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Unearthing Stories: Considering Perspectives of Trauma Survivors

Stories are intricately woven into a person’s sense of identity and serve as a connection to their ancestors and heritage. They are a rich source of information, transporting us into the past and allowing us to better understand Indigenous history and experiences.

Viewing history through one lens produces a profoundly biased outlook. History is often written from the perspectives of those in power and hence failing to challenge these narratives perpetuates colonial agendas and undermines Indigenous knowledge and experiences. To objectively understand events as they unfolded through time, non-Indigenous researchers need to take off their rose-colored glasses and open their interpretation of history to other worldviews. Particularly when the people involved are survivors of decades of subjugation from the Residential School System and the ensuing intergenerational trauma.

Storywork and storytelling can be vital tools for reconciliation and repatriation efforts. Listening to these stories and traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples is a gift that should be treated respectfully and should follow community-specific protocols. A few ways of showing respect are:

  1. Offering gifts such as tobacco to thank them for the gift of these stories
  2. Respecting community protocols on confidentiality and sensitive information
  3. Doing research for the community based on their goals and needs
  4. Two-way information sharing

Storytelling sessions take an emotional toll on survivors and so should be conducted in a way that minimizes dredging up suffering and trauma as much as possible. This requires adopting a trauma-informed approach when gathering this information. This approach involves:

●      Understanding and avoiding potential triggers

●      Prioritizing relationship building

●      Having communities model their own mental wellness supports based on their needs. These supports are to be available during and after this process

●      Incorporating Elders, traditional healers, drummers and other traditional forms of healing

●      Creating safe environments where individuals can speak without judgement

●      Providing the option of smaller-sized gatherings and private sessions

●      Maintaining confidentiality to ensure cultural safety

●      Spending time with the community to get to know the people and their culture

●      Establishing follow-up protocols so communities can access additional resources

Sharing their stories and experiences can often be healing to survivors. Owning their stories and sharing their truth symbolizes their reclamation of power. Validating Indigenous history and experiences promotes healing.

In the spirit of reconciliation, during this process of unearthing the true history of this country, it is important for the responsible parties to acknowledge the harmful institutions created to assimilate Indigenous peoples. It is equally important to acknowledge that modern society perpetuates those injustices even if they were not initiated by us in our lifetimes. We carry the responsibilities that come with the benefits that our current society has benefited from Indigenous suppression.

The strength and resilience of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island has gotten them through years of attempted assimilation and other horrors. They have kept their communities intact, maintained their culture and traditions, their knowledge, their language, their stories, their connectedness to the land, and family cohesion. While each Indigenous Nation is unique, they are powerful peoples who have survived and continue to be resilient.

June Njenga
Environmental Planner at Narratives Inc.