- Telling stories at the kitchen table, or Lessons from my Father
A response to Jordan Wilson, “Gathered Together: Listening to Musqueam Lived Experiences.” Biography 39.3 (Summer 2016): 469–94
My son gently took my hand when he saw my tears. In late May 2015, I was on an airplane flying over the Pacific Ocean, my eyes shut, tears rolling down my cheeks, listening to the familiar sound of my father’s voice in my ears. My son saw my tears, took my hand, and asked why I was crying. No words would come. I took one earbud out of my ear and shared it with him. We held hands and listened. Dad was telling me how every time he and his friends came together at Iosepa they told the same stories. They laughed at the same jokes. They chided each other when the storyteller took too many liberties with the retelling. Gathering to (re)tell stories filled him with joy. When they were apart he longed to gather with his friends. There was comfort in knowing the next time they got together they would repeat the ritual again—telling, retelling, listening, laughing.
The memory of sitting on a plane with my son listening to the sound of my dad’s voice flooded back. As I read the essay, I was reminded of other important moments conducting interviews with members of my community for my dissertation research and book. At that time, I thought I had paid considerable attention to creating safe, culturally relevant contexts in which to conduct the interviews. Indeed, I approached each interview as a piece of a larger story about my community. Upon reflection I realize my focus was on what they said; context was a means of eliciting illustrative stories. This essay has pushed me to think more critically about setting and the power of coauthoring life stories. According to Jordan Wilson, biography in a Musqueam [End Page 499] context is more than the sum of an individual’s stories, and they “do more than provide means to address contemporary questions . . . or offer lessons to return to in the future” (480). The stories, he asserts, are a process of collective remembering that holds the community together. These stories also have the power to bring new people into the conversation, as the author learned about his family and their place in the community. The process of gathering together to retell stories, the author argues, “is critical in moving our and our history forward” (481). Not until I read this article had I focused on the act of gathering as a critical characteristic of life story telling.
The process of gathering together to tell stories the author describes is very similar to Richa Nagar’s theory and practice of coauthorship. For Nagar, quoting Patricia K. Connelly-Shaffer, “Coauthoring stories offers a creative space to mobilize memories in ‘a polyvocal framework attuned to a complex politics of difference; a process- versus product-based approach [to knowledge production, and] an explicit pedagogical rhetoric that encourages readers to become potential allies’” (163). The significance of the author’s intervention and the installation is the power of collective storytelling—coauthorship—for bringing outsiders into the community, on our own terms, and thus producing the possibility of allies. The emphasis, again, is on what happens when we value the collective over the individual. I want to associate this kind of coauthorship/ biography with “alliance work” because it acknowledges the politics and power embedded in the process of producing knowledge. For this is what we as Indigenous scholars do: we (re)produce knowledge. What I hear loud and clear in this essay is a desire to approach the process of knowledge production in a radically different way. I say radically different because to approach knowledge production in an Indigenous, anarcha-feminist, collaborative way is to abandon the hierarchies inherent in traditional ethnographic/biographical methods that position the researcher as the knower, author, producer. This approach
disallows research subjects from interrogating, evaluating, dislodging the knowledge produced by the academic expert, [while] the status of academic researcher as the “true intellectual thinker” remains undisturbed, along with the hierarchies that...