Whale, Fox, and Coyote

Whale, Fox, and Coyote
(time 5:39)
Big Ideas
Educators are encouraged to focus on four dominant themes throughout their planning and study of the Whale, Fox, and Coyote story. The themes integral to the story are 1) aquatic life, 2) communication, 3) relationship (loyalty), and 4) reconciliation. The following are suggestions and added information that will assist educators in meeting their learning objectives for their students.
An introduction to some of the following words and phrases may be needed for younger students prior to, or after, listening to the story: waterfowl, fickle, to be on a mission, interpreter, relegated, captive.
Intimate knowledge of the landscape and its natural inhabitants informed the Sinixt on many levels. Rivers, creeks, streams and lakes abound within the homeland of the Sinixt People who had a great relationship with all aquatic life. Interestingly, the Sinixt were named after a fish called the bull trout. Waterways were important travel routes for the Sinixt People. The mighty Columbia River was equivalent to a super highway for them. This story took place along the Columbia River.
  • Whales are mammals of the sea. Research the whale species.
  • Today, if a whale is observed up a river far from salt water or the ocean we might refer to the whale as ‘stranded’. Why do you think Whale was not referred to as ‘stranded’ in this story when he was up the Columbia River? Are there aquatic species who can survive in both fresh water and salt water?
  • Maps and surveys showing the many waterways and water systems within Sinixt territory may be accessed at sinixtnation.org.
  • Note that other stories carry elements of the landscape and can be referenced for further study on this topic.
Effective communication is achieved by speaking with clarity, asking questions, providing context, and refraining from making assumptions or jumping to logical conclusions without adequate context. When an issue is overlooked or ignored, it can fester and mushroom into more than it really is. Several examples of misunderstandings, poor communication, or loaded issues are presented in this story.
‘Interpret’ and ‘interpreter’ are terms used in the story in two different ways: 1) the narrator says Mrs. Fox “fell in love with the water or it could be interpreted a water-being”; and 2) Mouse is the ‘great interpreter’ in Whale’s cave.
  • Each example of misunderstanding or miscommunication in the story could lead to discussions regarding what happened, why it happened, and how better communication could have fostered a different result.
  • The Narrator used the word ‘interpreted’ when talking about the water-being. Discuss why interpreting a Sinixt word more precisely in the original story may have been problematic. In a cultural way, water can be considered a ‘being’. So, in effect, water and water-being can be the same element in a different form, but separate. Olive Dickason, Indigenous author, historian, and journalist refers to this as anthropomorphic shaping of the landscape, i.e., showing or treating elements of the landscape as if they have human characteristics, behaviours, and sometimes appearance.
  • Are there places in the story where you could say bullying was taking place? In reality, bullying is an issue that occurs far too often. Review anti-bullying strategies and include effective communication as a topic of consideration.
  • What is the role of an interpreter? Why would Mouse be an asset in the cave? Think of situations where an interpreter would be considered important or essential, such as global business, international summits for government leaders, etc. Alternatively, include why a computer would need an interpreter, i.e. coding.
  • In what ways could the mind-set, bias, motivations, principles, fears, and previous experiences of an interpreter impact the accuracy of their interpretations? For example, an overly enthusiastic first year teacher asked her grade three students to write a paragraph summarizing their first day in her class. One student asked how to spell the word ‘bored’. Deeply hurt, the teacher helped the child, without judgment, only to learn on a later reading of the child’s finished product that he had written about doing work from the ‘board’.
  • Interpretation can refer to reading signs, signals, clues, etc. In some cultures it is critical to be able to ‘read’ the weather and interpret the signs for safety and survival, i.e. in the Far North. Older students may find it interesting to research Franz Boas and his work with the Inuit. Boas claimed the Inuit had around 50 words for different types of snow – i.e.: wet snow, dry snow, crystallized snow like salt, packing snow, snow okay for a dogsled to run on. Critics of Boas have claimed this is untrue and he was merely using descriptive flourish.
  • There is an importance in recording Indigenous languages and keeping them current and alive. Teachers can use the book to review and/or teach some of the words from the Sinixt language….see the glossary.
Relationship: Loyalty and Betrayal:
Mr. Fox was a good provider for his family and supplied whatever his wife needed. Coyote was Fox’s brother. In this story Coyote seems to demonstrate loyalty to his brother, i.e., reporting to Fox about his wife’s suspicious behaviour and seeming infidelity. Mrs. Fox was disloyal to her husband and went with the water-being, Whale, to set up a new and potentially more interesting life for herself. But after some time had passed it appears the novelty wore off. Mr. Fox fought hard alongside his brother Coyote to get her back. Coyote assisted his brother in the rescue.
  • How does this story demonstrate the importance of family values and family allegiance?
  • Was Coyote a loyal brother or do you think he enjoyed stirring up trouble?
  • In what ways do you think Mrs. Fox was betrayed by Whale?
  • Disguises: Fox and Coyote used disguises to go on a dangerous mission to rescue Mrs. Fox from Whale and bring her home. Students could share their own experiences with disguises, i.e. during Hallowe’en, at theme parties, as team mascots. How did the tradition of dressing up and trick-or-treating on Hallowe’en begin?
  • Mrs. Goose and Mrs. Duck were supposed to be friends of Mrs. Fox. After hearing Mrs. Fox’s complaints they wanted to help her feel more comfortable in her new home. Evaluate this friendship in reference to the story. Were they more concerned about Mrs. Fox’s or Whale’s happiness?
  • Students could list the qualities they value in a good friend. Imagine moving to a new school where you need to make new friends. Role-play strategies a student could use to meet new people and start up new friendships.
  • Older students could discuss the need to feel like one ‘belongs’ in connection with gang recruitment strategies, i.e. if you do this for us, we will let you become a member. Consider extrinsic versus intrinsic value and motivation.
Reconciliation is not Forgiveness:
Mrs. Fox betrayed her husband. Mr. Fox probably experienced a wide range of feelings because of her betrayal. In the story Mrs. Fox returns to live with her husband and they have a good life together after all.
  • For Mr. and Mrs. Fox to have a good life together they must have reconciled in some way. Consider the following: Reconciliation requires action. It does not occur in a vacuum. Yes, you can forgive yourself; however, forgiveness is just one facet of reconciliation. For reconciliation to occur, someone who has been transgressed needs to be there at the end to interact with and within the process of reconciliation. If it is done right, the process of reconciliation creates movement forward in understanding, and a building of relationship. If it is not done right, it creates a dead end. Does the situation in this story have the essential conditions to reach successful reconciliation? Explain.
  • Can you really trust after you have been betrayed, your feelings have been hurt, your culture and identity has been mocked, belittled, and delegitimized? Research the term in relation to Indigenous Rights, i.e. truth and reconciliation.
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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