June 2016

2:6 The Coyote Goes to Intersections

IMG_20160623_212307(Photo: self)

4] In the last lesson I ask some of you, “what is your first response to Robinson’s story about the white and black twins in context with our course theme of investigating intersections where story and literature meet.” I asked, what do you make of this “stolen piece of paper”? Now that we have contextualized that story with some historical narratives and explored ideas about questions of authenticity and the necessity to “get the story right” – how have your insights into that story changed?
The Coyote not only travels through time, he also travels far – all the way to England.  Harry Robinson narrates the meeting of the two kings to make law for their children and to avoid war (Robinson 70-74).  The Coyote negotiates the books to be kept until his children grow up, and learn to read and write (Robinson 79-80).  This is a story that gets to the bottom of things.  This is a story of whose paper, whose laws, and whose chapter in history?  It contests the notion of a new Eden with a frozen people awaiting for the arrival of the European settlers.  It raises questions such as who is Chapter One and who is Chapter 15 (Asch 2-3).

Looking at the first Coyote story with new lenses from the course is a rewarding experience.

Firstly, it comes back to origin.  A common one, according to the story.  Even if the children of paper thief are misbehaving, the First Nation narrator does not call for their eviction; rather, he is asking for the right to exist and co-exist in peace.  There is kindness to be found in that claim.  It also asserts on the origin of the laws and rights.  In the belief system First Nation rights are not a concession or gift from the European settlers – they are inherited from ancestors.  The mechanics of inheriting the same may be beyond European understanding, that is, in a collective, cumulative, and spiritual way (Carlson 60).  This is helpful in investigating First Nation rights, such as ones enjoyed by those on reserves.

Secondly, what is authenticity?  Is only history written down with references authentic?  It has been the prevailing attitude.  A B.C. justice, before even touching on authenticity, has dismissed the pre-contact history of a First Nation community as “… [n]asty, brutal, and short” (Asch 11).  There is also a sentiment post-contact elements taint First Nation narratives and diminish their authenticity.  That notion puts First Nation storytellers in a difficult place, and with albatrosses around their necks (King 185).  Is the Coyote story tainted and less believable because it contains contemporary elements?  From the Salish point of view, this is a moot point.  The concept of time is simply different, and the stories could be a contemporary understanding of what is going in the world, derived from historically accurate narratives (Carlson 56-7).  I would not dismiss the Coyote story as unauthentic due the mention of a female English monarch or colonization, etc.  Rather, as it does not truly position the European settlers as the Other; it provides non-judgmental access to the First Nation response to the world (King 189).

This bring us to the final point, getting the story right.  The Salish people hold strong convictions on the existence and importance an animate non-human sphere, with spirits who can interfere with worldly affairs and fortune (Kew).  This is an essential element to authenticity, since telling stories inaccurately or with omissions will result in dire consequences coming from the spiritual realm (Carlson 57-8).  This practice of extracting stories correctly and their entirety from memory being a spiritual requirement establishes authenticity to some degree; comparable to a witness taking an oath with a hand on the Bible before testifying in European traditions.

That is “Black and White”, according to the second Coyote story, as to the books and the laws of their people (Robinson 85).  It ends with a mention to land.  Do the Coyote stories tell you who is entitled to be on the land, according to what and whose law, and how are those laws deemed reliable?  What do you make of the stories of the Coyote at a historical and geographical intersection?


Works Cited

Asch, Michael.  “Canadian Sovereignty and Universal History.”  Storied Communities: Narratives of Contact and Arrival in Constituting Political Community.  Ed. Rebecca Johnson, and Jeremy Webber Hester Lessard. Vancouver: U of British Columbia P, 2011. 29 – 39.  Web.  21 Jun. 2016.

Carlson, Keith Thor.  “Orality and Literacy: The ‘Black and White’ of Salish History.” Orality & Literacy: Reflections Across Disciplines.  Ed. Carlson, Kristina Fagna, & Natalia Khamemko-Frieson.  Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2011. 43-72.  Web.  21 Jun. 2016.

Hanson, Erin.  “Reserves.”  First Nations & Indigenous Studies, the University of British Columbia, 2009.  Web.  22 Jun. 2016.

King, Thomas.  “Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial.”  Unhomely States: Theorizing English-Canadian Postcolonialism.  Mississauga, ON: Broadview, 2004. 183- 190.  Web.  21 Jun. 2016.

Kew, Michael.  “Indigenous People: Northwest Coast.”  The Canadian Encyclopedia.  Historica Canada: Mar. 04 2015.  Web.  22 Jun. 2016.

Robinson, Harry.  “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King Of England.”  Living by Stories: a Journey of Landscape and Memory.  Ed. Wendy Wickwire. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005. 64-85.  Print.

2:4 Coyote and the Land

  1. “If Europeans were not from the land of the dead, or the sky, alternative explanations which were consistent with indigenous cosmologies quickly developed” (“First Contact” 43). Robinson gives us one of those alternative explanations in his stories about how Coyote’s twin brother stole the “written document” and when he denied stealing the paper, he was “banished to a distant land across a large body of water” (9). We are going to return to this story, but for now – what is your first response to this story? In context with our course theme of investigating intersections where story and literature meet, what do you make of this stolen piece of paper? This is an open-ended question and you should feel free to explore your first thoughts.


(The barons and King John of England.  Wiki Commons Licence.)

Listening to and reading stories are enjoyable to inquisitive minds.  Especially when such stories present new possibilities and new worlds.  Some contact stories in North America can be read as a role reversal.  The Europeans arrive with their scientific achievements, expectations, and preconceptions, knowing exactly what they will encounter (Lutz 3).  On the other hand, First Nation narratives, while they do not travel as far, are not passive; they can be fluid and adaptive.

The Coyote story is rich in many folds.  At first there is a striking similarity to a European narrative: an entity is given a sole command by a higher power, disobeys it, and faces consequences.  Is this story a product of cultural interaction, or is this a common theme in most human societies?  The tendency of humanity to have something good and then manages to screw it up entirely?  That the world is perfect but not immutable?

The storyteller then takes us rosier grounds for a bit.  Though banished, the children of the younger brother will one day return as family.  There, foreknowledge and forgiveness.  The sinner finally comes home.  But where is the redemption?  Turns out the evil brother’s descendants will behave badly and there is a dispute over the piece of paper.  Uh, paper!  Laws, titles, “civilization”.

Are all important things ought to be on paper?  We have looked into orality in a previous section, and here it is again.  In this story the importance of paper is somewhat recognized, ironically, in spoken story.  That piece of paper remain important in the plot.  Nevertheless, the children of the righteous brother are now entitled to laws against the children of the evil brother.  The Coyote will visit England and strike a deal with their monarch.  This crux is another role reversal – European settlers being subject to the laws of the First Nations.  The laws of those expecting from the shore not “the other”, but rather family coming home.

My first response to the story is how relevant it is.  It touches on historical wrongs, politics, and First Nation rights.  The story does not live in a frozen, prehistoric past; it is definitely not “cold” (Wickwire 22).  The story is clever like a coyote and hard to decipher – put down our European-influenced lens and see an exact mirror image.  Dig in deeper and we will see a fixation, which is land.  European law tends to govern the law as to who may possess, occupy, and benefit from it.  If a certain people have fostered strong ties with the animals, the water, and the land: their perspective would be quite different.  They are with the land, but they do not govern it.   They have not industrialized.  That is, taking more than one can reasonably need, and feeling awfully good about the commercial gains.  Rather they live with, understand, and try to be at harmony with it.  The laws are from the land to the peoples, not vice versa.

What is your take?  I really look forward to your feedback.

Works Cited

Burgesse, Michael.  Illustration for Book 12 of Paradise Lost.   Christ College, University of Cambridge, 3 Feb. 2014.  Web.  15 Jun. 2016.

Lutz, John.  “Introduction.”  Contact Over and Over Again.” Myth and Memory: Rethinking Stories of Indigenous- European Contact.  Vancouver: U of British Columbia P, 2007.  Web.  13 Jun. 2016.

“Part II: Right of The Aboriginal Peoples of Canada.”  Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982.  Department of Justice, Government of Canada, 3 Jun. 2016.  Web.  15 Jun. 2016.

Wickwire, Wendy.  “Introduction.”  Living by Stories: a Journey of Landscape and Memory.  Harry Robinson. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005.  Print.

2:3 Reading and Reflecting on “Home”


(Photo: self)

Most of us live in a mixture of concrete, wood, stucco, glass – you get the idea.  Defining “home” in this sense is easy.  Doing the same at an abstract level is not.  What is home?  It’s a constant progress of thoughts and doubts in writing my blog and reading those written by my counterparts.  The experience of reading what Linda, Sylvia, and Victoria have written is a beautiful one; it demonstrates the power of stories.  As they share with us parts of their lives and their sense of “home”, there are commonalities.

Firstly, home is a highly emotional concept.  Emotions like safety, love, and nostalgia construct our homes.  Home embodies the goodness that comes out of human relationships.

Secondly, home is cultural.  It contains stories of ancestry and migration.  The very same stories that confirm one’s affinity to a land.

This leads us to the final point – home is landed.  Part of it at least, has to be attached to a parcel of land on this earth.  The stories are set on a tree in the family backyard, or in an old mansion in the family’s old country.

The above leads to some discomfort as a Canadian.  It tells us the displacement of peoples from land traditionally home to them, to which they have significant emotional attachment, and on which their cultures have formed cannot be permissible.  This discomfort makes listening to stories from all of us a matter of importance and a necessity if we hope for understanding and reconciliation.

2:2 Stories of Home


(Photo: self)

The story of “home” is challenging for me.  As a kid my family moved around often, finally settling in Vancouver; and culturally part of me is in diaspora.  I know the space I am most familiar with – Vancouver, would be home.  However personally it is hard to define “home” in the abstract sense.  In this case, I will have to rely on stories.

I remember having my first puppy.  We brought him home, and he slept next to my bed in his blanket.  He woke me up that night with his kisses.  He was looking to make a friend in a strange place.  I watched him grow, as did I.  Over the years we walked and cycled around the neighbourhood, and had our favourite spots.  He got lost once in a big park, and I experienced 75 pounds of sheer excitement jumping onto me when we were reunited.  The sad part to this story is humans tend to outlive canines.  He had cancer and treatment was unsuccessful.  So we had to say our goodbyes and let him depart in a humane manner.  His stories stayed.  That and the experience of saying goodbye and learning the importance of spending time with close ones, construct part of home.

I also had my first fight here.  It was in the high school locker room.  This guy I didn’t know well pushed me, and I pushed back.  It did not get more vicious than a few punches, and we both got sent to the counsellor.  We were made to apologize to each other and make amends.  To our mutual surprise, we were more common than different, and became good friends.  He let me borrow his mountain bike from time to time and I invited him to parties.  I asked him years later why did he push me in the locker room.  “Absolutely random” was the answer.  I guess it could be an adolescent rage thing.  The experience out of the incident was learning to respect others and overcome differences – part of growing up.  That passage is part of the feeling of home.

Oh and learning to drive.  My dad had a do-it-yourself attitude, and when I turned 16 onto his car we went.  I had no idea what I was doing, and my heart was pounding all the way to my throat.  We started in the quieter, residential streets learning the basics of motoring.  After an hour my dad was satisfied with my performance, and asked me to turn to a busy street.  I thought I was doing well for ten blocks, and then made a bad lane change without shoulder-checking.  The driver of a truck in the other lane had to slam on his brakes, and was rightfully angry.  He rolled down his window and yelled: “Learn to drive!”  I felt I had to apologize for his trouble.  So I rolled down my window and sheepishly said: “Sorry.  I am learning.”  The response was probably unexpected by him.  He had a good chuckle and then waved, before driving on.  That memory of learning the tricks of adulthood and bonding with my father is part of feeling at home.

And how can I forget the first kiss.  It was a summer during high school, and everything was a blur.  That was a summer of understanding human relationships and ourselves.  Time definitely does not function in a linear fashion – it has been too quick.

Writing this blog entry is an experience of going back in time, into memories in search of home.  Home is not a pile of wood and bricks and steel.  It is a feeling, a collection of thoughts.  I think I found it.  Home is where the stories are.