This short paper was written for my Social Welfare Policy class. A little bit of a background on this class, it's actually a great class which is an exception to the rule of most classes I've been taking in the Faculty of Social Work. Despite this class being cool - or maybe adds to its coolness cause it forces us to care/attend class, sometimes - we have to write a small paper of about 1-2 pages everytime we miss a class. Needless to say I have only missed one class and this was on Monday and I had a real good reason. I'm posting the paper I wrote for shits and giggles.
This little paper doesn’t really start on March 21, 2011, it goes back to the beginning of my reading life which I don’t remember at all, but I know it was when I was young. Reading has been always one of the most important things in my life even while I am not the biggest fan of the educational system. Fast forward to Fall 2011, when I was in the Indigenous Studies Creative Arts and Drama
course, with Monique Mojica, who is a well-known artist in indigenous arts circles and was in the movie Smoke Signals
(highly recommended by the way). She in turn knows many extremely talented indigenous artists. One of these is writer (or more accurately, maybe I would call her a storyteller) Lee Maracle, who came last Monday as a guest speaker for another class which Monique is teaching this term, but I didn’t get to take it because of Social Welfare Policy
class which is held at the same time (not a complaint, don’t worry – but this is a factor in why the Monday class was missed). She has written several novels and collections of short stories/poems which I really enjoyed because they are written beautifully and give a very different, uncensored view of colonialism as well as West Coast indigenous people’s way of seeing and moving through the world.
I had the honour of meeting Lee Maracle a few weeks ago at a book launch for a book called Feminism for Real
, and had a little chat with her but nothing major; last week, I got to actually meet her along with two friends and another student. We were dubbed her “Welcoming Committee” by Monique who couldn’t be present, and we had coffee and an inspiring talk with her – Lee is a really wise, funny woman who isn’t afraid to say what she really feels/thinks. In some ways I think reading her books and books like them, has encouraged me thus far to speak out when I feel it’s necessary. I HAD to skip to hear her. There was almost no choice for me, because I so admire Lee and her writing.
When we got to the class, Lee stated first that she would be discussing “Sto:loh Art” (Sto:loh is the nation she is a registered member of), and all that she talked about was not directly about Sto:loh art, but more about the beliefs behind art and creativity. She began by telling us about how when a baby is being born, the room is dark, so that the baby can have the next three days to connect with their mother and establish an imagination of her. What I found compelling was the importance that Lee places on imagination: at the risk of butchering her way of saying it, what I picked up was that our relationships with other people and with the world is based on our imagination. Without engaging the imagination, we can’t really see anything. For example, if we are walking by somebody, if we don’t establish a connection and imagine that other person, within a context and as a human being, then we will bypass each other and will not engage. What I added to that in my brain was that after that moment, that person does not exist to us anymore if we don’t further imagine them.
Lee talked about many, many things in the two hours that we were given to learn from her. She talked about reclaiming of colours and of the dark, and of the Dream world, which is the way that we interpret our lives in our subconscious but also a world in itself that we reclaim through artistic means and again, the imagination. The artist’s role, Lee says, is to find the connecting thread: Ojibways and Crees for example, see the world like a big wheel with threads that are points of view, as spokes of that wheel. The artist’s role is to see what connects those threads. She also mentioned that we are all connected by stories. Our body is there to take care of what is inside, our brain and soul (I’ve heard before of the classifications of “mind, body and spirit” many times in talking with traditional people, and of how they are inexplicably interconnected to make a person). Every single aspect of us contains a story: we are made up of stories, and we are all connected by story.
"How does this long spiel relate to social work and social welfare policy?" you might ask. I have found so far that usually, the social work program neglects any focus on this part (besides AOP class maybe) of people’s lives and it’s important to understand this to even start to really understand the clients in relation to “the rest of society”, to their stories, and to social workers. The great emphasis on stories is something that is sometimes missed in Western academic discourse and for me, I think it’s important to come back to that to reclaim not only colours and the imagination but my place as a human being in relation with other humans. Lots of things, I find are “relationship to”, which I think would be more productive as “relationship with” since a relationship is something that involves two entities.
But for now I think I’ve covered a few key points. Thanks for reading :)