Can I Be a Witness? Reflections on Witnessing and Ethics from a Stó:lō Text
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In Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson note that “acts of witnessing propel a variety of life narratives” (286). While we find acts of witnessing propelling a variety of life narratives, the act of witnessing itself is culturally specific and attentiveness to that cultural specificity and the ethics it compels pose challenges for autobiography scholars eager to propel themselves into a variety of life narratives. Memory Serves: Oratories (2016) brings together seventeen speeches and lectures from the acclaimed Stó:lō author and orator Lee Maracle into one published text. While each oratory- turned-essay can stand on its own, when read together, they help readers to understand how knowledge is contained in story, indeed, how governance, knowledge, memory and story intertwine in the Stó:lō worldview Maracle shares. Maracle presents herself as a respected witness, or si’yam, and discusses the reciprocal recognition of her witnessing and the responsibility that imposes. In this brief paper, I discuss both the culturally specific presentation of witnessing in Maracle’s oratories and writings and the ways in which we, as life narrative scholars, might learn from this Stó:lō worldview.