How Coyote Made the Black Moss Food

How Coyote Made the Black Moss Food (time 4:39)    
Big Ideas:
Educators are encouraged to focus on four dominant themes throughout their planning and study of How Coyote Made the Black Moss Food. The themes integral to the story are 1) honour; 2) eating within one’s latitude; 3) gratitude; and 4) critical thinking. The following are suggestions and added information that will assist educators in meeting their learning objectives for their students.
Backgrounder:
Teachers are encouraged to read the summaries and reflections found in the book Not Extinct: Keeping the Sinixt Way that reference and relate to this story.  Several important topics and concepts are mentioned, such as:
Caretaking food resources;
Ceremonial feasts, food protocols;
Harvesting food, eating locally;
Price versus value;
Trade;
Cultural food, cultural practice, and resistance;
Grey matter knowledge: connecting with the ancestors, connecting with one’s roots;
Dessert and treats – redefined.
Language:
An introduction to some of the following words and phrases may be needed for younger students prior to listening to the story: squirmed, pitch, thongs, timber hair, pit oven, lodge, the Imitator, ear ornaments, fire kindling, valuable.
Character Study:
There are several characters involved in this story: Coyote (the Imitator), Top’kan, Beaver, old man Wolf, White Swan, and Porcupine.
Choose a character from the list and explain the role the animal plays in the story. Or choose two characters and explain their connection to the story and to each other.
Research assignment: complete an oral or written report outlining appearance, unique features, habitat, food, predators, adaptations, characteristics of the animal. Does your animal have any strong significance, historically or otherwise? Beaver – fur trade, water repellency, on five cent coin, busy as a beaver. Swan – the ugly duckling story, Swan Lake ballet. Wolf – why it gets a bad rap and a bad reputation …Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, etc. Older students will find a lot of info re: wolves on the internet. Also, the movie and book Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat are interesting.
Explain the comment referring to Coyote as an imitator.
The Harvest
The staple diet for the Sinixt People consisted of foods available within their traditional landscape and the ecosystem in which they thrived. There were also survival foods such as the black moss as introduced in the story to use during times of scarcity. (Also see the Frog Mountain Story for an introduction to another survival food that helped the Sinixt survive a drought.)
The staple diet, as outlined in the book, would be as follows:
Water – the key to all beings;
Roots – camas, bitterroot, wild potatoes, wild carrots, wild garlic, wild celery, wild onions, and all the lily roots;
Berries – Saskatoon berries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, gooseberries, strawberries, wild raspberries, wild blackberries, soapberries (trade item, vitamin C);
Fish – salmon, other fish, shellfish, mussels;
Red Meat – caribou, deer, elk (recent), bear, other animals.
There is a short window of time for seasonal-round harvesting of essential foods. With no grocery stores on which to rely, and a community dependent for its survival on the success of both the hunt and the harvest, procrastination was not an option. It was a matter of life and death.
What main thought was consistently on Coyote’s mind throughout the story? (food) What other thoughts seemed to occupy his mind? Many of Coyote’s actions were connected to hunger and a need for sustenance.
Draw an analogy with the Sinixt and the need to prepare for winter survival. Introduce the concept of procrastination in relation to the short window of time for gathering and harvesting food.
Research topic: Black moss and the survival of the woodland caribou at higher altitudes in the winter. Include the impact of logging in the old growth forests. Black moss is lichen that grows mainly on conifers. Woodland caribou survive almost entirely on arboreal lichens in winter, but prefers the black moss. You may also find it under the name ‘wila’.
Harvest time was also a time for enjoyment, connection, and celebration with family. Refer to the book to read about Celeste’s escapades during root-digging with her grandmother. Students could share experiences of harvesting or gardening with their friends and family.
The Apple Pickers Reel is a fun song sung by many recording artists including Sharon, Bram, and Lois. The tune and lyrics are easily found on the internet.
Older students could discuss the following statement (admittedly expressed by an adult student in the SFU Master of Education program): I know about their culture; I’ve eaten their food. ….lots to unpack here!!!
Some schools have organized multi-cultural food fairs with much success, even at the classroom level.
Ceremony:
Note for educators: It wasn’t very long ago that Native people experienced intense scrutiny of their activities, some of which continues to this today, by government officials as well as by people with racist tendencies. Within Native communities there was considerable cause for concern, possible imprisonment, and potential loss of religious freedom as a result. Spiritual practices, sacred objects, ceremony, and cultural traditions went underground, were kept secret, and became very private. Ceremonies were hidden away and held in secret locations, or were simply lied about for protection as the ceremonies were declared illegal and prohibited by the white man’s justice system. With that in mind we can now fully appreciate the sharing of information and the details with which we are fortunate to be gifted through these stories and resource materials.
During ceremonies, strict food protocols govern the offering, presenting, and sharing of traditional foods. As outlined in detail in the book, the foods to be offered and shared are presented to those in attendance in the order in which they are gathered, after the water. This is the ceremonial food protocol according to cultural law to honour the foods from the harvest.
Talk with the children about family gatherings in which a feast is offered and enjoyed. They may think of Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving, birthdays, Easter, weddings, etc. In what ways do they honour or show gratitude for the foods they enjoy? Are any ‘family traditions’ evident?
If there is no honouring of the food as a group, what can they do privately or quietly to show some gratitude for what they are about to receive?
For more information on ceremony, see the ‘Ritual, Celebration, and Storytelling’ heading in the Lemon Creek story.
Honour:
Although the actual word ‘honour’ is not used in the story, the concept of honour is there in essence. It is a concept intricately connected to food, food resources, and food protocols as outlined in the book discussion.
Are there any examples of honour shown in the story? Recall at the end of the story just after Coyote speaks to his hair and says it is valuable, the storyteller adds ‘That was Coyote’s ruling near the beginning.’ It sounds as if Coyote is honouring some ruling or decree but nothing in the story helps us understand to what the ‘ruling’ or ‘near the beginning’ refers. Introduce the concepts of deduction, reading between the lines, and logic. Some suggestions:
In the very first story of the series, the Columbia River story, there is nothing on the land until Coyote takes pieces of his body and puts them down on the landscape. His calf becomes the bear, his arm becomes the osprey and eagle, and so on. Coyote states he will one day return and make everything on the landscape right again. Perhaps this is ‘the beginning’ referred to in the story about the creation of the black moss.
One idea for the ruling: Everything Coyote creates must be of value.
Another idea: No part of an animal should be wasted; even the hair was part of the ruling.
Coyote’s ruling may be: He must provide foods for sustenance, even in times of scarcity.
Perhaps we are just not supposed to know everything in a story and just listen, enjoy, and appreciate.
Everything about your body, including your hair, is you, has value, and is valuable as Coyote states in the story. In the Sinixt way, you must take care of everything about you…your hair, your nails, and so on. Your hair is not an ‘extension’ of you….it is not garbage when cut, it is still you. Your finger and toe nails are not extensions of you…they are not garbage when cut, they are still you. Taking care of the hair and nails are practises that have always been done. It is very important that no one else takes ownership of any physical part of you.
What could be done with your hair or nails that have been cut? Firstly, some acknowledgment of their value could be expressed to honour that they are part of you. Then burning them, offering them in a fire, or offering them back to the earth are possibilities. While visiting a sacred site a woman had nothing with her to leave as an offering. An Elder told her to pull out a hair from her head and leave that as an offering with her prayer.
What could you do if your hair is cut at the hairdressers and has fallen on the floor? It is advisable to have a small bag handy as you ask the hairdresser to sweep up your hair and store it in the bag for you to take home and deal with it appropriately according to your way.
A  Native man cut off his braid so he would have short hair when crossing an international border into another country. Why would he feel a need to cut off his braid? (i.e. racial profiling; to avoid intimidation, hassles or excess scrutiny; so he wouldn’t be denied entry; etc.) What do you think he meant when he was high in the mountains with his new haircut looking at a beautiful view and said “I wish my hair was here to see this!”
Explore the different meanings for both noun and verb. Also note the two different spellings, i.e. honor and honour. The preferred spelling in Canada is in line with the British spelling, namely honour. Possibly reference spelling options for other words such as neighbourhood, favour, behaviour, humour, colour, savour, etc.
Is honour simply honesty and doing what is right, or does the meaning go beyond that? Think of common phrases with the word honour in them and how they would be used.
Yes, your honour when addressing a judge in court; On your honour – sincere intent without being watched or scrutinized; The honour system; Honour roll; Honour your word; Code of honour; Have the honour of…; In honour of…; Honour guard; Trading with honour – equity.
The importance of food and food resources is strongly stated in the book. Harvesting and honouring them is an act of profound cultural practice, an act of resistance, an act of defiance. It is, in effect, touching the ancient ones, enjoying the same tastes as the ancestors on the same land, connecting with one’s roots in a profound and emotional way. See the section below on Grey Matter Memory.
Discussion Topics:
Here are some suggestions for challenging questions to ask students as jumping off points for further discussion:
On knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom:
What is Elder wisdom? Are there any examples of Elder wisdom in the story? Give examples.
Is there a difference between having knowledge and using wisdom? Consider the statement: It is not what you know that determines your character and level of integrity, but what you do with what you know.
Top’kan cried out twice in the story which caused his father, Coyote, to spring into action to help him. Think of some reasons why, in a real-life situation, an Elder would tell a child to stop crying while in the woods. (i.e. Youngsters crying can sound like hurt animals and can draw predators to you. Crying can scare off potential prey or warn an enemy.)
When a man who was eating an apple started to leave his cabin in the woods one evening to go outside for firewood, his Elder ordered him to stop and leave the apple behind. Why? Do you think the man would question his Elder or do what he was told? Explain your answer.
On reputation:
How do we know Coyote and his son have traveled far on this journey? At the end of the story it clearly says Coyote and his son will be heading back to their country.
Find evidence in the story that, although they are not traveling in their homeland, other beings seem to know them, or know about them. How is this possible?
They may have traveled in that area on previous occasions.
Coyote has quite a notorious reputation which may have ‘preceded’ him.
Animal beings may have shared gossip, spread stories, believed rumours, and issued warnings.
Older students could engage in a discussion regarding privacy, surveillance, their rights (especially under the possibility of arrest), and the police and school records that can impact their lives. Social media is a big discussion topic regarding this issue. The Hate U Give (movie or book) is another potential source of information for older teens.
On self-regulation:
What similarities did you notice between the young beavers and the young swans? They were very active youth. They dove into a situation to see what Coyote would do, or to see what would happen. They seemed to think they were invincible and pretended to be dead. Talk about the importance of considering the consequences of a decision, or an action. Consequences can affect others, not just you, and consideration of them is part of a self-regulation process. Older students could touch on the concept of logical argument (If A, then B.) and algebraic equation.
Why did Coyote destroy the beaver dam? Coyote did not practice self-regulation techniques and let his anger totally consume him. What are some other ways Coyote could have dealt with his anger? Practice some self-regulation exercises with the students. (lots of info on the web for this topic)
A very difficult and challenging topic for older students and one well worth exploring revolves around sharing feelings with others, i.e. when you hold your feelings inside and don’t let them out they can cause you to hurt others (i.e. bullying, mass shootings) or hurt yourself (i.e. self-harm cutting, suicide). Older students could discuss and/or debate strategies for ‘reaching out’ and dealing with emotional turmoil and stress, like who to talk to, possibly forming a pact with a close friend to touch base when support may be needed, etc. Are there supports already in place at the school, in the community? How can one student lend support to another?
Grey Matter Memory:
The concept of grey matter memory is mentioned briefly in the book but will also be included in more detail in the lesson plan for the story Why Mosquitoes Bite People.
Curricular Competency: (developed by the teacher creating the lesson plan in collaboration with the student(s) receiving the knowledge)
    Communication:
    Creative Thinking:
    Critical Thinking:
    Positive Personal & Cultural Identity:
    Personal Awareness & Responsibility:
    Social Responsibility:

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