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Center for Clinical and Epidemiological Research (CCER)

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Raven Steals the Light

Our logo design represents the story known as "Raven Steals the Light" which is significant to the spiritual way of life of Alaska Natives and Northwest Coastal American Indians. The story tells how light came into the universe.

The story as told by Geoffrey Campbell...

BEFORE there was anything, before the great flood covered the earth and receded, before the animals walked the earth, or the trees covered the earth, or the fishes and whales swam the seas, an old man lived in a house on the bank of a river with his only daughter. He didn't know if his daughter was as beautiful as hemlock fronds against the springtime sky, or as ugly as a sea slug, because it was dark all the time.

The world was dark, inky, pitchy, all consuming dark. The reason it was so dark was that the old man kept the sun hidden in a box, inside another box, inside an infinite number of other boxes. The smallest box was so small that all it could contain was all the light in the universe.

Raven was not satisfied with the darkness, since it led to an awful lot of blundering around and bumping into things, so Raven devised a plan to get inside the box that contained the sun. He went to the stream where he knew the old man's daughter drew water every day. He waited for the sound of the daughter's footsteps, and then he went upstream and changed himself into a hemlock needle and floated into the basket she used to collect water. When she drank the water, she swallowed the hemlock needle without knowing it. Raven floated down deep inside of her and found a comfortable spot where he transformed himself into a small human being. Then he went to sleep and began to grow quickly. The daughter kept this secret from her father.

Suddenly the old man became aware of a new presence in the house when Raven emerged triumphantly in the shape of a human boychild. He had a strange appearance, with a long nose and a few feathers sticking out here and there. He also had an unusual voice that contained all the sounds of a spoiled child or an angry raven.

The old man loved the boychild. He made many toys for him and invented games for him to play. As Raven became more bold, he began testing the boxes. He decided that the biggest one contained the treasure, yet when he raised the lid all he could feel inside was another box.

Raven continued to play the spoiled child and persuaded the old man to remove layers and layers of boxes until there was only one small box left. When a radiance filled the room Raven knew it was time to break into the box and snatch up the light. The old man watched as the boychild transformed into a beautiful raven. With a downward flap of his wings, Raven flew up through the smokehole with the light.

And from far away the light shined into the eyes of the eagle, and he saw his target and flew after Raven. Raven's grip on the sun loosened and a piece dropped from his grasp. This piece fell to the ground and broke into one large piece and many other smaller pieces. These bounced back up into the sky to become the moon and the stars. Raven flew as fast as he could until he finally had to release the sun into the sky, to float above the clouds and the mountaintops forever.

The old man was saddened by the loss of his treasure, but when he looked upon his daughter he could see that she was as beautiful as the frond of the hemlock tree against the spring sky. He began to feel a little better.

Geoffrey Campbell (Tlingit names Goo-See-Taan, Whunda-Kathl-Ka) is an Alaska Native of the Kaagwaataan (Eagle) Clan. Geoff was a research assistant for a study of chronic fatigue syndrome in minorities conducted at the Seattle Indian Health Board. He is an artist of Tlingit culture, a drummer, an actor, and a mechanic (on his car only). He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Visual Arts from the University of Washington in 1998 and studied American Indian History.