The Trickster: Integral to a Distinctive Culture




Borrows, John

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Constitutional Forum


The trickster is alive and well. The Supreme Court of Canada illustrated this in the cases of R. v. Van der Peet, R. v. Gladstone, R. v. N.T.C. Smokehouse Ltd. and R. v. Pamajewon. First Nations have an intellectual tradition that teaches people about ideas, principles and behaviours that are partial and incomplete. These traditions are taught through a character known as the trickster. S/he has various persona in different cultures. The Anishinabe (Ojibway) of Central Canada call the trickster Nanaboozhoo; the First Nations people of Coastal British Columbia know him as Raven; s/he is known as Glooscap by the MicMac of the Maritimes; and as Coyote, Crow, Wakajesig, Badger, or Old Man among the First Nations people in Canada. The trickster offers insights through encounters which are simultaneously altruistic and self-interested. In her adventures the trickster roams from place to place and fulfills her goals by using ostensibly contradictory behaviours such as charm and cunning, honesty and deception, kindness and mean tricks. Lessons are learned as the trickster engages in actions which in some particulars are representative of the listener's behavior, and on other points uncharacteristic of their comportment. The trickster encourages an awakening of understanding because listeners are compelled to interpret and reconcile the notion that their ideas may be partial. As such, the trickster assists people in conceiving of the limited viewpoint they possess. The trickster is able to kindle these understandings because her actions take place in a perplexing realm that partially escapes the structures of society and the order of cultural things. The trickster's interaction with the Supreme Court of Canada demonstrates these insights.




Borrows, John (1997). The Trickster: Integral to a Distinctive Culture. Constitutional Forum, 8(2), 27-32.