IN CELEBRATION OF WOMEN-Sharing our stories
by Marsha Omeasoo
EDUCATION – I am a Plains Cree woman and mother. I am a story lover first and foremost. I come from a family and culture rich in oral tradition and storytelling. Many of these stories have helped shape me into the woman I am today. These stories have kept me safe and guided me on my journey. These stories have taught me to think about the world around me.
So I have been thinking. How come women don’t tell the stories in my culture?
I thought about this when I was granted a bursary to attend the 25thAnnual Women’s Words banquet at the U of A last spring. I was fortunate to attend Eunice Scarfe’s ‘Women Telling their own stories’ week long class. What an eye opener for me. I never really heard women telling stories as I was growing up. I didn’t really see it either. Sure there were many one on one conversations. But the more I thought about it, the more my mind started spinning.
I longed to know what went through my grandmother’s mind when she was 14. What was life like for a 12 year old girl, say 500 years ago? Other than word of mouth, there is no written history by our people-hyroglyphics aside.
In my Culture we are taught Women are to be honored, loved and respected for they have been given the gift of Creation. Men are told as they enter a woman’s home, they are a guest (even if it’s their own wife). Women are held in high standing. So, where are the stories of our female native heroine’s? Pocahontas and Tekakwitha notwithstanding, I wanted to hear stories FROM our women.
A while back I went to visit my dad and offered him tobacco. He is considered an historian. I was on my quest for research. I am a romantic. I wanted to know if there were any big love stories that stood out in our history? Yes there were stories. All of the stories were fabulous, courageous stories of heroic feats mostly by the village underdog. They are amazing stories. I wanted more popcorn. And I wanted to know about the women. I could relate to them.
Don’t get me wrong. These stories are pretty sweet, and all have cultural teachings tied in. But these stories didn’t tell me about the woman’s perspective or her heart. I needed THOSE stories dad. My heart yearned for them. This was sad for me. Where were my love stories? And where was the female lead? I approached several females as well and there were no definitive answers. Leave it to me to ask outrageous questions or accidentally be disrespectful. Ugh. The writer/storyteller in me means no disrespect, she is only very inquisitive.
‘You can write about them’ Eunice offered to me in class. ‘Write what you know, and let it come’. This amazing woman, who has been teaching other women to write their ‘own’ stories, offered me a glimpse into the past. ‘Their voices are still here’ she said. I was mind blown. Suddenly a new world opened up. How fascinating.
I wrote about growing up with parents who went to the Residential school. What it was like, specifically what my mother went through. My parents separated when I was in my teens. Our family ‘broke up’. Alcoholism had been a major cause. When I read my work in class, Eunice asked if I would read my piece for the Annual Women’s Words Banquet the following evening. I said yes. Yikes.
At the Banquet, I read ‘In my mother’s house’ in tears. When I was done reading, I began walking away (still in tears). Eunice had to stop me and turn me around to see the crowd standing in ovation. Humbly I said Thank you. It was the first time I told my story. I was afraid. It can be scary to speak your truth. I was worried my parents would be judged, or myself. I forgive my parents and I love them. They are on their healing journeys. Maybe some of us have shied away because we don’t want to start a ruckus or bring attention to ourselves. We are humble people after all.
Kick the pail over. Share your story. I can tell you from experience, that’s where the healing lies. The anger I had carried was replaced with compassion. My mom truly did the best with what she had, and she is my biggest teacher. As women, we need to celebrate and share our stories. We owe it to our mothers, grandmothers, daughters and ourselves.
So my journey has begun. And, I have been busy writing away. If I am connected to spirit, spirit is showing me story. Did I mention I am a story lover?
(Photo provided by Marsha Omeasoo)