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On Wednesday, December 2nd, I had the pleasure of virtually meeting three University of Toronto students, Vivian Ho, Michelle Mao, and Sarina Sharma to share my insights on the methodology of Indigenous digital storytelling. They viewed our Indigenous women’s digital health stories online and wanted to learn more about becoming a better ally in decolonization. As a result of our conversation and their self-reflection for their course, PHM325/JFP450: Indigenous Health and Healing, they wrote a report titled, Becoming Allies: The Prototype for A Digital Story Paradigm. I asked for their consent to share my teachings from the report in the Women Warriors newsletter. I want to thank Vivian, Michelle and Sarina for sharing their sacred stories with me (it was part of their course content and practice in self-reflexivity) and co-creating how digital storytelling may be used as a tool for allyship in decolonization.
The Digital Story Paradigm
The stakeholder we contacted for our allyship project was Shelley Wiart, who is the founder of Women Warriors, a holistic health program for Indigenous women to support healthy living and healing in her community. During our discussion with her, she introduced the method of digital story creation as a multifaceted tool that can foster safe healthcare practitioner-patient relationships, and highlight culturally relevant ways of healing. She described digital story-telling as based in traditional Indigenous knowledge and healing (Wiart, 2020), and hopes to both empower equal relationships between healthcare providers and patients, as well as to allow non-Indigenous healthcare providers to better understand their own positionalities. From our discussion, our group decided to create a paradigm for healthcare workers and the public alike to create their own digital stories. The paradigm we co-created with Shelley can be done either by oneself or with a group and can be modified depending on how the digital story is planning to be used (ex. self-reflection or relationship-building).
The Paradigm Process
1) Building trust between facilitator and storyteller(s)
The digital story creation process is a co-creation process between the facilitator and storyteller(s) where the storyteller(s) can reveal a lot of vulnerability. This process for example, may be between healthcare workers and project managers, or social workers with patients.
2) Handwriting a story and deep reflection
It is important for the story to be written by the storyteller(s) themselves8 as a show of respect for the unique experiences, feelings, and perspectives that their story entails. Each storyteller has a unique tone and way of presenting their story that encompasses their values and experiences which can be presented in the voice of their writing, in the shape of their letters, and in the organization of their thoughts.
3) Creating a storyline
Topics are extracted from the storyteller’s initial handwritten story and the overall narration, structure, and “script” is planned out (Wiart, 2020). Each line is gone through one by one to ensure that the storyteller consents to exactly what they are sharing.
- A method that Shelley provided to help the creation of a storyline specifically for non-Indigenous people is to consider two parts: Situating the self (ancestors, parents, individual) and reconciliation (identities of the self) (See below image 1 and image 2 created by Wiart, 2020). This method makes use of Indigenous ways of knowing and reflection and helps the creator find, reflect, and present their positionality within their story.
Using this method can also help potential audiences of the digital story to better understand the perspectives and experiences of the story creator and facilitate more culturally-relevant interactions. As per our group intentions, digital stories created by non-Indigenous storytellers should also consider their perspectives towards reconciliation, consider their positionality in the overall contexts in Indigenous issues, what role they can play in reconciliation, and finally, suggest a TRC call to action that they can involve themselves in (Truth and Reconciliation, 2015). By sharing these considerations, non-Indigenous peoples can solidify their understanding of their role in reconciliation, be transparent about their actions towards re-indigenization, and work to reset their prejudices against Indigenous peoples. Then, by materializing these reflections and commitments to Indigenous issues, non-Indigenous peoples can better establish equal and culturally-sensitive interactions with Indigenous individuals.
4) Choosing photos, images, and symbolic music
Indigenous storytelling involves sound and images, music and visuals (Wiart, 2020). These elements all allow information to be told in a way that cannot be achieved by words.
5) Final Product
This final product is given to the storyteller themselves so they have the autonomy and access to their final creation to share with anyone they would like7. For example, they can show their digital story to introduce themselves to a particular group of people, use it for self-reflection, or establish trust and transparency.
The Guiding Principles
The digital story creation process is guided by a set of overarching rules that take into consideration the trauma, experiences, and cultural background of the person for which a story will be created. The principles of consent, listening, and trust are central to the co-creation of digital stories between the facilitator and storyteller(s).
Receiving clear and continuous consent from the storyteller is the highest priority for facilitators in the digital story creation process (Wiart, 2020). The entire co-creation process between facilitator and storyteller is built on trust and each party should always be on equal grounds. Both parties should always ensure that there is no power imbalance or pressure on the other party to do something that is not wanted. Thus, consent should be obtained in every step of the way.
A purpose of digital story creation is to locate the storyteller’s positionality, contexts, perspectives, etc., thus every storyteller’s tale is different and worth listening to in its entirety, undisturbed and unfiltered. It is important for the facilitator to allow the story to run its course without disruptions and modifiers that may impact how the story is told.
To hear someone’s story is a privilege, and to be able to hear a story means there is a certain amount of trust being placed in the listener to respect the vulnerability and the sensitive topics that will be included. Many storytellers have undergone different kinds of trauma in their past and current lives, times where they have been exploited. Trust must be created to ensure that their personal stories themselves are respected, and cannot be exploited or colonized for the agenda of the facilitator.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Summary : honouring the truth, reconciling for the future. Winnipeg: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Wiart, S. (2020). Decolonizing Health Care: Indigenous Digital Storytelling as Pedagogical Tool for Cultural Safety in Health Care Settings. Northern Public Affairs 6(3): 55-62.
Wiart, S. (2020). Agenda for Digital Storytelling Workshop with Michelle, Vivian and Sarina. Unpublished manuscript. [Cited 2020 Dec. 5.]
Our CSPC Indigenous Health Panel Takeaways & Actions
Canadian Science Policy Conference 2020. Jennifer Leason, Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary and CRC-Indigenous Maternal Child Wellness, interviewed by CSPC team member, Sumedha Sachar.
Moderator: Shelley Wiart, Founder, Women Warriors.
Speakers: Jennifer Leason, Canada Research Chair, University of Calgary; Michael Lickers, Indigenous Scholar in Residence – School of Leadership, Royal Roads University; Carrie Bourassa, Director of the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health, Canadian Institutes of Health Research; Lillian Dyck, Retired Senator, Senate of Canada.
Context: The panel explored the theme of global health in a pandemic by addressing the multifaceted health inequities experienced by Indigenous peoples. Each scholar addressed the health inequity experienced by Indigenous peoples in the spectrum of their life cycle from childhood to Elders. The goal was to amplify Indigenous academic voices at the conference to counter Western scientific and colonial deficit views of how to “help” Indigenous peoples cure their poor health with Western medicine.
- Indigenous women are less likely to seek health care because of fear of racism, birth alerts and child apprehension, putting them at greater risk for poorer health outcomes.
- Though rediscovery camps have existed since 1978, they have not been well funded. Land-based education will help maintain sacred connection with land bases, knowledge of self and Indigenous traditional knowledge by teaching Indigenous language and leadership skills.
- Cultural safety is about power and equity relating to Indigenous peoples. It is defined by what is comfortable and safe for the Indigenous person in various settings, including healthcare. Desired outcomes include: acknowledging the value of knowledge, expertise and skills of Elders and Knowledge Keepers; and a strength-based approach that is solution oriented.
- Aboriginal science includes the idea of interconnectedness, and with that stems a respect for all. The mind includes the spirit and is part of pedagogy for Indigenous peoples whereby spiritual insights and creativity are passed on from previous generations.
- Feminist science is very important as women ask different questions (e.g., heart disease).
- Create culturally safe spaces for Indigenous women seeking maternal health services by pushing for policy changes. Organizations doing this include the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives and Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
- Support and fund organizations such Ghost River Rediscovery Program that connect young with the land, engage in Indigenous leadership training, and connect back with their roots. (Recommended reading: Last Child From the Woods by Richard Louv.)
- Ethical engagement of communities in health research must be long-term, thoughtful, reciprocal and trusting to create strong relationships. The research should be conducted with a community-based health research approach, with opportunities for communities to hold grants, build capacity, and implement and disseminate the research. (e.g., Morning Star Lodge in Regina is a good example of this approach.)
- Indigenous communities must be leading the Indigenous health priorities in Canada, which requires policy change.
- The Health Care Act must be amended to include anti-racism language.
Morning Star Lodge Team Member
I am excited to announce that I will be joining the Morning Star Lodge: An Indigenous Community-Based Health Research Lab team effective January 2021. I am looking forward to co-creating with the amazing staff and community members based in Saskatchewan.