Kaya and the Lone Dog

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


When Kaya was captive, she was forced to work long hours without enough to eat. She vowed then to not chase away any of the starving dogs that sometimes come to her camp. When it's time to harvest camas bulbs, she gets a chance to make good on her promise. Because Kaya's still grieving the absence of her sister and the death of Swan Circling, she can't join in the harvest lest her negative thoughts affect the roots. Instead, her father gives her a job training a horse. While working with it, Kaya sees a heavily pregnant dog hanging around the woods near the camp. The alpha dog of the camp's pack doesn't seem to trust this new one, but Kaya remembers her vow and promises to give the dog food whenever she can. At first the dog is skittish and Kaya only earns teasing from the other children. But the animal, who Kaya names Lone Dog, calms down significantly after giving birth to four puppies. She's still wary, but lets Kaya see the puppies. Kaya's parents and grandparents want her to stay away from Lone Dog until Kaya explains she made a promise. Knowing that Kaya doesn't want to go back on her word, her elders revise their ruling so that Kaya may feed Lone Dog but must exercise extreme caution in case Lone Dog is dangerous. They surmise there must be a reason the dog is alone; maybe it was driven away after it bit a child or attacked a horse. 

Meanwhile, the harvest continues. Other tribes arrive at the Palouse Prairie, and trade items back and forth. One man has come all the way from the coast (the Palouse is more than three hundred miles from the Pacific as the crow flies) and mentions seeing European explorers in large ships. Kaya's grandmother is concerned that he mentioned bright red flags, because of a vision she had where red cloth became red blood. Everyone agrees to be cautious, but before they talk about it much more Two Hawks jumps up from his place. He recognizes some of newcomers as Salish, and might even recognize the horse one of them has. He rides out with Kaya and her father, and one of the Salish men turns out to be his uncle, who confirms that to Two Hawks that his parents are alive and well. They haven't heard anything about Speaking Rain, but promise to watch for signs of her and even send some scouts to look around when it's fishing season and they're nearer the enemy territory.

As the days pass, Lone Dog's puppies grow bigger, and she learns to trust Kaya enough to let her pet the puppies and herself. Kaya's younger brothers follow her to the den one day and want to pet the dogs too, but Kaya warns them that she's not sure how tame Lone Dog is. The twins agree to stay away, but Sparrow can't help himself and goes to see the puppies. Wing Feather tells Kaya, who rushes to protect her brother from the possible threat. However, when she gets to Lone Dog's den, there is much more real problem: a bear is trying to get to the puppies, and Sparrow, approaching from a different direction, doesn't see the bear until it turns on him. Lone Dog comes out of nowhere and scares the bear off, getting some superficial wounds herself. 

Now that everyone in the village trusts Lone Dog, Kaya hopes she and her puppies will join the pack. Even the alpha dog has accepted Lone Dog. But while the puppies are happily settling into pack life, Kaya can tell that Lone Dog is uneasy. Kaya confides in her grandmother that she worries Lone Dog won't follow when they move on. Her grandmother says Kaya could tie a collar around Lone Dog's neck and make her stay with them, but Kaya, having been tied up as a captive, can't do that. Her grandmother agrees that Kaya shouldn't force Lone Dog into a life she doesn't want. Indeed, once the puppies are fully weaned, Lone Dog leaves. Kaya is sad to see her friend go, but one of the puppies, which she calls Tatlo ("ground squirrel;" which the puppies looked like as newborns), seems to remember how Kaya helped his mother. He and Kaya form a close bond.

Looking Back

The historical section is about how Nimíipuu children grew up in Kaya's time. When a baby was born, it was cause for great celebration among the whole extended family. The baby would be given a name that reflected the parents' hopes for the child (Kaya's referred to a healer arranging rocks around a sweat lodge; her mother hoped Kaya would be gifted in medicine). A person's name could change more than once during a lifetime, sometimes because of a landmark event or because another relative wanted to bestow a name (like Swan Circling did). For most of their first year, babies spent a lot of time in cradleboards. The snug carriers were perfect for taking babies along on horseback among the nomadic tribe. Before the introduction of horses to the Americas, the Nimíipuu traveled from hunting ground to fishing grounds to winter camps on foot, and toddlers and young children walked or ran with the dogs to stay safe. The Nez Perce today are heavily involved in wolf conservation.

When children got older and more independent, their parents and other relatives watched them explore their world to see what innate talents they might have, so they could encourage them in those ways. By five, children were fully included in daily rituals, and learned more tasks as they got older. When they were about twelve or thirteen, they would undertake an important rite of passage, the vision quest. During this time of fasting, isolation, and prayer, they would hope to see a wyakin (guardian spirit). The wyakin would first appear in the form of a person to impart a talent, then the form of an animal to reveal its true self. These visions would tell the teens about themselves and what skills they could best develop.


This book is dedicated to "my daughter, Kris, her husband, Paul, and their sons, Will and Peter, with love."

This book was released in 2002 with the other main six, instead of split over two years like the last couple.

Kaya sees a flock of geese migrating from their winter homes back north. There's a picture of some Canada geese, but those summer in Canada and winter in the US for the most part. Some areas--including parts of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho--have year-round Canada geese. Trumpeter swans would have been a good bird to use. Her brothers also chase some green racer snakes, which live in the eastern part of North America; they should have been chasing garter snakes.

The Big River is confirmed to be the Columbia River; there's a picture of it "meeting the sea" which is clearly where it divides Washington and Oregon on the Pacific coast.

I think it's interesting that the Nimíipuu rite of passage happened at about the same age as Jewish children become Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, and some Catholic parishes have Confirmation.

Some of the Looking Part feels a little "noble savage" but I'm not sure. 

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