Aanii. Christine nitishinikaas. Peguis nitoonci. Maashkodebizihiki ni totem. My name is Christine. I am from Peguis First Nation. Buffalo is my clan.
Research Title: Healing Through Writing and its Process. How It Can Help You to Heal
The nature of this research proposal is to examine writing and its process towards healing. I understand that the writing process is different for everyone, but as a First Nations woman writer, I have come to understand that my own writing process has been essential to my healing journey. The writing process and its healing effects are something that I would like to explore more of. Upon conclusion of my research, I would like to gather a collection of stories from First Nations women and youth. The purpose would be to create an anthology of survival, healing and inspirational stories for those who are still working on healing themselves and wanting to embark on their own healing journey.
Writing and its process is different for everyone, but I have found that there is healing in the overall writing process. How do you find that the writing process would hinder you or benefit you, and if so why? Would you be willing to participate in a project that explores the writing process, especially if it means you will be able to give a voice to what you have experienced and offer hope to others who have been through similar situations.
As a First Nations woman who went through the 60’s and 70’s Scoop of Native children, I grew up without knowledge of my heritage and culture, and when I was subsequently returned to the care of the Children’s Aid Society at 10 years of age by emotionally, physically and spiritually abusive adoptive parents, writing became an integral part of my journey to healing and wellness. As a child, I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and that writing was my gift. I recall that when I was locked in my bedroom for hours on end, I would feverishly write poetry and short stories and slip them under my bedroom door for my sister to read. I also recall that my writing had to stay secret because my adoptive parents criticized my desire to be a writer and would often tell me “you will never amount to anything, let alone become a writer.”
Though I had always wanted to be a writer, my writing did not become serious until I was in my late teenage years and early twenties. It was during this particular time that I found that my writing could give me the voice that I had yearned to have as a child when I was suffering from abuse at the hands of my adoptive parents.
Writing became a very effective tool for me because it allowed me to sit down and express the thoughts that were always running around in my mind. I found that by journaling, writing poetry and writing about the experiences themselves that it helped me work towards healing from the traumatic experiences I encountered. It was through the writing process that I learned to find the voice I had for so many years buried out of hurt, anger and shame. I would like to offer the opportunity of writing stories to others who have come from similar backgrounds, to give them “a voice” that they would or may not otherwise be able to access or feel comfortable accessing on their own. I believe that by telling their stories, much like I have been able to tell some of my stories, that it can help them with their healing, and help them know that they are not alone.
Thomas King in “You’ll Never Believe What Happened: Is Always A Great Way to Start,” in the “Truth About Stories” relays that “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (King 2) and I have always believed and have been able to witness for myself that story is an integral part of many people’s lives and it serves many purposes. These purposes are unique to every writer, and so is the process they go through to tell their stories.
King also relays that stories can change, and that the change is simply through the voice of the storyteller. It is also through story that we see differences in worldviews (non-Native versus Native). Through the context of storytelling from a Native perspective we are witnesses to the use of conversational language, humor and narrative. We also see through King that content is different and he demonstrates how the narrative framework (the strategies) act upon that content. A great example of this is when he starts his story with “You’ll never believe what happened.” (King 5)
Within the context of starting with “You’ll never believe what happened” you are drawn to the storyteller’s conversational tone. I believe that if a story is told in a conversational tone, it is not only easier to listen to, but it is also easier to digest and process. This is especially important when you are listening to stories that may be especially triggering; these are the healing stories.
The narrative form of story is what I have found I work my best in, and when it comes to disclosure, it is this narrative genre that I have found most healing in my writing process. Stories can be told in various ways, whether it is through narrative, prose, poetry or script. When it comes to writing and its healing processes I believe it is important to allow others to write in whatever genre they feel comfortable with because usually in each case, a story is waiting to be told, and it is through whatever genre participants would feel comfortable with that they are able to tell of their pain, their survival and their resilience. Linda Tuhwai Smith states “imperialism frames the Indigenous experience. It is part of our story, our version of modernity,” (Tuhiwai Smith 19) and “writing about our experiences under imperialism and its more specific expression of colonialism has become a significant project of the Indigenous world.” (Tuhiwai Smith 19)
I feel that the topic of healing through writing is important because it enables First Nations people to reclaim the power that was often taken from them through no fault of their own, and my aim is to be able to offer the venue of storytelling in a way that is comfortable for each respondent. In my search to discover how others have approached healing through writing, I found that besides researching Native writers and their processes, I also turned to non Native writers, especially ones who have approached writing as a way to chronicle memoirs through the method of writing freely, and who give guided exercises to help you when you are feeling stuck, or what writers like to call ‘writer’s block.”
One such individual is Louise DeSalvo, who wrote “Writing As A Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives.” DeSalvo argues, “As a teacher of writing, I regularly witness the physical and emotional transformation of my students. I see how they change physically and psychically when they work on writing projects-diary, memoir, fiction, poetry, biographical essays-that grow from a deep, authentic place, when they confront their pain in their work.” (De Salvo 11) She also argues how writing is helpful “I have learned that writing can help anyone-not just people who consider themselves writers-significantly improve their psychic states and their psychological well being. I wasn’t surprised to learn this, for I and other writers have known it either intuitively or by reflecting upon our writing process.” (De Salvo 11)
Another non-native writer is Natalie Goldberg, a poet, teacher and author of several books who wrote “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir,” relays “in the past, memoir was the country of old people, a looking back, a reminiscence. But now people are disclosing their lives in their twenties, writing their first memoir in their thirties and their second in their forties,” (Goldberg xx) and furthermore “writing is the act of reaching across the abyss of isolation to share and reflect. It’s not a diet to become skinny, but a relaxation into the fat of our lives. Often without realizing it, we are on a quest, a search for meaning.” (Goldberg xxi)
Why This Topic is Important To Me:
I chose the topic of healing through writing because writing is very much a part of who I am and a profession that I have actively been involved in on the side throughout my studies at the University of Toronto. It has also been the act of writing itself that has been extremely beneficial in my own healing process. Within my healing through writing I have found meaning in my life and I wish to share that meaning and hope with others who have stories to tell.
As a writer, I am a storyteller, but as a storyteller I also have to be cognizant of proper methodologies to help others who wish to share in the same journey as myself. Within the book “Indigenous Storywork: Educating The Heart, Mind, Body And Spirit,” author Jo-ann Archibald relays that while working with Coast Salish Elders who were either storytellers or were versed in oral tradition, they shared ways to become a storyteller, “cultural ways to use stories with children and adults, and ways to help people think, feel and “be” through the power of stories.” (Archibald x)
Archibald also relays that the Elders taught her about “seven principles related to using First Nations stories and storytelling for educational purposes, what I term storywork: respect, responsibility, reciprocity, reverence, holism, interrelatedness and synergy,”(Archibald x) and that “experiential stories reinforce the need for storywork principles in order for one to use First Nations stories effectively.”(Archibald x)
I believe that Archibald’s book relates to my research on writing as healing because it shares both traditional and personal life experience stories. Indigenous Storywork seeks to develop way of bringing storytelling into educational contexts and it demonstrates how stories have the power to educate, and heal the heart, mind, body and spirit, and it establishes a receptive learning context for those who wish to engage in story in not only an educational context, but also within a personal context.
Aboriginal women and youth’s healing stories are compatible with several projects Linda Tuhiwai Smith outlined in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. (Tuhiwai- Smith 1999). She points out that, “themes such as cultural survival, self determination, healing, restoration and social justice are engaging Indigenous researchers and Indigenous communities in a diverse array of project,” (Tuhiwai Smith 142) and that “they teach both the non-Indigenous audience and the new generations of Indigenous peoples an official account of their collective story.” (Tuhiwai Smith 142) Furthermore Tuhiwai Smith writes that “the ability to write it for oneself is a significant step towards claiming, celebrated survival, remembering, connection, intervening, reframing, representing and restoring, positive cultural and gender, relevant role models. (143-161)
Lastly, my interest in story and the healing process also stems from having certain role models in my life, many of them women. I found solace and understanding. Many women, whether they have been in the role of friend, sister, professor and even therapist have helped me along in my journey to where I am at now. They have given me advice when I have needed it. They have given me the encouragement when times got tough and I did not feel I could take another step. They have reminded me to slow down and enjoy each day when they saw me barrelling ahead and stressing myself out. They have reminded me to laugh, and have given me comfort when I was struggling within and had nowhere else to turn.
My Role as Researcher:
My role as researcher is to engage with Aboriginal women and youth to understand what types of stories they would like to consider writing and to create a safe environment for participants. I would have to be cognizant that the writing process and the particular topic of writing about stories of healing can be triggering. Therefore I would have to follow the Principles of Research Design and Implementation by Chief Kerrys Moose, who argues that one of the first steps is respect, and the “need for honouring the limitations of participants and workers. Most individuals can sense whether someone respects them, or is faking it. They can also sense whether the community researcher genuinely honours the experience that is being shared during an interview.” (Moose 1) Furthermore the legacy of the residential schools, the Indian Act, and other government policies have left a mark that makes many participants reluctant to share, and therefore “every person associated with the project must be willing to respect participants in a heartfelt manner, at all times.” (Moose 2)
Respect for my participants experiences that are being shared is extremely important. I would need to be able to listen with an open heart and mind to what they are sharing verbally, physically, emotionally and historically about themselves and their lives. I would take into account, the way that I would not want my research to go awry by keeping in mind what happened with Linda Griffiths and her interaction with Maria Campbell that is documented in The Book Of Jessica: A Theatrical Transformation.” Though I am visibly a First Nations woman, there is still the possibility that by going into communities I would be considered an outsider and someone not to trust.
Other principles to follow as stated by Moose are the ones that include “confidentiality, informed consent, focus, flexibility, consistency, organization, caution, self reporting, integrity, data diamond and lastly fun.”( Moose, 2-13)
What Community Will Benefit:
Primarily I am hoping to reach a broad audience. An audience that consists of First Nations women, youth, educational institutes and health and wellness institutes. At this time I am not comfortable with the inclusion of Native men within my work because I feel that it would be more beneficial for women to get their stories out, because it has been most evident throughout my studies and personal experiences that First Nations women and youth are the ones in our society who are often silenced by emotional, physical, mental and spiritual abuse. This reasoning is also a part of my own healing journey that I still need to address and work on.
I refer to the importance of First Nations women and youth in my project to also bring attention to the importance of story when First Nations families are faced with dealing with a murder or of a child being taken away from them. I bring this up because it reminds me of the plight of the Missing and Murdered First Nations women, where in a recent interview that I conducted for the newspaper-Windspeaker, I spoke to the co-founder of Walk4Justice Gladys Radek. Radek, is on a mission to seek justice for these missing women, and the most poignant part of my interview with her was when she simply stated “ People do not think of how the missing and murdered women affect those left behind,” (Windspeaker, 2011) This would fit in with my storywork and how through writing these survivors would be able to take a step towards healing by telling their stories-giving a voice to those who can no longer speak.
My ideal outcome would be that there would be the creation and production of an anthology of personal narrative, poetry and prose-stories of courage and healing for use within First Nations communities, educators and health and wellness initiatives. I would hope that the anthology would help serve as a reference point for those who would also like to start up a similar project. Throughout the process, I am hoping that there will be connections made, connections that will help participants to engage with each other and give them the confidence to continue using writing as a tool as an avenue towards their healing. I would feel even more enthusiastic if participants found the writing process helpful to them and that they feel comfortable enough to pass on what they have learned so that the cycle of writing as healing stays strong.
Research according to Chief Kerry Moose in “Principles of Research: Design and Implementation in A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy, Mapping, Research Design and Data Collection,” “There are a number of principles that are very helpful when designing and implementing your work. Projects often take on a life of their own, going off in this direction today, and then pulling you off in a different one tomorrow.” (Moose 2-13) Principles are guidelines that keep you on track, and that your project stays manageable.
Another avenue of methodology that I would consider is one that consists of a focus group. I would start this initially before considering other options such as participatory research. As defined by Bruce L. Berg in “Focus Group Interviewing” “the focus group may be defined as an interview style designed for small groups.” This approach would not only be beneficial to me, because of my writing background and work with various newspapers, but it would also benefit my research participants because I would be able to “learn through discussion about conscious, semi-conscious, and unconscious psychological and socio cultural characteristics and processes among various groups. (Berg 273)
A focus group that I would facilitate would consist of a small number consisting of seven participants, and I would try to conduct as many as I possibly can, taking into consideration time that participants may have, and/or mutually agreeing upon set dates and times. As a moderator, I would attempt to draw out information from my participants regarding what they would like to see if they participated in a writing project of healing. My sessions in groups would be informal because in an informal atmosphere, I believe that participants would feel more at ease to disclose their behaviors, attitudes and opinions about the project and also feel that they are on an equal level by being able to speak freely. I would also consider bringing in a respected Elder in the community who can be there for assistance if participants need it. If there are difficulties with starting the writing process, I would also consider bringing in Aboriginal women who are groundbreakers in Aboriginal literature, so that they could share how they started, what they did and to offer encouragement. Groundbreakers in Aboriginal Literature would and could include Lee Maracle, Marilyn Dumont, Marie Campbell, Eden Robinson and can possibly expand to newer writers such as Cherie Dimaline, Sharron Proulx-turner etc.
Another approach to my research would be Participatory Research. According to Ann C. Macaulay in “Participatory Research with Native Community of Kahnawake Creates Innovative Code of Research Ethics,” “ All research requires ethical guidelines to protect the research subjects and guide the researchers. In the past, researchers had exclusive control of the research process and use of the results. Participatory research attempts to break down the distinction between researcher and subjects and to build collaboration between the parties.” (Macaulay 187)
Participatory research would be the most beneficial for the type of research I am proposing and I think that this venue of research would be best suited for the type of work I would be doing- engaging in, gathering and the process of storywork. Participatory research according to Macaulay usually defines a research inquiry which involves: 1) some form of collaboration between the researchers and the researched;2) a reciprocal process in which both parties educate one another; and 3) a focus on the production of local knowledge to improve interventions or professional practices.” (Macaulay 187). Furthermore, I would want my participants to feel empowered through their writing process and the “ultimate aim of participatory research is empower research subjects to assume ownership of the research process and to use the results to improve their quality of life.” (Macaulay 187)
Information will be sought from various Native organizations within the Greater Toronto Area. I will approach First Nations House of the University of Toronto, specifically those who are undertaking Aboriginal Studies, the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, the Native Women’s Resource Centre, Anduhyuan Inc, and Council Fire. I would approach potential participants via outreach initiatives such as information posters, electronic mailing lists, and using the contacts I have built up over the years as a writer.
The timeframe for my project is anticipated to be around twelve months. This would allow for opportunities to gain a connection and earn the respects of participants, because gaining the respect from participants is vital to my project being a success.
Potential Risks of My Research:
Healing through writing can be a very risky topic for those who may just be beginning in their healing journey. Therefore it may be difficult for possible participants to actively and fully engage in the writing process because of possible difficult feelings that they may encounter during the project itself.
Stories for many people are often very difficult and carry a multitude of feelings that many may have not processed or dealt with yet. Therefore I must be cognizant of the possibility that some people may not be ready for this process of telling their stories and look for other options, such as looking to other writers who may have already gone through this process and are more at ease with saying. I have previously noted who I would approach-Lee Maracle, Marilyn Dumont, Eden Robinson, Sharron Proulx Turner, and newer writers such as Cherie Dimaline.
I fully recognize that any situation that involves people sharing themselves through story can carry an element of emotional risk. I would provide copies of transcripts and any other related documents in advance to reduce anxieties of participants and if there is any discomfort that arises I will work with Elders and counselors in order to approach this project in a good way.
Archibald, Jo-ann. Indigenous Storywork: Educating The Heart, Mind, Body And Spirit. University of British Columbia Press. Vancouver. Toronto. 2008
Berg. L. Bruce. “Focus Group Interviewing” in Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. pp. 100-117. 1989 Toronto: Allyn and Bacon.
De Salvo. Louise Writing As A Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. Beacon Press Books. 1999
Goldberg. Natalie. Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Free Press. 2007. Preface
King. Thomas. “You’ll Never Believe What Happened” is Always a Great Way to Start” in “The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative,” pp. 1-29. 2003 House of Anansi Press, Toronto
Macaulay. Ann. C. et al. “Participatory Research with Native Community of Kahnawake Creates Innovative Code of Research Ethics” in Canadian Journal of Public Health, 89 (2), pp. 105-108. March/April 1998 Canadian Public Health Association (www.cpha.ca).
Moose, Chief Kerrys. “Principles of Research: Design and Implementation” in A Guidebook to Land Use and Occupancy Mapping, Research Design and Data Collection. Pp.1-13.
Tuhiwai-Smith. Linda. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples.
London: Zed Books Lit. 1999
Windspeaker. Canada’s National Aboriginal News Source. Volume 28. No. 10. January 2011.
( I wrote this for my ABS460Y class this past year. I will be updating and revising, but I wanted to post this, and if anyone has suggestions or feedback in regards to this, I would really welcome hearing it.)