In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, here is a brief rundown of some of the more interesting mythical beings associated with the native peoples of the Americas.
Hupias (or opias) stem from the folklore of the Taíno people of the Caribbean. They are said to be the spirits of the dead, although others claim the Taíno people believed the human spirit passed seamlessly to the hereafter, and that the “spirits of the dead” interpretation was the result of Christian missionaries imposing their theology upon the legend.
Hupias are believed to be able to assume many forms. In human form, they can always be distinguished by their lack of a navel. They are also associated with bats, and said to hide or sleep during the day and come out at night to eat guava fruit.
Hupias are also said to seduce women and kidnap people who venture outside after dark.
The plural of mikiawis is makiawisug. These ancient beings are said to have lived under Mohegan Hill in Montville, Connecticut, since before the Mohegans arrived. They are also known in the folklore of the Wampanoag (or Massasoit) and Narragansett peoples, among whom they are sometimes called nikommo.
Makiaswisug are sturdily built, but very short—often mistaken for children on the rare occasion that they are spotted by mortals. Despite their stocky, muscular appearance, they move with great grace and delicacy. They often demonstrate an affinity for stones and earth-magic generally. They are quite wise. Many medicine people among the Mohegan learned their skills from them.
Like many of the Fair Folk from Europe, makiawisug are not strictly malevolent, but it is unwise to offend them. They take great offense at people looking directly at them. One should not speak about them during the summer, the season when they are most active and wandering through the woods. At the same time, they are more likely to bring good fortune and supernatural assistance to those thow treat them respectfully. Among the Narragansetts and Wampanoags, the Nikommo feasts are held in their honor.
The makiawisug are willing to be helpful to those who leave them offerings. They prefer baskets of cornbread and berries, but sometimes they will also accept meat.
Their leader is called Granny Squannit, a very powerful and ancient being who has ruled the makiawisug since pre-Contact times. Her name was formerly pronounced Squauanit. She was revered as a goddess by the Algonquian peoples of New England.
These beings from Tupi folklore of the Amazon region are noted for their red hair and their backwards-turned feet. They blend many features of West African and European faery-lore, and are usually regarded as demonic. They can create illusions and produce a sound like a high-pitched whistle in order to scare their victims and drive them to madness.
Curupiras are generally malevolent toward humans and enjoy luring to their doom hunters and poachers that take more than they need from the forest. They protect the animals of the forest. They are one of the few types of faery creature in the New World practice something that might be compared to the “Wild Hunt.”
These beings are sometimes depicted riding a collared peccary as a steed.
Although benign races of small magical creatures exist in many Native American tribes, the “little people” of the Great Plains are most often depicted as dangerous cannibals. They are known to virtually every tribe in the region—and even as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Although nimerigar is a Shoshoni word, it has been borrowed by Plains Algoquians such as the Arapaho, Gros Ventre, and Cheyenne to refer to these creatures. They are called by a multitude of other names, including:
- Gada’zhe, mong-thu-jah-the-gah, or ni’kashinga man’tanaha (Omaha-Ponca)
- Hecesiiteihi (Arapaho, “little people”)
- Iktomi (Sioux)
- Mi’-a-gthu-shka or mialuka (Osage, “wild people”)
- Nirumbee or awwakkulé (Crow)
- Nunnupi or nunumbi (Comanche, “little person”)
- Vo’estanehesano (Cheyenne)
These beings are dangerous and aggressive by nature. They have been known to kill their own kind with a blow to the head when they become too ill to contribute to society. They sometimes kidnap children or use their magical powers to harm people. They hunt with bows and poisoned arrows, and are able to inflict wounds without breaking the skin. They are, in fact, spirits of the hunt with strong ties to the arrow. They have their own villages, trails, and other places. They can only be seen when they want to be or are taken unawares.
Descriptions of these little folk vary somewhat from community to community. In Arapaho legend, they are immensely strong. According to the Omaha, they are tiny one-eyed cyclopes. The Crow see them with pot bellies and no necks.
Whatever the particulars, nimerigars are usually said to be the size of children (generally between two and four feet tall), dark-skinned, and extremely aggressive. Some storytellers say they have the power to turn themselves invisible, while others say they are hard to spot simply because they move with incredible speed. Some suggest that their warlike temperament comes because they must be killed in battle to reach the dwarf afterworld. Others believe that they are gluttons who habitually kill more than they can eat just because they can.
The little people of Muskogee folklore are especially known to appear to medicine people and guide them in finding the herbs they need. Encounters with these este lopocke (roughly pronounced ee-stee luh-putch-kee) are considered sacred and not to be shared.
The este lopocke live in hollow trees, on treetops, or on rocky cliffs. Their homes can be identified by an extra thick growth of small twigs of branches in the trees.
They are strong and handsome, with fine figures, and sometimes they allow themselves to be seen by a human being. One account describes a little person whose toenails are long, but whose hair is well kept—long but not dangling. Another story describes little people dressed in caps and carrying bows and arrows (David Lewis and Ann T. Jordan, Creek Indian Medicine Ways  148).
The Muskogee sometimes speak of the little people simply as “gee” (ce in normalized spelling) meaning “little,” so as to avoid using their full name. Even the helpful ones object to being mentioned in a negative light. Even questioning their existence might cause offense.
The name of these faery beings means “rock babies,” and they in fact live within rock surfaces, often near water. They are not as prevalent as “water babies,” another creature from California and the Great Basin, and some modern scholars theorize that the one is, in fact, an offshoot of the other. Both are said to be able to imitate the sound of a baby crying, which is taken as an evil omen.
Rock babies look like babies with short, black hair. They are believed to be responsible for many of the pictographs found in the Great Basin area, and they are never finished working on them—as indicated by their changing patterns. The pictographs of rocky babies are characterized by the use of at least five colors rather than the one or two colors used by humans. This rock art can be looked upon safely, but someone who touches them then rubs his eyes will not sleep again but will die in three days. Others say if one touches the rock art, one will go blind.
Rock babies are also called “mountain dwarves.” They are able to pass through solid rock as a portal between the spirit world and the mortal realm. For this reason, it is sometimes said that they actually live beneath the surface of the rock. They sometimes steal human babies and exchanging them for non-human look-alikes.