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Not just a story

The first time I encountered Joe Gallagher from Tla'amin First Nation was at the Pacific Dental Conference in 2016. Joe, representing the First Nations Health Authority, delivered a captivating presentation. He seamlessly intertwined his family's history with compelling anecdotes, educating us on the vital need for culturally safe practices. Sitting next to a dental hygienist from Ontario, we both shed tears, moved by the power of Joe's storytelling.

Fast forward to a recent conference on Musqueam territory, where Joe was slated to speak. As I entered, he was the first person I saw, and graciously invited me to join him at his table. Throughout the day, our conversations delved into the potency of storytelling as an educational tool.

Following his presentation, we got to talking about the power of storytelling as a method of educating, and Joe shared a statement he had heard from Coast Salish Knowledge Keeper, Sulksan (Shane Point) from, "I don't want to use the word story; I want to use the word history." This landed heavily for me, as I recognize that in Western culture, stories are often synonymous with fables and fantasies, and many do not understand or accept them as historic accounts. It inspired me to ask Joe what stories meant to him.

"A story to me is a reflection of family/nation truth and a means of sharing as part of our oral tradition. They were shared with intent and purpose to teach, to understand how things work, and to capture history. Stories are shared over and over again to keep the teachings and history alive. It is outrageous and very sad that we have to focus on using the narrow perspective of “history,” as Sulksun has insisted, when addressing issues with a settler society that has intentionally been created through ideologies of white supremacy that looked to dehumanize all Indigenous peoples. From this genocidal justification to uphold white superiority and advance narratives of white supremacy, Indigenous peoples and our truths of who we are as self-governing and self-determining peoples, our cultures, language, and our connection to land and resources are deemed not valid or not worthy. Out of convenience, white settler society deems our stories as “fiction,” when in fact it is actually the history of Canada as told in schools and the media that is the fictional story."

Joe's response underscored the importance of recognizing these narratives as vital histories, challenging the settler society's narrow perspective. His words emphasized the need for curiosity about the 'histories' embedded in our education systems, questioning the authors, the voices included, and those omitted.

In contemplating Joe's insights, it becomes evident that cultivating an understanding of these 'histories' is essential for a comprehensive grasp of our country's past. These narratives, often dismissed as 'fiction,' are, in fact, the true histories that deserve acknowledgment, credibility, and inclusion in our collective records.

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