As part of the Ktunaxa Nation’s Ahead of the Game youth summit, Cody Purcell, a.k.a. Cody Coyote — an Ontario-based musician and motivational speaker — was brought in to present and perform. Coyote is of Ojibwa/Irish decent with ancestry from the Matachewan First Nation.
Coyote’s music draws on his own personal life challenges, issues and themes experienced by Indigenous communities. His most recent album “Mamawi,” which translates to All Together in Anishinaabemowin was released in November 2017. His second album “Ma’iinganag,” which means Wolves, will be released this summer.
He was nominated in the Best Rap/Hip-Hop CD and Single of the Year categories at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards, and Best Music Video category at the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards. He has also received an Ontario 150 award.
Coyote came to Cranbrook on March 19 with his friend BOA, both of whom were immediately struck by the mountains and nature they found themselves surrounded by. Arriving at ?a’qam, they met the youth and played Indigenous games, a first for Coyote.
He also said that entering the St. Eugene Resort for the first time gave him chills.
“I’ve been doing this work for seven years now,” Coyote said, “and I’ve been all over Toronto and I’ve been coast to coast and I’ve gone as far as Los Angeles and places like that, but just hearing all the stories on how residential schools and boarding schools affected Indigenous people — it hit me really hard, walking in there knowing that it was a former residential school.”
He was struck by the painting of Elder Mary Paul and the accompanying quote, which reads: “… since it was within the St. Eugene Mission School that the culture of the Kootenay Indian was taken away. It should be within the building that it is returned.”
“That struck me really hard,” Coyote said. “As someone who grew up without his culture due to my father being adopted in the ‘60s,” he said. “And I’m 26 now but it took me 25 years to meet my blood relatives.”
Coyote says that he has developed a thorough understanding of the intergenerational and direct trauma experienced by many Indigenous individuals, such as meeting people, like his father, who’ve been affected by the ‘60s scoop and the residential school system.
“Spending time learning about what happened within those walls and how they’ve taken a step on their own healing journey by taking it back, it was a very strong statement for me and I was quite taken aback by it.
“Spending time on the drum with people who attended the school, survivors, and hearing their stories and hearing how they’re speaking their language and singing their songs — it was a very, very powerful moment for me to be able to witness and it moved me in several ways.”
Coyote said that initially, like in many of his speaking engagements, the youth were unsure and a little standoffish with him, but once he got talking and expressed his struggles dealing with drugs, alcohol, leaving gang life behind and intergenerational trauma, he was able to start connecting.
“Kids are going to be kids, they’re going to talk with each other,” he said. “But once you say a few things that are relative to them and you express, ‘hey you’re not the only one, I get it, I understand, I’ve been through it.’ Then there’s that line of respect where they’re kind of like, ‘okay, now I’m more inclined to listen to what this individual might have to say.’”
He recalled his evening performance, during his song “Native Pride Worldwide,” drummers from around the territory joined in with the beat of the song, and a huge circle formed that had everyone up and dancing.
“From the artist’s perspective and the guest speaker’s perspective that was just my mission accomplished,” Coyote said. “It was truly a special moment to be able to witness. Some of them, even the youth that were really quiet and introverted, just jumped out of that and took a leap of faith and had fun with their peers and their relations.”
Coyote said his mother, who passed away from cancer last August, instilled in him the value of bringing people together, loving and being kind to one another — a value that has driven him throughout his musical and professional career.
“I don’t do this work for money, because money comes, money goes, but memories are going to stay and the way that you respect people is going to be recognized for generations to come, and it’s really just initiating that positive change.”
“Ma’iinganag” discuss the idea that people have two wolves within them, a good wolf that carries positive traits like love, respect and honesty, and a bad wolf that carries negative traits like anger, hatred and deceit.
He says an example of bad wolf for him personally would be having a drink of alcohol, as he knows that it can lead to destruction.
“I really wanted to deliver that kind of teaching because it’s something that’s been valuable to me throughout my journey and my father gave that to me at a young age. I feel it really helped me when I was in those moments where you feel like you’re stuck.”
He said that the next step for his project in terms of delivering music and workshops is to move past the healing through art he’s talked about and move forward with the good wolf idea, putting it into practice.
Coyote also wanted to highlight the hospitality he received throughout his stay.
“The people were very kind, very welcoming, very respectful, they took me to go see their territory for what it was, go in the bush and be able to see the territory and the land and the beauty that it holds. That whole experience felt like deja vu, in that I am where I am supposed to be.”
Get to know more about Cody Coyote, his music and his vision at his website.