I love shows like Coyote Science. Though it’s aimed at kids, I found myself learning a heck of a lot about science and how it ties into the First Nations community.
Returning for a second season on APTN this Sunday at 10 a.m. ET, Coyote Science boasts super-cool animation and a punchy soundtrack, not to mention A-list Indigenous scientists like Percy Paul, a mathematician and physicist who explains the science of a skateboarding technique called an ollie; Jessica Bekker, an electrical engineer helping Indigenous communities develop sustainable energy from solar to wind; Naxaxalhts’i Sonny McHaisle, who has extensive knowledge of the traditional technology of the Sto:lo Nation; and Corey Gray, who works with the Nobel Prize team that measured gravitational waves at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
We spoke to Métis Cree filmmaker Loretta Todd—an internationally acclaimed, award-winning filmmaker—about creating Coyote Science, what viewers can learn and what her plans are for Season 3 amid COVID-19.
Tell me about how Coyote Science came about in the first place.
Loretta Todd: I’ve been a bit of an amateur science nerd for a long time. As an Indigenous person, I’ve always been conscious of the fact that we don’t seem to be in that space of science, except maybe as specimens, or something that is studied. And yet I knew that when I was growing up, I had relatives who were very innovative with technology, could fix anything because that’s what we had to do, who seemed to have deep knowledge of the land, and so on. And so, those things all pertain to science and technology. And also, as I started making films, I would meet new people.
I always like to reference Dr. Leroy Little Bear and his wife, Amethyst First Rider, because they have always been one of my greatest inspirations for much of the work I do as a filmmaker.
Another person who influenced me is someone who’s in the children’s series, John Herrington, who is an astronaut, the first Indigenous astronaut in space. He talks about us as being natural scientists, that Indigenous science, as Indigenous people, we observe, and that from the observations we gain knowledge. We may not have the scientific method, which the west sort of prescribes as a necessity to really be science, but we certainly are engaged in observation and learning from that observation, and even testing, maybe not in the same way as a lab, but we’re doing that now anyway.
Is there a formula for each episode?
LT: There’s a whole parameter of things that influence the shaping of Coyote Science. You sort of have a mission statement or a set of parameters that I wrote out. Drawing from that, but also drawing from my knowledge of Indigenous learning, and just sort of like, ‘OK, this is what we do, this is what we don’t do.’ We’re respectful of adults. We reinforce healthy family relationships. All these things we sort of model that are things that are values within the Native community. Within the Cree culture, we talk about this idea of the good life. It doesn’t mean a materialistic type of life.
It’s a good life in which you’re respectful of family, community, the world around you. So again, I try to embody that. And plus, the other thing is, you’re always trying to underline this idea of encouraging confidence, young people having respect for themselves, liking themselves, seeing that they can do this. And then also, kids like to see other kids reflected back to them. That’s something that’s a constant in educational media. That’s why you see a lot of Indigenous kids. I thought that was really important.
Your host, Isa, is fantastic.
LT: One of the other things I try to do in my children’s series, and I’ve done that right from the beginning, just because I think it makes it easier for all of us, is I work with kids that I know. I didn’t do an open casting. I asked family and friends. And of course, many of my family and friends are themselves involved in media in some way. So I was looking for kids that were comfortable in front of the camera. That’s sort of one of the first things is to search that out. Isa is my niece’s husband’s niece. She’s brilliant.
She’s now at first-year university, but she’s a straight-A student her whole life, and science has always been an area of her expertise.
Season 3 of Coyote Science is heading into production. How will you do that with COVID-19 still a concern?
LT: I had to convince the broadcaster APTN and CMF that I could do this comfortably, I could do it safely. One of the things that I’m really, really fortunate to have is the fact that through Season 1 and 2 and also through my previous children’s series, I’ve developed these relationships with Indigenous directors, and cinematographers, and other crew, who have kids at home. So basically, what I can do is have them do the quests with their kids at home, because they’ve got the equipment, they’ve got the skill. Some of them are cinematographers and directors, and some of them have got one kid, some of them have got six kids.
Some live in the city, some live out in the country, so we could kind of adjust to that. Some have green screens even, so we can adjust to that. And then, in cases where maybe the only real critical thing I’m worried about is sound, so our plan is to do some online sound workshops with one of our sound recordists, and get one of their family members, the husband, or the wife, or one of their teenage kids, to train in sound so that we can then make sure that we have good quality sound as well.
Coyote Science airs Sundays at 10 a.m. ET on APTN.
Images courtesy of Coyote Science Inc.