Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 15, 2000 - Issue 14

Manabozho and the Muskrat
Ojibwe Story

This is a story about the muskrat, a very important animal to the Ojibwe. Once, in the time of Manabozho, the muskrat helped the Ojibwe people survive a great flood.

Many, many years ago, there was a terrible flood. The waters rose higher and higher and finally Manabozho was forced to look for shelter on higher ground. He remembered a high hill he knew, and took refuge there.

Growing on top of this hill was a tall tree and when Manabozho realized that the waters were continuing to rise, he climbed to the top of that tree. Eventually, the waters reached the spot where he sat.

Now, we must remember that Manabozho was a special being and could talk to all manner of living beings. When the water reached him, Manabozho simply asked the tree to stretch and grow taller. The tree did. Manabozho asked the tree to do this four times and each time the tree grew taller. However, the water continued to rise and each time reached the spot where Manabozho sat.

Right about this time, Manabozho finally began to get worried. He called to all the animal brothers and said, "We must work together. If we don't do something now, there will be no more earth!!"

The animals gathered together, swimming around the tree where Manabozho sat. One by one, Manabozho told each one, the duck, the beaver, and all of the other animals, to dive into the water and see how deep it was. And each took his turned, but he never returned. You see, they drowned.

Eventually, a muskrat came swimming along. Manabozho stopped him and asked, "Will you do me a favor?"

"Certainly," replied the muskrat. "What is it?"

"Will you go down to the bottom and get me some earth?" asked Manabozho.

The muskrat went down and was gone a long time. Finally, his body floated up to the surface. Manabozho, using a branch, pulled him out of the water.

The muskrat looked dead, but Manabozho blew on him until he came to life. When he opened the muskrat's paw, he found a few grains of sand. When Manabozho threw these on the water, earth appeared. Manabozho kept working and the earth became bigger and bigger.

When he felt that the earth might be big enough, Manabozho told a young fox to run around to see how big it was. The fox was gone a very long time and when he finally returned, he was an old fox.

Just to make sure that there had not been a mistake, Manabozho told a young wolf to run around the world and when that wolf returned, he was an old wolf.

It was then that Manabozho knew for certain that the earth was large enough.

Now, reread the story and without peeking, answer these questions:

  • Where did Manabozho go when the flood waters began to rise?
  • What did Manabozho tell the tree to do?
  • What happened to the animals who tried to find out how deep the water was?
  • Which animal brought back a few grains of sand in his paw?
  • Name the two animals that Manabozho sent around the world?
  • How was Manabozho sure that he had made the earth large enough?

Here are two pictures for you to print and color:

Water Rising


The muskrat (Ondatra zibethica ) is a member of the family of rodents and is a valuable fur bearing animal. It is mainly aquatic but also moves overland, especially during breeding season when it is establishing a new home.

The muskrat's fur is of a rich brown color with a silverish belly. The fur coat is very dense, with coarse guard hairs. Its tail is unique being long, naked, scaly and black with flat sides which makes muskrats expert swimmers and helps to easily distinguish them from other mammals. They weigh between 2 - 4 pounds (0,9 - 1,8 kg).

Muskrats feed mainly on aquatic vegetation as well as fish, crayfish, and frogs on occasion. Their broad hind feet are webbed while their front feet are paw-like and equipped with claws that they use for gripping plants, crayfish, and fish. They preferably live in marshes and on the edges of ponds, lakes and streams which is the same habitat populated by beavers. Their "houses" are usually built in a conical form in shallow water and are constructed of cattails, reeds and mud resembling a small beaver home. In deeper waters or fast-flowing streams they dig burrows in shorelines and banks. The entrance to their home is usually underwater. They remain active during winter and are most likely to be seen during dawn and dusk.

In the North they breed between April and August, in the South they breed in winter. During the mating season muskrats are very aggressive and ignore another male's territorial boundaries marked by scent deposits produced by glands that are located near the base of their tail. On an average there are 5 - 6 naked and blind young (although there may be just one or even up to 11 young) that are born 20 - 30 days after breeding. 2 - 3 litters per year are born to each female.



Some American Indian Names for Muskrat:

  • Abenaki
  • Alabama
  • Algonquin
  • Cherokee
  • Cree
  • Dakota
  • Menominee
wi'skos or wi'skons Wisconsin
  • Natick
  • Ojibwe
  • Potawatomi



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