Storying Responsibilities – “Who Is It That You Really Are?” Laughter and Ruptures

At a gathering, while giving a speech on the importance of stories, Lee Maracle was asked by an audience member about Thomas King’s oft-quoted phrase: “The truth about stories is that’s all we are” (King 2). Maracle, without missing a beat, replied in a teasing manner, “If I am going into labour, I want a midwife, not a fucking story.” I have not been able to find any evidence of this interaction, but it is an anecdote that I have heard circulated and one that I circulate as well. In doing so, my intention is not to dismiss âcimowina (stories) or Thomas King’s work, but rather to consider how Maracle is nudging us to contemplate what is involved and embedded within story—what she will call elsewhere the “systemization of [Indigenous] knowledge” (Maracle 203). That is to say, our stories carry within them notions of science, law, governance, politics, and economics, among many other things. As well, Maracle is avoiding the logic that our stories are cute cultural curios, instead insisting they are forms of cultural and political production. Maracle follows and sits alongside other Indigenous women, queer, and Two-Spirit orators and writers, including Maria Campbell, Freda Ahenakew, and many of the other storytellers and weavers within Reder’s recent text, Autobiography as Indigenous Intellectual Tradition: Cree and Métis âcimisowina. All of these Indigenous women, as well as the Indigenous men in Reder’s book, are in conversation with one another across time and space. While non-Indigenous theorists might refer to this as dialogic, I follow Reder’s reading of these writers in seeing it as an act of visiting. To visit is a verb, an invitation to dwell, to learn, to laugh, and to be with one another. Reder’s text, then, is an invitation to come visit.


And while our stories may be invested in political and ecological interventions and concepts, Reder also insists that they are deeply attuned to âcimowina, which are “stories or accounts of daily life,” ones that provide knowledge and sustenance to the larger community (6). These accounts of the everyday are often forms of labour that are highly gendered, and precisely for this reason may be discredited or dismissed, even as they are simultaneously highly valued. As nehiyaw scholar Billy-Ray Belcourt asserts in “Indigenous Studies Beside Itself”: “Indigenous studies misapprehends the tumult of everyday life” (182). While Belcourt’s observation about the relegation of everyday life speaks to fault lines within the fields of Indigenous literary studies and Indigenous studies more broadly, there are larger conversations to be had, as illustrated by theorists such as Reder and Belcourt, regarding how âcimowina and those who practise it are the backbone of many communities. These forms of “felt theory” or “felt knowledge,” as Tanana Athabascan scholar Dian Million dubs them, offer a “narrative that appeals as a history that can be felt as well as intellectualized,” one that brings “down the barriers between the personal and the political” (59). Thus, when Reder speaks to the ways in which her “Mom’s stories would sound rude if you didn’t understand the context” (6), she is gesturing to how these deeply personal, funny, and intellectual stories both are highly individual and serve a larger purpose to the community.


And yet these âcimowina are also offered as a gift, with the theory of non-interference at the forefront (non-interference being a Cree practice): “Rarely would Mom dispense advice, and while her stories revealed her understanding of what was good or bad, she never told morality tales: she was always hesitant to tell other people what to do” (6). To accept this gift, one must embrace the “need to listen” and be willing to receive the knowledge that is being produced in these pockets of livability, in the everyday (7). Non-interference thus provides the possibility for a radical rupturing of asymmetrical and hierarchal positions that can dominate in (some) communities. Viewing “visiting as Indigenous feminist practice,” Eve Tuck, Haliehana Stepetin, Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing, and Jo Billows write that it may have the possibility to enact “a practice that is queer, anti-capitalist, and rooted in the cosmologies of our communities” (1). Indeed, visiting “centres relationality and an ethic of care” (1). Reder states as much when she proclaims that “much of the work of interpretation was my responsibility” (Reder 7), meaning that both storytelling and active listening are acts of care, of being in relation. The story is a place of both telling and listening, mediated by what the teller chooses to share and what the listener chooses to attend to with care. In this way, the act of visiting is a shared space, an affective commons wherein we can envision different ways of being in relation to one another in a good way. Visiting and storytelling, though, as Reder and her ancestors remind us, are not just the domain of people(s)—they involve our non-human kin as well. Writing in Literary Land Claims, Margery Fee asserts, “Indigenous storytellers describe the land as speaking, as telling its own stories in every rock, stream, and headland” (7). In thinking of visiting beyond the human, Cree (and, by extension, Métis peoples) affirm their cosmologies, or their “nêhiyawimâmitonêyihcikan, translated as nêhiyaw thinking or Cree consciousness” (Reder 19).


Visiting and storytelling have the potential to be radical political acts, as assertions of “Indigenous cultural resurgence” (Reder 11). And yet we should not forget about the joy, about the everyday, about “wawiyatâcimowina (funny, humorous personal stories)” (7). Given that Indigenous peoples have often been relegated to social death, Reder contests these violences through stories and humour—through “the shared hilarity of life”—providing a methodology in the process (7). After all, Reder and her family “loved to hear her [Mom] tell stories because she was so funny” (6). Listening, storytelling, and laughter provide an intersubjective space wherein both the cultural and political can flourish for Indigenous communities. What possibilities can be generated out of laughter or “the rolling of [one’s] eyes” (7)? What ruptures? What worlds?


Works Cited

Belcourt, Billy-Ray. “Indigenous Studies Beside Itself.” Somatechnics, vol. 7, no. 2, 2017, pp. 182-84.

Fee, Margery. Literary Land Claims: The “Indian Land Question” from Pontiac’s War to Attawapiskat. Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2015.

King, Thomas. The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative. U of Minnesota P, 2008.

Maracle, Lee. “Toward a National Literature: A Body of Writing.” Across Cultures/Across Borders: Canadian Aboriginal and Native American Literatures, edited by Paul Depasquale, Renate Eigenbrod, and Emma Larocque, Broadview Press, 2010, pp. 77-96.

Million, Dian. “Felt Theory: An Indigenous Feminist Approach to Affect and History.” Wíčazo Ša Review, vol. 24, no. 2, fall 2009, pp. 53-76.

Tuck, Eve, et al. “Visiting as an Indigenous Feminist Practice.” Gender and Education, vol. 25, no. 2, 2023, pp. 144-55.

Reder, Deanna. Autobiography as Indigenous Intellectual Tradition: Cree and Métis âcimisowina. Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2022.


Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapsewsipi (Swan River First Nation) on Treaty 8 Territory in Northern Alberta, Canada. He has had creative and critical work published in the Malahat Review, Arc Poetry, Canadian Literature, and the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. His first children’s book, Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock, was published through Highwater Press in 2018, and was nominated for the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award. His first collection of poetry, CREELAND, was published by Nightwood Editions in 2022 and was nominated for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.

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