I’ve been thinking recently about storytelling and it’s connection to the phone drive/video project that Alexa and I are currently working on with and for the students of Sherman Indian High School. I have also recently been learning about how to be an ally in Indigenous communities and for Indigenous peoples. Trying to understand another culture is challenging. It takes a lot of listening and patience with oneself and others. Building relationships and becoming an ally does not happen quickly. One must build trust and friendship, as with any relationship we go into. So why then is it particularly difficult to form these relationships with people who are Indigenous, or even people of color. It goes back to power. I have power and privilege in the dominant system while they have been systematically and institutionally oppressed in the same system. It is important to understand my own privilege before entering into any relationship, especially a relationship with someone who has been or is on the frontlines of racism and other forms of oppression.

So now that I have given some background into where I am coming from, lets talk about storytelling. The following is an excerpts of what I wrote earlier today for my Making Space and Unsettling Settlers class. I just wanted to share it with you all and see if you had any thoughts on incorporating storytelling as a project at Pitzer.

As we consider incorporating storytelling as a tool for communication and relationship building between Pitzer and Indigenous communities, we must think critically of the implications that taking on a traditional knowledge system bears. Is it appropriate for an institution of the dominant society to use methods of communication traditionally used in Indigenous communities? Is it cultural appropriation? We must ask ourselves these questions in order to thoughtfully and respectfully build relationships with members of our community. In order to utilize storytelling effectively, we must work with Indigenous peoples throughout the course of the project. They must be consulted on this practice, as it is not our own to adapt in this context without having the background knowledge and history of the communities it stems from.

The issue of being an outsider to Indigenous communities comes up when thinking about implementing storytelling as a project and learning tool at Pitzer college. Developing this project requires going into Indigenous communities – places with which many of us are unfamiliar – to build relationships, before beginning to collect stories through whichever medium is chosen. This begs the question, how do we act in a place that is very different from ours culturally. What are the systems of respect that are in place and how do we navigate them appropriately? How do we do research with Indigenous communities in an effective and socially responsible manner? What implications might this have on Pitzer college and the Indigenous communities we are working with if it is not done appropriately?

Clarity and communication are some of the most important tools that we can use when going about this project. Pitzer has pre-existing relationships with Indigenous communities who would probably be willing to participate in this project. But it is the responsibility of the people doing the project to maintain these relationships and make sure that they are an ongoing navigation of mutual respect and appreciation. Total clarity of motives and goals are important, because it gives the people telling the stories the context in which they are sharing. Many stories cannot be told to just anyone. Storytelling often relies on context, so the project will be more effective if communication and clarity are employed.

The project of storytelling will not only be important in the education of Pitzer students about Indigenous communities in the area, but it will also be a useful tool in interesting Indigenous students in western educational systems – namely the Claremont colleges. If western institutions are employing Indigenous systems of knowing within mainstream education, Indigenous students may be more inclined and excited to participate in these institutions – which seem so necessary for economic, social, political, and physical advancement in today’s society.


2 responses »

  1. Jyothi says:

    This sounds like a very exciting and useful project. I’ve been attempting to get involved with the tribal council in our area for that very purpose. Drawing upon the inherently strong tradition of folklore and storytelling already present within the culture to produce narratives that build literacy among young people. I’ve been doing this successfully with various populations, but have yet to forge that trust and connection so I know what you mean about the importance of establishing that trust before proceeding.

  2. Jyothi says:

    btw, I would love to be involved in such a project at the school you mention if that’s possible, please check out my blog literatevoices.org where I talk more about the work we have been doing to get underrepresented populations writing and published.

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