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Cherie Dimaline, "And a story will show them the way"

In honour of National Aboriginal Day on June 21, we at Canada Writes are presenting our own contribution to the CBC's groundbreaking 8th Fire project: "The Way Forward," an original series by some of the country's leading and emerging Aboriginal writers.

Here, Toronto author Cherie Dimaline on the power of story, "a suitcase we pack with our culture."


And a story will show them the way
By Cherie Dimaline

Roll up your sleeves, lace your fingers together and turn the steeple of your hands inside out, pushing away from your body so that every knuckle cracks. Bend your neck allowing each ear to touch the corresponding shoulder like a praying forehead to the ground. Now you’re ready. 

Reach deep down, past the opening, in through the introduction, slipping on dialogue that slithers and stammers, right into the middle of the story. Don’t mind the sticky bits that smooth into the whorls of your fingerprints like white school glue and ignore the jagged edges that catch and pierce under your nails. Just keep reaching. 

Stretch from the shoulder and bend at the knee not from the waist; you wouldn’t want to risk injury. Make sure you book some time off from work, this won’t soon be over. And when you hit the disturbing part, the mess in the middle that makes you shudder and grit your teeth, that’s when you know you’ve made real headway. 

A story can be a scary thing, dangerous as a germ; it was the infamous pioneering author William S. Burroughs who called language ‘a virus from outer space’. But a story, despite (or perhaps, because of) maleficent metaphor and misguiding twists, can also be useful as a map, letting you know with brutal efficiency where you are, where you have been and exactly how you feel about the journey that got you there. 

It’s a sentence that punches you in the gut. It’s a word that gets stuck in the back of your throat. It’s an image that pulls you in through a window before promptly kicking you out the backdoor after it’s had its way with you. A story is a suitcase we pack with our culture, our defeats and our triumphs, our questions and our answers. Stories are both the way we relate to each other and the way we react to one other. 

In an uncertain future together we can only hope to have the stories that map out how we got there, and mark with red X’s and circled detours the paths to avoid and the ones to skip merrily down, hand in hand. Then all that’s left to do is to roll up our sleeves and reach in as far as we can. 


Cherie Dimaline is a Metis author living in Toronto, Ontario with her husband and their three children. Her first award-winning book, Red Rooms, was published in 2007. She is currently the Writer in Residence for First Nations House at the University of Toronto and is the Editor-in-Chief of both FNH and Muskrat magazines. Her first novel, The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy, will be released in Spring 2013. 

Photo credit: Susan Blight

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