Coyote and Raven: A Curriculum Scholar Review by Jennifer Homanchuk

Coyote and Raven: A Curriculum Scholar Review by Jennifer Homanchuk

Taken together, Peter Cole’s academic work is a collection of intricately woven tapestries, through which themes of colonization, environmental degradation, language, commercialization of education, sense of place, time and aboriginal ways of knowing are explored, compared and complicated. Through the use of rhythmical language, infused with emotion, imagery and stories, Peter Cole’s work leads us on a journey, a canoe ride, down a winding and sometimes tumultuous river, which calls into question (Un)traditional eurocentric ways of knowing and being in the world. His poetic style of writing, which, to him, is more reflective of the “oral style” of his “Nation” (Cole, 1998, p.100), shuns chapters, eschews paragraphs, ignores capitals and misses a few o/ccidental “glottal stops” (Cole, 2002, p. 447) along the way, requiring one to examine his or her (hidden) assumptions about what counts as legitimate academic and educational discourse.

As I engaged in an iterative exploration of Peter Cole’s work I began to wonder how the standard academic processes of writing and communication have come to pass. Why do publications, references and citations require a certain format? In our classrooms, where we have come to the consensus that different learning styles (i.e. visual, kinesthetic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, tactile, auditory) must be honoured, why do many teachers still insist that each project or assignment be accompanied by a standard written report? Although the merits of alternative forms of assessment are frequently discussed at the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels, it remains apparent that they have not yet made their way into most mainstream course syllabuses.

Cole questions the validity of these default North American academic models as the only means of demonstrating knowledge, suggesting that “maybe we could use some of the other senses the Creator gave us see how that works out for a spell listen for a change use our noses taste things feel things” (Cole & O’Riley, 2002, p. 133). With respect to knowledge formation, Cole’s work raises many important questions that educators need to consider, such as whose knowledge counts, why are certain types of knowledge valued over others, and why is there so much significance placed on the written word. If educators are to create an inclusive curriculum, they must ask themselves these questions, so that they can begin to engage in pedagogical practices that seek to evoke, acknowledge, and legitimatize different ways of knowing and being in world.

In his article, aboriginalizing methodology: considering the canoe, Cole (2002) provides us with a “protocol for passengers” that are willing to begin this journey, cautioning even “the best swimmers treaders floaters logholders” not to stand stand-up while the canoe is in motion (p. 447). Could it be that these words are written as a note of caution to those of us that are accustomed to an accelerated pace of discovery, where the finished product, conclusion, or outcome are the ultimate goals? As an educator, I often speculate about the processes that lead us to these goals. Do they not have merit in their own right? If so, why, then, do I feel an undeniable pressure to “get through” the curriculum, as if all that mattered was that we reached the final destination? Perhaps, we should take a cue from Peter Cole’s way of writing, (re)writing the curriculum to include breaks, spaces and slashes that provide our students with an opportunity to pause, pivot, wonder, and actively engage in the construction of meaning. Thereby, providing students with a space within which they can form their own interpretations of the journey. It is these spaces, these line breaks, where Cole (1998) suggests, “meaning can be created by the reader” as meaning is “…accretive equi/poly/multi/vocal isomorphic salutatory tectonic meteoro/logical terpsichorean. Like weather. Like life” (p. 100). As educators, our curriculum should reflect complexities of life, leaving legroom for students to engage in the iterative and highly personalized task of meaning-making.

In the context of education, schooling and curriculum Peter Cole’s work provides us with a new lens, an alter/native lens with which we can begin to (re)examine the ideological underpinnings, in relation to knowledge formation and the broader purpose of education, that permeate and inform our Western educational practices. Drawing on his own experience as an aboriginal person and scholar, Cole (2002) reveals that indigenous ways of knowing that emphasize the relationship between the land and the community, continue to remain on the periphery of educational thought and action. He paints a picture for the reader of colonial times where the English language and western rationality were forced onto indigenous peoples in residential schools and leaves us to wonder what, if anything, has truly changed.

Cole’s stories help the reader understand the implications and realities of colonialism, which are personified throughout his work, by calling into question the educational processes that continue to privilege western epistemologies. In his article, Trick(ster)s of Aboriginal research: or how to use ethical review strategies to perpetuate cultural genocide, Cole (2004) uncovers the un/ethical nature of university ethics review boards, which he argues, define ethics in such a way that “academic colonization and cognitive imperialism remain acceptable practices against first nations people” and other culturally oppressed individuals (p. 10). A conversation between two tricksters, Raven and Coyote, is the means through which Cole reveals that review boards and other educational entities function in a way that maintain power differentials and ultimately continue to privilege an elite few. This is a crucial aspect for any teacher to bring forth in the curriculum, as it is only through recognizing and understanding our own biases and subjectivities that we can begin to make steps toward changing the system.

Cole scrutinizes the merits of educational systems that do not accord aboriginal peoples the opportunity to participate in their own schooling and questions the inequitable academic practices that continue to promote and recognize non-aboriginal scholars as the primary authorities on first nations peoples and culture. Cole’s work draws attention to the central role that schooling has played, and continues to play, in the normalization and assimilation of individuals that do not reside within the mainstream. His poignant, and often uncomfortable, words have persuaded me to reflect on my own teaching practices, forcing me to evaluate some of the core ideologies that govern how, and what, I teach. From the bow of his canoe, Cole calls for an aboriginal framework, where indigenous people are not required to learn about themselves secondhand, but instead have a “cultural space to speak to be heard to be listened to” (Cole, 2005, p. 19). As educators, I believe that we have a responsibility to provide each and every one of our students with such a space, a space that allows room for multiple stories, conversations, and journeys.


Cole, P., & O’Riley, P. (2002). Much rez adieux about (Dewey’s) goats in the curriculum: Looking back on tomorrow yesterday. In N. Gough & W. E. Doll, (Eds.), Curriculum Visions (pp. 132-148) New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishers.

Cole, P. (1998). An academic take on “indigenous traditions and ecology”. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 3, 100-115.

Cole, P. (2002). aboriginalizing methodology: considering the canoe. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 15(4), 447-459.

Cole, P., & O’Riley, P. (2005). Coyote and Raven talk about the business of education or how did Wall Street Bay Street and Sesame Street get into the pockets of publicly funded universities or vice versa? Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labor

Cole, P. (2004). Trick(ster)s of Aboriginal research: or how to use ethical review strategies to perpetuate cultural genocide. Native Studies Review, 15(2), 7-30.