Valentine’s Day gift of story-sharing

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 9, 2023

Sharing stories heart to heart says, 'I love and respect you'

A recent online meeting on building bridges across generations got me thinking about a special way we can honour the spirit of Valentine’s Day. But the gathering itself wasn’t even about Valentine’s Day. It was about sharing stories intergenerationally within Indigenous communities.

The presentation was part of a series on Indigenous worldviews, sponsored by Initiatives of Change Canada (IofC), a movement of people committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.

It featured prominent Woodland Cree communicator Lewis Cardinal, who has dedicated much of his life to improving understanding and relationships across cultural divides – and about building bridges across generations. He was joined by his daughter Jacquelyn and son Hunter.

Lewis’s focus was on sharing stories. “When we learn how to share stories, we learn more about each other,” he said, and that is a first step in building bridges across divides. “It’s all about relationships.” In the circle of life, “each one of us carries a small piece of the puzzle.”

But the overwhelming influence of the colonizers’ ways has endangered those pieces, so crucial for the wellbeing of the circle as a whole.

Both Jacquelyn and Hunter echoed the importance of sharing stories within the Indigenous communities for re-embracing their heritages. “All of us must decolonize ourselves,” Jacquelyn stressed.

And to that end, “what really good medicine stories can be,” Hunter added. “It’s about humanizing our relationships,” and a touch of humour can certainly create “a sense of belonging.” It’s not just one way, either, older to younger. Younger folks have their stories to share, too.

The Cardinal family’s words got me thinking once more about the importance of having listening hearts. But now I had to add to that the importance of speaking hearts – especially as elders and youngers came together, each sharing stories from their lives and longings that bring respect to their First Nations heritage and personal identities.

This is where the experiences and reflections of my Stoney Nakoda columnist colleague, Trent Fox, of Morley, enters the story. A passionate advocate for his own language and cultural heritage, the doctoral candidate says:

“Being western-educated and not having access to oral histories until recently, I can honestly say I was not always as respectful as I should have been. I believed those with western education had higher status. Now, I see and appreciate that those with Îethka knowledge have superior knowledge that I’m just learning. Working with estemmed Elders recently has sure put me in my place.”

And for Trent, that has a lot to do with taking time to listen to the stories shared by the Elders and Knowledge Keepers of the community. Academic degrees from the dominant society aren’t everything. In fact, Trent has discovered a much deeper dimension to life through listening to the Elders.

Which brings me around to the value of story-sharing for all of us, regardless of our particular cultural identity. All of us are prisoners to modernity’s distractions – cell phones, television, etc. This is so much so, that we barely have time to listen to the elders within our own families – or if we are among the older generation, we barely have time to share our heritage stories with the rest of the family.

And this is where I think Valentine’s Day offers a heart-to-heart opportunity to sit down with our families, bring out the chips, chocolates and beverages, and share our own stories. It’s about saying, “I love and respect you.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!


© 2023 Warren Harbeck

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