Shaping Relationship Through Shared Stories

(Re)storying Personal and Indigenous History with Johannah Bird

Johannah Bird’s lecture on Indigenous land, writing, and survival began in a spirit of thankfulness inspired by the Haudenosaunee tradition “The Words that Come Before All Else”. Bird is Anishinaabe Euro-Canadian but includes her own expression of gratitude as she learns from her Indigenous neighbours and shares that in her lecture.

Bird shared her thankfulness for the land, its Creator, plants, animals, and its human inhabitants. With quick insight, Bird then expressed gratitude for the attention of her audience.

“I’m also thankful for the gifts that I hope you’re offering too – of your time, and your attention, and your labour in listening and engaging – because that’s work too. I think often we think of listening to a talk as very passive, sort of ‘I don’t have to do anything’, but there are gifts to be given even as a hearer and a listener too – so, thank you”.

Attention was a major theme within the lecture, which was held in one of Redeemer’s classrooms on September 16. In the talk Bird shared her PhD work on the history and literature of Indigenous communities, which is grounded in the stories we tell.

“If we [only talk about stories] sometimes we can forget that stories have so much to say about how we live, how we interact with one another and the land, and how we are in the world,” says Bird.

Part of our being in the world relates to the laws and stories we hold as a nation. Bird says there are laws founded centuries back which Canadians participate in today, and which continue to affect the lives of her people.

“Another way of thinking about ‘restoring’ is ‘re-storying’” says Bird. She points out that, in part, the lack of knowledge about Indigenous history is “the fault of the narratives that Canada has about itself, and the ways that it ‘stories’ its development and growth as a nation”.

Bird believes this call to re-story our history and restore our relationships with our Indigenous neighbours begins with attentiveness to the stories of others. James Scott, studying health sciences, asked what he could do to prepare for work in northern Indigenous communities. Bird responded:

“Developing relationships in which you can have conversations, [relationships] in which that trust has been built and formed. That matters so much”.

Professor Emerita of English Dr. Deborah Bowen, who is presently teaching part-time at Redeemer, chimed in that the largest reserve in Canada is actually very close to Hamilton. It is the reserve of the Six Nations of the Grand River and is only a half-hour drive from Redeemer’s campus.

“Did you know that?” Bowen asked everyone.

I did not know that – but now I do, and knowing makes all the difference.