Columbia River

Columbia River
(time 7:11)
Big Ideas:
Educators are encouraged to focus on three dominant themes throughout their planning and study of the Columbia River story. The themes integral to the story are 1) love, 2) the environment, and 3) communication. The following synopses will assist educators in meeting their learning objectives for their students.
Oral Tradition:
The importance and use of the oral tradition in Indigenous cultures should be stressed. Oral tradition is instrumental in the survival of cultural teachings and tribal identity. The difference between the concepts of ‘we know’ and ‘we believe’ could be part of the discussion in relation to the origin story of the Sinixt Peoples.
  • How do we reconcile traditional tales with contemporary values?
Cultural Teachings:
The central big idea in the Columbia River story is love and the role it plays in the origin story of the Sinixt Peoples and the birth of the Columbia River. Other related concepts are trust, faith, commitment, and honour, each one a cultural teaching. Coyote is free to make his choices, but every choice has a consequence. Coyote has to make amends for those choices according to cultural teachings.
  • What does making amends for one’s choices mean?
  • How does one make amends for one’s choices?
  • Why do you think Coyote says he will return one day and make everything ‘right’ again?
Landscape Transformation:
A sharing of gifts occurs in the story. There was an increase of Rain’s gift or bounty which Coyote wanted and loved. The more she gave her gift, the more it rained. Rain’s ‘bounty’ carries Coyote to Ocean. While Coyote loves both, he decides to stay with Ocean but promises he will return to Rain. A lovers’ triangle is eventually formed with Ocean, Coyote, and Rain. As a demonstration of his love for Rain he leaves parts of himself with her until his return. These parts manifest or transform into animals on the landscape– spring run of the salmon, fall run of the salmon, eagle, osprey, bear, and so forth. Coyote takes one gift from his heart and puts it at the headwaters of the river (Rain’s heart) where this all began. This gift becomes the Sinixt Peoples of the Columbia River.
  • What contributes to creating or altering a river? Headwaters, snowpack/snowmelt, rain, creeks, springs, streams, beaver dams.
  • Research: How do the shifting waterways affect life cycles (rain levels, dams, etc)?
  • How does “love” transform the landscape in the Columbia River story?
  • Weather can impact and transform landscape. Explain this concept and include how Coyote was carried to Ocean.
Personal Responsibility:
Coyote had a response condition – he’s responding to a pretty girl in his vicinity via his drool, his leg thumping, his hair standing on end, etc. If we understand our response conditions we can assume more personal awareness and responsibility for them. There can be many different response mechanisms to the same thing, i.e. a snake could elicit fear, curiosity, flight, screams, an interest in study of snakes, a need to connect or care for, a desire for a pet, and so on.
  • How can we share ourselves with one another in a healthy manner?
  • Over time or through circumstance feelings do change. What priorities should one take into consideration when feelings change between people (uncoupling)?
  • How can we examine the concept of persuasion/coercion?
  • What is coercion/persuasion in relationships?
Perspective and Capacity:
Perspectives can be heavily influenced by personal experience, known context, expectations, goals, needs and desires, mental capacity, and so on. In one instance you could seem like an expert, a well-informed rational thinker, and a compassionate, understanding being. But in another instance you could be seen as a detached fool or a simpleton. This is the limitations on capacity with which Coyote is saddled, both as a demagogue and as an imbecile, depending on the situation. Just because you are good at one thing, doesn’t mean you are good at everything. It has to do with your capacity and perspective.
  • How does Coyote adequately demonstrate the limitations of capacity?
  • Younger students could discuss their strengths and weaknesses in relation to their academic progress. List potential remedies or strategies to improve in weaker areas.
Music can affect mood, setting, motivation, feelings. What kind of song would entice or woo Rain? The more Rain fell in love under Coyote’s love song the less resistance she had to giving her gift which transformed the landscape.
  • What kind of song would call Rain?
  • Write a sonnet or song for Rain from Coyote’s perspective.

Ocean and Rain are related. They are linked together or interconnected through both family and water. Indigenous Peoples have these kinds of stories that profile the interconnectedness of everything, of the whole of the environment. At the end of prayers you may hear Indigenous People use the phrase ‘all my relations’. They view the environment as their family. It is natural, as a result, to define relationships through interconnectedness where everything is connected and has a purpose. The fish need water. They live in the water. The bears need the fish. They are drawn to the water although they do not live in the water. There is an interconnectedness. The geese and ducks both need water but don’t live in the water. The migration systems are in the air. The nests are on land. Their food source may be in the water. There is an interconnectedness.
  • Introduce or review the water cycle to highlight the concept of ‘interconnectedness’.
  • How are people interconnected with the life cycles around water and waterways?
Interconnectedness is important and necessary to understand in relation to the environment – global warming, climate change, consequences of our actions. Coyote did make amendments in some ways but was ignorant of consequences when it served him better. He put something on the landscape but held no responsibility for its health and survival when he left. Foregoing one’s responsibilities to the environment violates the cultural laws of the Sinixt Peoples. Sinixt Elder Marilyn James summarizes this concept as follows: “Through our Sinixt cultural laws we hold responsibilities to the environment because we are Coyote. ” Remember where the Sinixt Peoples came from – Coyote’s heart. In the story it clearly states that the Sinixt Peoples are waiting for the return of Coyote to make everything ‘right’.
  • Where does your water come from? Identify sources: i.e.: water table, spring, artesian well, lakes, rivers, creeks, reservoirs, water towers
  • What is our relationship with water? Is it a simple light switch or a tap, or does it range far beyond immediate usage?
  • What is the importance of rain?
  • Coyote says he will return and make everything right on the landscape again. Are there examples of how the landscape is not ‘right’ or not healthy, i.e. garbage, no fish, bubbles/toxins? What does that mean or what would that look like? And what can we do to help?
  • How do we maintain/protect watersheds? (Their effect on human and wildlife/fauna…what are the reasons for this?
  • Discuss or debate the pros and cons of buying bottles of water.
  • Why is water conservation important?
  • What would be some of the differences between the privileged in society and the underprivileged in relation to water; or between rural and urban communities? Research cases of toxicity in water, i.e. in Flint, Michigan, on native reserves, through fracking, there are other examples. Toronto residents sometimes define their water from Lake Ontario as ‘carefully processed sewage’. Consider how water is politicized.
List commonly used verbs occurring consistently throughout the story to identify the big ideas: i.e., love, chase, convince, beg, walk, drool, woo
Possible Research Topics:
The Water Cycle

Curricular Competency:
(developed by the teacher creating the lesson plan in collaboration with the student(s) receiving the knowledge)
Creative Thinking
Critical Thinking
Positive Personal & Cultural Identity
Personal Awareness & Responsibility
Social Responsibility


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