Memory Serves gathers together the oratories award-winning author Lee Maracle has delivered and performed over a twenty-year period. Revised for publication, the lectures hold the features and style of oratory intrinsic to the Salish people in general and the Sto: lo in particular. From her Coast Salish perspective and with great eloquence, Maracle shares her knowledge of Sto: lo history, memory, philosophy, law, spirituality, feminism and the colonial condition of her people.
Powerful and inspiring, Memory Serves is an extremely timely book, not only because it is the first collection of oratories by one of the most important Indigenous authors in Canada, but also because it offers all Canadians, in Maracle's own words, "another way to be, to think, to know," a way that holds the promise of a "journey toward a common consciousness."
Lee Maracle is a member of the Sto:Lo nation. She was born in Vancouver and grew up on the North Shore. She is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Ravensong and Daughters Are Forever. Her novel for young adults, Will’s Garden was well-received and is taught in schools. She has also published on book of poetry, Bent Box, and a work of creative non-fiction, I Am Woman. She is the co-editor of a number of anthologies, including the award winning anthology My Home As I Remember and Telling It: Women and Language across Culture. Her work has been published in anthologies and scholarly journals worldwide. The mother of four and grandmother of seven, Maracle is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto, the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House, and instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the S.A.G.E. (Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education). She is also a writing instructor at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
In 2009, Maracle received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from St. Thomas University. Maracle recently received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her work promoting writing among Aboriginal Youth, and is 2014 finalist for the Ontario Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Maracle has served as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and the University of Western Washington.
Memory serves. It is directed by condition, culture, and objective. It is conjured by systemic practice. It is shaped by results. By the time humans are seven years old, the commitment to remember is shaped, and they remember from the point of view of their social milieu.
In a society, which relies on a trial process, memory serves as evidence, as objective proof based on facts. Evidence and facts are collected with the intent to prove some hypothesis or thesis. This proof then becomes the basis for judgment, decision or action.
This is a simple system that fails to count humans as variable, as spirited, creative, and emotional beings. It is a simple system that fails to account for catastrophe, social and personal trauma, and how humans fall off track.
In a society, which is hierarchical, held up by armies, police, punitive deterrents and authoritarian-based respectability, the human as variable does not need to be considered. What needs to be known to humans before a decision is made is who has the authority to make it; what the law or policy governing the decision is; what the place of the author in the decision-making ladder is; and what the parameters of the author's decision-making authority are. People are expected to obey the decision or be punished for their disobedience.
The proof then returns full circle as the basis for conviction or alienation of the dissident. Memory does not exist for any other social purpose. Facts are defined as objective memory. The rememberers strive to record evidence and achieve objectivity. Recorded objective memory is embraced as the only valid memory. The realm of spiritual intent, creative motive or human emotion is relegated to subjectivity and persuasion; the art of engaging others in dialogue, embracing their emotional spiritual and intellectual sensibility, has no place.
Each witness becomes part of the argument between defense and prosecution. Justice is not a consideration. What happened, the activities of the humans, the facts surrounding the case and the law, is all that is considered.
When humans give breath to life, give voice to their perception of life, this is a sacred act. They are taking an event that has already been committed and they are re-membering or reconstructing it in their minds.
Memory serves. In a society governed first and foremost by spirit to spirit relationships to all beings, memory serves much differently than in a society in which property possession determines importance. To re-member is, first, directional. Indigenous people commit to memory those events and the aspects of those events that suit the direction we are moving in or the direction we want to move in if a shift is occurring. I choose to remember what happens to Sockeye because that is the direction from which Salish people move. We re-member events; we reconstruct them because we are aware that they have already ended, are dis-membered, gone forever, and because they affect us and are directly connected to who we are as a people. We may wish to achieve a new direction, secure an old direction, or mark the path travelled so that others may find the path easier to follow. Our memories serve the foregoing. Who or what is important does not figure into it. This is what governs our lives and shapes our oracy. Memory is also the governor of native literacy.
Creative non-fiction is bound by the original foundations handed to us by ancestors, ceremony, laws, and our relationship to creation. We place our obligations before us when we re-member. To what end do I wish to re-create this moment? What direction do I wish this memory to travel in the future? In so doing we hang on to memories of those things that assist us in conjuring and travelling in the direction charted by the culture that has shaped us. We let go those things that will impair our journey or thwart the courage required to secure our path. We determine the direction we believe we wish to travel before we speak or make a truckload of decisions. The direction we are travelling shapes our memories whether we are conscious of this or not.
Our intent governs our choice of words in recalling events. The winds are our uncles. Our cultures name them and define their relationship to us. Wind, breath, and voice are about where you want to end up, not about what happened or what facts you have assimilated to bolster your thoughts. Facts are mathematical things, quantities intended to persuade the thoughtless and the spiritless. Our direction is rooted to the imagined relationship between two or more beings from the beginning of the relationship to the end of their journey. The winds breathed life into our bodies. We share the winds, and reflect their directional qualities. It is our breath, our spirit, and our heart that are articulated when we open our mouth. Where you are going with this is the question we all recognize.
I love the bones that are stones. . .
Stone is our oldest grandfather. We refer to the stones that keep our songs and stories as grandfathers. Our grandfathers give us the rock on which we stand, but our grandmothers move us from that stone in the direction of relation with others. They are the keepers of the stories that teach us about relations; they are the flesh of our bones that are stones. I carry them, willingly.