Here is a story from the Blackfeet (also known as the Blackfoot, Piegan, Blood, and/or Pikuni, depending on where and during what time period they are being referred to) of northern Montana and southern Alberta. The current Blackfeet Reservation lies just to the east of Glacier National Park, which was originally the heart of Blackfeet territory. For wolverines, too, Glacier is the heart of home in the US. This short tale is taken from Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians, by Clark Wissler and D.C. Duvall, first published in 1908 by the American Museum of Natural History, and republished in 1995 by the University of Nebraska Press. The story is found on page 162:
These Indians have a belief that there are animals with power to change into human beings. Of these the wolverene is one. It often happens that when a man is out hunting, or sitting alone by his campfire, a very handsome woman will come up. Now if he offers her some of the entrails from his butchering, she will take them daintily between the thumb and the forefinger and then throw them away. This is the sign by which she may be known. Should the man take up his gun, the woman will run away as a wolverene. On the other hand, should he allow her to come into camp and engage in familiarities, evil will follow. As soon as he gets home and smells the fire of the lodges, he will fall down dead. Sometimes he will only faint when he smells the fire of the lodges; but even then he will never be the same person again. When men go out to hunt, they are often reminded to keep a lookout for the Wolverene-Woman. When a woman is out alone, the Wolverene-Woman will appear as a fine young man. If the woman permits herself to be seduced, it will be bad for her. As a rule, her people will never hear of her again; but, should she start back to camp and smell the fire of the lodges, she will surely die.
Footnote: ….This is not a formal narrative. While the wolverene is a well-known mythical character, there are no specific myths in which it appears. The Deer-woman of the Dakota and the Wolf Woman of the Pawnee, described by Bush Otter, seem to embody the same conception as is expressed in the above….
Wissler was an anthropologist, and Duvall was half-Piegan and was Wissler’s agent in the field; together, they spent many years collecting and analyzing stories from Montana and Alberta. This is the only mention of the Wolverene Woman, however, and it is tantalizingly brief, with no explanation aside from the footnote. Why wolverines? Among the numerous stories of men or women who fall in love with and marry non-humans (star people, bison, bears), why are wolverines uniquely dangerous creatures with whom to – in the polite Victorian idiom – “engage in familiarities?” How is it that the Wolverene Woman may also become a man? (And as an aside, Blackfeet women must have been admirably adventurous if they were hanging out alone in high mountainous regions where they might have been in danger of seduction-by-gender-bending-shape-shifting-wolverine. Wissler does mention the egalitarian nature of Blackfeet society, but it would be nice to know more about this, too.)
To apply my own biased, acontextual lens, perhaps it simply speaks to the fascination that the species can evoke. I’m struck by the assertion that once a person associates with a wolverine – never mind the precise nature of the familiarities; these days, photographing or collaring or even just seeing one in the wild probably counts – s/he “will never be the same person again.” I know too many people for whom this has proven true. The lesson of the Blackfeet story stands: be wary of the wolverine. One way or another, the animal can change your life.