1 In the opening paragraph of her essay "Land Speaking," Jeannette C. Armstrong gets straight to the point about her foun- dations as a writer: "It is my conviction that Okanagan, my original language, the language of my people, constitutes the most significant influence on my writing in English." Indivisible from Okanagan language, Armstrong continues, is her "experience of the land," which "sources and arises in my poetry and prose, and … the Okanagan language shapes that connection" (175). The process of being shaped by language and land so fundamental to Armstrong’s writing is inherent in the coherence of Okanagan community, a process Armstrong has articulated in her essays "Sharing One Skin: Okanagan Community" and "Let Us Begin with Courage." The Okanagan word En’owkin, which is also the name of the aboriginal writing centre of which Armstrong is currently executive director, "is a conceptual metaphor" that, according to the En’owkin Centre’s website, embodies the Okanagan ideal of coming to consensus through collaborative group process. "The word En’owkin," Armstrong explains, "comes from the high language of the Okanagan people and has its origin in a philosophy to nurture voluntary cooperation, an essential foundation for everyday living" ("Let Us Begin"). The Okanagan principle of process is essential to creativity, and Armstrong believes that "the essence of being human is to be creative" (Beeler 154). Individual creativity, in turn, involves larger community obligations. Armstrong emphasizes,what you are gifted with, and what you have been given in terms of skills, doesn’t only belong to you. It belongs to the community, and it is there for the benefit of the community, to benefit the community in some way. And the responsibility of the artist is to ensure that, however much the artist is elevated, the community alongside must be elevated as well and must benefit as well. (Momaday 162)Armstrong’s written productions strive to articulate her experience of the symbiosis of land, language, and community, and in doing so simultaneously generate and perpetuate a creative process that benefits more than a single person.
2 As the integrated expression of Okanagan language and land gives rise to Okanagan community, whispering in shadows, Armstrong’s second novel, vividly illustrates the guiding influence of "N’silxchn, the Okanagan land language, [her] first language, [her] Earth Mother language" upon Armstrong’s literary production ("Land" 180). Similar to a basket weaver, Armstrong structures the novel by interweaving multiple genres, including poetry, prose, and personal letters, to gradually shape the pattern of the novel as a whole. Not only does the woven structure of language reflect the En’owkin philosophy in whispering in shadows, but character relationships and Armstrong’s thematic concerns around the safeguarding and continuance of indigenous languages, ecologies, and world views accrue and deepen within the unfolding life story of protagonist Penny Jackson. Through writing in English a fictionalized model that is itself shaped by Okanagan language and land, Armstrong’s novel "both theorize[s] and enact[s] a Native aesthetic of literature and culture" (Blaeser 266). Specifically, whispering in shadows enacts through text the Okanagan philosophy of En’owkin by illuminating the inextricable links forged between characters’ intersecting lives. Within this cultural literary paradigm, powerful characters influence Penny’s developing sense of herself as an Okanagan woman.
3 Of the many significant characters in whispering in shadows, Penny’s great-grandmother, Tupa, figures most prominently. Although she has passed on prior to the opening events of the novel, Penny’s Tupa informs all of Penny’s adult experiences through living memory. Armstrong intersperses Penny’s memories of Tupa throughout the novel, especially in Penny’s times of crisis. Named after her great-great-grandmother, Penny’s Okanagan name honours the powerful Copper Woman of Okanagan traditional stories "who shone so bright people thought she was like the sun" (whispering in shadows 280).1 Penny’s name thus signals her link to her immediate female forbears at the same time it reminds her of her place within the timeless mythic story of Okanagan community life. Because of the impact of Tupa’s early teachings, which take place within and are inextricable from Okanagan language and lands, the maturing Penny is able to deeply cultivate her Okanagan values, knowledge, and relationships as she negotiates her place within a complex, global society.
4 Early in the novel, Penny is a young artist concerned with the difficult process of translating the colours and images she experiences in the visible world into the language of substance on canvas. To Penny, colours are animate, speaking persons whose language she might give voice to in her creations if she could only render it accurately. "How can I ever get it to look like that?" Penny asks herself in the novel’s opening, as she views the wintery panorama outside her room:The clean sparkle. It looks so buttery and warm, yet it sparkles. What do I want to get it like that for anyway? Why? It’s talking to me that’s why. It’s singing. It sounds like an under-the-breath Indian song…. It wants to sing on my paperboard. It wants to move, from there on the snowbank, to my paperboard. (8)Armstrong quickly establishes the link between colour, motion, land, language, and song, whose intertwined roots have been first cultivated for Penny by her beloved Tupa. Penny remembers:lying on her back looking up through her Tupa’s silk shawl. Tupa had tied the corners to four sticks to make a shade for her. The col-ours were beautiful…. Blue, red, orange, yellow and gold splash over sand. She moved her hand up toward the thin silk and the colours covered her arms and hands. She was all colours and the sand was too…. Her heart was beating fast and she sang to the coloured faces in the sand.Tupa’s voice, by the water, sang along with her ….Tupa’s voice, talking in the language, somehow sounded like the ducks, the water, the bees buzzing and the song, all at the same time. (45)This grandmother language is alive with the natural world’s relationships: ducks, bees, water, and song commingled. When Tupa approaches Penny and sees her, radiant in shawl-colours, she tells her great-granddaughter, "You and the colours can talk, I see. They tell you things. Listen to them. They never lie." Tupa and Penny then walk down to the lake to greet a turtle swimming to shore. "It comes from the dark, down deep," Tupa explains to the little girl. "It comes up into the light and the colours. It swims the song you were just singing. Let’s sing the Turtles Landing Song before we go. Come, the lake was kind to us today" (46).
5 For Penny as for Tupa, there is no sharp edge at which swimming ends and singing begins; such borders are artificial and restrictive to spiritual and environmental connectedness. Like Turtle, Penny and Tupa travel easily, fluidly, and simultaneously in the mixed media of darkness, colour, water, light, and song. Scholar and poet Kimberly Blaeser remarks upon the way in which "Native stories are seldom about separate parallel existences but about intricately linked relationships and intersections," as is Tupa and Penny’s relationship with each other, and with their other relatives of earth, sky, water, and air. Blaeser continues:The spatial, temporal, and spiritual realities of Native people reflect a fluidity that disallows complete segregation between experiences of life and death, physical and spiritual, past and present, human and nonhuman. Thus, they are reflected in cycles that involve return, reconnection, and relationship. (268)The visual nature of Armstrong’s text, with its painter protagonist as the most prominent embodiment of response to visual patterning, imagery, and colour, allows for Armstrong’s act of multiple translations through Okanagan understandings that eschew narrow Western categories urging separations. The dynamic synthesis of Penny’s experiences that inform her worldview has its roots in Okanagan language. Armstrong states,In the Okanagan language, perception of the way reality occurs is very different from that solicited by the English language. Reality is very much like a story: it is easily changeable and transformative with each speaker. Reality in that way becomes very potent with animation and life. ("Land" 191)
6 Armstrong’s language patterns in whispering in shadows also serve to perpetuate her people’s ongoing stories. Armstrong understands Okanagan language as an ongoing storytelling process in which she is "being spoken to … and is not the one speaking. The words are coming from many tongues and mouths of Okanagan people and the land around them." Through Okanagan language, Armstrong continues,I understand I am a listener to the language’s stories, and when my words form I am merely retelling the same stories in different patterns. I have known this about my language since learning English as a second language. ("Land " 181)In similar fashion, Penny listens to the stories told by the colours, light, and shadows of the land and of her paint box, and she attempts to retell their stories in two dimensions. The foundation for Penny’s sensitivity and ability to respond to these interrelationships rests, in large part, in the Okanagan language-based world view she experienced as a child with her Tupa and other female relatives.
7 All of Penny’s memories of her Tupa are of times spent within Okanagan ancestral lands. Tupa speaks to Penny only in "the language," through which Armstrong accentuates the Okanagan epistemology of the inseparability of language and land, and the grandmother voice through which the home places speak. "She sat sideways, her legs hanging over the side of her Tupa’s bony dark skirted lap," Penny recalls from when she was very young:Tupa’s thin gravelly voice was sing song talking. Naming her. "Paenaye." Saying her English name in the sounds of their language. Speaking it. "My own Tupa, myyyyyy Tupaaaaa." Claiming her…. Tupa’s voice carried on, rolling over sounds and words she could not keep up with. (69)Armstrong’s word choice ("gravelly") and imagery ("Tupa’s voice carried on, rolling over sounds and words") invoke the music and motion of stream bed and river flow, qualities of Tupa’s language that once more connect her to features of earth. To be claimed by her grandmother is to be claimed by Okanagan language and land, a dual possession that is Penny’s guiding life force as they are Armstrong’s. Armstrong has described feeling "embraced" by N’silxchn just as Penny is physically embraced by her Tupa, "claimed" by language and land in a manner that requires reciprocity. Armstrong asserts that:It is this N’silxchn which embraces me and permeates my experience of the Okanagan land and is a constant voice within me that yearns for human speech. I am claimed and owned by this land, this Okanagan. Voices that move within as my experience of existence do not awaken as words. Instead they move within as the colours, patterns, and movements of a beautiful, kind Okanagan landscape. They are the Grandmother voices which speak…. The English term grandmother as a human experience is closest in meaning to the term Tmixw in Okanagan, meaning something like loving-ancestor-land-spirit. ("Land" 176)Penny’s relationship with Tupa supports the dynamic connections between movement, colour, language, land, patterning, and grandmother voice. These connections also surface in Armstrong’s poem "Grandmothers," originally written in N’silxchn "and interpreted into English." In this poem, Armstrong writes, grandmothers are "the part of me that was always there," and she "nestle[s]/ and draw[s] nourishment from" the grandmother voices who speak to her "in early morning light / glinting off water / speaking to me in fragile green" ("Land" 176-77).
8 Armstrong works consistently in whispering in shadows to bend English words to the sense of Okanagan perceptions of the world, "listen[ing] to sounds that words make in English and [trying] to find the sounds that will move the image making, whether in poetry or prose, closer to the Okanagan reality." In her impulse "to find or construct bridges between the two realities" of English and Okanagan language, Armstrong continues to emphasize the role of patterns, outlining her desire to create in language a "sense of movement and rhythm through sound patterns" ("Land" 192). Penny’s Okanagan sensibilities synthesize perceptions of sound, colour, and linguistic images as organically interrelated, and are a complex fictional manifestation of Armstrong’s ongoing effort to represent in English an Okanagan way of seeing and being in the world. Her effort strives to underscore "the significance that original Native languages and their connection to our lands have in compelling the reinvention of the enemy’s language for our perspective as indigenous writers" ("Land" 175).
9 As the example from "Grandmothers" illustrates, the type of fluid image making that deconstructs Western artistic divisions permeates Armstrong’s poetry as well as her fiction. In describing Armstrong’s boundary-busting poetic imagery, one interviewer has used the English term "synesthesia" (Beeler 153), a literary technique that "applie[s] to descriptions of one kind of sensation in terms of another" for poetic effect (Abrams 315). Yet Armstrong’s construction of images that meld what might be considered incongruous elements in a pragmatic European or Euro-Canadian world view based upon English language (for example, colours that speak, or a song that a turtle swims) are not attempts at artistic ornamentation, as the term "synesthesia" suggests, and have no comparable Euro-literary descriptor. Rather, Armstrong’s imagings are another feature of her work to transform a particular cultural perspective into English. In an Okanagan world view, grounded in Okanagan language, turtles do swim songs, and colours do speak. This philosophy is explicitly articulated by another significant Tupa in one of Armstrong’s three children’s books, Neekna and Chemai. Here, Neekna’s Tupa explains to her great-granddaughters that winter:"is time to get things ready for the coming seasons. It is the same with those things we cannot see, but which are there just the same. Can you see a song? Can you see the wind? No, but when a person sings, you can see his smile. When the wind blows, you can see the flowers nod their heads."Tupa said, "The things we prepare at winter dances are things you cannot see, but what it brings, you can see." (Chapter 1, n. pag.)
10 This Okanagan philosophy of trans-species, trans-phenomena interrelationship — cause and effect on the most vast and most intimate levels concurrently — underpins Penny’s artistry, and her entire comprehen- sion of the world’s workings. Although others may not hear the voices of the colours as Penny does, Penny’s paintings make what is personally audible publicly visible: the colours speak to Penny who, in sensory translation, paints what she hears so that others may see colours’ voices. In consistently honouring the unseen and its symbiosis with the visible, as Neekna’s Tupa explains above, Penny perpetuates the traditional ways of her people in contemporary contexts.
11 Armstrong has discussed the problematic Western concept of "boundaries" between "types" of experiences as categorized within the rigidity of English language specifically, and through colonial world views generally. She expresses her difficulty in perceiving and rendering such precise divisions in her artistic production, because they contradict her own experience of the creative process:I have trouble separating the disciplines [of poetry and music], because the creative process that I use doesn’t differentiate[;] … poetry is music to me. It’s rhythm, and it’s sound and it’s imagery and it’s metaphor, except that poetry can be written. And poetry is another word for what I understand when I sing and when I create and compose music which talks about the water, trees, birds and people and talks about response, feelings and interactions, all of those things that make us human. (Beeler 147)In her writing’s resistance to fixed categories within Western European constructs that classify modes of artistic expression, Armstrong asserts a form of Okanagan literary self-determination that privileges indigenous thoughtways. She makes it clear that her central concern is to write for and from the perspective of her own Okanagan culture, not as a spokesperson for all Okanagan people, but as an individual whose identity has developed through Okanagan community process. External theoretical categories of literary analysis may be neither appropriate nor expansive enough to encompass the multi-layered content of Armstrong’s culturally specific writing. The decolonizing process she strives to effect in her writing explores ways to evoke a proximate experience of Okanagan orality and world view in printed English language. Armstrong understands that:In Okanagan storytelling, the ability to move the audience back and forth between the present reality and the story reality relies heavily on the fluidity of time sense that the language offers. In particular, stories that are used for teaching must be inclusive of the past, present, and future as well as the current or contemporary moment and the story reality. ("Land" 194)Armstrong conceives of "print as a literary process" (Beeler 145) that, much like the En’owkin process, involves collaborative decision-making, great patience, and integrated thought across multiple dimensions of time.
12 Constructing distinct categories of separation, whether between registers of time (past cannot be future), art forms (songs cannot be paintings), life forms (trees cannot be humans), and/or what is viewed by some as "normal" and "abnormal," is represented as destructive in whispering in shadows. Raised by Tupa and the rest of her family to view interconnections between life forms as both natural and rational, Penny’s continued exposure to the fracturing partitions constructed by colonial culture along lines of race, class, gender, and ecology are so toxic to Penny that at one point she herself splits apart through mental breakdown (204-06). Rigid categorizations enforce systems of human, environmental, and cultural oppression, and lead to the erosion of "all of those things that make us human" (Beeler 147). Outside the reserve, Penny discovers that her Okanagan world view is considered alien and marginal by Euro-Canadian mass culture. Yet because of the strength of Tupa’s teachings, Penny consistently critiques the destructive illogic of colonial North American consumer practices and political values, even as she sometimes questions the legitimacy of her own perceptions.
13 Though when she was young Penny certainly would have been told stories by Tupa, Armstrong’s text is not marked by specific storytelling moments between grandmother and granddaughter. Armstrong instead represents Penny’s traditional knowledge through the references to Coyote presence that spiral through Penny’s adult life, and to practices such as digging for bitterroot, singing the old songs, praying in "the language," and picking saskatoon and huckleberries. Thus, Tupa remains with Penny embodied as living memory, defying another rigid categorization, that of life as presence, in opposition to death as absence. Just as Armstrong’s great-aunt Mourning Dove wrote of the powerful influence upon her of her community’s traditional storytellers,2 Armstrong outlines the specific ways in which her own storytelling elders have helped to shape her, particularly in the integrated creative process of language and thought:As a young person, as a child, one of the largest influences on my life, as relates to my writing, one of the things that influenced me greatly was the access to storytellers, to the people who were the teachers in my community and philosophers in my community. Through their storytelling, they have provided their philosophy and provided the teaching and provided the way that my mind works in my language, in the Okanagan language. And that has influenced my thought process, to a degree which I know makes me an artist. (Momaday 163)
14 Near the end of the novel, Fox and Coyote appear in a series of interrelated scenes that connect Penny’s adult crisis at her diagnosis of cancer with her childhood crisis at Tupa’s death. Undergirding this sequence of episodes (230-247) are the themes of environmental imbalance caused by human negligence, the necessary balance of life and death, and Penny’s recognition of the relationship between traditional Okanagan community knowledge and contemporary events. The spectre of Penny’s death is prefigured in this sequence (Penny’s dinner conversation with her partner David about the global deterioration of health and nutrition, followed by Penny’s revelation to her friend Tannis of her cancer diagnosis, followed by Fox and Coyote discovering masses of animated shit) by Penny’s viewing Tupa in death. The effect of this sequencing to some extent prepares readers for the devastating news of Penny’s cancer diagnosis by reminding us of the inevitability of death. Even more significantly, this arrangement frames Penny’s disillusioned conversation with David and her despair at her diagnosis by two scenes grounded in Okanagan traditions, indicating the extent of community support that exists during the major physical and spiritual passages of dying and death. The first scene demonstrates Penny’s community’s response to her Tupa’s death, which is honoured by the elders’ singing and other activities; the second scene provides a Coyote story that will not let us forget that the world is always changing, and that change is often upsetting and stinks.3 In the adult Penny’s memory of Tupa’s death, the child Penny stands looking on, hurt and confused, "at the green, green boughs under the long pine box" in which her departed Tupa rests. The girl feels a heaviness overcome her physical body and either cannot understand what she is seeing or refuses to see it yet: "Tupa! My Tupa. Where did you go? Why can’t you get better now? Get up! Get up! The sun is coming up! It’s a new day! I’m scared! Why do you have to go away? I’m scared, Tupa!" (230).
15 Even in her frightened bewilderment, however, young Penny substantiates the values her Tupa has earlier instilled in her, making clear that Penny will continue the ways of her Okanagan forebears into the future. Penny’s internal words to the body of her Tupa, unmoving in the pinewood box, are "It’s a new day!", harking back to Tupa’s words to Penny from the novel’s first major scene between them (17-20). Penny commands her Tupa to "Get up!" to greet the sunrise, that perpetual moment of daily cyclical renewal, in language that echoes Tupa’s call in the novel’s earlier scene to sleeping family members camping in the mountains to "Wake up" (19). There, in the ancestral berrying grounds of the mountain camp, Tupa talks to Penny about the importance of greeting and giving thanks to each new day. She tells the child:"Look! There! The red fire[’]s edge. It breaks over now! It is a new day! I give thanks for letting me see one more day. I give thanks for being here on this huckleberry mountain, to taste the sweet food of this place. I give thanks to sit here with my great grand-daughter. I give thanks for our safe night and ask for a safe day for the hunters and berry pickers. We come only to honour life. Paen-aye, the one whose real name is my mother’s, sits with me, to greet the great sun, who gives us light and life. Give her its warmth to light a path ahead of her. I greet and honour this day." (18)
16 While on the traumatic occasion of her beloved relative’s death Penny may not consciously remember Tupa’s long-ago prayer for her, she has clearly internalized it. Penny now invokes the prayer’s power to reinvigorate the very woman through whom the prayer — the language and the meaning — was given to her. Further, the style and essence of Tupa’s prayer will be repeated later by Penny and her sister Lena, when they return together to the same campground as older women. Although Penny’s mother reminds the grieving little girl that Tupa had told Penny she was "too old to be here" anymore, the child Penny longs to be with her Tupa: "I always go with her where she goes. She lets me. Let me go with her. Let me go, Momma. Let me go!" (230). But Penny’s gramma tells her, "in her sweet, sweet voice," not to be scared: "Your Tupa told you to let her go. You come with me now…. You let me wash the shadows away" (231-32).
17 Now, as an older woman receiving the news of her cancer diagnosis, Penny is much closer to being granted her child’s wish of joining her beloved Tupa; now, however, she has a mature understanding of life’s seasons and does not want to leave life so quickly. At the advent of this new trauma, Okanagan stories again illustrate their powers of healing and guidance for Penny. Paralleling the coming of Europeans to the Americas — few at first but growing exponentially, spreading disease and destruction before and behind them — the cancer cells in Penny’s body are ultimately unstoppable once lodged in the terrain of her flesh. Like other colonizers, they must be faced and reckoned with, neither surrendered to nor denied. In this, Armstrong represents cancer as one of the devouring monsters of Okanagan origin stories, a parallel that, when she makes this connection through talking with her friend Tannis, reveals the philosophy that helps Penny make sense of her disease. Tannis asks Penny, "What do your people say about cancer? What do they say it is?" (246). Penny considers before responding:"I don’t think they have a word for it. At least not any I have ever heard, and I speak the language. One thing though, I was thinking about coming over here. I was thinking about our Coyote stories about the flesh-eating monsters during the transformation of the world into this one. That’s what came to mind. I’m being eaten away by something which I can’t see …. Those stories tell of how the world had to be rid of the flesh-eaters so we could survive. How they conjured themselves and how they shape-shift and change their form continuously. They were banished but only if we kept the balance which was established. The balance is the natural order in this world. Now everything is out of balance. We are causing another transformation. Our old people say they’re back. In all kinds of different forms. Not just cancer, but aids [sic], mad cow disease, superbacteria, mutant viruses and so on. It makes sense to me, literally and metaphorically." (247)
18 Here, Penny outlines not only the Okanagan theory of the flesh-eating monsters’ ability to shape-shift, but the theory of how the old stories have consistently reworked themselves into relevant contemporary circumstances as the people and land have transformed over time. Without balance being maintained through dedicated vigilance and respect for the earth and her inhabitants, the natural world becomes vulnerable once again to the destructive powers of monsters who will literally eat us alive. This is no parable: this is physical, social, environmental, medical, and cultural reality. When the land is neglected and sickens, people sicken as well, not only physically, but psychically and spiritually.
19 Human disease is explicitly entwined with environmental degradation in whispering in shadows, and resisting both becomes Penny’s life work. Armstrong unites the ability to restore and maintain healthy lands and peoples with the knowledge of Okanagan language and cultural practices, and she constantly asserts the power of traditional stories as dynamic truth-telling entities. They are integral parts of her larger activist project of literary decolonization, of countering through written expression inaccurate outsider histories of indigenous peoples by presenting Aboriginal peoples’ own words and world views to describe their own experiences. Armstrong elaborates this vital point in an interview with Kim Anderson:When you’re looking at oral story, the traditional format that non-Native people like to call legend telling, or origin stories, or myth – in relation to my culture, for instance, they’re not legend, they’re not myth. I know them not to fit into those categories, although on the surface that’s what they look like. I know them to be story which engages the listener in terms of the past and the present — and projects into the future. So there’s a sliding in and out with the audience in terms of what some of the concerns and underlying messages of the story are about in the present. It is resigned in terms of the mythological path that this story is constructed in, and then [it involves] a projection into the future. (Anderson 56; bracketed text in original)
20 This form of reader/listener participation and response, the continuum of "the mythological path" of oral traditional stories as they follow "a projection into the future," aptly describes Tupa’s presence in Penny’s memory throughout whispering in shadows. As she nears her own death in the novel’s closing pages, Penny understands more profoundly what the shadows have been whispering to her for so many years, and she returns to the source of convergence among the land’s and Tupa’s speaking. As Penny and her family clean up after dinner in their mountain camp, the same grounds Penny had come to so many times as a little girl with Tupa, "the pines are whispering" and "shadows are gathering under them" (285). Penny leaves the group to sit on the overlook where she will spend the night in "The place where the sun will come up in the morning." Penny realizes in a powerful moment of physical and spiritual return that, "This is the spot where Tupa sat, right under this tree" (284). Now, a bear’s bones rest on the very same spot, its skull "lying facing the direction of the blue mountains" (284).
21 In Armstrong’s Neekna and Chemai, Neekna’s Tupa reminds us that Bear is the most powerful of the four Okanagan food Chiefs, "because he laid his life down first to make all the other Chiefs become food" (Chapter 4, n. pag.). Penny sits with "Old Tupa Bear" throughout the night, symbolically and literally filling the space her human Tupa once occupied as a grandmother and community leader. As Penny now rests her own aging body in this ancient earth place, the meaning of the novel’s title is clarified through her understanding of the roles of whispering, shadows, and Tupa, all three commingled in memory, language, and time for as long as she has been alive. Penny addresses the grandmother bear bones beside her:Tupa Bear. I came here to sit tonight to think and I find you here. Lying in the place my own Tupa sat to tell me about the taking [of ] the sun of each new day and wrapping it around because the shadows of the night follow our footsteps even in the bright of the sun. I come here with shadows following close behind. When Tupa left, the shadows moved inside. It was Tupa who made the world right. She left a hole inside of me that I could find no way to fill. I let the shadows in. They whispered to me about all the things which shadows bring and I listened. I spent my time searching for light in the colours of the rainbow and tried to pull it toward me when they spoke to me. Too many shadows walk the earth and they took me away. Away from the light of each day’s rising. I come here tonight to wait for the sun in the morning. I will wrap it around me and carry it home to warm me in the days to come. I have tried in my way to come to the light. Help me to lift this shadow from inside me. Fill my spirit with the wisdom I need to be at peace with each new day. (285-86)Penny makes her final prayer in the novel in this sacred, powerful place. It is the place where, at the beginning of her life, she had formed a bond with her Tupa that has never been broken; it is in this same place that she now, near the end of her life, understands her cancer as part of the shadow inside that clouded her being once Tupa passed on. Penny prays in her language, N’silxchn, her Tupa’s language, which Armstrong allows non-N’silxchn speakers to share through printed English text. Penny’s language is the voice of the land itself, as Armstrong affirms:As I understand it from my Okanagan ancestors, language was given to us by the land we live within…. All my elders say that it is land that holds all knowledge of life and death and is a constant teacher. It is said in Okanagan that the land constantly speaks. It is constantly communicating. Not to learn its language is to die. We survived and thrived by listening intently to its teachings — to its language — and then inventing human words to retell its stories to our succeeding generations. It is the land that speaks N’silxchn, the old land/mother spirit of the Okanagan People, which surrounds me in its primal, wordless state. ("Land" 175-76)
22 This philosophy reveals that Penny is not alone as she makes her prayer on the mountain. The land whispers to her its teachings, generations of knowledge Penny recalls in the stories of her forebears and hands down to her younger relatives in turn. Land speaks through Penny as the voices of colour speak through her artwork. Penny is surrounded fully by the community of her family, sleeping in the camp nearby, in the home place where her ancestors have hunted animals and gathered camas, huck-leberries, and saskatoons for countless generations. Here, Tupa’s presence fills and embraces Penny, and after speaking to the bones of Old Tupa Bear and "singing all the songs she knows" (286) throughout the long night, Penny drifts off to sleep and dreams: "The bear is moving … . Its eyes are stars. The bear has long silvery hair swaying in the wind and she looks like Tupa now" (286). The bear transforms throughout Penny’s dream, shifting shape now into "the Aztec man from Mexico," now into the star constellation of "The Great Bear," now into "Indians and non-Indians … from all over the earth. Laughing and talking, as coyotes shrill their songs around them" (287). The only time in the novel that Penny speaks directly to Coyote is during this dream, as she reminds the powerful trickster of the inevitable events of the old story he has been part of so many times before. Coyote needs no reminding, however, and instructs Penny about the necessity of repeating the stories so that the details of contemporary changes might be folded into them:"Shining Woman of Copper. You know it’s in the story. Every story. It’s just the same old monsters again I’ll take care of them bastards, though. Piss on them. It’s gotta be. Just keep on shining ’till the sun sets. You’re free to ride the clouds. I am the greatest chief down around here and I give you that." (287)Coyote gives Penny permission to leave this world, when the time comes, content in the knowledge that he and future generations of allies, among them Penny’s Okanagan descendents, will keep up the fight against "the same old monsters," in whatever new shapes they might appear.
23 Through dream, the bear becomes Tupa, and Tupa becomes the stars; Coyote arises in the star story and speaks to Penny, as the stars speak to her, as the bear speaks to her; as Tupa did and continues speaking to her. All of these powerful forces are one whole: they are, as Armstrong has titled one major essay, land speaking. Penny’s Tupa is the mountain called Copper Woman and also the woman who tells Copper Woman’s story to Penny; she is the one who, like Copper Woman herself, "had a vast love for humans." "Copper is what Tupa always left buried beneath the ground when she wanted medicine" (294), Penny recalls in the novel’s final pages, this reciprocity a spiritual and material transaction with the Okanagan land that has given the Okanagan people their existence. Soon Penny (whose name is also a form of currency, a manifestation of copper whose worth is valued on a different scale in the colonial marketplace), will herself be physically returned to the body of earth to be minted anew within the continuing cycle of elemental exchange and transformation.
24 In the same way that traditional stories accrue meaning over time and upon listener reflection, Tupa, as the embodiment of the values and practices of Okanagan cultural collaboration, continues to instruct Penny long after she has departed her human form. Penny realizes through Tupa that one person alone cannot contain the vastness of land, language, and culture, and that Okanagan cultural survival requires a conscious community process that includes nurturing healthy relationships with language and land. Through Tupa, Armstrong emphasizes the symbiosis of Okanagan language and land, and how ancestral stories are place-specific teachings infused with a feminine presence — "the old land/mother spirit of the Okanagan People" ("Land" 175-76) — that shifts with changes in the land just as humans shift through the seasons of their lives. The land must be listened to, its messages spoken in its own language to maintain life itself. Armstrong observes in "Let Us Begin with Courage" that:To the Okanagan People, as to all peoples practicing bio-regionally self-sufficient economies, the knowledge that the total community must be engaged in order to attain sustainability is the result of a natural process of survival. The practical aspects of willing teamwork within a whole-community system clearly emerged from experience delineated by necessity.
25 Through the influence of her Tupa and other significant relatives and friends, Penny immerses herself in this "whole-community system" to resist the social and political injustices that she witnesses destroying environments, families, indigenous cultures, and healthy human lives. In this way, Tupa and Penny function within the novel in the spirit of En’owkin as parts of "an organizational process, one profoundly deliberate in ensuring an outcome that results in a community strengthened by the dynamics of deep collaboration — that is, collaboration at all levels over generations," as Armstrong clarifies in "Let Us Begin with Courage." The collaborative process of En’owkin that Armstrong writes into the novel through Penny’s relationships with Tupa, with Okanagan language, and with the land illustrates the ideal of healthy community while asserting Okanagan cultural sovereignty through printed English-language literature. In representing community interrelationship and process, whispering in shadows enacts one form of Okanagan holistic interconnectedness, in which language is a primary feature that might transform the world into a place where people and the land continue singing in harmony with the coming generations.
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms 7th Edition. Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1999.
Anderson, Kim. "Reclaiming Native Space in Literature/Breaking New Ground: An Interview with Jeannette Armstrong." West Coast Line 23:31/2 (1997): 49-65.
Armstrong, Jeannette C. Neekna and Chemai. Illustr. Barbara Marchand. Penticton: Theytus, 1991.
—. "Land Speaking." Speaking for the Generations. Ed. Simon Ortiz. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1998. 174-94.
—. whispering in shadows. Penticton: Theytus, 2000.
Beeler, Karin. "Image, Music, Text: An Interview with Jeannette Armstrong." Studies in Canadian Literature 21:2 (1996): 143-54.
Blaeser, Kimberly M. "Like ‘Reeds through the Ribs of a Basket’: Native Women Weaving Stories." Other Sisterhoods: Literary Theory and U.S. Women of Colour. Ed. Sandra Kumamoto Stanley. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1998. 265-276.
Isernhagen, Hartwig, ed. Momaday, Vizenor, Armstrong: Conversations on American Indian Writing. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1999. 135-83.
Mourning Dove. Preface. Coyote Stories. Ed. Hester Dean Guie. 1933. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1990. 7-12
1 All subsequent quotations from the novel are indicated by page number within this essay. All italicized quotations are italicized in Armstrong’s novel, and indicate the character’s interior monologue.
3 In this story, "Fox took off running" from "a bunch of stinking turds all over the place" that have come to life. Coyote, annoyed that he "just nap[ped] for a few minutes and they start stirring up shit again," decides to take action. Armstrong does not clarify here who "they" are, but leaves readers to make connections to contemporary entities that are stirring up shit through destructive environmental policies and practices.
1 Born in 1948 on the Penticton Indian Reserve in British Columbia, Jeannette Armstrong writes that her Okanagan Syilx name means something like the image of light, rippling off moving water. The grandniece of Hum-Ishu-Ma (Mourning Dove, 1888-1936), considered the first Native American novelist, Armstrong obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria and a Diploma of Fine Arts from Okanagan College in 1978. Armstrong’s 1985 work Slash, the story of an Okanagan activist, is considered the first novel by a Native woman in Canada. In 1986, Armstrong became the director of the En’owkin Centre at Penticton. Whispering in Shadows (2004) is her semi-autobiographical second novel that continues the story of Slash, but through a female protagonist. In the early 1980s, she had published children’s books, Enwhisteetkwa (Walk in Water, 1982) and Neekna and Chemai (1983). Her collection Breath Tracks (1991) saw the flowering of her poetry, and All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction (1990), edited by Thomas King, showcased a number of her stories. Her critical faculty was on display in The Native Creative Process (1991), a collaborative discourse between Armstrong and Douglas Cardinal on Aboriginal artistry, and “Land Speaking” in Speaking for the Generations: Native Writers on Writing (1998), which addresses the influence of land and Okanagan language on her writing. In 2003, Armstrong received the Buffet Award for Aboriginal Leadership in recognition of her work as an educator, community leader, and indigenous rights activist. Today, Armstrong, a writer, teacher, artist, sculptor, and activist for indigenous rights, is the cultural archivist and knowledge keeper of the Okanagan.
2 This interview was conducted in Vancouver in November 2010 at the time of the interviewer’s visit to BC from her native India.
3PKS The kind of scholarly attention that is being given to the “indigenous” in Canada, although not adequate, is not seen in India. The tribals in India are called adivasis, and we have many tribal communities that are diverse and widespread in different parts of India. But India lacks funding, major initiatives, and serious attention to scholarly indigenous studies. The initiatives can be seen in little pockets. I am very happy to be associated with such initiatives for some time now. As part of a project with the Northern Himalayan Gaddi tribe, I looked at older women’s oral narratives, primarily because they are soon to disappear, dying narratives. The project’s objective and contribution was to document and record these narratives before they eventually disappear from the cultural consciousness of people. It was led by a team of academicians from the University of Delhi and Shimla with support from the Sahitya Academi, the National Academy of Letters in New Delhi. Here, in Canada, I was absolutely thrilled to go to the En’owkin Centre in Pentictin, Kelowna and witness with my own eyes the preservation or knowledge keeping of the Okanagan culture that is in progress there.
4JA Oh good! It’s too bad I wasn’t there that day.
5PKS I spent a good two hours at the Centre and interacted with quite a few people there who showed us around. I was with a couple of my friends from Calgary, who have been in Canada for the last twenty to twenty-five years. For them, too, this visit to the En’owkin Centre was a kind of an eye-opener, a disclosure of sorts. Unfortunately, the world outside, even in Canada, doesn’t know too much about what is happening here.
6 In my present research in Canada, I am trying to look at First Nations’ literature and culture: narratives — oral and written, folktales, legends, and their adaptations in cinema. What are your views on cinema as a kind of extended text? UBC has several First Nations’ study programs. I have seen Slash in the hands of many students at UBC. Has anybody approached you for an adaptation of Slash into a film?
7JA Yeah, there have been some. I just haven’t thought a lot about them, mainly because I was more involved in looking at literature itself and looking at how the oral literatures of our people are structured — how they work and how some of the unique aspects are carried out in those oral stories. I know that Slash, for instance, was an experimental project to develop a framework I could tell the contemporary story through. Slash, if you call it a novel, is not really a novel. The narrative is told using devices that would be used in an oral narrative told in the first person.
8 For instance, the movement of the four chapters is a reflection of how our Okanagan-specific — not other indigenous people, but the tribal people that I belong to — how their oral narratives work in four transitions. So those were some, I guess you could say, experimental parts of this process. I have never actually moved them beyond writing, taking them from the oral to the written stage. I think we have been criticized from the western canon, or the English-European canon, in terms of the way that our narratives are non-linear and the way that they are, in a sense, not based on the same kinds of critical areas that other literatures are analyzed from. I think one of the questions that I had in my writing was not so much about how to reorganize the material, but also how to write the material in a written form and retain the integrity of how we perceive oral literatures and how they work. So I really confronted and decided to question how some of those critical areas might influence our storytelling and decided to break those riddles or challenge them. I decided that I would write this novel and would create this format for it that wasn’t a novel, that was oral, and create this sensibility of progression in the story from a non-linear and circular perspective. This central character, which is common in western canons, isn’t really a central character. So I decided to challenge all of those areas. For instance, there isn’t a classic type of resolution in my novel; there isn’t, or doesn’t seem to be, the classic point where in a novel you reach a climax and then there is a resolution. So these are some of the reasons that I was focused more on literature and never thought about it in a dramatic format. Further, I was spending a lot time academically writing my PhD and developing a process for analysis of oral works.
9PKS Your novel is experimental in many ways. The real resolution can be when the protagonist, Slash, says that I have decided that I need and am needed by my people. The sense of worth that the protagonist feels creates a sense of resolution.
11PKS I am reminded of Toni Morrison at this juncture. In one of her interviews, she said that when she was just striking out to be a writer, or earlier during her master’s in English, while reading the entire gamut of European literature and the literary history of the US, she realized “she was just not there!” It was then she decided to make Afro-Americans visible by writing for and about her own people. So while reading Slash, I realized that toward the end of the novel, when the protagonist felt that he was worthy and that his people needed him, it was akin to feeling, “I am visible” and “I am there for my people.” As a writer, you might not have thought about it, but as a reader, that was a great resolution. But, alongside this experimental style of writing, and the kind of written oral narrative you created in Slash, there are globally many oral narratives being adapted for cinema, including Zacharias Kunuk’s internationally acclaimed The Fast Runner.
12JA I think for me that will be another area to look at. After working out some of the areas that for me were newly researched, when I wrote Slash and then later Whispering in Shadows, it was really a search for what it is that I am working with here; later on [I was] writing my PhD and looking at it and saying that this is why it is so, and this is how it works and this is why it is used. So, one of the areas I am really interested in is how oral narratives are performed live in first person. One of the issues, which I have with writing on paper, is that there isn’t the fluidity as with the oral performed literature. So, as a performed literature, there is a huge difference in terms of how the performance itself is informed by the fact that it is performed live and formed by the consideration that one has to have when there is a live listening audience. So the structural qualities that I came across are really much more about the considerations of a live audience rather than of the written format.
13 For instance, when you’re doing theatre, some kind of a consideration is given to it because it is a live performance. In live performance, the audience has to be able to follow the story coherently and make all the right connections. So, all the dramatic devices are organized for that to happen. In oral literature, the narrative is organized in such a way that the story is meaningful to the listener all the way through and there is coherence in all the themes and threads that are required for the resolution or for the development of a character, or a storyline. They are all a part of how the devices are organized. So, it makes for a much more dramatic story.
14PKS In your second novel, Whispering in Shadows,the protagonist is a woman, whereas in the earlier text, you had a male protagonist. Both the texts have creativity and imagination at their core, particularly the second one. If somebody approached you to make a cinematic representation of them, which text would you prefer to see appear on the big screen?
15JASlash would be more suitable because of some of the dramatic qualities of the plot, the story, the growth of the character, as well as the character’s transformations. There are four changes that the character goes through in the novel. I think Slash would be much richer in that format than the other novel, which is kind of flat all the way through.
16PKS What do you have to say about the gaze on Aboriginal literature and also the issues being taken up in Aboriginal cinema and documentaries that are made in Canada today?
17JA Well, one of the challenges is, of course, that Aboriginal cinema is really marginalized. Enough support is not available for production. I don’t think there is a lack of creativity or lack of material or a lack of desire to produce materials, but there is a lack of real support for all the different areas that are required to produce it. One of the main fault lines is the idea that, maybe historical documentation is more important and critical than literature or story. I think that’s really where a lot of the people who are trained move toward, so a lot of creativity moves to the background or is put on the back burner. Still, some of it does come out despite the above historical focus. I think a part of it has to do with the pressure of necessity to document the history, document the reality and the political scope of some of the things that have occurred as a result of colonization and the necessity of telling the truth about it. So, there is a much greater need for creative production of our stories and particularly the way our narratives in literature work. That concentration and support just doesn’t exist. There’s very little tolerance in the major networks or the television producers like Aboriginal People Television Network (APTN). I don’t want to sound too critical, but APTN copies the other networks and really only puts money for producing shows that other networks are doing, like cooking shows and APTN news programmes, which are also necessary. But very little support is provided by the network for any kind of experimental or creative television-produced cinema. To me, that’s where the support should come from to create these things. You have to lead the way and you have to have the desire of many of the writers and the producers, who are Aboriginal, to move forward in original and new directions. Most of the writers have to go to some other network or to do it from their kitchen table. That’s not a good thing because you don’t have the tools to produce things that could really make a difference in that art form.
18PKS I think you’ve made some very important and significant points when it comes to historical documentation and the fact that there’s hope and money and support for it, but when it comes to creative documentation, that’s where you actually require support. I had a chance to watch some Aboriginal cinema, made in Canada, and there is plenty of good quality cinema, including Marie Clements’s play The Unnatural and Accidental Woman (1997), which was adapted to cinema by Carl Bessai as Unnatural and Accidental (2006). Marie Clements was herself involved with the making of the film, which did get a mixed response. Zacharias Kunuk’s AtanarjuatThe Fast Runner (2001), based on an Inuit legend from thousands of years ago, got a good response and went on to win many awards, as well as being showcased at several film festivals. So, it is evident that there is a definite need and scope for such kind of cinema and productions. Have you seen the film Unnatural and Accidental?
19JA No, I haven’t seen it, but I have heard good things about it. My daughter, Tracey, tries to make me watch everything, and I will watch it.
20PKS You have said, and it’s been written about you, that you have been inspired by your ancestors. You write for them and write after them. Have you succeeded in paying homage to them?
21JA Not yet, I don’t think so. I think what I have been engaged in, in my own writing, has been to challenge and question the western canon and experiment with that, in terms of breaking those rules. So, it’s almost from within a colonized perspective. I realized that after taking some time away from my writing and developing the theory related to Okanagan oral literatures. One of the novels that I took apart and looked at, Cogewea, the Half-Blood (1927), was written by my great-aunt, Mourning Dove or Christine Quintasket. She wrote that novel way back at the turn of the century; she wasn’t schooled in literature and she wasn’t aware of the western canon that was developing at that time. So her writing was following the rules and the format and the traditions of oral Okanagan literatures. I realized as I took the novel and read it that even though all of it is fiction and the main character is to some degree autobiographical, the story is organized and the references that she uses and the format that she uses really are very clearly situated in, and based on, a true Okanagan spirit. So, I was really relieved to know that she wasn’t interested in translating the legends or the myths into English. Though she ended up doing just that and publishing a collection that is still selling today, she remained interested in writing about our experience of the two worlds coming together in one person. I just feel that I have not paid the kind of attention and the respect she paid to our oral literature. So that’s something I continue to search for. So, I don’t feel that I have even come near to what she accomplished. In western literature, it is not seen as a great piece of literature, but in Salish literature, it’s just outstanding; it just takes my breath away. I am working out some of the theory related to how I would take it apart and say that this is what she did; this is how she accomplished what she did through her writing. I’m going to publish separate papers, separate works on her approach, because I think it would be really important and helpful and I think that’s part of my paying homage to that ancestor. And then to a lot of other things that come as a result of the work that I did, out of my literary analysis of some of the original oral myths and stories. I don’t know if you have seen the story that was in Tom King’s collection, called “This is a story.” It is a contemporary story and an experimental piece as well. In my discussion about it, I look at how I would construct a story dealing with today’s issues and realities and use that format to be able to accomplish what I know those stories are intended to do. I decided that I would write a story that was really fluid in the way that it organized itself in my mind. Once I made that decision, it just came and worked itself out on paper. So, I wanted to go back and look at that particular story and look at how I organized it and developed the process of writing it. I know that not a lot of attention is being paid to that story, but I would like to do a collection of a similar kind of creative work. So, I think, that would be what I would like to do; whether in writing, in cinema, or in theatre, I haven’t made any decision about that.
22PKS I was struck by the motto of the En’owkin Centre: “Where Education meets Tradition and Cultural Excellence.” Could you say a little more about its significance and deeper meaning?
23JA One of the things that I have always been very much aware of is that I come from a family of knowledge keepers. This informed me at a very early age — in fact, as soon as I entered my teens, that it was an academic responsibility. In our tradition, we are trained in certain ways to be able to not only retain but also pass on the knowledge in various areas that are required for us to be able to say we are knowledgeable. So, many people in our communities are knowledgeable in one or two or three areas, and, so, part of our tradition is that people who are recognized and knowledgeable in certain areas all have responsibility and stature in the community as teachers, and later on as elders.
24 So, as I was growing up, something I was always confronted with was the idea that there was nothing, we were invisible, and knowledge was situated in the colonizer’s academy. But the knowledge that we understood and practiced from within and were passing on and being trained to be able to not only understand, but also question and be able to pass on to others, wasn’t anecdotal, or wasn’t something that was primitive in form. There was a long tradition, and the fact that it was documented orally and passed on orally does not diminish the quality of that knowledge in all the different areas and disciplines that our people have, although, for some, our knowledge keepers do not match up with popular western academic designations. One of the reasons is that sometime back four to five hundred years ago, there was a separation between science and religion in western academies. That whole area has been really problematic for us as indigenous people because we do not see that separation. We know that separation creates the disassociation, for instance with the earth and other living things, disassociation within our selves, and dislocation from the things that make us human. I decided early on that I would try to find a way to be clear that our knowledge mattered, and to find a way to make it visible and to make it available and accessible to our people. If it had any relevance outside the domain of our people, I would be happy to be involved in that, but, primarily, my audience and responsibility is to my people, to our traditions, to our ancestors, and to our belief system. In all the understanding related to our existence that I, as an Okanagan person, have, our life form has to be a part of that, so that’s really outside the academic tradition in which you can only inquire and write in a narrow format within the academy. So, that’s been one of the major lifelong concerns that I have had which would help develop En’owkin Centre and develop some of the areas that I have been involved in. It also helped make clear to me that it’s not a matter of trying to fit into that, but it’s really a matter of trying to figure out a way to perpetuate this and give validity to be able to operate in this world and within this country, Canada, that is surrounding us, and also oppressing in many ways, the voice that we are.
25PKS So, in a true sense, you have been a cultural archivist and a real knowledge keeper.
27PKSYou have also treated this engagement with your own culture as a kind of healing.
28JA To a large extent, the main thing was not that I was traumatized so much, but that I was angry. There are many reasons for me to be angry, because of the effect on me, my family, my community, and the people I live with, as we all connect with all those statistics that Canada pulls out regarding Aboriginal peoples: the high incarceration rate, the high suicide rate, the high illiteracy rate, the high poverty rate, the continued disappearance of women, the high rates of family violence, high drop-out rates in schools, and so on and on and on. All these statistics surround me in my everyday life, everyday existence within my family, within my community and within my workplace. It is not easy to be not angry and not be filled with rage and hatred. It’s not so much that I did anything or was traumatized myself, because I did have a very strong family and I did have very strong teachings and a sense of identity, responsibility and pride all my life. I have never really stepped outside of that. But I do know that it has affected so many of my people negatively. You have to contend with that anger and rage, and not let it interfere with what you are able to do in a positive way.
29PKS In all your writings, talks, interviews, poetry, and creative writing, there is a positive note and optimism, bereft of skepticism. This positive note must be taking you forward and surely be an inspiration to other writers. But, let me ask you a tricky question about the En’owkin Centre: Is it only by and for the First Nations? How about for other people: researchers working in this field? In September 2010, just before I came to Canada, at Chotro III in Delhi, I was listening to the famed Maori scholar from New Zealand, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, talk about the development of indigenous cultures in a positive way, and the need for the inclusion of others who look at these cultures in a genuine way, much in the way the anthropologist Julie Cruikshank and other serious scholars working in this area would look at it. Is it not a positive thing to include non-Native scholars in First Nations writings and research projects?
30JA I engage with it. I am probably better known internationally than here, because I engage with it, trying to bring that forward to institutions of learning or organizations that are involved with bringing indigenous thought or epistemology or philosophy and advance that. I think, for instance, about En’owkin Centre’s connection with the University of British Columbia in the Indigenous Studies Degree programs; I am a faculty member within that program. I have helped found and develop that program within the university, so that the knowledge, perspective, and framing of indigenous thought, philosophy, understanding, and knowledge could be brought forward for the benefit of all people, as any knowledge system benefits all people. Knowledge should be mobilized for all people. It’s not something that is held only by one group, and so I really feel strongly about that. As a result of my optimism, it can change and transform the world and can make some difference to all people. So participation in large forums, internationally and so on, is an important step. Environmental and social justice issues are also a part of the academic work that I do.
31 The En’owkin Centre, though, is for my people. It is a retreat for my people to be able to examine academically some of the issues outside of us or to recover some of our knowledge: language and culture. For us to be able to enter into a dialogue about how those perspectives or areas of knowledge might be relevant today, how they might be applied or utilized, and how we might think about them in practice in the contemporary sense and not be divided as though we were with one foot in two worlds, as some people have described being Aboriginal in Canada. I don’t believe that we could exist with one foot in two worlds. We have to be able to synthesize and be part of whatever that world is, from within our identity. That is what En’owkin does, for us and our people. It connects to all of the other areas that I mentioned.
32 I believe that my responsibility does not just rest with my people. I really believe that the earth needs indigeneity. I strongly believe that it is the lack of indigeneity and instead the globalization and widespread development that is worrisome. I am not opposed to the idea of development. I think development is necessary: that’s part of being human. How we ethically understand, and are informed about, the things that we cause and the effects that we have and the decisions and the choices that we make needs to be informed by everything that surrounds us, not just for me, for my family, for my race or for my culture. That is one of the things I can speak clearly about in a global sense, in terms of saying, yes, the world requires indigeneity because, after all, the indigenous is part of what makes life natural and a continuum. As human beings, we have to learn; we have to become knowledgeable enough to be able to accomplish that continuum of life, and also to make life natural. When we can’t do that, we are not learning; we are not knowledgeable; we are parasites on the earth and we destroy life rather than create life, work with life, embrace life, and uphold life. So, to my mind, many of the knowledge systems of the world are missing that really important component that indigenous tribal peoples have retained and maintained that sustains them within their landscape. This message is not getting out and also as to how each of the different areas interprets and speaks about what is vitally necessary. Every tribal group is indigenous, and it is necessary to be so. It is not just Okanagans, but every indigenous and tribal group that has a higher level of knowledge that is required at this time as we are in such a state of crisis.
33PKS Looking forward to seeing your works in cinema because all the issues of orality and storytelling can be handled in cinema. Isn’t Tracey, your daughter, picking up any of your works for full featurelength adaptation in cinema?
34JA Yes, she is. In most of the film work that she has done, she has been very strong in making documentaries (the money comes for them) creatively. I don’t know if you had the opportunity to interact with her. Her film Magic on the Water (2008) won a lot of awards, including a major award for indigenous film in the US. She has been highly recognized for creativity in that film. It is a four-part film that deals with the connection to water and spirituality related to water. But it is also the story of the reintroduction of the traditional “spirit canoes” into our nation and the journey of those canoes and the vision of the woman who had the vision to bring the “spirit canoes” back into the Okanagan. So her documentary is a real documentary in that sense; it is also about the man who had the vision to bring back the carving of the canoes and then the woman and the journey of the young people on the canoes and the connection it has for our people with the waterways of our nation. It is a very beautiful film in terms of traditions and culture. The songs are situated in a contemporary manner, leading to revitalization of our culture.
35PKS Have you been to India?
36JA No, in fact, I have never been anywhere in Asia.
37PKS Well, I hope you come to India soon. It has been a pleasure meeting you and talking to you, Jeannette. Thank you!