As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Digital Remediation—By Davis McKenzie

As authors, Chi-chia, Harmony, Paige, and I have grappled with the many forms that the Internet takes, and the ways that it can, among other things, replicate and amplify the colonial paradigms that distort Indigenous knowledge. Creators, audiences, sharers, lurkers, trolls, tourists, givers, takers: these are some of the many terms that variously connote human behaviour when navigating online spaces. Toxic anonymity, digital scraping, cutting and pasting, commodification, surveillance, meme-ification, and copyright infringement are as casual as they are common. These practices of many online cultures can, and often do, make the Internet an unsafe place for Indigenous knowledge and teachings.

Yet the Internet is also undeniably one place where ɬaʔamɩn people now live. For example, more than half of ɬaʔamɩn people live outside ɬaʔamɩn territory, and most of them are in cities. We also have a very youthful population, with over half of our people under the age of twenty-five. Digital spaces hold the potential to keep us connected to the territory, teachings, and each other across physical distances and generations. Chi-chia herself joined Facebook at the age of eighty-four with some of these intentions.

As described in the introduction to the print book, Written as I Remember It, “accessibility is a key goal for Chi-chia … She was not motivated by a salvage mentality to document the history and teachings for the archives. She instead wanted to produce an account of ɬaʔamɩn ways that future generations could draw upon, learn from, and heal through.”

In today’s digital world, ɬaʔamɩn and other Indigenous peoples need to grapple with issues of how to effectively and appropriately harness the value of the Internet for promoting and amplifying our respective teachings. Opportunities as well as challenges abound. As the Māori scholar and educator Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes, “Indigenous research” – of the sort this book aspires to embody – “seeks to recover a peoples’ path to well-being, to find the new/old solutions that restore Indigenous being in the world. The impacts are part of an intergenerational long game of decolonization, societal transformation, healing and reconciliation, and the recovery of a world where all is well.”

As ɬaʔamɩn people, we deliver ʔəms tɑʔɑw (our teachings) through combinations of community and family stories. As one of our ǰɛʔaǰɛ (relatives), ɬaʔamɩn scholar Siemthlut Michelle Washington, writes, “Our Ta-ow [tɑʔɑw] comes to us through our families. It teaches us how to treat other people and our surroundings.” Within this model of transmission, Elders are the great curators, serving up the right stories in the right moments in ways that facilitate, but do not force, a learning journey. This is the way in which ɬaʔamin people self-actualize and come to understand how we must be in the world.

As authors, we viewed the remediation of the print book into a digital one as a way to increase the reach and accessibility of both Chi-chia’s story and ʔəms tɑʔɑw. We created the digital book with two goals in mind: to share ɬaʔamɩn culture and teachings with the next generation of ɬaʔamɩn people, and to offer an instructional tool to support truth and reconciliation between ɬaʔamɩn and non-Indigenous audiences.

The remediation process has been multilayered. The creation of the print book, Written as I Remember It , was itself an act of remediation, whereby the authors edited hours of recorded interviews with Chi-chia into a single cohesive narrative. Working with transcripts from the interview tapes presented an endless series of curatorial choices for Harmony Johnson and Paige Raibmon. Even as it created opportunities, the print medium imposed limitations that were sometimes at odds with how we as ɬaʔamɩn people give and receive stories and the normative patterns of oral tradition. Extensive audio, video, and additional photo assets were collated during the production process of the print book.

Through this second act of remediating Chi-chia’s story from print to digital, we have had the opportunity to re-curate and re-represent Chi-chia’s story with additional sensory cues (video, audio, and more photos). These additional cues may bring us yet closer to our oral tradition insofar as we can see Chi-chia’s expression; we can listen to her voice and intonation. Importantly, while audio and video re-enact and imitate the oral tradition, they do not exactly replicate it because the relationship between the giver and receiver of a story is central to the telling. In conveying ʔəms tɑʔɑw, stories are curated and given with intention – it may be a correcting intention, a healing intention, or a grooming intention, but there are many others. The transmission of ʔəms tɑʔɑw is usually an interpersonal and face-to-face affair, with stories and teachings curated by Elders for a specific individual or a situation. This project is in many ways about curation en masse, sharing the teachings in ways suitable for a mass audience.

The remediation of the text and addition of multimedia material created a new set of curatorial questions. The authors had to address a number of philosophical and tactical questions. These included:

As authors, we look to and are grateful for other First Nations community leaders, and Indigenous and settler scholars and artists who have previously contended with these questions. The protection and integrity of ʔəms tɑʔɑw are the central concerns of this project. To avoid the free-for-all, Wild West–mentality of the Internet, we have employed paratext, which French literary theorist Gérard Genette describes as “liminal devices and conventions, both within and outside the book, that form part of the complex mediation between book, author, publisher, and reader.” Taken together, the elements of paratext, which include forewords, authors' notes, site disclaimers, and other explanatory or supplementary resources, collectively “form the critical framework that mediates our readings of literary texts.” Put simply, paratext in this digital book is meant to help the reader respectfully and intentionally engage with ʔəms tɑʔɑw.

Among the key issues that we, the authors, sought to address through the use of paratext is the fact that ɬaʔamɩn people hold different rights and obligations in relation to the material presented in this book than non-ɬaʔamɩn guests. The stories, photos, videos, and language shared on this site are not simply content or information. They are much more: they are belongings of the ɬaʔamɩn people. Some of the belongings on this site are shared, in that they are held collectively by ɬaʔamɩn people. Others (the family stories and such) are Chi-chia’s alone. This is fundamental to our ways of knowing and being as ɬaʔamɩn people: the recognition that communal knowledge is not owned so much as it is stewarded. Our obligation as ɬaʔamɩn people and ǰɛʔaǰɛ (relatives) is to collectively hold, and responsibly steward, knowledge for future generations. Distinct protocols govern the sharing of family and communal stories. Chi-chia herself will be the first to preface the telling of a communal story with the statement: “This is just how I tell it; other Elders, other families may tell it differently.”

Various elements of paratext make these protocols visible to readers who are unfamiliar with them. We have situated a guest/host protocol at the front of the book where we ask readers to actively consent to respecting ɬaʔamɩn knowledge practices and laws. A set of Traditional Knowledge labels further communicates, specifies, and affirms how to use this book in accordance with ɬaʔamɩn protocol.

A website can never fully replicate face-to-face, human interaction. It is important to be clear from the outset that the goal of this digital book is not to offer up an online Elder to replace the familial and ceremonial interactions where ʔəms tɑʔɑw are given, received, transmitted. It is, instead, an acknowledgment that new tools exist that can support our existence and healing as a people. And at this point in our history, we can use all the tools we can get. We need to take risks and do our best. Countless times during this project, I went back to the words of Inuit film director Zacharias Kunuk. Speaking of the process of remediating Atanarjuat from legend to feature film, he said:

“We try to get it right but anything that wasn’t in the story we just made it up. So I have no problem with that, and I have no problem with people that know the story and they say it’s not like that … I would be really glad if someone could do it better than us … it’s been carried down for thousands of years, so by the time it’s our story of course it’s going to be different.”

I’ve received immense pleasure from the practicality of this project, because at the end of the day, we’ve created something. And working with my relatives in this creative space has brought negotiation, mediation, and fun.

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