'Why the Porcupine Has Quills': Ojibwe winter story

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Editor's note: This is the third of several Ojibwe winter stories that can be told only when there's snow on the ground. They have been shared with us by readers, and will be published over the next few weeks. To learn more, read our our previous story on

Long, long ago, the porcupines had no quills. One day, a porcupine was out in the woods. A bear came along and would have eaten Porcupine, but he managed to get up a tree, where the bear couldn't get him.

The next day, Porcupine was out again and he went underneath a hawthorn tree, and he noticed how the thorns pricked him. He broke some branches off and put them on his back, then he went into the woods.

Along came Bear, and he jumped on Porcupine, who just curled himself up. The bear just left him alone because the thorns pricked him so much.

Wenebojo was watching them. He called to Porcupine and asked, “How did you think of that trick?”


Porcupine told him that he was in danger when Bear was around.

Then Wenebojo took some thorns and peeled the bark off of them until they were all white. Then he got some clay and put it all over Porcupine's back and stuck the thorns in it. Wenebojo used his magic to make it into a proper skin, and told Porcupine to come with him into the woods.

When they got there, Wenebojo hid behind a tree. Wolf came along and saw Porcupine and jumped on him, but the new quills pricked at him and Wolf ran away. Bear was also afraid of the quills and Porcupine was safe.

That is why Porcupines have quills.

-- As told by Mike Swan, spiritual leader for the Pine Point community and Native American Cultural Liaison for Detroit Lakes Public Schools

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