Storytelling with Liz Akiwenzie
Liz Akiwenzie: Liz Akiwenzie
I am Ojibway and Onieda , Nisitange Kwe is my Ojibway name meaning “understanding women” My Onieda name is te ye yato leh te, which means She who sees both sides. I do healing work using Traditional and Cultural Healing Methods, that have been used for hundreds of years by the Ancestors. I have worked in many levels of the systems: Education, Justice, both federal and provincial, and Health. I am a Educator of Traditional and Cultural awareness of Aboriginal Culture. I am the bridge of awaking the people , who do not know or understand Aboriginal peoples history of this Country. I am commitment to awaking all people, so they will better understand the connection that we all have as human beings on Mother Earth. In unity of awaking the people.
We wanted a storyteller for our performance, to weave a story related to the river and land the SoHo neighbourhood is situated within into the process. We were interested in finding an Indigenous elder and asked around at different places we had connections to, including the the N’Amerind friendship center based in our neighbourhood, the Native Studies department and the University of Western Ontario, and Fanshawe college. Up until ten days before the performance we still had not found a storyteller. Billy arrived from Montreal and told us we needed to first make sure we had a tobacco offering/gift to give to whomever the storyteller was that we would find. He also led us through an offering to the river. The next day we got a phone call from the Southwestern Ontario Aboriginal Health Center telling us that one of their traditional healer’s Liz Akiwenzie would come and tell a story at the performance. Billy, Ruth and I met her the next day, told her about the work we were doing and asked her if she had a story she might want to share. She told us many stories. Afterwards Billy gave her tobacco and asked if she would come for the performance. She laughed and said yes, accepting the tobacco.
Liz started her story by speaking in the Ojibwa language, situating her language in relation to the land in which it emerged. She then told us her family ties to both the Ojibwa and Oneida ties in the area. These”double ties” enabled her to dance in both directions during the round dances. In situating herself Liz helped us understand where the story was coming from in relation to her own experiences.
Liz started out her story by noticing all of the children in the room and thanking them for being there. She thanked her grandmothers and grandfathers for loving her, what she called pure love, no matter what she did.
As Liz told her story she taught us ways to meet and fold into the performance the moment arising. It starting to rain hard during her story on the glass walls surrounding us. Liz motioned towards the rain and started telling us the following stories.
“it is very interesting that it is raining, rain in stories i have been taught is about purification. Everything needs the rain, the earth needs the rain, the flowers, the medicine plants, the trees. And the old ones who taught me about the rain, said even when it is raining, the ancestors are shedding tears, they are crying for us. Because they want us to wake up and pay attention to what is it that we are doing to mother earth. The grandmothers taught me about woman medicine. The water came first and then people came after. Whatever we do to our earth we do to the water, we do to the woman, we do the children and the men. I am excited the little ones are here. They watch everything that we do and hear the things we don’t say. The old one’s always say the little ones know about the good life, they are deeply connected. They are our teachers. We must pay attention. They are so open, they just love, are excited about life. They teach us. When we talk about the rain, the water, the river, it is the blood of earth. We need to be mindful about what we put into the blood. Water is part of healing. We cannot live without water. Water moves through our body. We use sacred tobacco and offer it to the water, so that is can nurture us as human beings. The woman take care of the water, the man takes care of the fire. When the man learns how to take care of the fire he learns about taking care of relationships.
All of what i say is in relation to circular thinking. We are all in the circle together. The circle links us all to the earth. Did i grow up knowing these things. No – did i learn it in school? no i did not. I did not learn about these things until I was in mid thirties. I started seeking it out in my mid thirties when I wanted to find out about who I was. I am thankful for the old ones I met who helped me understand who taught me stories.
Water keeper and fire keeper
Liz told us that the woman in her tribe were the water keeper and the men were the fire keeper. She also told us that in each of us there is both a water keeper and firekeeper. If you let the fire get to big and hot it evaporates all of the water, if there is to much water you will put out the fire and it will be hard to start again.
Liz ended by offering a song in the Ojibwe language.
Liz taught us how to engage and be responsible to the people you tell your story too. In Liz’s storytelling she spoke to the children and the grandparents first and then those inbetween. She acknowledged the rain and the other elements as they happened, folding them into the storytelling. Often during our creative process we would question whether the different people in the audience would be able to engage. We had infants, children of all ages, teens, young adults, older adults and the elderly at the show. We also had long time residents and new refugees. Only a few of the audience were from a “art” world. We wondered how we would create an event where people from different walks of life could come together and be willing to instigate, witness or propose something.
Notes on storytelling:
Storytelling is a practice of listening. During our performance we as a group of performers and audience came together through difference. The practice of listening to a story together was a way of building a relation based on a kind of listening together. Each of us will take something different from the story, depending on how we listen to it and how it is put into relation to our own lived experience. Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Simpson calls storytelling an emergent practice. She writes, “the relationships between the storyteller and the listeners become the nest that cradles the meaning. the storyteller creates both the context and the content and collectively a plurality of meanings are generated through the experiences of the audience… The process of integration into the experience of the storyteller and the audience is one that is slow… it can take many years after hearing a story to know the meaning of that story in one’s heart ” (Simpson, 2011 in Dancing on our turtle’s back)
From Donna Haraway (string games)
stories; they propose and enact patterns for participants to inhabit, somehow, on a vulnerable and wounded earth. Our performative story telling is about recuperation in complex histories that are as full of dying as living, as full of endings, even genocides, as well as beginnings.
We question how we as artists are all responsible to and for shaping conditions for multispecies flourishing in the face of terrible histories. How do we embody a landscape where the river is polluted, the Indigenous people have been forcibly removed from the land or forced to assimilate into the dominant culture and the animals have fled? How can we imagine collectively something different?