluhs, legendary raccoon
Tuscorora roosotto
Tutelo kanulo-nixa-niso

Print and color a picture of Rascal the Raccoon

All sorts of raccoon fun and information at these sites:

The Gables Raccoon World

Raccoon Fun Pages

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