As part of the phenomenally successful Aboriginal Student Association at York’s powwow and gathering, I was invited to sit on a panel with Lee Maracle and York U’s Elizabeth Brule. We were asked to speak about the responsibilities of Indigenous storytelling.
It was one of those topics where I felt confident enough, banking on the panel set-up and the broad subject matter to make for a conversational event. And, thankfully, I was right. We spoke about our own experiences with story; how they were a part of our upbringing both as Indigenous women and as writers. And we touched on those areas of responsibility.
Since we can only speak about the community and experience we come from, I spoke about my own understanding as a Metis storyteller. For me, being a writer is like being in the centre of a giant web of story. It is up to me to be able to hold all the loose ends of every thread that has been woven into the whole, to ensure that I understand where each originated, how they connect to one another and where those intersections occur. This is not to say that I have to tell those traditional stories in everything that I produce, but I must certainly know them, understand their intent and path and be able to allow them space and distance between so that they can evolve and change.
Lee and I shared stories of our elders protecting us with story; me through the tales of the Rogarou to not go alone on the road, and her of the Earth Blanket her aunties sewed while telling stories to keep the children hidden as they night fished. It was powerful to share instances when stories not only saved us through the preservation of our history and culture, but also how they physically saved us from destruction.
Inevitably, as occurs when talking about all our art forms, we veered towards resistance through story. We resist by thriving. We thrive by maintaining a solid foundation on which to build. We craft and upkeep the foundation through story. One of the best names I’ve heard is that of my publisher; Theytus. It means “preserving for the sake of handing down”. How perfect. These stories are being gathered, created and preserved so that the next seven generations will have access to them. So that their storytellers will have a better understanding of the origins, the junctures and the spaces in-between when they are standing in the middle of the web.
The drive up to York is no short distance from the St George Campus at U of T where Lee and I were picked up for the talk. On the way, we had a chance to talk, as rarely happens unless your trapped in confined spaces, rolling in between two points on a map. We talked about all the achievements of the Idle No More Movement, how INM supporters brought down Tom Flanagan, garnered international attention and educated millions in doing so, how they’re taking back spaces one street name at a time and blocking city’s from carrying on the tradition of giving their sports teams racist names (we’re looking at you, Ottawa). We talked about what makes this movement so successful; what’s different this time that we’ve been able to accomplish so much and make such a strong, undivided stand? And we concurred, that in addition to the fantastic organization, the embracing of all mediums in gathering and spreading knowledge and the shared history of nations that live closer together now than ever before has been this: this time we are looking inward first; this time we gathered in a huddle, collected stock, took inventory and shared our personal stories. So that when we broke huddle and stood side by side across the field and began to walk forward, we were swaddled in the stories of a hundred thousand grandmothers. We relearned and retold our stories- creation, preservation, rebuilding and perseverance. We looked in our nations and families for the ways in which we could succeed and we walked forward with our stories, careful to hold all the loose threads, careful to leave the spaces in between for the new ones to evolve and change.