Coyote, the Trickster

 

Trickster stories are common among various Indigenous nations. While there are some cross-cultural similarities of tricksters amongst nations, each nation will have its own unique trickster and stories.

Coyote is considered a trickster to both Syilx Okanagan and Secwepemc peoples. Coyote is often breaking the rules and bringing teachings through his adventurous mishaps. These teachings have strong ties to local societal values, traditional knowledge, spirituality and overall worldviews.

Coyote: snk̓lip or sek'lep in nsyilxcen and secwepemcstin, respectfully

Coyote is often considered a hero, and there are many stories of his tricks and foolish ways, but Coyote does not do this alone. Coyote is often accompanied by Fox, who tends to help Coyote when his curiosity and mischievous ways land him in troublesome situations. Coyote was responsible for bringing food, plants, medicines, animals and elements of the natural worlds that have shaped the world where Syilx Okanagan and Secwepemc people live. Coyote brings the notion of consciousness to humans, and it is our responsibility to respect these gifts and use these original teachings to help guide us in our lives.

Individuals have the responsibility to interpret the meaning of these stories in reflection to their own personal lives and work. The practice of generating meaning and deciphering the wisdom, values, beliefs and meaning from the stories involves an active reflection and engagement of your mind, body and spirit.

Former professor Bill Cohen, following his discussions with Okanagan Syilx and Secwepemc people, Indigenous leaders, educators and students, shared the Coyote story below to illustrate how we can begin to understand our individual and communal roles in ensuring that Okanagan College becomes a place where Indigenous knowledge, ways of teaching and learning, and responsibility to the land and environment are learned, celebrated, respected and infused throughout the experiences of all who work and study at the College and extended community now and in the future in a continuous cycle of renewal.

Story:  Coyote and Golden Eagle

Coyote was watching Eagle one day. He saw Eagle soaring on up drafts near a high cliff at Ashnola. Eagle would swoop down, scream and ride the drafts back up, really enjoying himself. Coyote watched and watched.

Then he said to himself, “Those are my ways.” In this frame of mind, he climbed all the way up the cliff... all the while watching Eagle, and thinking to himself, “Those are my ways.” It was hard work, but he was determined to get to the top. Finally, after climbing all day, he got to the top of the cliff.

He walked to the edge and jumped off, intending to catch an updraft and soar. With his skinny arms and legs, however, he just plummeted down. He tried frantically to flap his arms and twirl his tail, but nothing helped him fly. He continued to plummet down the sheer cliff face. He became so afraid that he screamed and pooped all the way to the bottom, where he was splattered to pieces. A long white streak from the top to the bottom remains on that cliff to remind us of Coyote’s journey.

Sometime later, Coyote’s brother, Fox came along. Fox had heard that Coyote’s foolishness had caused his death again. Fox carefully gathered up all the bits and pieces of Coyote that he could find, a few hairs, a tooth, a piece of bone and so on. When Fox was satisfied that he had all the bits it was possible to find, he breathed into the assemblage, and then stepped over it four times. The pile then transformed itself into Coyote. Coyote sat up, rubbed his eyes, and chastised Fox for waking him up. Coyote said to Fox, “I must have dozed off for a few minutes, and then you’re waking me up!” Fox just shook his head, as Coyote carried on his way as if nothing had happened. (Edward, Eneas, Pierre in Cohen, 2010)

Professor Cohen explains that "bringing Coyote back to life" is a foundational metaphor for the praxis and positioning of humans within a very diverse and interdependent natural world that is continuously intelligent and creative. Coyote has a gift from creation, the ability to transform or overcome people-eating monsters. Monsters are technologies, practices, ideas and/or cultural patterns that are destructive and unsustainable. For humans to maintain a dynamic and sustaining balance with the regional ecology in which we are situated, we must continuously research (gather the bits) of knowledge, aspirations, experiences and outcomes, create new knowledge and understanding through dialogue (breathe into the pile), and ritualize new understanding into practice (step over the pile four times) to bring Coyote back to life (renew Coyote's and our ability to transform monsters). The Coyote and Fox metaphor is part of a much larger story-way system of conceptual metaphors and frameworks.

Published By Public Affairs on June 2, 2020


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