I was thinking about writing a review of Etched in My Memory by xwu’p’a’lich, Barbara Higgins because I loved the book. I loved the description of the beautiful place that she lived as a child on the Skookumchuk Rapids where powerful tides run in and out of Sechelt Inlet.
I loved the descriptions of the fish and the personal way she tells them how she is going to catch them. I loved the intense and dramatic stories, like the time her father almost died of an accidental gunshot wound and how her mother and grandmother saved his life using medicines from the mountain above them.
But it wasn’t until I came across an article on Facebook by Lee Maracle that I was spurred into action. This article, Lee Maracle Conversation 10: On Appropriation in Lemon Hound 3.0 gives a vivid and thorough explanation of what appropriation is when it comes to Indigenous stories and why it matters. I cannot do justice to this in a summary. I recommend you read the whole article if you are interested.
Here is a longish quote:
In European law, oral knowledge is folk knowledge and so belongs to the public, which rationalizes the theft of our national intellectual knowledge base and privileges the written word as the only knowledge that is protected. Hence the education of children is biased toward reading and writing rather than remembering. While the written word is no more reliable than the remembered word, writing is privileged as “source documents,” and memory is demeaned as unreliable because the European education system did not invent ways to cultivate reliable rememberers and so does not have a component in its education system that would teach children to become rememberers; it is not recognized as a way of knowing—they have no way to study and cannot imagine educative processes that would lead to systematic skill-building in remembering.
And this brings me back to Barbara Higgins and Etched in My Memory. The sub-title of this book is “My life as a Shishalh Rememberer.” I was intrigued by this phrase and wanted to know more. There is no explanation in the book, which is a collection of stories about a feisty, independent, bright Shishalh child, who was protected and kept from the residential schools, but encouraged to fish on her own, and walk in the woods, and make a relationship with the living earth. I asked Barb Higgins at a reading in Sechelt what it meant to be a rememberer, but she said she wasn’t able to say, and then that she wasn’t allowed to say. Well I have to respect that.
Her stories are chatty, casual, easy going. But I assume that this book is a quite serious attempt to reach out into the world with an important message to be remembered, not to be forgotten. For help in understanding I will give another quote from Lee Maracle:
Our knowledge, stories, songs, and dances do not exist to validate us as Sto:lo, Ojibway, or any other nation or clan; they are not there to guarantee us a place in the world. They are there to engage the listener in establishing a relationship to the land and help us to build good relations between being and the land. I encourage all my listeners to use my stories in that way, but they must cite their origins, as I do. Stories are our helpers; they lead us to right living, to the good mind, to relationship with one another and the land. Stories help us to be human. In that sense, they are an appeal to the human soul divine, to the spirit, and in this way are spiritual helpers.
There is a checklist going around Facebook of things you can do to participate in Reconciliation. I happened to hear it on CBC when Ry Moran, the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, answered the question, What can the average person do about Reconciliation? To read the whole answer click here:
But I would say that two things you could do are read the lovely warm book by xwu’p’a’lich, Barbara Higgins, and read the sharp pointed essay by Lee Maracle.
(Photo by Kevin Cafferky)