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Tell Me, Story by Brandon Reid
Turtle Island, Canada, our land—they all represent the same thing. Here, all peoples of Earth unified unlike ever before in our combined history; we finally found each other. There is still much to be reconciled, so we may all live in peace, which will take generations. I have hope, though. We will all live together, in harmony, we shall transcend our past, but to do so, we must understand ourselves, each other, and our relations. This all may be accomplished by telling our stories.
Many First Nations share linguistic similarities because they weren’t isolated kingdoms, walled off from outsiders. Quite the opposite, actually; trade, narrative exchanges, mingling of peoples, were all common not just with Indigenous peoples, but also with colonists. You have any idea how difficult it is to trace the lineage of my middle name, Arthur? Scholars are uncertain he was even a king! Storytellers purposed Arthur for their audiences, changing details as they saw fit. The English language contains traces of Germanic, French, Greek, Latin, Arabic, even Sanskrit. Pronunciations change, meanings change, this is the interplay of cultures. Stories change from people to people, place to place, yet their essences remain.
Trickster myths are found around the world, whether they involve a human, an animal, or a being that transforms to both. The raven is a common archetypal trickster in Indigenous stories along the Northwest coast. There is wisdom, here: ravens are cunning, they mock, they mimic, they communicate with sophistication, they’re dark as shadows. One story tells of the raven who stole the sun then returned it to us. Loki, the Norse god, was a trickster who transformed into a salmon, then outwitted a giant to prevent them from stealing the sun. Although we find similarities in these stories told pre-contact, they remain uniquely related to their lands, animals and peoples they originated from.
I endeavoured to study religious narratives as I desired to know what united us as people, where faiths stemmed from and how similar we may all be. I grew up off the Highway to Heaven in Richmond, B.C., a road renowned for its religious institutions rising to sky. My mom would drive my sister and I passed these mosques, temples, churches, synagogues and gurdwaras on our way to school. To me, this architectural mélange is Canada—freedom of belief, worship and existence. I grew up during increased persecution against Muslims post 9/11. As a Status Indian, I related to their discrimination experienced, so I read the sacred texts many criticized, feared, and misunderstood, despite never having read them.
Neither the Quran nor the Bible compels me to perpetrate atrocities against unbelievers, as extremists purpose them for. I read both texts, front to back, even reciting select passages in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, etc. Both texts share stories of Abraham, Jonah, and Jesus, although names vary according to languages used. It’s by reading these stories, I was able to illumine the unknown; prejudice is fear of the dark. I consciously didn’t live by them, word for word. They are valuable accounts of the human condition, the harms we have inflicted upon each other, as well as the enlightenment of love for all.
The Bible effectively guides transcendence of utmost suffering. It is worth studying, because it’s the most influential text in Western culture; they also killed us Indigenous by adherence to twisted interpretations of its words. I don’t blame you if you haven’t read it, or refuse to hear about it, but to quote Chief Dan George: “O God! Like the thunderbird of old, I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success—his education, his skills. With these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.” Jesus is the central figure in the Bible, in continuance of oral and written traditions originating in Jerusalem, Greece, Rome, Egypt, Babylon and beyond. He was charitable, merciful, altruistic, yet his rulers tortured and killed him, reminiscent of the hypocritic treatment of Indigenous by settlers. In the ultimate display of resilience, Jesus rose from the dead then resumed preaching the supremacy of compassion.
I recently read The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead, which details atrocities committed against Black people at a reform school in Florida. Many students were beaten and killed, as was the case in residential schools throughout Canada. Martin Luther King Jr. is commonly quoted in the book. One such passage mentioned is: “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we will still love you.” Jesus suffered, Black people suffered, Indigenous people suffered—we share this in common. It’s by telling our stories, we unite.
My first draft of Beautiful Beautiful was vindictive; I wanted the world to know what was done to my people, the intergenerational trauma I experienced, and the broken family I was born into. Derik’s experiences were inspired by my own, but as I continued to write, I kept thinking of this one line from the main narrator, Redbird: “If [Derik] wants me to tell you his story, I’m going to tell it the way it should be told.” I realized this wasn’t only an opportunity to present my story, but to acknowledge then mend my traumas through storytelling; I learned to forgive. I forgave those who oppressed my ancestors, I forgave my family for their differences, and I forgave myself for being as I am.
When you share your story, you realize how you feel, who you really are, and how to tell it better next time, because you are better for sharing. It’s by telling, you become aware of how you’re perceived. It’s by listening, you realize how similar we truly are. Storytelling is perhaps the most human act of all. It allows us to evolve through understanding, it allows us to reconcile with each other. We are Earth’s wardens. Through storytelling, we may rise together again, as we have done throughout our united history.
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Brandon Reid holds a B.Ed. from UBC with a specialization in Indigenous education, and a journalism diploma from Langara College. His work has been published in the Barely South Review, the Richmond Review and The Province. He is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, with a mix of Indigenous and English ancestry. He resides in Richmond, BC, where he works as a TTOC. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, playing music and listening to comedy podcasts. His debut novel, Beautiful Beautiful, is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions in fall 2023.