“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” – Thomas King, The Truth About Stories
“Words are not objects to be wasted. They represent the accumulated knowledge, cultural values, the vision of an entire people or peoples.” – Lee Maracle, “Oratory: Coming to Theory”
“From the beginning, several of the eldest women responded to my questions about secular events by telling traditional stories. The more I persisted with my agenda, the more insistent each was about the direction our work should take. Each explained that these narratives were important to record as part of her life story” – Julie Cruikshank, Life Lived Like a Story
“So precious did the tribe regard language and speech that it held those who abused language and speech and truth in contempt and ridicule and withheld them from their trust and confidence” – Basil Johnston, “Summer Holidays in Spanish”
This website is an online space dedicated to the work of writers, artists, and thinkers who have in various ways resisted the oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada with their words, their stories, and their lives. As the epigraphs and the Collection’s title suggest, the central premise behind “the story is more than itself” is that stories are never just words; they are ways of understanding how we relate to ourselves, other people, and the world around us. They are not only found in novels, films, or works of art, but include all aspects of subjective perception and experience. Everything is a story.
Edward Chamberlin, in If This is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?, tells us that “stories are as varied as the landscapes and languages of the word; …They come in many different forms, from creation stories to constitutions, from southern epics and northern sagas to native American tales and African praise songs, and from nursery rhymes and national anthems to myths and mathematics” (2). To paraphrase Armand Ruffo from a talk he gave in October 2011, we are the stories we tell ourselves.
The full import of this idea might be difficult to grasp, especially for non-Aboriginals like myself, because in mainstream North American culture “stories” are often associated with activities including entertainment, telling children bedtime stories, journalism, and even lying (“that’s an interesting story…”).
Oftentimes, those inundated in this perspective get hung up on the veracity of stories—take James Frey and the Oprah-fueled controversy over his “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces, for example. Thomas King illustrates this tendency by beginning every chapter in The Truth About Stories with a story “about the earth and how in floats in space on the back of a turtle” (1). Each time he tells how someone in the audience laughingly challenges the storyteller, asking “if the earth was on the back of a turtle, what was below the turtle?” And each time, the storyteller, nonplussed, responds, “Another turtle” (1). There are many different stories about what “truth” means.
This respect and appreciation for storytelling as an all-encompassing activity stands at the core of most Indigenous cultures in North America. Margery Fee argues that, as a result of this centrality, “the development of settler nationhood in North America relied upon the appropriation of Aboriginal oral traditions, collected and displayed in national anthologies as the ‘ground’ for the new settler literatures” (qtd in McCall 20). An integral aspect of European colonization was the taking, silencing, and corrupting of First Nations stories. Indeed, Jo-ann Archibald writes that “Indigenous stories have lost much educational and social value due to colonization, which resulted in weak translations from Aboriginal languages to English, stories shaped to fit a Western literate form, and stories adapted to fit a predominately Western education system” (7).
The Collection seeks to respond to this literary colonization by displaying and celebrating stories—of peoples, contexts, cultures—which work towards Indigenous empowerment, whether through adjusting dominant historical narratives or by generating new ways of imagining how to resist and realign colonial power structures in the present through cross-cultural cooperation.The first phase, “Arts-Based Education in BC Residential Schools,” for example, builds on recent work that attempts to reimagine “them” and “us” in the context of postcolonial Canada and its fraught history of Euro-Canadian/Aboriginal relations. It will expand on an ongoing basis, both incrementally and in stages—the latter of which will remain viewable as distinct exhibits—and it will remain freely available to anyone with interest in its contents, including both those inside and outside of academia.
"The story is more than itself" is administered by Ben Gehrels, an MA Candidate in the English Department at Simon Fraser University.