The Pedagogy of Indigenous Stories
Recently I've been coming across a lot of Settler articles touching on the "do's and don'ts of writing" or "top ten's for writers" and there are many quotes from Settler's stating that to be a thorough and rigorous writer you must always be reading. Stephen King states "If you want to be a writer you must do 2 things above all else read a lot and write a lot." Or Faulkner who states "Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.". Hell Dr. Seuss even wrote "The more things that you read, the more that you will know."
In the Settler approach to writing it can be distilled down to 2 things: reading and writing. I don't dispute that these two are a part of the pedagogy for Settler writing but know that approach is grossly absent of Indigenous components that contribute to the spherical nature that is central to the pedagogy of Indigenous story creation which includes listening and storytelling.
The absence of these two components from the Settler pedagogy without acknowledgement contributes to an erasure to the essence and embodied power of traditional and contemporary Indigenous story creation. We have been orators for thousands of years and there is nuance, power, and profundity in bearing witness and absorbing teachings by listening to storytellers and by participating in the practice of storytelling.
If the Settler literary pedagogy exists in solitude without an Indigenous method beside it then we fail everyone because it lacks the scope of all of our stories and creation work. It especially fails our young Indigenous storytellers who are waiting for us to create environments for them to unleash the stories locked away in their bloodlines. The longer we only provide them Settler pedagogies, the longer we hold back our own healing and emancipation because that is how powerful our stories are - they are ceremonial, they are our medicine. That's why they are held in one of our most sacred places - our children.
My literary education from k-12 was completely Settler Euro-centric. It was from the eyes and desires of the colonists to teach me how to make a "correct" sentence, a "well structured" paragraph and or "good" thesis. I was taught how to "understand" a story by following a linear method of purely cognitive "fact" gathering to "complete" the story to "understand" the intention of the writer. Cause that was always the point, I was taught that we were smart if we get it and stupid if we don't.
In the Settler paradigm, everyone is basing their success by their cognitive understanding of a lesson that was almost always about a Eurocentric way of existing - seems a bit unfair if you ask me. That white dominated narrative was always prioritized whether teachers knew it or not and not only is that deeply problematic and oppressive for Indigenous peoples - it's also mean to the white kids - or the Settlers in general. Cause we were being graded on how white man-ish we could condition our brains to understanding how stories were constructed under Settler subjugation and then we were rewarded for it. Barf.
As young people we were all working on it and in different places of our cognitive growth and this very white approach set a lot of us up for failure because none of us were old white dudes! The dominant education system made no room for different ways of absorbing and constructing stories which made some of us feel terrible about how we we're impulsively engaging with stories beyond reading and writing at a desk.
Ok wait - to go back to an earlier sentiment - we did learn one non-white way of storytelling, that I don't think was ever culturally contextualized or taught properly and that was the haiku. A haiku is a Japanese poetic form that must be universally taught because it's so globally recognized but I am curious as to how in North America the other option to Eurocentric literacy was Japanese poetry. It was def a breath of fresh air and I was energized by this alternate way of creation and expression but it was still not making me, an Indigenous woman, feel at peace with what was happening in my body, spirit and essence.
I feel story, it provokes and elicits a physical response that needs to be fostered by deep listening, preferably in tandem with dance and or physical movement, so I can express the truth of what the story is affecting. So when I say listening, it's dynamic and responsive and pending the situation - around a fire, in a long lodge, in a sweat, at the dinner table, looks unique to the environment.
Same goes for engaging in the practice of storytelling the environments need to be conducive to the impulses of the storyteller. An offer can be to ask what they/we need cause the choices being imposed from the Settler paradigm are what - a chair, desk and mic maybe? There's no cultural pluralism in that it's just continued Settler supremacy that continues to racialize and marginalize anyone working outside that paradigm and doing that to our young people is unacceptable.
I just did a talk at Langara with the Women's Studies department and a number of WOC were very generous with their time and stayed after the event to speak with me and I continue to get emails about how appreciative they were for me sharing space with them because for some, this was the first time they were able to recognize themselves in a storyteller, writer and speaker. That the way I framed the environment made them feel at ease, had agency and that their way of knowing was prioritized and that is a part of my storytelling and artistic practice.
I deliberately make a lot of eye and energy contact with the WOC in these environments to hopefully evoke and or support their prominence, it's a part of my work towards achieving equity of power and presence for all community members. It's an offer to help build a diversity of approaches and ways of being and existing in storytelling environments for all learners.
So here is another offer to storytellers, yes of course read and write but curiously investigate what your sphere of creating story is. What impulses do you have that you want to follow that are outside the settler normative ways of writing and creating and how can we make those environments your dominant way of working.
Me, I go to a lot of book readings because experiencing the creators embody their work teaches me a lot, as well as observing the other witnesses, I listen to a lot of podcasts, I sort of curate my deep work that's auxiliary to writing to be around people who are compelling orators and communicators, I dance and drum at home to embody an idea I have and see how it's explored through movement (on my long walks of solitude you will always catch me moving my arms when I'm exploring a thought), I go to dance shows and burlesque and watch youtube's of movement with people, animals and nature and I talk - a lot and practice deep listening as much as I can.
Oration is my strongest form of storytelling and writing is the reflection of that oral practice and tradition. With Kamloopa there we're these offers in the written portion of the ceremony that were not stage directions but provocations via words that are almost all a reflection of the physical impulses I had in my body and or sounds that presenced themselves and I wanted represented.
Kilawna: You can’t wear that to the pow wow. It’s offensive.
Mikaya: Yes she can! She’s Indigenous. WE are Indigenous.
Kilawna: We are not well. I think we should go home.
Mikaya: We are not going home!!!
Kilawna: Look how messed up we are. What do you think is going to happen when we get
to the fucking pow wow and nobody knows what to do?
IFN1: I have the handout!
Mikaya: I need you to listen!!!!!
The Wind river gushes in and we hear a loud Senklip howl from the forest that rattles the
bones of the 3 Matriarchs.
The worlds are starting to collide.
Mikaya: Can we please just go to sleep so we can go to this FUCKING POW WOW IN THE
IFN1: You got it Chief. Kilawna.
IFN1 gestures for Kilawna to enter the tent, the Grizzly follows, then Mikaya and the Senklip
follows. IFN1 turns around and we see that she is wearing a beaded G-String. Just before
she enters the tent IFN1 smacks her own ass and raises her fist to the air and the Raven
lands on the tent.
IFN1: Fuck I love this place.
The Wind River puts the fire out.
The process of putting these offers in, editing and refining them and then staging them was the result of me dedicating necessary time to create a method and form that accurately reflected the impulses, ideas and story that was coming to me or maybe they are just failed haiku's - Ha!
I want to say this - to all the young people out there too scared to write because we've been conditioned to think we're doing it wrong - you're not. You're an explorer and an inventor and I send you so much love and courage to unlock and unleash the provocations of your Ancestors. We are waiting with great anticipation to hear your stories, told your way because you followed the impulses gifted to you by your peoples.
Listen, orate and create and then discover how it looks when you reflect that with words.
With an extra level of de-colonial love for the next gen of Fire Creators, burn bright and ferociously, I love you,