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For this post I have chosen to tackle the following question.

“If Europeans were not from the land of the dead, or the sky, alternative explanations which were consistent with indigenous cosmologies quickly developed” (“First Contact43). 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.”

 

After completing all of the readings lesson 2:2, I was immediately intrigued by question 5. The concept of two twins, one light skinned and one dark skinned, of the same basic ancestry is both interesting and problematic for me. On one hand it is presented in the form of an origin story, and therefore contains many unrealistic components (such as animals with agency). On the other hand it does relate to my personal beliefs about a similar origin of all people on the planet.

 

My initial point of contention is caused by the negative representation of the white twin, which in the context of Robinson’s story is an obvious reference to the European colonizers who came to North America from the 11th century to the 19th century. This story, and its perspective, directly challenges the ‘Europeanized’ version of history, and therefore the civilization, that we in North America have been raised on. The fact that I initially felt this way leads to a second conflict, a deep understanding of the sentiment buried in this particular origin tale. Drawing back to the aboriginal belief in having a connection with all aspects of life, it only makes sense that the coming of the ‘white’ man to their lands would seamlessly fit into their narrative. I have been so conditioned to believe in the correctness of European accounts, that a rational response, from a completely different perspective, could initially seem threatening to my preconceived notions of first contact narratives.

 

When thinking specifically about the stolen piece of paper, I am drawn towards the conclusion that what was written on that paper was not important, as the paper symbolized the ability to write, something that was not prevalent among aboriginal groups in Canada prior to European contact. Wickwire makes reference to this in her introduction to Harry Robinson’s stories, in particular where she states Robinson’s belief that if the twin had not stolen that paper, Robinson’s ancestors would have known how to write and the Europeans wouldn’t have. This sentiment also highlights the ongoing friction between the first inhabitants of Canada, and the invading Europeans who alienated them upon their arrival. The importance of this particular narrative to Robinson, as highlighted by his multiple renditions of this story, indirectly express aboriginal resentment to the usurpation and assimilation attempts of European settlers.

 

I can’t also help but notice how the oral tradition of compiling history and origin through stories has survived well into the age of literature. I think it speaks to the importance of tradition to the first inhabitants of North America, and the underlying strength of their cultural beliefs and practices to have endured this long in an environment where every effort was made to extinguish said beliefs and practices.

 

I welcome any feedback on this post.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Hi Sean,
    I like your observation that “Drawing back to the aboriginal belief in having a connection with all aspects of life, it only makes sense that the coming of the ‘white’ man to their lands would seamlessly fit into their narrative”. I think you rightly point out the difficulty with seeing from another’s perspective, but it does only make sense that given the First Nations’ cosmogony, they would have to accept and absorb Europeans into their story of the universe. Isn’t it interesting how the European stories seem intent on defining boundaries (inside the Garden of Eden vs. outside; our land vs their land; the strict delineations between classes, for a few examples), whereas the First Nations approach seems to be expansive, growing to include others who happen to arrive on their shores? Maybe the importance of the paper is not what was written on it, as you say, but maybe the fact that paper is included points to the First Nations’ cultural orientation toward including and accepting that which is new, and is a way that they show a recognition that life, and therefore our story, is not fixed, but always changing? What do you think? Cheers, Claudia

    • Hi Sean and Claudia,

      Sean, you have brought up an interesting idea.
      Claudia, I also noticed this difference and how interesting it is to see one side that makes definite borders and another that is willing to change. This was something I noticed while reading Robinson’s story “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King of England”. Coyote sees harm being done to his people and he wants to find a compromise and peace. While it seems the King is forced into having a compromise. He is hesitant to change his mind and the only thing stopping him from starting war with Coyote is that Coyote’s army is already prepared. What do you both think about this?

      ~Stef~

      • Hi Stef,

        I too just finished reading Robinson’s story, and I find that two aspects really stand out to me. The first is the agency that is attributed to Coyote, and in relation First Nations peoples. It is Coyote that is in control, and even more interesting is that it is the European god, not more traditional First Nations spiritual entities that support Coyote’s cause. The second is the aspect of the designation of reservations as a win for the First Nations people. In many ways, again through a European lens, reservations are problematic for the wellbeing of their inhabitants, but in this story this is a great victory. War is avoided, and ‘god’ intervenes to settle the squabble between ‘black and white’, the twins who represent the origins of humanity in Interior Salish traditions.

    • Hi Claudia,
      I think your final observation regarding the difference in approach (European exclusion and First Nations inclusion) provides a pretty clear, albeit over-simplified, analysis of the friction points between the aforementioned groups of people. The fluidity of belief structure, at least compared to the rigid European structure, would have appeared weak and ‘inferior’ to the Europeans, who came to this continent with on over-inflated sense of ‘manifest destiny’. The over arching accepting nature, at least this is my take from my limited knowledge base, of the original inhabitants of North America must have seemed the easy mark. By the time the colonist’s true intentions were recognized, it was too late for the First Nations groups to wage what could very easily have been a territorial war. I must admit that I am encouraged by the apparent shift in Western thinking when it comes to First Nations history and beliefs, it is still flawed by the fact that it is still a Eurocentric filter that is being applied to this new approach.


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