Native American Legends

Every people has an ancient oral literary history.  Usually these tales, passed down from one generation to the next by professional story tellers, are magical and mystical in nature, besides teaching the values and mores of a society.  Native American Legends include many sets of tales that are the heritage of all the many different peoples who have come together on this land.  Read the Legend of the Cedar Tree, discuss the story, do a simple activity, and then have your kids re-tell the story in their own words.

This painting is called “Camp Fire: Preparing the Evening Meal” and is by Alfred Jacob Miller. Courtesy Walters Art Museum, public domain.


Read the Tale of the Cedar Tree from the Cherokee tribe.


Then ask these questions of your kids:

  • What happened when there was all light?
  • What happened when there was all dark?
  • Why did the people ask for something that was bad for them?  Do we ask the Creator for things that are bad for us?
  • Why did the Creator listen to the people’s prayers?
  • Darkness and light are opposites, but both were good when taken in turn and both bad when alone.  Why do opposites co-exist so well?  What other opposites are part of everyday life?
  • How did the Cherokee use a tree, very common in their everyday world, to help them remember their ancestors?
  • Do you think this story should be taken literally or figuratively or both?  (Younger kids will have to have literal and figurative explained.)
  • What moral lessons do you think this story is designed to teach people?

Do A Project

Now draw or paint the cedar tree from this story.

Re-tell The Story

Have each child re-tell the story in their own words.  It is interesting to see which parts of the story kids remember best.  It helps you see which things are important or memorable to them.

Teaching Tip

There are thousands of wonderful native tales you can tell and learn about it this same way.  Read, discuss, do a project, re-tell the story.

Additional Layers

  • Learn about the biology of cedar trees.  What is their structure?  How many species are there?  Where do they grow?
  • Smells can be very powerful in bringing certain things to our memories.  Which smells make you think of your mother?  Your father? Grandma’s house?  A car ride?  The country?  The city?  Your birthday?  The happiest day of your life?
  • Learn about the customs and lifestyle of the Cherokee (or another tribes whose tales you are learning.)
  • Find where the Cherokee lived on a map.  Where do the Cherokee tribes live now?  How and why did they move?
  • Your personal mythological heritage should be important to you too.  Where did your ancestors come from?  What are some of the tales from your land?  Have the morals and values from those tales been passed down in your family?

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