Thomas (2016). Honouring the Oral Traditions of My Ancestors through Storytelling. (Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures.)

Thomas, Q. R. A. (2016). Honouring the Oral Traditions of My Ancestors through Storytelling. In D. Reder & L. M. Morra (Eds.), Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures (pp. 237-254). Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

“He shared his experiences at St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay, B.C. … the sense of trauma I experienced remains absolutely clear. As well, the sense that this experience was not a thing of the past, but continued to play itself out in Alex’s everyday life was abundantly clear.” (p 238)

“I felt anxious — that feeling we get when we discover a hidden family secret, but even bigger, a Canadian secret. … How is it that I, now pursuing my undergraduate degree, knew nothing about these places? … This was a story that needed to be told.” (p 238)

“… stories include important teachings that pass down historical facts, share culture and traditions, and life lessons. Traditionally, stories and storytelling were used for the same reasons — to teach values, beliefs, morals, history, and life skills to youth and adults.” (p 241)

“‘Stories in the oral tradition have served some important functions for Native people: The historical and mythological stories provide moral guidelines by which one should live. They teach the young and remind the old what behavior is appropriate and inappropriate in our cultures; they provide a sense of identity and belonging, situating community members within their lineage and establishing their relationship to the rest of the natural world’ (Wilson, 1998a, p. 24).” (p 241)

“A mentor of mine, Delmar Johnnie, once said that it is such a shame that every time someone who went to residential school dies [page break] without telling his or her stories, our government and the churches look more innocent. Telling these stories is a form of resistance to colonization.” (p 241-242)

“When I began to transcribe the tapes, I even wondered if they are contradictory, the oral and the written. But as with everything, times change and in order for First Nations peoples to have their voices heard, they have had to adapt and write down their experiences, while at the same time trying to maintain their stories.” (p 242)

“‘As feminists have pointed out, enlarging discourse involves much more than adding and stirring in additional voices, there are fundamental methodological problems involved in rethinking familiar genres of historical narratives’ (Cruickshank, 1998, p. 116).” (p 243)

“I am suggesting that the level of complexity and sophistication in which major events were witnessed in our communities demands that these oral histories and stories be reconceptualized and viewed as primary sources.” (p 244)

“… storytelling … documenting …” (p 244)

“Storytellers hold the power in this research methodology — they are in control of the story, and the ‘researcher’ becomes the listener or facilitator.” (p 245)

“‘One of the most trenchant observations of contemporary anthropology is that meaning is not fixed, that it must be studied in practice — in the small interactions of everyday life’ (Cruickshank, 1998, p. 41).” (p 246)

“Prior to any interviewing or recording, I met with each of the storytellers individually and explained the purpose, nature, and intended outcome of the research. We read through the informed consent form and they signed the form on that first meeting. From this point on, the storytellers took the lead role. I met with them when and where they wanted and for the length of time they determined.” (p 248)

“… I was determined to authentically represent the voices of the storytellers.” (p 248)

“I was ‘witness’ to their stories …” (p 249)


Selected References

  • Cruickshank, J. (1998). The social life of stories: Narrative and knowledge in the Yukon Territory. Vancouver: UBC Press.
  • Wilson, A. (1998a). American Indian history or non-Indian perceptions of American Indian history? In D. Mihesuah (Ed.), Natives and academics: Researching and writing about American Indians, pp. 23-26. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
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