Reflecting on Canadian Literary Culture

A Blog by Janine Fleming for ENGL 470A

The Coyote Pedagogy (3.5)

  1. Coyote Pedagogy is a term sometimes used to describe King’s writing strategies (Margery Fee and Jane Flick). Discuss yourunderstanding of the role of Coyote in the novel.

In their article, Fee and Flick suggest that Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water is a story dominated by the Coyote Pedagogy. To explain this terminology, Fee and Flick refer to the imagery of borders. Borders, according to their article, are “constructed by what you know and don’t know” (131). And in this way, borders are used to segregate different ways of knowing (131).

Photo Credit: Shevlin, Ron. “The Great Divide”. 2014. Web.

As humans, we are apt to create borders, to separate the world into categories. In The Truth About Stories, King speaks to this kind of binary thinking. And King suggests that categorizing limits our ability to really understand the world (and each other) (21).

Through his Green Grass, Running Water, King, “protest[s] the sterotyping of Native peoples” through categorization, “and repeatedly call[s] to public attention Canada’s history of destroying, not preserving, [I]ndigenous cultures” (Frye xvii). However, he accomplishes this without lecturing to the readers. Instead, his literature weaves together stories in a way that invites the kind of curiosity and wonder that cause us to cross borders and question categories.

 

King’s novel features Coyote: a character who invites the reader into a journey of discovery, in the same way that the allusive coyote has invited the curiosity and wonder of biologists and researchers throughout North America.

Coyote

Photo Credit: Schoemer, Mike. “Coyote Sighting”. 29 Sept. 2015. Web.

As animals, coyotes are characterized as one of the top three most adaptable mammals, second to only rats and humans (Redel). In fact, as this CBC Ideas episode suggests, “[d]espite mass poisonings and eradication campaigns, despite hunting and hatred and persecution, North America’s great Trickster, Old Man Coyote still lives and prospers” (Redel). As this quote illustrates, this CBC podcast tells an interweaving tale of the lives of “biological” coyotes and the infamous Coyote. The interesting point to note is that in both cases, these creatures are characterized in the same way: as adaptable, intelligent, resilient, and allusive. As Redel suggests, coyotes have had to adapt in order to accommodate changes in their habitat and food supply as well as increased threats from human intervention.

The symbolic significance of the similarities between coyotes and Coyote would not have been lost on King. Through Coyote, King complicates and unravels the reader’s way of knowing as Coyote consistently crosses diverse political, disciplinary, literary, and cultural borders (132). In this way, Coyote invites the readers to enter into a world of uncertainty, a world without categories. Coyote’s character “entice[s]” and “even trick[s] the audience into finding out for themselves [. . .] the edge of the expected, the edge of the known” (Fee and Flick 132).

Photo Credit: Gonzalez, Jamie. “Stepping Into the Unknown”. 14 Jun. 2014. Web.

King confirms that this was his intent through an interview conducted by the CBC. In it he states that Coyote was written to represent both the “chaos and harmony” of the real world.

In the story, Coyote is able to go anywhere and do almost anything. Coyote is relatable to the reader through his personality. He is curious, (overly) confident, defensive (at times), distractible, optimistic, eager, and inventive. Coyote’s character invites the reader into a world of imagination where humour and seriousness exist together; where historical allusion and popular fiction both come to life.

My question to you is this:

As we look at the similarities between coyotes and Coyote, we see creatures who are able to navigate uncertainty and hostility with adaptability and resilience. In a way, it would seem that the c/Coyote is an ideal representation of Canada’s Indigenous people. The more I learn about colonialism and its effects on our First Peoples, the more I see patterns of resilience and adaptability. I wonder if by understanding more of our history, whether our eyes will be opened to the amazing resilience and strength of our Indigenous peoples. I wonder if this new perspective will help to foster respect, honour, and awe rather than feelings of pity or guilt. I wonder if, in the words of Jon Slan, stories like this can give us the “courage to confront the present without distaste, the past without nostalgia, and the future without fear” (qtd. in Frye xx).

Works Cited

Fee, Margery, and Jane Flick. “Coyote pedagogy: knowing where the borders are in Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.” Canadian Literature, 161 (1999): 131-139. Web.

Frye, Northrop. The Bush Garden: Essays on Canadian Imagination. Concord: Anansi Press. 1995. Print.

King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. Toronto: Harper Collins. 2007. Print.

King, Thomas. The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: Anansi Press. 2003. Print.

Newman, Kevin and Tina Srebotnjak. “Green Grass, Running Water Author Thomas King on Using Comedy.” CBC Digital Archives. CBC. 7 Apr. 1993. Web.

Redel, Dave. “Coyotl’s Song.” Ideas. CBC. 13 Jul. 2016. Web.

Selected Examples of Coyote’s Characteristics

Unconcerned: “Everything’s under control” (2); “Take it easy [. . .] Sit down. Relax. Watch some television” (3)

Curious: “Where do Coyotes live? [. . .] And Sky Coyotes?” (38); “Wait, wait, wait [. . .] who are those other people walking out the gate with Lone Ranger?” (100)

Defensive: “It’s not my fault [. . .] I believe I was in Toronto” (68); “Ah, excuse me [. . .] I was asleep at the time” (70); “That really wasn’t my fault” (274); “I didn’t do anything…I just sang a little” (416)

Sees himself as ‘special’/Outside the rules: “It’s [bestiality’s] against the rules.” [. . .] “But he doesn’t mean Coyotes” (146).

Distracted: “Is that the end of the story? [. . .] “I don’t care much for November” [. . .] “Forget November [. . .] Pay attention.” (195)

Doesn’t listen well

“Forget being helpful…Sit down and listen” (229)

Busybody (266)

 

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