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The Truth About Stories

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Cassy Easthom

on 28 October 2015

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Transcript of The Truth About Stories

Minds On:
Professor of English at the University of Guelph
Son of Cherokee Father and Greek Mother
First Massey lecturer of Native descent.

CBC Massey Lecture Series
Let Me Entertain You
I. "You'll Never Believe What Happened"
Is Always A Great Way to Start

II. You're Not the Indian I Had in Mind

III. Let Me Entertain You

IV. A Million Porcupines Crying in the Dark

V. What Is It About Us That You Don't Like?

"You'll Never Believe What Happened" Is Always A Great Way to Start
Key points from the chapter:

--Stories are all we are
--Creation stories
--King's Story (provides background on his upbringing)
Key points from the chapter:

-- Story of Ishi:

- "Wild Man of Oroville"
- Found in Northern California behind a slaughter house
- Police didn't know what to do with him, put him into jail.
- "He was rescued - and I use the word "rescued" guardedly - by Alfred L. Kroeber and Thomas Talbot Waterman, two anthropologists from the newly opened Anthropological Museum..." (p 64)
- Lived and worked at the museum
- Had "freedom" to come and go

-- Stories about Indians by colonizers varied from: good servants, easily converted to Christianity, souvenirs, native guides, slaves, savage, dirty, cruel

--"As long as I dressed ... and complained like an Indian, I was entertainment. But if I dressed ... and reasoned like a non-Indian, then not only was I not entertainment, I wasn't an Indian." (p.68)
A Million Porcupines Crying in the Dark
Key points from this chapter:

--Death of novelist and his friend, Choctaw-Cherokee-Irish writer Louis Owens, who killed himself in an airport parking garage on his way to an academic conference in Washington. (Owens wrote a memoir titled,
I Hear the Train
,tells of his summer spent picking tomatoes--government called it "economic opportunity work program"

--James Fenimore Cooper (Native writer) "white gifts in Cooper's novel are gifts of Reason. Indian gifts in Cooper's novel are gifts of instinct."

--Native writers are challenging the idea that Natives only have their past.
You're Not the Indian I Had in Mind
Key points from the chapter:

--The representation of the "dying Indian" and "authentic Indian"

--Real Indians are invisible

--King's struggle with his own identity (set out in the fall of 1995 on a photographic expedition)

--Edward Curtis photographs: constructed images
The Truth About Stories
-A Native Narrative -
By: Thomas King

--What do you think of when you
hear the term "Indian"?

--What does this apple represent?

5 Chapters / Lectures
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What is it About Us That You Don't Like?
Key Points from the Chapter:
--The story of the coyote and the ducks. (parallels to colonialism)

--The coyote has an insatiable appetite for the ducks' feathers, just as colonizers keep taking away Natives' rights and resources.

--Legislation: taking land, legalizing Natives out of existence by strict criteria

--U.S. Indian Arts and Crafts Act & Canadian Bill C-31
First Theme
Christianity vs Native beliefs
--‘Once a story is told, it cannot be called back. Once told, it‘s loose in the world.‘ (p. 10)

--Charms story versus Genesis. King tells us two creation stories, one native, one Christian.
‘The elements in Genesis create a particular universe governed by a series of hierarchies—God,
man, animals, plants—that celebrate law, order, and good government, while in our Native story,
the universe is governed by a series of co-operations—Charm, the Twins, animals, humans—that celebrate
equality and balance.’(p.23)

--’In Genesis, the post-garden world we inherit is decidedly material in nature, a world at war
—God v. the Devil, humans vs. the elements. Or to put things into corporate parlance, competitive.

--"In our Native story, the world is at peace, and the pivotal concern is not with the ascendancy of
good over evil but with the issue of balance.’ (p. 24)

--’Do the stories we tell reflect the world as it truly is? Or did we simply start off with the wrong story?’ (p.26)
Something to consider--how different would the world be if we had a different creation story?

Significant Quotes from
The Truth about Stories:
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Second Theme
Native Identity
--The Native identity is a constructed image, constructed by non-Natives. “Propaganda” has created this image.

-- The created image has power, while real Indians are invisible

-- There is a series of criteria established by others to establish “authentic Indians”

--Photography: the camera allows us to create. Photos taken of “made-up”, dressed-up Natives are still being taken

--Government/colonizers - at first a good opinion, after which Natives were presented as savages, and lastly as “vanishing”. The message to Natives was assimilate or die (be made to vanish, not exist).

--Natives are part of the past, have no present, no future (ch.4). Now Native writers are starting to change that slowly.
Third Theme
Aboriginal people vs. government
Coyote vs. Ducks
Whites Indians
insatiable appetite for feathers have to give up feathers (rights, resources, land)

Legislation goals in Canada and US - take land and legalize Natives out of existence

"Who will we allow to be Indian?" Legal criteria making Indians not-Indian, so they have less rights and resources.

Rights = gifts (rights given to Indians out of goodness of heart of government) p.138
Full transcript