June 15th, 2024

U of L professor talks about storytelling and reconciliation

By Cal Braid - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on March 11, 2023.

Herald photo by Cal Braid Professor Don McIntyre tells a tale called "Raven as Trickster," demonstrating a common style of Indigenous storytelling, during a session as part of Indigenous Awareness Week at the University of Lethbridge.

As a part of Indigenous Awareness Week, the University of Lethbridge presented seminars on Indigenous history and culture. Don McIntyre, a professor at the University’s Dhillon School of Business on Thursday hosted one of the sessions, exploring ideas of identity, labels, societal changes, and cultural shifts, but he focused primarily on Indigenous storytelling.

He captured the confusion about identity and labels with an almost comical example. First, “Someone decided I was an Indian,” he said. “(Then) someone decided I was a Native North American, Someone decided I was a Native, a First Nation, an Aboriginal, Indigenous,” he continued, demonstrating the elusive nature of agreed-upon labels. “Then someone decided I was a Pretendian.” The last term is his own and was particularly insulting -0 spawned by a rumour that he didn’t really possess the cultural heritage he claimed.

On the subject of Indigenous storytelling, McIntyre explained there isn’t either a ‘once upon a time’ beginning to a story or a ‘happily ever after’ to conclude it. “What happens is trickster comes in and trickster walks out. It’s not over. Trickster is still walking. Trickster is still moving. Trickster is still going from territory to territory.” He said that the story is one that the hearer will add to and transform. McIntyre told a story called Raven as Trickster to demonstrate the storytelling style he spoke of.

McIntyre also talked about a shared sense of responsibility to understand truth and reconciliation.

“In Dec. 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) released six volumes. (They were) impressive, in the most scary way,” he said. “They are true stories; stories that haven’t been told. They are stories of Metis who survived residential schools, they are stories of Inuit who survived residential schools, they are stories of Indians who survived residential schools, and they are stories of intergenerational trauma caused by that time. (Stories) we hadn’t heard.”

“One of the interesting things is when I first started teaching, I would talk about the residential schools, and if I knew that the last one closed in 1996, everybody would suddenly say ‘Wow, he’s the expert in that.’ Now, you (the students) have transformed the way I have to understand and the way I have to talk. What used to be considered expertise is now common knowledge.”

He said there are tens of thousands of stories of people who didn’t leave the residential schools, and there are also people who did, but for whom “reconciliation came too late.”

However, “the thing that’s important to remember about these is it is Canada picking the best minds in Canada to tell Canada the story of what Canada did. It’s not an aboriginal thing. It’s Canada’s recognition of Canada and asking ‘What to we need to do, how do we transform?'”

From Indigenous storytelling to cultural reconciliation, a common thread emerged as McIntyre spoke: It was a message of transformation in the way we think, relate, and understand each other.

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