1:3 Significant “Ceremonies”

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6.Write a summary of three significant points that you find most interesting in the final chapter of If This is Your Land, Where are Your Stories?

Reading If this is Your Land, Where are your Stories is a discomforting experience at first.  It commences with admiration of the stories being told, and then a moment of “What is the author trying to say”?  As the experience progresses, the reader is treated with J. Edward Chamberlin’s story of histories, duality, and parallels.  The stories that confront us with injustice in history (to say “the guests have not been very nice to the hosts” would be a gross understatement) and challenge theories people educated in the western tradition accept at face value.  The final chapter, “Ceremonies” in some sense eliminates that duality and equalizes the parallels.  It makes three significant points.

To begin, First Nation stories are not to be discounted due to their orality.  A story of a grizzly bear rolling down the mountain is not a romantic tale recounted around the fire, but rather it is history and evidence of a people’s relationship to their land.  The bear story belongs to the Gitksan people of northwestern B.C., and has been confirmed by geologists as the story of a major earthquake seven thousand years ago (Chamberlin 219-21).  The underlying theme is not who is right or wrong – it is the importance of understanding and respecting stories from all.  Orality is not “backwards”; it is the way most of us on this earth communicate (MacNeil).  What does a narrative of buffaloes, sunflowers, and blackbirds reveal about a people’s tie to a peculiar slice of land (Chamberlin 216)?

Secondly, western stories are not superior due to their written nature.  They are products of our imagination just the same.  There are two intriguing examples in “Ceremonies”: borders and title to land (Chamberlin 222-3, 229-30).  We may share the experience of being nervous when going through a border checkpoint even without any wrongdoing; perhaps because we appreciate the seriousness of national borders.  The concept, if we strip it bare is a product of collective imagination being recorded on pieces of papers such as treaties and legislation.  Borders are created and subject to change – the written form does not guarantee permanence.  In B.C. an entity’s entitlement to be on a piece of land is expressed on pieces of paper – the land title.  The systems is called “indefeasible”; in the legal sense it means protecting an innocent buyer against fraud, and in another way it is the fortification of imagined ownership by writing a lot of things down on paper (Land Title Act).  Again, this is not about who is right or who is wrong.

Finally, what are ceremonies about then?  One way to look at it is we all have to make sense of the world and life.  Certain ceremonies do that for things over which we exert no control: if an earthquake happens, if someone dies, if fish show up in the river.  A ceremony of words also tries to make sense: telling stories and understanding those of others.  Hopefully that ceremony will demonstrate the duality of them against us, or true or false is a “delusion” (Chamberlin 239-40).  Words, songs, and ceremonies will hopefully take us to more common ground.

There is a piece out today about how Aboriginal firefighters are very competent at what they do in Fort McMurrary because of their traditional ties to the land.  I am genuinely curious about their stories.

Works Cited

Chamberlin, J. Edward.  If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?:       Finding Common Ground.  Toronto: A.A. Knopf Canada, 2003.  Print.

Land Title Act.  Queen’s Printer, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 27 Apr. 2016.  Web.  19 May 2016.

MacNeil, Courtney.  “Orality.”  The Chicago School of Media Theory, Winter 2007. Web.  19 May 2016.

Pruden, Jana G.  “Indigenous firefighters battling Fort McMurray blaze follow long Alberta tradition.”  The Globe and Mail, 20 May 2016.  Web.  20 May 2016.

6 Comments

  1. Hi John,

    I’ve been mulling over Chamberlin’s explanations about ties to the land and the way that communication and orality reflects that and I thought of something really neat.

    I think that orality is superior to literacy for communication. And if a culture elects to communicate via orality – living, breathing stories told by people who are expressive and reactive – then I was thinking that might indicate that as well as valuing the land, they may a heightened value of each other and the opinions of their peers. Literacy at times seems so disconnected. Before the advent of the ‘comment box’ there was no real means to communicate or interact with a story. Sure, any narrative is open to interpretation, but the author would never change a work to suit the opinions of the people reading. Literary works can sometimes be one-sided and pretentious lectures, while orality and story telling are assemblies that value, rather than squash, interaction with the audience.

    I was thinking that if so many theorists were jumping to make conclusions about what orality and literacy say about the validity and maturity of a culture, it may be interesting to consider what their chosen form of communication says about their social relationships.

    For instance, the only people I ever call on the phone are people I am really comfortable with. Orality is vulnerable and communal. I feel much more comfortable texting because there’s no social obligation involved and I can UNCEREMONIOUSLY say what I need or what I’m thinking. In this way orality demands more from the speaker and the listener, and can say much more than was ever intended.

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your example on phoning vs. texting. I feel the same, it is easier to text or email people than to actually speak to them on the phone.

      Orality is more connected and interactive than literacy. I like your remark on what orality does to social relationships – food for thought!

      – John

  2. Hi John,

    I really enjoyed reading this post as you took us through your reading experience of the novel. I found myself feeling similar initial discomforts but very quickly bought into what Chamberlin was saying. For the colonizers, coming into a community that practiced oral traditions obviously was new territory. How or to what extent do you feel the initial written vs oral divide created a separation and tougher transition between the two communities?

    Enjoyed reading your post!

    Navi

    1. Hi Navi,

      Thanks for a great question. I think the First Nations faced dismissal due to their choice of orality. There is a strong sense of “you can perform the song 100 times but it won’t be taken seriously until it is written down” from the tales Chamberlin tells.

      What do you think?

      – John

  3. Hi John, I really enjoyed your comment “the written form does not guarantee permanence.” I think Chamberlain did an excellent job showing just that, and I fully agree that the written word is not superior to oral history. The notion that one is more “civilized” than the other baffles me, especially considering that in some places in North America, verbal contracts are legally binding, as is any written contract. The insignificance and arbitrariness of letters and numbers is overlooked, yet people place such great power in these specific markings. Just like the example of the border crossing you mentioned. I guess this is exactly what Chamberlain was trying to say though, regarding ceremonies. Without belief, the ceremonies mean nothing, but because of the belief people have in them, they hold power over us. With written vs. oral history, the same can be said. One side may view the other as meaningless and illegitimate, yet neither is right or wrong, it is simply our beliefs and imaginations that make us think there is a right way to do things. It is nothing but our own imaginations that separate us from the other, build metaphorical walls around ourselves and create conflicts.

    1. Hi Danica,

      Yes, I concur with you. Society is collective imagination, and exclusion on the basis of medium is uncivilized. Chamberlin does a great job of telling stories to shed light to the western hubris.

      – John

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