I wanted to tell a Story about Land Claims from the perspective of snk’y’ép, Coyote, our sacred profane Trickster, as told in the Nlaka’pamux Story Traditions. Not to adhere to any kind of ethnographic accuracy, but to write a play imbued with the spirit of those Coyote Stories.
Coyote Stories are a part of our sptékwł Stories, about animal beings with human aspects who are presented in our Creation or Foundational Stories. These characters represent all of the animals within Nlaka’pamux cultural knowledge and the specific fauna found on our Lands, Coyote being the most powerful and consequential of them. Other animals like Rabbit are also Tricksters, but they have traits that differentiate them from snk’y’ép. The Coyote character in Nlaka’pamux culture is vain, selfish in the extreme, cunning, lustful, arrogant, foolish, greedy, and vengeful. He embodies the worst of human character. And that makes him funny. But he is also a powerful transformer, a shape-shifter, a conjurer, and a lover.
In the Coyote Stories there is Old Man Coyote, who is malevolent and often trying to sleep with the three gorgeous duck wives of his son, the younger Coyote. Old Man Coyote tricks his son into going on a trans-dimensional journey into the Sky Nation that takes eight years to return from. All so that he can sleep with his son’s wives. And through his triumphs and follies on the journey back home, Coyote transforms the world into the reality we recognize today. In other adventures, Coyote has conversations with combs and blankets, deep philosophical conversations with his own asshole, and transforms his feces into various desirable objects in order to trick a cannibal or some other unsuspecting powerful being out of their possessions.
This play is inspired by these ancient, hilarious, absurd Stories that on closer investigation reveal a rich narrative imbued with absolutely deliberate cultural memes, reflecting the Beliefs and laws of the people. The Trickster behaves in ways counter to the Customs and Beliefs of the people, thereby provoking them not to live by his example but to enjoy and understand his faults in relation to their Values and laws. His misdeeds shape the world around us.
I wanted to explore that kind of contrary Trickster dramaturgy in the context of a Land Claim. What would Coyote do if his Lands were being threatened? Yet no character in this play is named Coyote or snk’y’ép; rather, the Trickster is the universe of this play. Transformation is possible, nothing is certain, and everyone is suspect. In Trickster Stories, no one walks away unscathed.