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Follow along as we work towards systems change and help create better outcomes for kids in our community.

The Power of Story-telling

August 20, 2014

Tansi. My name is Gladys. I am Muskego Inninew Iskwew. I was named after my paternal great grandmother, Gladys Moose. A true powerful force, she was the strength that held our family together. I am a sister, a daughter, an auntie, a mother, a partner, and a granddaughter. I am also a student, a researcher, a social worker, an artist, and a writer. These fluid and not so fluid identity markers signify pieces of my own story.

Stories are powerful mechanisms. Creating a space for stories to be shared requires safety, trust, comfort, kindness, and willingness to open one’s self up to being vulnerable and receiving vulnerability all at once. It is through the sharing of stories that relationships are founded. With relationships there is potential for understanding, potential for change, and potential for growth. People’s stories are meaningful, powerful, and most importantly they are their own. I have always lived from this view of the world.

About seven or so years ago, I walked into the world of research and walked right smack into the ugly truth about research as a tool for oppression and marginalization. Research is a dirty word. It sits right up there with all of the derogatory statements that serve to disempower, insult, and depersonalize human experiences. I know through my own experiences and education that the term research can be a horrible word. The thought of helicopters filled with robots plunking themselves smack down in a middle of an unknown community, going from person to person extracting their information through interactions that leave them wondering “what the heck just happened”? Using their information in a way that removes them from the story, that disconnects their story from their contexts. Research extraction is similar to resource extraction, in many ways.

So why do I build a career around this tool called research? Why am I still here considering the history of extraction and disempowerment that research has perpetuated, and how it exerts its power over knowledge and what can be assigned as knowledge? There is no simple answer to this question, but one key for me is the reclamation of power when research resists this western structure. For me, this means working in a way that counters the mainstream framework of what counts as knowledge, what research is important, and therefore how that research must be undertaken. I believe that stories, our personal and collective stories, are methods of resistance and resurgence, in research in particular.

The way that I work in the field of research comes from a value base that honours the fact that people are the experts over their own lives and experiences; one which values people as good, loving, kind, strong and passionate. From these experiences there is a great wealth of wisdom that can be shared. People have stories that can teach us many things and within research the task is to create a space where people’s stories have the opportunity to teach us, resisting what has typically been held up as knowledge and valuable data.

Within the Winnipeg Boldness Project these values about what counts as knowledge and what is important to include in a research project are front and centre. We have centered the stories of individuals, families and the North End as the place where we will learn about what is needed for successful early childhood development. The stories of the children, families, and community are gifts that will ensure that the action coming out of this research is meaningful and transformative.

In the end all that we are, all that we have, are our stories. Stories are like a red thread that carries the memories and the experiences of our ancestors through our bodies and into the bodies of our children and grandchildren. Whether we know it or not the stories of our ancestors run through us and in the sharing of our own stories we are also sharing the stories of those who have come before us, tying us to those who are to come after us. Stories are powerful, they can heal and connect or they can destroy and disconnect. It is all a matter of how we use the power of stories.

Land Acknowledgement

The Winnipeg Boldness Project resides in and works on the ancestral, traditional, and contemporary lands of the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe), Anishinabewaki (Oji-Cree), Dené, Michif Piyii (Métis), Nêhiyawak (Cree), and Očhéthi Sakowin (Dakota). We recognize that we have benefited from and continue to benefit from colonization on the Treaty 1, Treaty 3, and Treaty 5 Territories.

It is important to also acknowledge how we benefit in this territory at the cost to Indigenous Peoples. Winnipeg has been drinking clean water for over a century via an aqueduct from Shoal Lake. In 1917, 3000 acres of Treaty 3 was declared property of the city of Winnipeg to build the aqueduct. This aqueduct was built over ancestral burial ground, to build these structures, the ancestors were disinterred and reburied. Construction of the aqueduct changed the waters significantly, causing the peninsula to become a man-made island. This now isolated Nation faced many challenges as a direct result from this aqueduct; Necessities like water, groceries, schools, and mail were only accessible via the dangerous trek to the mainland. Lives of adults and children were lost crossing to and from the mainland. Freedom Road, an all-weather road access finally opened summer 2019, over a century after displacement. This road, a testament to the success of Indigenous-led solutions, helps bring materials to build schools and a water treatment plant.

“I always think of it, even when I turn on the tap I’m like this comes from our community and this water probably contains our ancestors and the spirits of our ancestor. I think about the hardships of the people from Shoal Lake 40 who have gone through so many things for the benefit of Winnipeg’s drinking water,” says Angelina McLeod.1

Another benefit we reap in Winnipeg at a cost to Indigenous Peoples and land is the Hydro Electricity Development in Treaty 5. To optimize water movement for greatest power production the Province of Manitoba increased waterflow by creating the Churchill River Diversion in 1976. The modification of the waterflow caused flooding, shoreline erosion, and changes to water quality. This destruction of habitat has caused disruption to waterway travel, fishing, and hunting.