Monday, March 31, 2008


Edward Chamberlin, Canadian professor of English and Comparative Literature, shared the following story, an incident from which he derived the title of his book on stories and national-cultural identification: If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?

"It happened at a meeting between a [native America] Indian community in northwest British Columbia and some government officials. The officials claimed the land for the government. The natives were astonished by the claim. They couldn’t understand what these relative newcomers were talking about. Finally one of the elders put what was bothering them in the form of a question. “If this is your land,” he asked, “where are your stories?” He spoke in English, but then moved into Gitksan, the Tsimshian language of his people – and told a story. All of a sudden everyone understood…even though the government foresters didn’t know a word of Gitksan, and neither did some of his Gitksan companions. But what they understood was more important: how stories give meaning and value to the places we call home; how they bring us close to the world we live in by taking us into a world of words; how they hold us together and at the same time keep us apart."

“If this is your land, where are your stories?” This question carries with it the importance of a people’s story and its contribution to their sense of identity and community. It is interesting here how identity is tied to land – possession of it – and to history and culture. What’s even more interesting is that story is the glue that holds it all together. The original inhabitants in this factual tale told by Chamberlin seem to be saying: “Our land, our language, our stories, our history, our heritage, our identity – our very being of who we are – are all tied up together, are all integrated.” To challenge any one of these, they imply, is to challenge all the others.

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