Storytelling. Telling stories. In the Western world, there tends to be the expectation that storytelling is an inaccurate way of transferring knowledge. Storytelling is a way to put children to sleep or scare friends in the middle of the night. Storytelling does not include referencing or peer reviewing or editing. In the Western world, stories are not knowledge.
In the Indigenous world, storytelling is how we know everything we know. Knowledge passed down from generation to generation, changing and evolving as the world does, too. Knowledge is sometimes told in plain terms, a simple explanation from an elder about precisely when to plant the kūmara. Other times, it’s knowledge wrapped in a legend — the tale of the beginnings of your nation showing you how to care for the land so that it provides you with what you need.
Storytelling to us is everything; APA referencing be damned.
As Truth and Reconciliation Day approaches, the importance of storytelling reemerges. How are we to integrate our understandings of storytelling with those of the Western world when they are so obsessed with ‘reliability’? Why is simply knowing something not good enough? Indigenous peoples have been told for years that they need proof, but how are we to do so if the people asking for proof aim to constrain us to their own limited definition?
Growing up, our stories were followed with: “The police would never do that without a reason,” “Well my uncle did the same thing and he was fine,” “If it’s such a big issue, why haven’t we heard of it before?” The blame is always put on us for what has happened. We provoked someone or we couldn’t adjust. We didn’t tell anyone about the genocide or the residential schools or the deliberate ‘breeding out’ of the Indian. What we got was deserved — we should have at least said something.
Yet, we did. We told our stories. They were silenced by settler society. Instead of being able to tell everyone, we were forced to tell ourselves, to pass down the trauma to our children so that what happened to us was not forgotten.
We are being heard again now. The stories that have been passed down through the storytelling of elders are allowed to be spoken again — and people are choosing to listen. Storytelling is key to settlers' understanding that we live in a world dominated by colonial structures, and that change cannot happen in so-called “Canada” without Indigenous frameworks.
I grew up listening to stories. I grew up surrounded by words both spoken and written, knowledge being passed from my community to myself. While my histories are still incomplete, the knowledge I have of myself and the lived experiences of my people is accurate. Details are unnecessary if the message continues to be shared. I read my fellow Indigenous kin, and when I meet them I listen to them. My knowledge is growing constantly despite growing up with a colonial construct of what fact is.
I know that there was a genocide. I know that my ancestors experienced unthinkable things at the hand of colonial greed. I know how to maintain my relationship to the land and my kin. I know that when an Indigenous person speaks out about their experiences or their histories, there is always truth.
I hope you begin to understand this too. Whether you’re a settler or Indigenous or a visitor to Indigenous lands. Storytelling is how we will learn. Believe your Indigenous kin or friends or loved ones. While Indigenous people are the only ones who can tell our stories, we need the help of everyone else in order for our stories to be heard. To become fact. Once our stories are known, we will not be forced to hand our trauma to our children to keep for us. If you’re a settler, silence your queries and believe what you hear, don’t interrupt or scoff — don’t share the things you have heard from your dad who’s in the RCMP. You must listen, and you must learn. Give us the space we deserve, because storytelling is our path to learning the truth and reconciling the past with our present and future.