I found myself reflecting on Kiss of the Fur Queen after the first presentations in class yesterday. The group that presented on The Gum Thief left us with a question at the end of their presentation: “Do you think it’s possible to start over, or do you think you’ll always carry around your baggage?”
Running away is so easy to do. Pack up, get out of here. It’s the subject of many songs.
We saw it in Eli, in Green Grass Running Water; he ran away to start over, escape his past. We see it in the eyes of hopeful immigrants running from oppressive governments or dark pasts. I see it in myself: I have feet that just want to move, like the stepping reflex in newborn babies… it feels innate to want to run when you reach a certain point in your life. I have so much that I want to change, to grow from; I want so much out of life that I’m not getting here. But I’m not under any impression that my past is going to go away: we ARE our stories, as I’ve learned in this class.
So incase it wasn’t obvious, I’m in the camp that believes that you can’t separate yourself from your ‘baggage’. Erika said in class that many people, especially the First Nations, believe that the only way to change the past is by bringing it into the present. This is echoed in an interview with Highway on the writing of Kiss of the Fur Queen:
Aboriginal people believe that unacknowledged pain leads to an imbalance among mind, body, and spirit that is manifested in sickness. In Highway’s case, the pain was insistent and the sickness serious.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Highway says. “I had to write this book. It came screaming out because this story needed desperately to be told. Writing it hit me hard in terms of my health. So I went to a medicine man, who helped me defeat the monster. We lanced the boil and cured the illness,” he says.
–Suzanne Methot, Quill & Quire
The importance of telling your story; the importance of the equal right to tell your story.
I think it’s been interesting looking at this book in the context of the so-called canon. I think the fact that this book has been so well-received is a reflection of the audience: readers, and Canada, are realizing that these stories exist, and we need to hear them to understand them and move forward together.
Another shift was in part a result of the opening-up of the ‘canon’, and this was the growing awareness that we — or, for many us: they had gotten the stories wrong, and there was quite a bit of ‘going back’ – a kind of ‘starting again’ – which you can really see in the writers who began to turn history into literature, like Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen.
–Erika Paterson, from here
But it is also a reflection of authors: by taking ownership of their stories and telling them after years of silence, I feel they are healing, maybe even forgiving. At the very least, they are trusting in the power of stories. Such efforts can be seen in many places; What I learned in Class Today takes a hard look at how aboriginal issues are approached in classrooms right here at UBC and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is trying to promote healing through providing the opportunity to speak.
I also think that having the courage to speak shows how resilient humans can be; our capacity to overcome, even if it’s been years. It reminds me of Erika’s post with the video about the ecstasy of Rita Joe.
I can’t believe I didn’t realize the power of stories until this class.