Any Indigenous person will tell you that land is the most important part of our culture. Not because of the bounty of resources it provides and not because of its western capitalistic value. Land is central to our worldview because it provides us with the basic foundations of life. The land has informed our ceremonies, our languages and our stories. Our stories have been passed down orally since time immemorial. These stories are the basis for our political, social and spiritual systems. Colonization wrought our communities with hurt and dysfunction. Our children were taken, our women went missing and our lifestyles were deemed unsuitable for future generations. Despite this attempted genocide and assimilative agenda the state has pursued we have survived and our stories continue to live on. Our stories provide direct connections to our ancestors and are now being regenerated to provide meaning to our contemporary existence. Ryan McMahon has created a podcasting platform that fosters a safe space for Indigenous people to talk about what it means to have an Indigenous Identity. His podcasting work has changed the way stories are told and created new ways of thinking about land through cyberspace.
It was late Friday night when I first tuned into Stories From The Land – The Dechinta Land & Medicine Stories Collection. The podcast series takes place up in the Northwest Territories. The Dechinta Bush University is located off the grid, accessible only by plane, snowmobile or dog team. Learning from the land while living in community is central to the Dechinta experience. Anyways, I had snuggled warm in my bed and closed my eyes. This is not my first podcast experience, also not the first time I had tuned into Ryan McMahon. I’m a dedicated listener to his podcasts, especially Ryan McMahon Gets Angry. This storytelling series in particular is diverse in nature, including students retellings of a caribou herd encounter, family trips and even an alien encounter. The most important piece in this series however, is the forty-minute piece by Ryan McMahon himself, Moose Hide Camp.
Moose Hide Camp
“Land. There’s that word again. Land. It’s a heavy word. It means a lot of things to a lot of people. If you say it three times fast, ‘Land, Land, Land,’ well, you sound like a colonizer. If you say it three times fast, ‘Land, Land, Land,’ you can almost picture dirty white faces with gross bearded chops, licking at the lips, rubbing calloused dirty white long finger-nailed hands together looking out at the bounty of the lakes, rivers and streams that they saw when they got here.”
Ryan is a comedian. I know in this excerpt Ryan is probably imagining his home territory, but I can’t help but imagine the first settlers in my home in the Okanagan, specifically Westbank, BC; Our lakes and incredible mountains that are the foundation physically and metaphorically of my existence. I can see Father Pandosy in the way Ryan describes the colonizer looking at my land and I laugh.
“But land is central to almost every conversation, almost every day of my life. Maybe to an annoying fault. And I’m sorry…”
*Insert guilt ridden thought about my visible Indigenity here.
“Land. It’s everything. To me it is the single most important piece of the puzzle politically for us as Indigenous peoples. It holds everything we need… Three years ago, just before Idle No More, I had an epiphany. I realized I was a lot more ‘Indian’ than I had ever really realized… The way I was raised, out on the land with very, very deep and intimate connections to these places: to the lakes, to the bush, the places we hunted, fished trapped. I didn’t even know that that was at the core of what it means to be Anishinaabe. Because my families history with residential school and everything else that happend, I didn’t really know what it meant to be Anishinaabe, but it hit me, out in the bush, moose hunting… really, at the core, to live with the land, to respect the land, to live in mostly harmony with those who walked that land as well.”
Again, I think about my land in relation to my identity as an Okanagan woman. I too, have struggled with what it means to be Okanagan. I too, have a family history of residential school and as a result of this, have lost my grandmother to the repulsive epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. I felt like I grew up lacking the cultural practices that my other friends had received. And this had made me resentful. But listening to Ryan talk about the land, his experience with the land, and his experience with learning culture, or lack of experience, are very telling of a modern Indigenous experience. One that many of us have yet to digest. I too grew up hunting with my father and my uncles. I remember getting up before the sun to track the elk herds that still move freely in the our valley. I remember the joy of bringing home an animal, or the mockery upon the person who missed the gun. But out on the land, I learned the real meaning of respect and of reciprocity. Really though, it was not until Ryan had spelled it out for me that this was the core of being Indigenous, that I was able to let just a little bit of that resentment go.
“I remember one Christmas we all got moose hide gloves… And I remember being ashamed of them. I remember not really wanting to wear them. I was young. Nobody else wore them. In fact I don’t know if anybody else really knew what they were. And by nobody else I mean all of the white kids I went to school with… but I remember I never wore them to school. I never let my friends see them. I just remember the shame. And that’s the weird thing about colonization, that’s the weird things about being here now, is that we walk with that… sometimes you can’t shake that shame by talking about it on a podcast, sometimes you can only shake that shame by getting out on the land.”
Shame is a big one. Shame is something that we all carry. It manifests in us all, and for a long time, I didn’t realize that I had been carrying shame. Like Ryan, I remember being a young girl in elementary school and receiving a Pendleton purse from an aunt for Christmas. Inside the purse were pictures of family members and tickets to an Avril Lavinge Concert. I remember pretending to love the purse, when secretly I couldn’t wait to get home and hide it. I took out the tickets, put the pictures on my mirror and put the purse under my bed. I didn’t want my friends to see my purse. Out of sight, out of mind. I remember thinking, why would my aunt give me this purse? It isn’t cool to be “an Indian” at school. And I wanted to be cool.
Theorizing Story Telling through Indigenous Thought
When I think about storytelling and how the phenomena of passing knowledge down via oral histories, I think about the ways our social, political and spiritual ways of life have thrived. Leanne Simpsons discuss this best in her piece “Land as Pedagogy – Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation.” She discusses theory as an explanation of a phenomenon, and so our stories are our theoretical basis for our intelligence. Within this context then, our theories are generated from the ground up, the land, with its power stemming from its living resonance within communities and individuals; “after each life stage through the story, they can communicate their lived wisdom, understood through six or seven decades of lived experience and shifting meaning. This is how our old people teach. Our knowledge systems are alive in our elders and our children, deeply informed by the land and the animals. “The way we are taught to access that knowledge is by living in a way that generates a close, personal relationship with our ancestors and relations in the spirit world through ceremony, dreams, visions and stories.” But what if we do not have that access to knowledge, or the old ones to tell us stories? For myself, a large part of learning about Indigenous Identity came from the theory I was taught in University classrooms, specifically in Leanne Simpsons’ Dancing On Our Turtles Back and Glen Coulthards’ Red Skins White Masks.
In Leanne Simpsons book, she discusses many ways to decolonize our teachings through the reinterpretations of traditional Anishnaabe stories. She theorizes new ways of governing ourselves and organizing movements to create resurgence within our own communities. What Leanne is doing in her book is what Glen Coulthard describes as Grounded Normativity. Grounded Normativity is “the modalities of Indigenous land-connected practices and longstanding experiential knowledge that inform and structure our ethical engagements with the world and our relationships with human and nonhuman others overtime.” Glen and Leanne are both teaching their students and readers about Indigenous worldviews rooted specifically in the stories from the land; stories that are imperative to understanding the parameters of our existence. But for a generation of youth that are the product of ongoing colonial violence, displacement and discrimination, it is hard to take the teachings to contribute to our collective when at an individual level, we have incredible healing to do.
As seen above in Ryan McMahons’ podcast, he discusses shame, and in that moment, I felt it too. It wasn’t until I had moved away from my community, took part in classes with Glen and engaged with outside media like Ryan’s podcast where I truly came to understand what it means to shed that cloak, or at least try. Leanne tells us that she “began to realize that shame can only take hold when we are disconnected from the stories of resistance within our own families and communities.” Glen takes this further to say “in the context of internalized colonialism, then it would appear that the emergence of reactive emotions like anger and resentment can indicate a breakdown of colonial subjections.” This manifestation of what Glen calls righteous resentment is “our bitter indignation and persistent anger at being treated unjustly by a colonial state both historically and in the present.”
In the academy I learned to talk about my emotions and my experience in a way that recognizes colonial implications but also to take it further to theorize my teachings into writing that manifests both pieces of my worldview as well as satisfy that colonial institution at the same time. I agree with Leanne Simpson in that the academy does not and cannot provide proper context for Indigenous intelligence. The context within our intelligence manifests itself in “‘aki’ – freedom, sovereignty and self-determination over bodies, minds and land…derived from a web of consensual relationships that is infused with movement (kinetic) through lived experience and embodiment.” But this can become problematic for Indigenous peoples who do not have access to their home lands and resources because of displacement. This is why storytelling through new mediums such as podcasts are becoming an innovative way to connect people to land and space.
Codetalkers Recounting Signals of Survival
Oral storytelling has consistently been an important vehicle for creating “free cognitive spaces because the physical act of gathering a group of people together within our territories reinforces the web of relationships that stitch our communities together.” So what does it mean to create virtual space where Indigenous stories can be uploaded and accessed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations at large?
The process and evolution of Indigenous storytelling can be described in The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. The book tells the story of how our societies medium of communicating has evolved drastically over the past few decades because of technology. Technology has allowed us to communicate faster and more effectively than ever before. Marshall McLuhan claims, “societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.” I see both truths and problems with this statement. First, oral societies have been telling and re-telling stories for centuries with the content of the communication always being as important as the physical storytelling act itself. However, I do agree that the nature of media has had a huge impact as of recently. Of course, McLuhan is writing about media through a western perspective, so in this sense, seeing his work from and Indigenous point of view can be contested. Despite this, the mediums of our stories are changing, but the means have remained the same. The introduction of new media has changed the way the youth interact with each other and the world around us. Our stories still teach humility, integrity, respect and other community values. “We should be concerned with re-creating the conditions within which this learning occurred, not merely the content of the practice itself.”
In Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s piece Codetalkers Recounting Signals of Survival, she discusses the importance of our stories and the importance of retelling the stories through new mediums. She discusses the ways in which our ancestors lived by way of patterns and repetition. She says, “encoded deep in our genes is the memory of survival methods originating as impulses that over time with repetition became encoded into designs, stories, dances, songs and language… those regular patterns make up for our continuing existence.” Therefore, technology has become an incredibly useful tool for our survival as it “literally became the beginnings of the physical network that now allows more and more packets of information to move as freely as our ancestors.” In summary she states, though the means has changed, the message remains consistently unrelenting and unending.”
Indian and Cowboy: Indigenous New Media
In the beginning of this essay I introduced you to an excerpt from the podcast titled Moose Hide Camp as apart of the Stories From the Land series. While I listened to this specific podcast with the intent of analyzing the content for this paper, I couldn’t help but think of how important these stories truly are on a broader scale. The podcast is titled Moose Hide Camp, but the podcast does more than discuss the arduous process of scraping hide for community. Of course, we get to hear the role that the women scraping the hide play and the respect that they carry with their work, but I really took notice of the aesthetics of the piece. I remember Ethel being covered in moose fur and dandruff and thinking “I remember that unpleasant smell.” She tells Ryan to “See how it was. Touch this part. Feel how it was at first. See here where the veins were?” and I too can see and imagine the hide. I am right there with Ryan in the Northwest Territories, learning about scraping hides.
I felt that it was important to include my thought process while listening to Ryan’s monologue before the scraping of the hide. It was after I finished listening that I was able to debunk the ways in which I was thinking about my identity but also how important this monologue is in contributing to what Leanne, Cheryl and Glen talk about when referencing storytelling. Ryan McMahons’ work is reflexive of the healing that needs to take place on an individual level that further allows us as Indigenous peoples to participate in any meaningful reconciliation agenda. His storytelling platform Indian and Cowboy allows Indigenous artists to share their work relating to music, film and other mediums of storytelling that reflect much of our experience as an Indigenous collective.
The art of transforming story into podcast makes accessible the teachings inherent in storytelling to people such as myself, who have moved away from home and those who don’t have avenues to talk or think about Indigeneity. It allows us to engage with parts of ourselves that we might be missing. Most importantly, Ryan brings everything back to land. Land as a central piece of our decolonization process. So what does it mean to have these teachings about land in cyberspace and how does then it contribute to the over-arching realm of decolonization? Steven Loft attempts to theorize this in the following; “A cosmological, adaptive, and decolonized cyberspace that presages its own development… is entirely consistent with our ways of transferring knowledge and culture.” Indigenous new media artists are creating a “hybrid subjectivity [that] is navigating the virtual in a fashion that overlays (thus disrupts) the colonial narrative of the World Wide Web. This is not to portray cyberspace as some pan-Indian utopia but to posit a syncretic Indigenous ontology that is material and virtual.” What Steven Loft is telling us is that these acts in recreating and retelling stories in a new form of self-representation in and of itself is therefore decolonial in nature.
Indigenous worldviews have always been informed by the land. Inherent in these teachings, expressed through ceremonies, songs and stories are the foundations to which we have built our entire livelihood. The work Ryan McMahon has created has brought to the table a new form of storytelling, both traditional and contemporary. Ryans’ work aims to decolonize the spaces that it occupies but also gifts the listener a glimpse into the way Indigenous peoples view the world but also a glimpse into ourselves. When I listen to stories such as Moose Hide Camp, I can see my father on the land hunting, I can imagine my aunties at home beading onto hide that was provided by him or preparing that mouthwatering moose roast. I begin to see different meaning into memories that I have already created. I can begin to decode and reimagine what it means to be an Okanagan Woman. Indigenous worldviews are informed by the land, which in turn influence the stories passed on whether directly from person to person, or now within podcasting media, and these mediums inform how we see ourselves as Indigenous people.
Written Originally for, David Gaertner – FNIS 401F: Digital Media- Indigenous New Media, UBC 2015.
 The subtitle “Stories From The Land” comes from the Podcast Series, Stories From The Land featured on Indian and Cowboy Network.
 Dechinta. “What Dechinta Offers.” Accessed December 13, 2015. dechinta.ca/what-dechinta-offers/
 Ryan McMahon, “Dechinta Land and Medicine Stories – Melaw & Ethel ‘Moose Hide Camp’” Stories From the Land, podcast audio, July 16, 2015. http://www.indianandcowboy.com/episodes/dechinta [02.23 – 03.02]
 Father Pandosy is commonly known as one of the first settlers in the Kelowna area.
 Ibid McMahon, 03.03 – 03.15
 Ibid McMahon, 05.55 – 08.08
 Ibid McMahon, 10.31 – 12.08
 Leanne Simpson, “Land As Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Vol.3, No. 3. 2014. (1 – 25) 7.
 Ibid Simpson, 7.
 Ibid Simpson, 12.
 Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014) 13.
 Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtles Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Recreation, Resurgence and a New Emergence (Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Press, 2011), 14.
 Ibid Coulthard, 115.
 Ibid Coulthard, 126.
 A Nishnaabeg Word: Aki includes all aspects of creation: land forms, elements, plants, animals, spirits, sounds, thoughts, feelings, energies and all of the emergent systems, ecologies and networks that connect these elements.
 Ibid Land as Pedagogy, 16.
 Title borrowed from Coded Territories. Cheryl L’Hirondelle, “Codetalkers Recounting Signals of Survival,” Coded Territories. (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2014) 147.
 Ibid Dancing On Our Turtles Back, 34.
 Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (Berkeley: Gingko Press Inc, 1996) 8.
 Ibid Land as Pedagogy, 9.
 Ibid L’Hirondelle, 159.
 Ibid L’Hirondelle, 150.
 Ibid L’Hirondelle, 153.
 Ibid L’Hirondelle, 160.
 Ibid McMahon, 16.05.
 Ibid McMahon, 14.39.
 Steven Loft, “Mediacosmology,” Coded Territories. (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2014) 176.
 Ibid Loft, 176.