One reflection of stories within a culture is the significance of placethe land, the mountains, the rivers and lakes, the plants and animals of a specific place. Oral narratives are framed by a particular placeAmerican Indian people are not simply 'close to the earth'; they are involved in an on-going and unique bond between landscape and identity. The fictional character who can help us begin to grasp this bond integral to the forms and functions of North American tribal stories and the essential relationship between stories and landscape is Old Man Coyote or, Coyote, as he is known in the Inland Northwest tribal narratives. As a literary archetype, coyote is a trickster; a transformer and his antics are the source of much that is rich and distinctive about North American Indian stories.

Coyote appears in the stories of the plains, southwest, upper plateau and Columbia basin tribes. He appears in stories from other regions, but the geography west of the Mississippi is the domain he roams in stories. Wild life biologists and anthropologists have noted the corresponding relationship between this trickster figure and the animal itself, but the coyote of oral literature is a symbol who can expand our understanding of what is possible. His literary function is to help us see human nature as complex, contradictory and imperfect, as such he has captured the imagination of those who hear coyote stories for the first time or over a lifetime.

The story, Coyote Creates Spokane Falls, told by Coeur d'Alene elder, Lawrence Aripa, exemplifies the unique literary and cultural motifs of a Coyote Story and as it is told, embodies the lessons and values intrinsically interwoven into the landscape of North Idaho.

Watch and listen to storyteller
Lawrence Aripa's
re-telling of
Coyote Creates Spokane Falls

In this tale coyote is performing several functions.

The tale ends, not on a resolution of a problem or even a promise of a resolution. One of the functions of this tale is to restate the primacy of the tribe's traditions over the chaos, selfishness and vengeful acts of coyote whose actions are based only on his own needs with no regard for the wishes or well being of others.

Although coyote is not directly punished for his thoughtless actions, his actions are presented to the listener as very wrong because they bring about much harm to the well being of others who live in the water, on the land and in the air.

The listener, upon hearing this tale, is reminded to follow traditions; the consequences for acts of revenge are often devastating and long lastingfor the group and for generations to come. And, in a narrative that is interwoven with the land, the water, the plants and animals, neither the First Peoples nor the humans who came after them are to tamper with the landscape given them by the creator.

Find out how this story might be used in a classroom.

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