DECLARING AND TAKING BACK THE POWER OF WORDS: NOTES FROM A TALK BY DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE

Declaring and Taking Back the Power of Words:

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.

Time

  • 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.

Lies

  • We don’t have something to offer.
  • Only some people have something to say.

Ask Yourself

  • 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?

Responsibility

  • 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.

Advertisements

About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to DECLARING AND TAKING BACK THE POWER OF WORDS: NOTES FROM A TALK BY DANIEL HEATH JUSTICE

  1. Pingback: WRITING FOR THE SAKE OF STORY: NOTES FROM A FICTION WORKSHOP BY RICHARD WAGAMESE | Black Coffee Poet

  2. My Father was Haida from Alaska and my Mother was Cherokee from Oklahoma. I was raised and trained in Haida traditions. Haida training is emphatic about teaching the power of words. It is said that a Man of Substance would take certain words and put them into a bent wood box, put the lid on and tie it into place and, those words were taken out only when their usage was appropriate. A woman’s power is greater that a man’s so, a woman of Great Calm and Presence put a wooden plug into her lower lip which made it painful to speak. That person would then consider every word she was going to use before she utter the first one. Our ancestors devised many sophisticated ways of resolving conflicts without conflict. I am President of Wisdom of the Elders, Inc. (Portland, Ore.) and President of the Vancouver Society of Storytelling here in Vancouver, BC, we promote literacy through storytelling. If I give a child something to read, that child will learn some vocabulary but, if I tell that same child a story the child not only gets vocabulary but learns the useage and song of language and, the ability to release the imagination and travel with the story.

  3. Pingback: IT’S ABOUT COMMUNITY, NOT COMPETITION #2 | Black Coffee Poet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s