The standard textbook history of Aboriginal peoples begins twelve millennia ago as the world was coming out of an Ice Age. The ancestors of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia to North America. Moving steadily south and east, over the course of hundreds of generations, the descedants of this original group of explorers won for themselves a continent. In the path of their migration, up and down the face of North and South America, they created a quilt-work of civilizations, each with its own history and values. Over the millennia these nations rose, fell, and evolved in concert with the larger rhythms of nature.
Flash forward to the early 1500s when our conventional narrative gathers steam. Along the eastern shore of North America the first European explorers make their landfalls and experience the ‘first contact’ that gave Canada its name. The arc of history moves through the early wars of conquest to the establishment of the first permanent European settlements in the 16th and 17th centuries. To Canadians, the signposts in this historical journey are a series of familiar dates strung out in succession: Jacques Cartier landing at Chaleur Bay in 1534, Champlain’s voyage up the St. Lawrence in 1603, and the creation of the Hudson Bay Company in 1670.
Having witnessed the European migration to their land, Aboriginal peoples are moved figuratively to the sidelines of history. The standard history of Canada from the 17th century onward is the story of European colonial wars, the introduction and impact of Western technology and industry, and the deepening of a North American political culture based on the ideas of the Enlightenment. Increasingly strangers in their own lands, Aboriginal peoples come to be perceived, more and more, as an administrative challenge as opposed to a dynamic force in the unfolding of the country’s identity. The combined effects of the treaty and reserve systems, the failed Rebellions of 1885 and subsequent Indian Acts all conspire to render Canada’s Aboriginal peoples an historical anachronism in the eyes of the dominant culture. This sentiment, in various forms, has continued up to the present-day despite a decades-long revival of Aboriginal culture, industry, and government.
Even this most cursory look at the traditional narrative of the history of Aboriginal peoples confirms that we read their story through our systems of understanding. It is difficult, if not impossible, for one culture to capture the historical reality of another culture that it has displaced. As hard as non-Aboriginals might try to correct for biases, our history and traditions are different. European culture sees the passage of time as a chronology of events as opposed to cycle of being and becoming. It embraces scientific criteria to determine what is an historical fact and looks askance at myth and oral history. And ultimately, it stresses the very process of historical inquiry as a hallmark of civilization. All of these attitudes not only set Western culture apart from an Aboriginal world view, they determine the very way history is recorded, created, and conveyed to future generations.
This is not to say that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures are incapable of creating common understandings and mutual respect. What we need to work on is finding new ways – after more than four hundred years of living together – to hear each others’ stories anew, to step out of preconceived notions of not only what constitutes our history but how our history is constituted. Our Story is an important contribution to moving dialogue in this direction.
The nine works of fiction contained in this volume tell the story of Aboriginal peoples in Canada not as a string of facts laid bare in chronological order. Instead, each of the Aboriginal authors has chosen an historical event and through the act of storytelling, turned it into a work of fiction. In each of these fictionalized accounts we are exposed to the Aboriginal sense of place, the passage of time, and the complex relationship of myth and truth. The result is a new vantage point not just on how Aboriginals perceive their place in Canadian history but a different approach to recounting the past and making it come alive in the present.
As a fusion of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal notions of storytelling and history, Our Story contains, at its heart, the basis for the two cultures not only to better understand and appreciate each other, but also to move forward together.
A collection of original stories written by some of the country’s most celebrated Aboriginal writers, and inspired by pivotal events in the country’s history.
Inspired by history, Our Story is a beautifully illustrated collection of original stories from some of Canada’s most celebrated Aboriginal writers.
Asked to explore seminal moments in Canadian history from an Aboriginal perspective, these ten acclaimed authors have travelled through our country’s past to discover the moments that shaped our nation and its people.
Drawing on their skills as gifted storytellers and the unique perspectives their heritage affords, the contributors to this collection offer wonderfully imaginative accounts of what it’s like to participate in history. From a tale of Viking raiders to a story set during the Oka crisis, the authors tackle a wide range of issues and events, taking us into the unknown, while also bringing the familiar into sharper focus.
Our Story brings together an impressive array of voices — Inuk, Cherokee, Ojibway, Cree, and Salish to name just a few — from across the country and across the spectrum of First Nations. These are the novelists, playwrights, journalists, activists, and artists whose work is both Aboriginal and uniquely Canadian.
Brought together to explore and articulate their peoples’ experience of our country’s shared history, these authors’ grace, insight, and humour help all Canadians understand the forces and experiences that have made us who we are.
Maria Campbell • Tantoo Cardinal • Tomson Highway • Drew Hayden Taylor • Basil Johnston • Thomas King • Brian Maracle • Lee Maracle • Jovette Marchessault • Rachel Qitsualik
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