Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

Storytelling and Trauma: Reflections on "Now I See It," a Digital Storytelling Project and Exhibition in Collaboration with the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal/récits et Traumatismes : Réflections Sur « Now I See It », Un Projet De Récits Numériques et Une Exposition En Collaboration Avec le Foyer Pour Femmes Autochtones De Montréal

Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

Storytelling and Trauma: Reflections on "Now I See It," a Digital Storytelling Project and Exhibition in Collaboration with the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal/récits et Traumatismes : Réflections Sur « Now I See It », Un Projet De Récits Numériques et Une Exposition En Collaboration Avec le Foyer Pour Femmes Autochtones De Montréal

Article excerpt

STORYTELLING AND TRAUMA

When I was numb, I had so much fear. I felt a great loss of all the ways that I did not participate in life. But, then I learned that fears are meaningful.

Storytelling is a way of dealing with trauma. For many of those who have experienced trauma, sharing one's own experiences in the form of a personal narrative can help to develop new meaning on past events.

In the dominant historical narrative, Aboriginal peoples were removed from the Canadian landscape, and Canada is portrayed as an empty land with a "disappearing Indian" population (Smith, 2005). For many Aboriginal people in Canada, trauma is often transmitted intergenerationally and rooted in the residential school experience, dispossession of land and way of life, as well as in decades of abuse in the youth protection and prison systems, among many other forms of persistent colonialism (Wesley-Esquimaux & Smolewski, 2004). These diverse and multiple forms of persistent colonialism have been, and continue to be, present in the lives and stories of First Nations women. Native author Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux (2009) wrote that

for generations, First Nations women's voices were silenced in historical narratives that sidestepped their inf luence and power [...] First Nations women are beginning to understand that many of the social problems they deal with ever yday have roots in the extensive historical trauma that was experienced, but never properly voiced out and represented. (p. 20)

By re-telling one's own stories - that is by using different kinds of imagery and exploring alternative ways of interpreting one's reality - storytelling can provide a sense of hope, belonging, and meaning for people in light of traumatic experiences (White & Epston, 1990). In Rita Joe's (1989) poem about surviving residential school and her loss of native language as a child, she wrote, "I lost my talk, the talk you took away," and later, "let me find my talk so I can teach you about me." The Now I See It project was one such effort to explore the relationship between personal narratives and trauma using storytelling and digital photography to re-tell and re-imagine individual experiences. Quotes from one of the project participants and co-authors, Carole-Lynn Byington, are woven throughout, appearing in italics.

THE "NOW I SEE IT" PROJECT

Now I See It was a storytelling project that resulted in a collection of photographs taken by members of the urban Aboriginal community of Montreal. The project, run through the Addictions Program of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) lasted from January 2014 to October 2014, and consisted of weekly photography and writing workshops. The end result was a series of photographs taken by the participants that were exhibited at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through their Sharing the Museum Program. There were eight participants who all self-identified as Aboriginal women; however, one participant discontinued with the project, as she lost contact with facilitators.

The first step in the project was distributing donated digital cameras to the participants, which the participants kept throughout the entire process, though some chose to use their cellphones or tablets. The participants were encouraged to photograph the people, places, and things that were special to them in Montreal and share them during the workshops. Several initial workshops were led by Odile Boucher, a local photographer and volunteer at the NWSM, in order to introduce the medium of digital photography, including composition, framing, lighting, and portraiture. Other workshops focused on writing, photographic critique, and different aspects of digital storytelling.

These weekly meetings also provided a space for critical discussions surrounding the photographs of the participants as they would often take pictures on their own throughout the week and then share their photos at the group meetings or one-on-one with facilitators. …

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