“Memory serves. Once we understood order, natural order. First comes the crying, and then comes the laughter. Babies cry for months after birth. Babies’ tears are their first language. This language was understood by grandmothers who were proud of their grandchildren’s capacity to create a language of the original voice creation gave us– crying.” – Lee Maracle, Memory Serves
On March 25th I attended an author lecture by Lee Maracle at the Ogema: I Am Woman exhibit in the Windsor Gallery. Lee is a member of the Sto:lo nation, but has ties to Squamish, Tslelwatuth, and is also Cree Métis. She is a scholar, poet, and author of many books including, I Am Woman, Celia’s Song, Memory Serves, Talking to The Diaspora.
Attending this lecture was a last minute decision for me because I didn’t know about it until the evening before it was happening. I had hoped to see Lee Maracle speak at UBC the day before, but missed due to deadlines for another class. So, I woke up early on my weekend to see her speak at the Windsor gallery, and was very glad I did.
Everyone situated themselves in the back couples rows, so we sat in the front row. Lee arrived a bit late, and took time to view the pieces in the exhibit before starting the talk. It was a funny moment, the audience sitting in the middle of the gallery in anticipation, while she quietly looked at each of the pieces. It did something to the atmosphere that I really appreciated. It seemed less like an author lecture in a fancy gallery, and more like a visit.
This “visiting atmosphere” was added to even more when Lee began to speak. She stood very close to the front row. When she spoke she made eye contact with us, she told jokes, and she laughed a lot. She has a completely different lecturing style than most. She moves through stories, teachings, and concepts in a way that is counter to what I think many are used to. It is more circular than linear. I was reminded of the way my Kwakwaka’wakw Grandma used to talk/tell stories/ give teachings. Actually I felt so moved by the whole talk, and I was very present for every word because she reminded me so much of my Grandmother. I felt like it was important that I really listen to her.
Lee spoke about her books and her background for a while before focusing on I Am Woman. After that she took questions from the audience and gave us more important teachings.
A woman in the audience asked what Lee thought would happen if more scholars thought and taught the way she did. Lee said the “filing system” in her head is different than most. Rather than having everything compartmentalized in her brain like we are taught to do in western society, her mind consists of “wheels of understanding.” She also said, “when I’m talking to someone I’m not thinking about how to constantly argue with them.”
This made me think about how there is such a privileging of western knowledge systems over Indigenous knowledge systems within the arts and within academia. So much so that Lee is considered an anomaly. This made me incredibly thankful that we have classes such as this, where such a privileging does not exist, and where the multitude of diverse indigenous ways of knowing are held up as being just as important as western ways of knowing.
Lee said that it took her two weeks to write I am Woman. I found this incredible, considering it’s a 142 page book. She said when she was writing this book she felt like she was breathing every word. This made me think of “Stories From the Body” by Monique Mojica. The idea that these stories are a part of us, waiting for the right moment to be made manifest into a story is really important to me because as a writer, I often write stories to help me heal, but usually have no idea where these stories come from. This turned out to be something that I really needed to hear at that time.
On April 1st I found out that my Grandfather had passed away. A loss felt more keenly because he was the third of my grandparents to pass away in 6 months, and the last of my living grandparents to go. I was always really close with all my grandparents, and I loved to hear their stories. In many ways my grandparents’ stories have shaped my life through the lessons they have taught. My grandfather held many of my Kwakwaka’wakw grandmother’s stories, and he told them to me every time we spent time together. He too had an amazing life on the coast, and his stories always captivated me. The last time I saw him he asked me if I would work with him to write his stories down into a book this summer, and I had agreed.
Last week I was expressing my grief for having lost these stories, and my friend Salia replied: “You didn’t lose your grandpa’s stories, you carry them within you.”
This brought a lot of peace to me. I know one day the moment will be right and my own body will allow these stories to be told.
The in-class presentation can be found: Here