Monday, July 22, 2013

Indigenous Storywork

This is a little update on the progress of my book Maps and Memes.  I've given myself a daily quota of 1,000 words.  This fairly arbitrary constraint serves two purposes.  First, since the primary research is done, it gives me some space to explain things a bit better to the future reader.

Now I can talk about things in a way that goes beyond bare bones theoretical frameworks, methods and results.  Second, it gives me a chance to read once I've made the quota.  Right now I'm reading Jo-Ann Archibald's Indigenous Storywork (UBC Press).

The main thing I've learned from this absolutely incredible, delightful book is that storytelling enacts a principle of reciprocity.  I don't think I've ever thought of stories in exactly that way before, or if I did it was an insight in need (for me) of refreshment.

When I was doing doctoral work at McGill I talked in one post about John Edgar Wideman's observation that 'all stories are true.'  I occasionally return to this statement and turn it over in my mind searching for new meaning or insight in its pithiness and seeming absurdity.

I argued before that it is true that all stories are true, in the sense of the listener needing to work to find the intent, the moral, the gist and the whatnot (i.e. what's not said) of any well told story.  A story poorly told or poorly listened to will fail.  It takes two to tango.

Now, how does this apply to maps?  I'm not entirely sure, but here's the start of what I think I want to say about it.  If walking and storytelling are both indigenous methodologies (or part of them...see previous post), then there is reciprocity to both.  This means walking involves reciprocal action.

In many senses this could be true, starting from pure physics.  It is also true in the sense that just about any path walked could have been walked by others, or potentially could be.  Therefore, reciprocity lies in respecting this fact by staying true to our walk's purpose, its destination and those with whom it (and we) interact.

All this means simply being observant of oneself and others, taking heed of maps and signs along the way so we don't get lost, of keeping others from getting lost.  There is an ethics of walking (and probably a book out there somewhere with that title too.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Walking and Mapping 2: Walking as Indigenous Methodology

I'm reading two different books while making revisions to my forthcoming book, Maps and Memes.  I've long argued that reading and writing are two sides of the same coin, and that what you are reading during the writing process affects the outcome.  The ideas from those 'other' books infiltrate, filter down into the new words and the re-worked phrases and paragraphs.  Those other books are for me, right now, Indigenous Methodologies (recommended by one of two anonymous reviewers of Maps and Memes who recommended the manuscript for publication) by Margaret Kovach; and Walking and Mapping by Karen O'Rourke.  My big insight is to combine insights from these two books in a way that will productively inform the ongoing content and shape of Maps and Memes.  The writing of a book stretches over years and, at the same time, it seems a relevant and worthwhile new book is published at least every other week.  So, there is the ongoing lit review to stay on top of, and that is in itself a process of carefully selecting what is worth reading and what is not, then selecting from that cut what gets read in more depth and which titles in less depth, etc. (not to mention staying on top of academic papers).

Kovach talks about using tribal epistemologies and knowledge systems when working with Indigenous groups and this is, of course, the way to go.  It is time consuming, but it produces better results that reflect better the values of those being researched.  With participatory research design and time the community will come to lead the research process.  This is in fact the way my doctoral work was set up at McGill University.  I was lucky to come into a program working with George Wenzel and Colin Scott (and others), two experienced researchers with long standing arctic and sub-arctic community relationships.  But beyond PAR and oral transmission of knowledge, I have noticed in my own research that in indigenous communities in Canada, it is the walkers who often do the talking.  Those who spend time on the land like to talk about their journeys, often in front of a map.  Now, perhaps, as a non-indigenous scholar, I just don't have the epistemological tools to know that walking as metaphor is woven into all indigenous methods.  Maybe I'm being too literal.  But at the same time, as I describe, in Maps and Memes, my long walk with some Cree and non-Cree friends to Old Factory Bay near Wemindji seemed to be a literal locating of self and community that I haven't really seen discussed much since Brody's Maps and Dreams.