"Well, I've tried to live my life right, just like a story."
I've always loved this quote. It is from one of the three Elders whose life stories are told in this book, through "author" Julie Cruikshank (my thoughts - although not necessarily fully formed - on non-Native people doing research "about" Native peoples is an entirely separate post, which I have no immediate plans to compose).
Angela Sidney's quote speaks to the power stories have for our people. Our stories and our storytellers are our greatest teachers in life; this is not something that is new to our people. (Yet, it seems that writing academically about our stories is a burgeoning field - how did that happen?)
I want to dedicate my life to stories. Listening to them, learning from them, picking them apart, putting them back together. And, maybe even someday, telling them to grandchildren of my own. My research for my master's was about stories. My essay looked at the theoretical/ethical/methodological considerations put forth by Native writers, and was punctuated by my grandfather's oral history and my self-reflexivity. Off the record, I called my essay "a story about stories."
It was well received by my readers. They called it "innovative" and "an excellent contribution." (All of these things, I am not going to lie, went straight to my head.) What's ironic about this is that my essay was the complete opposite of innovative; I was writing about some of our oldest traditions in their modern manifestations. We've always known that stories have power to decolonize, that stories and their tellers have responsibilities, that stories tell us where our home is, and allow our nations and cultures to survive. This is old news!
Now that I've graduated and am working at a job I love, I should feel fulfilled. But I feel like something is missing. It is no longer my main task, as it was when I was a student, to listen to my grandfather's story, to think about my own, and to read the stories, and stories about stories, that other Native writers tell. How can I get back to that place and still make a decent living for myself? One route surfaces as an option: PhD.
And, in strolls irony/trickster, once again, to laugh at me.
In the western world, the modern age, 2010 Canada, in order to "return" to a life lived like a story, I must complete what is commonly accepted as one of the most gruelling career paths out there (not to mention be a broke student for yet another five years of my life). To live and breathe stories, something that was embedded into community life in our "less colonized" days, and still pay my rent, I have to rise to the top of this academic game.
Oh irony/trickster, you've got me again!