Notes From a Talk by Daniel Heath Justice
By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Photo by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
This past October I attended the 5th Indigenous Writers Gathering at First Nations House University of Toronto. My brother, friend, and mentor, Cherokee writer Daniel Heath Justice gave a talk about the power of words. Here are my notes. Use them wisely and responsibly.
The Power of Words
- The power of words shouldn’t just be one voice but multiple words.
- Words are power: great power, great responsibility.
- You want the stories that you tell to offer something different.
- Corrosive words undermine our experience in the world.
- Sometimes the difficult truths are the ones that need to be spoken but aren’t.
- We need to be sure we’re telling the truths that need to be told.
- If stories aren’t challenging us they’re likely not challenging others.
- Writing shouldn’t be a solitary experience. Writing connects us.
- We have to think of these things as living beings not just words on a page.
The Disempowerment of Words
- Words can mute you.
- Words are reinforced with policy and fists.
- We can all create words that counter the narratives of disempowerment.
- Face Book updates give people permission to disempower.
- I don’t see the technology being the danger as much as the anonymity.
- You have to be accountable to your words.
- Anonymity = 2 sides.
- Sometimes it takes years to go back to a piece of writing.
- Certain pieces are not meant to be continued; it did what it was supposed to do and now it’s radioactive.
- Is time fear or gestation?
- If you put stuff out there it might survive you in ways you don’t want it to.
- Sometimes it’s good to write something and then burn it.
- Sometimes there doesn’t have to be more than an audience of one.
- We don’t have something to offer.
- Only some people have something to say.
- What are the stories that we’re not telling one another?
- What is the duty of a writer?
- What is the duty of a storyteller?
- What happens when we tell our stories?
- What are the consequences of our stories?
- What are the dangers of our stories?
- What are we doing with story?
- What is the goal of us telling our story?
- What are we reading?
- Why are we reading what we’re reading?
- What are the words we are taking in?
- Writing is labour; writing is a craft; how are we developing that craft?
- When’s the last time a story scared you?
- What stories matter to you?
- It isn’t only about telling the happy story.
- Sometimes it’s better to be kind than right.
- Some people don’t know the responsibility they have to words.
- Some ignore the responsibility they have to words.
- Telling the stories that remind us of our humanity builds community.
- We have to be open to diverse stories of our own.
- There are all kinds of stories and perspectives that matter.
- We are big enough to accommodate all of us.
- There’s no one right story.
Daniel Heath Justice is a U.S.-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the author of Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History (2006) (University of Minnesota Press) as well as an Indigenous fantasy trilogy, The Way of Thorn & Thunder–Kynship (2005), Wyrwood (2006), and Dreyd (2007)–all published by Kegedonce Press. He teaches at University of British Columbia.
Justice’s critical work has often centered around themes of identity, authenticity and decolonisation. His work is known for accessible and enjoyable prose that discusses difficult issues in an approachable manner.