Where the Story Begins

Written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.


In our last blog, we discussed the role of the ending of a journey story. In this post, we’ll show that where and how a journey story begins can be equally important.

A journey story does not always start at the beginning of the journey. Sometimes, as in Barbara Leckie’s short story, “Kicking the Stone,” the beginning of the journey is revealed later in the story through flashbacks or character narration.

The opening of a story must hook the reader, so many journey stories begin with a moment of conflict or danger. In a hero’s journey story, the first stage occurs in the “ordinary world,” yet the story often open right at the precipice of the call to the adventure. This is particularly true when the “ordinary world” is routine for the character but new and intriguing to the reader. For example, in The Hobbit, the reader or viewer has barely learned what hobbits are when Gandalf arrives to invite Bilbo on an adventure. In the opening of a hero’s journey, the hero is often portrayed as being like everyone else at the beginning of the story—a quiet hobbit smoking a pipe outside his home as he has done many an afternoon.

But there are almost immediately hints that something greater and unusual (and usually dangerous) is about to happen. The reader quickly understands that the hero will not remain ordinary for long.

In a heroine’s journey, the story may begin with the betrayal (which hooks the reader). Alternatively, the heroine may be presented in a world they are expected to belong in, but the heroine is internally or externally at odds  with this world. At the opening of the story the heroine may be at the point of trying new life strategies, and/or nearly ready to leave where they are. For example, the first act of the play, I Want to Go to Jail, opens with the main characters deciding to try a new picketing tactic because they are not satisfied with the results they have achieved thus far in their attempts to convince the country to grant women the right to vote. The fight for female suffrage in America did not begin where the play opens, but playwrights Pam Swing and Elizabeth Dabanka begin the journey of the play at a time when the suffragists are ready to separate from the more feminine tactics they have been using to try to win the vote.

Stories do not have a single “objective” place or moment where they must begin or end. We live in an interconnected world where actions lead to and impact multiple other actions, where every experience and event has multiple causes and consequences extending through time in different directions, involving ramifications we cannot fully see or appreciate. A storyteller’s task is not to tell the definitive story of a person or event, but a story that may increase the listener’s understanding or appreciation of some aspect of another person and/or of the world. The place where the storyteller chooses to begin the story shapes our understanding of the meaning of the narrative.

In the recently re-issued collection of essays on social movements, Hope in the Dark, by writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit, the author challenges us to re-envision where stories—even the stories of our own lives—begin. As the informal storytellers of our own world, we tend to see big, hard-to-miss, events such as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, or the 2008 economic crash, as concrete moments that “changed everything” and started a new story or era. In Hope in the Dark, Solnit asks us to consider whether the “new era” really began with an explosion, or whether the beginning of this new way of life actually started quietly at an earlier time.

As informal storytellers, we live our history as we make it. We are constantly narrating our lives and our perception of the world to ourselves and those around us. Because of this, we tend to view the “end” or outcome of a story as the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Our current actions will shape the lives of those who come after us, but we can’t clearly look back from the future–we only know how the story “ends” now. We describe our current situation as the result of what has come before. Thus, we shape our narratives by look “backwards” towards “the beginning” and then telling it forward to the present moment.

Our understanding of ourselves and our reality changes if we simply consider that the story might begin somewhere other than where we assumes it does. Too often, history is written by and for the victors to glorify and validate their actions. A dominant person or group will start the story in a place that diminishes the experiences and achievements of “outsiders.” Dominant groups and people structure their narrative, consciously or unconsciously, to reaffirm their power.

Solnit suggests that if you feel trapped by lack of progress or by failure in the present moment, you should look back further for the “beginning” of the story.  “[I]ncremental changes have happened quietly, and many people don’t know they have begun, let alone exploded.” “The powerful would like you to believe [their story] is immutable, inevitable, and invulnerable,” writes Solnit.

“[A]nd lack of memory of a dynamically changing world reinforces this view…. For a time, people liked to announce that feminism had failed, as though the project of overturning millennia of social arrangements should achieve its final victories in a few decades, or as though it had stopped. Feminism is just starting, and its manifestations matter in rural Himalayan villages, not just first world cities.”

What story might you understand differently by beginning in a new place?


Where the Story Ends

Written by Nancer Ballard; ed. assistance by Savannah Jackson. 


One of the questions we are most frequently asked by our readers and workshop participants is “How do you know where a story ends?”

Where to end a story is one of the most important decisions a storyteller makes. A story ends when a central character finds what they are looking for—even if it wasn’t what they thought they set out to find—or finds what they didn’t know they were looking for.

Where and how a teller ends (and begins) a story frequently determines whether the story is a hero’s journey, heroine’s journey, or other journey story. The ending can be even more important than the nature of the events being described. For example, if you tell the story of Joan of Arc and end with her leading the French to an unlikely victory over the English at Orleans, the story would likely be a hero’s journey. tumblr_pikcqdTIGC1u8gqcko1_400If the story then continues through her capture and trial for witchcraft—depending on the perspective—it could be a hero’s journey (Joan as martyr) or a heroine’s journey (Joan seeking understanding and serenity in the face of a rigged trial). If the storyteller then reflects on Joan’s life and meaning from the present day, the story could be a hero’s journey characterizing Joan as an inspiring icon to generations of women and the French following her death.joan_of_arc_704 It could also be a heroine’s journey that reflects on recent theories regarding Joan’s mental health, or on the differences in how passionate male and female leaders are treated. Or it could be a Journey of Integrity, in which the narrator reflects on Joan’s decision-making process through the lens of victory, defeat, and the years since her death.

The Hero’s Journey ends when the hero finds success or the ultimate boon. He has achieved his goal, returns to his society, and/or is recognized by his peers as having achieved success. The hero is a master of two worlds—the inner world which makes him a good leader/hero and the outer world which allows him to be a leader or proclaims him a hero.

luke & reyThe hero’s journey also ends with the implication that the hero’s success won’t be snatched away any time soon. It’s a kind of happily-ever after ending. If a sequel is anticipated, perhaps the hero’s success will lead to other complications that provide the chance for a new hero’s journey, but the success won’t be undone—at least not for that hero. If the success is undone, the former hero tends to become a supporting character (no longer the main character). They may become a wise elder or a mentor who urges the hero of the next generation to reclaim, recapture, or make additional progress on a larger problem that wasn’t anticipated when the first success was achieved.

In a hero’s journey, there is always the sense that success is right around the corner. Their journey is not envisioned as a long, imperfect struggle that will continue forever. The hero’s agency—his or her ability to bring about change—is central to the hero’s journey arc, so the journey usually ends shortly after the hero accomplishes their final feat and/or their victory/ability is hailed by others.

In a heroine’s journey, the story ends when the heroine recognizes and experiences wholeness. Life includes both success and failure, vulnerability and ability, self and others, and a larger world. The heroine’s self is not necessarily dominant or foregrounded, even over long periods of time. The heroine’s final goal is not to defeat or dismiss vulnerability, or failure, or sadness, or pain, or self, or others. Their goal is to integrate and value all these as necessary and valuable aspects of the human experience. It is rare that this experience of wholeness is solely an internal realization; a non-dual world is also manifested in the events of the story. It may be tempting to try to view wholeness as a resolution to a story in which the unpleasant aspects of life are part of the past but not the present, or new understanding will eliminate future suffering—but that is a hero’s journey.

Several of our readers have wondered if the heroine’s journey is more depressing than a hero’s journey. Many heroine journey stories have heartwarming or uplifting endings. For example, in the play about the women’s suffrage movement, I Want to Go to Jail, the story ends with a celebratory moment after a group political action. However, the main characters and the audience (which has the benefit of hindsight) understand that more action will be required before women are able to vote.National Womens' Party picketing

Another example of a heroine’s journey that ends on a positive note is the 2018 movie, The Green Book, which tells the story of an African American pianist traveling through the American south in the early 1960’s with an Italian-American bouncer who serves as his bodyguard. The story has a heartwarming ending when the jazz pianist drives through the night so that the bodyguard can get home for Christmas. The jazz pianist is then is welcomed into their home, but it remains clear that the pervasive racism that has followed the pianist throughout his tour has been neither “solved” nor “conquered.” Green BookThe odd-couple main characters have grown personally and relationally within the racist societal backdrop. The heroine’s journey doesn’t end with a sense of a “once-and-for-all” victory.

The end of the Healing Journey revolves around forgiving the self and sometimes others for not being able to control even one thing that you feel you most need to control. In this journey, the protagonist’s rage against the wound is at the center of the story. This may also appear as the apparent unfairness of an injury/illness, or the protagonist feeling overwhelmed by the cards they have been dealt. The protagonist often tries at first to solve their dilemma with a hero’s journey approach. For example, she might imagine that if she fights her illness hard enough, she will be healed, or that if she just accepts her illness instead, the conflict within will be resolved and she will get better. The hero’s journey promises that you can get well. The heroine’s journey involves finding compassion for one’s self and others whether or not you recover. The Healing Journey usually involves a point of absolute break-down, where the injured one wants to quit, and possibly die.DSC_0510 - Copy Then there is a moment or experience of beauty that surprises them, and allows for a shift in perspective, a shaft of light to enter their consciousness. Sometimes they give up trying to control, sometimes they give up magical thinking, sometimes they give up, giving up—the action can vary. What is important is that the protagonist forgives him/herself and an imperfect world.

A Journey of Integrity involves both the protagonist action and awareness (culminating in the moment of integrity), and also the witness/viewers’ awareness of and reflection on the meaning of the protagonist’s action. These stories may end with the protagonist returning to ordinary action in the ordinary world, but they also often jump forward in time or expand geographically so that the narrator or audience can see and comment upon the protagonist’s action within a larger context.

Readers and listeners always evaluate the meaning of a story through the lens of its ending. No story has a single, objective endpoint. As storytellers, we shape the readers’ experiences and the meaning of a story through the endings that we choose.

download (2)

In our next post we will discuss how the storyteller’s choice in where to begin a story affects the journey.

A Fourth Journey: The Journey of Integrity

Written by Nancer Ballard; ed. assistance by Savannah Jackson.


The word “journey” comes from the French journee meaning “day’s work or a day’s travel.”  Thus, a journey doesn’t have to encompass years, or a whole life, or travel, or adventure beyond one’s everyday environment. Today I’m going to articulate what I have come to see as another sort of journey that I call the “The Journey of Integrity.” This journey often takes place in a relatively short span of time although its ramifications can be much broader.

The word “integrity” comes from the Latin root meaning “whole,” which is an important goal within the heroine’s journey. “Integrity” is, of course, also related to the word “integrated” which is an important element of all journeys. In Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey addresses the integration of masculine and feminine. The Healing Journey involves the integration of body, mind, and heart. In the Hero’s Journeymastery of integrated inner and outer worlds is the penultimate stage. Thus, an integrity journey can be a complete journey by itself, or can play a critical role in a larger heroine’s, hero’s or healing journey. integrity-image-possibility.jpg

The key element of the Journey of Integrity is that the protagonist makes a deliberate, considered, decision to speak out or take action based on the needs or plight of others. This decision is made with the knowledge that it may up-end the goals they are currently pursuing, and/or may have irreparable adverse personal impacts that are beyond the protagonist’s control.

Sometimes the moment in which the action of integrity is taken changes another person’s life or history in an obvious way (for example, a friend’s decision to donate one of his kidneys to another). Sometimes the action is an unheralded moment that comes to have important future ramifications. Sometimes, the action has no apparent effect beyond the protagonist’s experience.

In the United States, we have been watching President Trump and his administration prohibit members and former members of the government from testifying before Congress for fear that their testimony will reflect badly on the President’s actions or reveal discrepancies between the official version of events and actual knowledge of events.

On October 11, 2019, Marie L. Yovanovitch, former Ambassador to Ukraine and current American Foreign Service Officer, showed us a striking example of a Journey of Integrity.  Ms. Yovanovitch chose to comply with a subpoena to appear before Congress, and to disregard the White Houses’ directive. She appeared to testify about her experience as former Ambassador to Ukraine and her work on behalf of the United States in supporting Ukraine as an independent democratic country situated between Russia and western NATO countries, which has been invaded by Russia and is fighting internal corruption.Marie Yovanovitch_USA_HOUSE_IMPEACHMENT

As part of her decision to testify,  Ms. Yovanovitch’s issued  a  public, non-classified statement citing her experience as a foreign service officer during the five previous administrations, and under the current administration.  You can read Ms. Yovanovitch’s statement here.

Marie Yovanovitch did not set out to change voters’ minds about the current political situation in America. Although her ambassadorship in Ukraine was terminated, she is still employed by the government as a foreign service officer. Her decision to testify posed personal and career risks, especially since she was the first government employee to testify after the Trump administration decided not to cooperate with Congress on anything related to the impeachment hearings.

On the day Ms. Yovanovitch testified, her name was the leading hashtag on Twitter. Her appearance was the subject of much discussion by radio, newspaper, television, and social media commentators. Less than a week later, most of those commentators have now moved on to discussing other superseding events.  It seems likely that Ms. Yovanovitch’s courage may inspire others to testify, or share what they know as citizens or whistle blowers.  Whether her decision to testify and the candor of her opening statement, combined with others’ actions, will help reinvigorate the country’s commitment to aligning our domestic and foreign actions with our ideals has yet to be seen.  But her decision to respectfully speak her truth in these times is a testament to what we, fallible humans, are capable of.Marie Yovanovitch speaking at Ukraine Invstor Conference

The integrity-driven protagonist is acutely aware of the limits of their power, and the limits on their ability to change the world through deliberate personal effort.  The world contains more moving pieces, forces, and people than any person has the ability to control. The mythic hero often verbalizes his or her limitations in order to appear humble, or the storyteller emphasizes these potential limitations in order to increase narrative suspense. By contrast, the protagonist in an integrity driven journey is profoundly aware of their and others’ human limitations and accepts those limits.

In an upcoming post, we will more formally set out the stages of the Journey of Integrity.  Meanwhile, we would love to hear your experiences with integrity journeys—either your own, or the story of someone you know, or the story of someone whose integrity has inspired you as a human being.

 

Peace in Her Time: Heroines’ Journeys in the Arts

Written by Nancer Ballard; ed. assistance by Savannah Jackson.


“Women’s voices and actions, while often unheard and unseen, have been and will forever be instrumental in conflict resolution.” So opens the Curatorial Statement by Susan Janowsky for the multi-media art show, Peace in Her Time; Visionary Women Against War and Violence. Sponsored by Unbound Visual Arts,  the show is currently on exhibit at the Boston Public Library Honan-Allston Branch Art Gallery.

The exhibition includes a diverse collection of paintings, fiber arts, sculpture, collage, printmaking, book arts, and assemblage. Art helps us to see, and to not forget, both the horrific moments and also unexpected acts of inspiration. A a group, the artworks express the multiple dimensions of women’s struggles against violence and toward wholeness and peace throughout history and across the globe. Like art itself, the exhibit is a wonderful example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

 

The artists were invited to submit artist statements along with their visual / sound works which the sponsor Unbound Visual Arts has collected in a bound volume available with the exhibit. Their statements and their art offer a window onto many values, concepts, and examples that characterize heroine journeys.

Valuing Relationships & Community EffortWomen United

Jean Askerkoff: For peace in our time, we must work together. Equality, kindness and respect for each other are needed to end divisiveness in our world.

Tsurn Mig Shmiklinski:  Being a Woman, a minority woman, I face may obstacles as well as opportunities.  It is hard to make it alone… the truth is that I don’t believe we have to.

Linda Clave: Women are beacons for nurturing spiritual values.  Staying with our feminine souls brings forth a balancing force of equal magnitude to situations under duress.  This allows for the understanding of the other with clarity.  We are here to join each other and grow as humanity.

Empathy and Inclusiveness

Elizabeth Geers Loftis:  TElizabeth-Geers-Loftis-4-300x300he role of women in all facets of life is a topic I return to again and again.  I am especially attracted to women from more rural, indigenous cultures.

Nancer Ballard: I originally wanted to do a piece on women and work because I was frustrated by hearing so many intelligent people assert that women had only begun to go to work during World War II. What about all the African Americans who have been working since this country was founded?  What about the indentured servants who paid for their way to America with years of working?  DSC_0358What about the Lowell Mill workers?  Women throughout the world have played important roles in virtually every form of constructive peaceable work from antiquity to the present. The piece’s subtitle, Women in Labor, is a play on the concept of women forever giving birth creatively to the world on many levels.

Peg-Intisar-front-only-300x300

 

Peg Ehrlinger:  Intisar is from Syria.  Her home and mosque are in rubble, her beloved country destroyed by the ongoing Civil War.  Her son is a first responder in the midst of the devastation… In the midst of the chaos, Intisar assists others as she is able, praying for the day the Damascus Rose may bloom again.  Her gentle smile makes me wonder, would we be kinder to others if we considered the pain they hide?

 

DSC_0512

Combining Binaries into Wholeness

Alicia Dwyer:  The armor is constructed over a body case of a pregnant woman.  Among the decorative flowers adorning the dress tiny toy soldiers lie hidden in the petals. Blending fabric and metal together creates a juxtaposition between contrasting elements of fragility and strength inherent in nature, individuals, and society.

Heidi Lee: Sacred is she. Holy, is she not. Within the same entity, does both wrath, lust, pride exist even for a short while alongside kindness humility, and self-control

 

Making Do, Repurposing, and Living in Concert with One’s Environment

Missiles and Oil Wells

Missiles and Oil Wells by Mary Gillis

Mary Gillis: The cloth piece was intended initially as a banner for a local weekly peace vigil but then turned into a wall quilt, which traveled to several art exhibits and now hangs in a charter high school in Roxbury.

Nancer Ballard: I believe art is a very powerful form of non-capitalist value—it is life affirming, it can be experienced by anyone who has access to it, and it can fulfill unlimited purposes. You can destroy a piece of art, but not the impulse and need to make art.

 

Persistence; Focusing on the Journey rather than the Moment of Triumphant AchievementBrenda-Gael-McSweeney-HabibouSKPR-300x300

Brenda Gael McSweeney: This photograph captures Habibou Ouédraogo, Women’s Leader in the village of Zimtenga Kongoussi Zone, Burkina Faso and Scholastique Kompaoré, National Coordinator of the UNESCO Project for Equal Access of Women and Girls to Education as they debate the challenges of gender injustice, including the subordination of women and girls and violence against them, and income inequality.

Affirming Life rather than Conquest

Diane Sheridan: It is impossible not to feel [inspired] by women carrying their words proudly, their signs of protest towards peace and justice and hopefully opening someone’s eyes and heart even the smallest bit.Run Like a Girl 7

Peace in Her Time  provides a multi-layered demonstration that  art and peace work– in whatever way you do it— are like driving a stake in the ground and declaring that there is hope in the future—even if what you are depicting or experiencing is terrible.

Peace in Her Time; Visionary Women Against War and Violence is on exhibit at the Boston Public Library, Honan-Allston Branch Art Gallery through April 29, 2019. To find out more about Unbound Visual Arts, click here. To get directions to the gallery, click here.

 

 

 

 

Healing Together: Empathy, Integration and Community-Based Reparations

This is the  second in a two part series written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.


Students at Fort Resolution

Students at a residential school in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories.

In our most recent post, we examined the experiences of indigenous children within the Canadian residential school system. The practice of involuntarily removing children from their communities and cultures, which formally lasted for 165 years, fundamentally altered the lives of indigenous people and their communities. Our last post used the Heroine’s Journey as a framework in the attempt to better understand some of the impacts on survivors and the processes by which indigenous people were intentionally stripped of their identities. In this post we will use the Heroine’s Journey to approach the healing process.

The “history” of the residential schools does not have a beautiful, cathartic, final moment that marks the completion of indigenous people’s traumatic journey. A single monetary payment or moment of clarity cannot suddenly rectify what is now almost two centuries of hurting. The heroine’s journey is a cycle of stages that can occur non-linearly and can be passed through more than once.

“The residential school system took away my language, my culture, and my identity…People are left with a [need for a] sense of belonging. You want to find your sense of belonging and identity.”

Michael Cheena, Survivor

Though the residential school practice officially ended in 1996, another decade would pass before the survivors received a formal apology from the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (See statement here). PM Harper’s acknowledgement that the federal government has caused lasting harm to survivors, family members, and communities was an important moment of recognition and apology. Harper also established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) at this time; it is composed of both indigenous leaders and nonindigenous members. Seven years later, in 2015, the TRC officially declared the residential school system to have constituted cultural genocide and issued a list of 94 “Calls to Action” for how to move forward with reconciliation and reparations. The Calls to Action include such things as eliminating the discrepancy between educational funding for aboriginal schools and non-aboriginal schools; calling upon the Canadian government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights; and providing adequate resources to social workers to help keep Aboriginal families together.

Children_at_Fort_Simpson_Indian_Residential_School_holding_letters_that_spell_“Goodbye,”_Fort_Simpson

Indigenous children at the Fort Simpson residential school in the Northwest Territories.

Progress has been slow, and a large amount of work remains to be accomplished. As of March 2018, only ten of the TRC’s 94 proposals had been completed. Harper’s 2008 apology did not include survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador because the residential schools in this province were not directly managed by the Canadian federal government when the schools were opened (the province did not join Canada until 1949). This apology finally came with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s statement in November of 2017. Although Catholic missionaries, priests, and nuns were instrumental in establishing and teaching in residential schools, in March of 2018, Pope Francis decided not to apologize for the role of the Catholic church in the residential school system.

“You know they were trying to tell me that’s this church, or this place we’re in, you know, I had to do, I had to be this perfect, perfect person or whatever. And yet at the same time, that’s not what I saw. Because I thought to myself, well, if you’re a priest and nun, how come you’re doing this to this child, or you’re doing this to me, and I would say it out loud, and I’d get more lickings.”

Julianna Alexander, Survivor

The Canadian government’s formal recognition is an important first step, but first steps are just that—they are not the journey’s end.  Many questioned Harper’s 2008 apology when only a year later, he stated at the 2009 G20 Pittsburg Summit that Canada has “no history of colonialism.” In September of 2018, students at an Alberta school were asked on a multiple-choice exam to name a positive effect of residential schools on indigenous children. This is like asking one to identify the benefits of false incarceration. It is not indicative of a society in which both indigenous and non-indigenous people have embraced the process of healing, which requires a long-term collaborative effort.

There was nobody there to give any hugs. There was nobody there to say goodnight. There was nobody there to even wipe your tears, or we will hide our tears… Late at night you can hear somebody crying. I don’t know what time it is. There’s no time or nothing that I know, but I know it’s very late at night. There’s nobody to tell us. Everything we do in there is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, is what I hear. Couldn’t do anything right.”

Florence Horassi, Survivor

The Canadian government continues to negotiate settlements and reparations with indigenous individuals as well as working toward providing adequate funding for schools on reserves. Indigenous communities continue to be at odds with the Canadian government in the effort to achieve reparations that truly respond to survivors’ and communities’ needs.

The government has focused on payments to individual survivors depending on the number of years they spent in the residential school system. Some indigenous people have criticized this as an insulting attempt to put a price on human suffering and loss of cultural identity. Although some money has gone towards healing and education programs, indigenous communities have called for more community-based, intergenerational reparations. Those who went through the residential schools are called survivors, and their children are called intergenerational survivors. This stresses the impact that the school system has had on indigenous communities beyond those who personally experienced the residential schools. Providing financial aid only to survivors who are still alive does not address many of the issues that indigenous communities face today.

We will Protect our Nation for our Future Generations

Indigenous people protesting against the C-45 bill in Ottawa as part of the Idle No More movement

Individual reparations alone do not address the deeper level of the persisting trauma. Individualizing reparations fails to acknowledge that the survivors are both individual victims of violence and group victims of a dominant group’s systemic dehumanization. Reparations and healing must consistently recognize and address both.

The heroine journey framework emphasizes that healing is not an oppositional dichotomy between natives and settlers in which natives reclaim their cultural identity simply by convincing settler that they deserve respect. Nor can settlers atone for the natives’ traumatization with one apology and a donation.  The heroine’s journey is a one of non-linear movement toward wholeness. Attempts to erase what has been done or purchase forgiveness doubles the initial violation and continues to marginalize indigenous peoples. Healing is not what the federal government determines to be adequate or affordable funding according to non-indigenous standards.

We cannot alter the past injustices suffered by indigenous people faced through the residential school system. However, we can continue to recognize what has happened and to address long-lasting and multidimensional impacts honestly and empathically. We must  consistently be aware that healing from trauma is neither linear nor subject to a quick fix. And we must not let this, or other similar things, happen again. We cannot participate in the healing of communities and their members while also treating them as separate and other. To  heal the split between the original and dominant cultural identities in the pursuit of wholeness, we must listen to the requests and needs of indigenous communities and incorporate both the experiences of the survivors and the role of the dominant culture in survivors’ experiences into our consciousness.

“That’s our belief as First Nations that we don’t just think about ourselves. We have to think of the next generation and the ones yet to come…They’re not here yet, but we have to prepare for them. And preparing means we’ve got to put down that hurt and that pain we carry now. We can’t let that be our life.””

Viola Papequash, Survivor

For more information on the history of the residential school system, and the indigenous experience and perspective, you can visit wherearethechildren.ca/en

“We Undertake this Healing Journey Together”; an Indigenous Peoples’ Pursuit of Wholeness

Written by Savannah Jackson; ed. assistance by Nancer Ballard.


“Everyone who belongs to the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis communities has been affected by the residential school experience …”

– Where Are The Children website 

Complicated stories rarely fit neatly into the theoretical stages of Mauren Murdock or Victoria Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey cycles, as we’ve seen in stories such as Willa Cather’s Coming, Aphrodite! and Barbara Leckie’s Kicking the StoneThe real life stories of people who struggle toward wholeness–and toward being recognized as an essential, respected part of the larger world’s narrative–are even more complex. In this post, we want to recognize and examine the struggles of the indigenous peoples of Canada.

Beginning officially in 1831 and extending to as recently as 1996, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and communities, and placed in residential schools. The residential school system was ostensibly designed to help native youth assimilate into the settler Canadian society, but the schools functioned more as work-houses. In these schools, the children were constantly reminded that they would never belong in their own communities, nor in the settler communities. Virtually all of the children endured years of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse. An estimated 35-60% of the children did not survive the experience. The residential school “history” is a story that stretches into the present day. Today, native communities continue to struggle with survivor’s trauma, substance abuse, and interpersonal issues.

This post will view the experiences of the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis’ children and communities through the lens of a heroine’s journey framework. Can doing so can help us to empathize with those impacted by the Canadian residential school system and to become allies in the joint effort toward recovery and reparation?

Study Period at Roman Catholic Residential School

A study period in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories.

Using Maureen Murdock’s heroine journey arc, the indigenous children’s involuntary removal from their communities can be interpreted as a separation from the born-into culture (which Murdock terms “the feminine”). Similar to the so-called feminine approach to child-rearing, the traditional indigenous educational approach emphasizes guiding and nurturing children when teaching them holistic life skills, while also recognizing and respecting the integrity of the child.

Murdock’s separation from the feminine often involves a heroine’s voluntary decision to reject a limited identity that has been thrust upon them by society. However, the forcible separation of indigenous children from their identities better resembles Victoria Schmidt’s betrayal. This stage launches the heroine’s pursuit for wholeness. The indigenous communities experienced a profound betrayal when their children were taken from them. Although some indigenous community leaders had wanted to learn more of Western culture, and to consider how some integration might be beneficial, they never intended to reject the native identity, community, or way of life.

The non-indigenous narrative may have claimed that the residential school system would allow the children to identify with the dominant culture (eg. the masculine) and assimilate (eg. gather allies). However, this was not the reality. The children were discouraged from befriending each other and were punished for speaking their native languages. The “teachers” consistently humiliated the children and physically punished them for anything the teachers deemed to be mistakes or misbehavior. Few staff or faculty provided any comfort or support. Instead, they inflicted, or turned a blind eye to the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of the children by those in positions of authority.

On the rare occasions that children saw their parents, many children did not know how to communicate their experiences, which were so foreign to their native lifestyles. Some children reported feeling ashamed and did not want to explain what had been done to them, or they felt too distant from those in their native communities, which seemed to be a separate reality. Those who did seek help were ignored by law enforcement. Many children entered the residential school system between when they were four and seven years old and were forced to remain within the system for eight or more years. Their roads and trials seemed to stretch on forever.

“The residential schools thing is the biggest factor that has shaken the Indian people down to their roots and it’s the thing that has changed our total look on history.”

Basil Ambers, survivor

Indigenous children may have imagined that they would experience a boon of success when they survived, finally exited the residential school system, and could return to their communities. The community may also have imagined its children would be able to heal and reintegrate when they returned. Both the children and their communities suffered and continue to suffer from the trauma of the forced removal, separation, and abuse.

The community leaders were able to take control of and abolish the residential schools, but the trauma remains. This ongoing impact can be likened to Murdock’s feelings of spiritual aridity. In many cases, the children subjected to mistreatment within the residential schools grew up to have children who were also taken from them, as were their children’s children. Unsurprisingly, many survivors and their families are troubled by alcohol and substance abuse, depression, anger, doubts regarding their ability to control their own lives, an inability to fully connect with either native or settler identities, and/or a lack of experience creating and functioning within loving, supporting relationships.

Students at Blue Quills Residential School

Students at Blue Quills Residential School in St Paul, Alberta.

The children and their communities have been irreparably damaged in that they cannot reestablish the life and identity they would have had without the residential school system. The strategies that were forced upon them to help them contribute to mainstream Canada have not had the desired benefit. Neither their traditional (so-called feminine) nor Western (so-called masculine) living strategies work for them and this situation can be seen as parallel to the initiation and descent to the goddess stage.

Survivors have tried (and continue to try) to reclaim their indigenous identities, practices, and cultures. This is akin to Murdock’s yearning to reconnect with the ancestral (goddess). Their ability to reclaim their cultural identity is complicated by the fact that multiple generations have had their identities stripped from them.

Reconnecting with their indigenous identity and then reconstructing their relationship with a non-indigenous society is an even more complicated, reciprocal, nonlinear process. It necessarily contains provisional solutions that may later be changed or replaced, and effort on behalf of both non-indigenous and indigenous individuals and communities. Healing and the pursuit of wholeness involve both a yearning to connect to one’s own origins and the need to heal the original/dominant cultural identity (eg. the mother/daughter) split. Indigenous community members can provide some of the necessary support, but the burdens of healing cannot rest solely on those hurt by the experience and legacy of trauma. To expect indigenous communities to provide for all of their own healing for tragedies foisted upon them by the dominant society is to continue the marginalization of indigenous people. Wholeness is a process that involves all of us.

Cree Students and Teacher

Cree students and teacher at the All Saints Indian Residential School in Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan. 1945.

In our next post, we will focus on the present-day relationships between and among indigenous peoples, the Canadian government, and non-indigenous people. We will consider what the heroine’s journey framework might teach us about strategies for healing and pursuing wholeness.

“Everyone who belongs to the First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities has been affected by the residential school experience. Only through understanding the issues can we undertake this healing journey together.” 

– Where Are The Children website

For more information on the history of the residential school system, and the indigenous experience and perspective, you can visit wherearethechildren.ca/en 

 

 

I Want to Go to Jail: A Heroine’s Journey Drama on Women’s Struggle for the Right to Vote

Written by Nancer Ballard; ed. assistance by Savannah Jackson.


Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.

Coretta Scott King

This year we’ve vowed to explore the work of activists and social action organizations and movements through the heroine’s journey lens. We believe that a heroine’s journey perspective can help activists to sustain themselves and their commitment in the face of what seems like failure or regression. We begin our examination by reviewing a new play about early 20th century U.S. women’s struggle for the vote written by Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center Resident Scholar Pam Swing and her student-scholar partner, Elizabeth Dabanka.

Suffragists Protest Against DisenfranchisementRather than focusing on a single protagonist, I Want to Go to Jail follows a group of women suffragists and their struggle for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.  The drama generally follows Maureen Murdock’s articulation of the heroine’s journey and also demonstrates how a heroine’s journey often skips forward and loops backward rather than proceeding in a single arc or cycle.

The play opens in February, 1919 at the National Woman’s Party Headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts. Since politely asking for the vote hasn’t persuaded men to enfranchise women, Suffragist Betty Gram announces that they must picket—e.g. she issues a clarion call to separate from their culturally prescribed feminine role. Several well-known and lesser known members of the National Woman’s Party voice their support—consistent with stage 2 of the Murdock  version of the journey: identification with the masculine and gathering of allies.  But I Want to Go to Jail isn’t so much about a central protagonist gathering allies, as it is about a group of individuals with distinct personalities working as a body to move the story and their shared cause forward.

In the first scene we are introduced to half a dozen characters of different ages, political experience, commitment, and concerns. They prepare to picket the U.S. President Wilson’s motorcade that is coming to Boston, knowing that they are likely to be arrested. Together, they plan for their road of trials, but of course, planning and experiencing are two different things.

The following day the women take their places outside the State House. Their demonstration has barely begun when the Boston Police Commissioner informs them that if they don’t move before the President’s motorcade arrives, they will be arrested for loitering. Their decision to remain and express their First Amendment right to demonstrate peaceably results in their being forcibly taken into custody. Suffragist Alice Paul foresees their imprisonment as a means to increase publicity and sympathy for their cause. Thus, their arrest actually appears to be a boon of success even though President Wilson doesn’t arrive until after they are arrested and are being taken to the courthouse.Alice Paul

In Act II the suffragists, triumphant at having been able to march past a line of marines holding banners, continue their unified protest in the courtroom by claiming they are all named Jane Doe and insisting on their right to go to jail rather than pay a fine for exercising their constitutional rights.  Up until this point, it seems as if the story could be a hero’s journey: women protest, gain support from the public after going to jail, and force the legislature to support a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. Indeed, we know that something like this in fact, happened. But both the play and the historical facts are more complicated.

Outside the courthouse, a journalist asks passersby how they feel about women having the right to vote. There is support and dissension.  The dissenters point to tradition and use self-righteous references to religion– the same arguments used today throughout the world to justify limiting women’s rights. Both sides claim to have moral values on their side.

Suffragist Warning AdvertisementInside the Charles Street Jail, the suffragists, who have vowed to go on a hunger strike, have been separated and housed in cold cells with buckets for  toilets. Suffragist, Betty Gram, who has been jailed before, starts to experience what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or Acute Traumatic Stress since she is again in jail), as she recalls rats dragging food from her cell during her previous time in jail as an advocate for women’s rights.  From their own cells, other suffragists call out their sympathy and support.  Others muse about how the world and their homes households are proceeding without them. Eventually, they access their strength and commitment to sisterhood by singing together.

The play then loops back for another road of trials: the father of one of the suffragists comes to bail her against her wishes. When her father threatens to turn her out of the house if she does not leave, she reluctantly puts on her suffrage sash and departs, still protesting. Another suffragist hails the jailer to complain that he isn’t delivering the packages that she knows are being sent to them. The Sheriff appears and tells Suffragist Katherine Morey that her fine has been paid by a mystery man that the women believe is is trying to undermine public sympathy for their cause.  The remaining prisoners again find a “boon of success” when they discover that they’ve received 268 telegrams from supporters and are being covered in newspapers across the country. One of the suffragists writes a letter to President Wilson calling upon him to reconnect with his prior promises to enfranchise women. When all of the suffragists except Mrs. Rosa Roewer–whose husband supports her political action– is released from jail, the released women gather outside the jail to sing to the Mrs. Rosa Roewer in their own reconnection with their sister suffragist.

In the last act of the play we learn that the last anti-vote Senator they needed to win the vote had decided to vote for the constitutional amendment, but other anti-suffrage Senators had prevented the amendment from coming to the floor for a vote. Suffragist strategist Alice Paul urges the dismayed activists to regard this as a temporary setback.  Mrs. Rosa Roewer, the last suffragist to be released from jail, points out that Susan B. Anthony worked for women’s right to vote throughout her life and died without seeing it. One of the new, young suffragists promises Mrs. Roewer that this won’t happen to her, but we know that she can’t be certain of this.  Replica of Jailhouse Door PinIn the last scene, the women hold a ceremony at a local theater to honor those who went to jail for the cause and present them with “jailhouse door pins.” It is a momentary pause and time for celebration, for the play appropriately ends with Alice Paul announcing that there is more work to be done, and a new cycle of activism must begin.

I Want to Go to Jail will be performed at Brandeis University on Saturday, February 9, 2019  during their [Bran]“Deis” Week of Social Action, and at the Massachusetts State House in Boston, MA on February 28.  Both performances are free and open to the public.  For more  information on the performance at the State House, click here. To see more about the Heroine’s Journey in contemporary literature and drama, click here.