Oral history makes a critical contribution in articulating the perspectives of people often overlooked in histories written from the standpoint of dominating class, gender, ethnic or professional groups. Using three interrelated approaches - life stories, oral history, and narrative analysis - this paper analyzes family responses to psychiatric care and mental illness in oral history interviews with family members who experienced mental illness themselves or within their family between 1930 and 1975. Interviews with three family members in Alberta, Canada are the primary focus. These stories provide an important avenue to understand the meaning and transformations of mental health-care from the point of view of families. Family members' stories reveal contradictory responses to the dominant cultural discourse. Using a performative framework of interpretation, the narratives reveal a complex interplay between medical, social and cultural conceptions of mental illness, deepening our understanding of its meaning. The history of mental health-care can be substantially enriched by the analysis of family members' stories, not only revealing the constructed nature of mental illness, but also illustrating the family as a mediating context in which the meaning of mental illness is negotiated.
Native Americans have long relied on the oral transmission of their ideas rather than developing an alphabet and a reliance on written records. While the use of pictures to communicate basic concepts is found throughout Alaska during the historic contact period, the development of an alphabet or pictorial text among Natives in Alaska is extremely limited with examples found only in the Kuskokwim Delta (ca. 1901) and Seward Peninsula (ca. 1914). The later appearance of a pictorial text on Nunivak Island (ca. 1940) is believed to have derived from the Seward Peninsula style. Each of these texts is believed to have originated from the influence of missionaries. This paper traces the appearance and development of a picture text among the Nuniwarmiut Eskimo on Nunivak Island and its current status in the Mekoryuk community.
Some stories enjoy a very widespread distribution in the North. Anthropologists and folklorists have long collected and analyzed these stories, and scrutinized their regional variants. Craig Mishler taps into this longstanding scholarly tradition as he looks at the widespread story of “The Blind Man and the Loon.” However, he goes beyond analyzing the form of this tale to explore what gives it healing properties. He wants to know why this story has become part of virtually every Native storyteller’s repertoire throughout the Arctic and Subarctic. One answer is that the main character and events of the story evoke the undeserved suffering that shapes the human condition everywhere. Much of the story’s power stems from its depiction of a ritual for healing the handicapped, thereby becoming a medicinal oral text. Additional power comes from the wide range of local and regional forms that adapt it to local sensibilities.
With the advanced methods of analysing old biological material, it is pressing to discuss what should be allowed to be done with human remains, particularly for well documented historical individuals. We argue that Queen Christina of Sweden, who challenged the traditional gender roles, has an interest in maintaining her privacy when there are continued attempts to reveal her 'true' gender. In the long-running philosophical debate on posthumous wronging, the fundamental question is: Who is wronged? Our aim is to find this 'missing subject' using narrative theory. Narrative identity emphasises the fact that no person is alone in knowing or telling their life story. People's lives are entangled and parts of the life story of a deceased person can remain in the living realm. Since the narrative identity of a person does not necessarily end upon their death, and this narrative continues to relate directly to the person who once existed, it is the narrative subject that can continue to be posthumously wronged. Queen Christina can no longer maintain her own identity, but we maintain it by our research into her life. We propose three duties relevant for posthumous wronging: the duty of truthfulness, the duty of recognition and the duty to respect privacy.
Edith Turner has been studying healing as a sensitive, spiritually attuned participant-observer for a long time. Despite her academic background, experiential learning and knowing are important parts of Turner’s approach to research. Her efforts to understand healing have taken her on journeys to Africa, Mexico, Ireland, and more recently, Alaska’s North Slope. In these contexts, she has experienced healing offered by others, and learned to heal in various traditional ways herself. In her book, The Hands Feel It (1996), Turner focuses on the role that touch and spirit presence have in healing in a North Slope Iñupiat community. However, her book makes clear that narrative and storytelling are important parts of the healing process, as well. In this paper, Turner elaborates on some aspects of the connection between narrative and healing based on her North Slope experience.
Most narrators of the Dakota Memories Oral History Project (DMOHP), the children and grandchildren of ethnic German immigrants from Russia, reminisce a great deal about their family relationships -- grandparent-grandchild relationships, parent-child relationships, and sibling-sibling relationships. They share memories of their grandmothers baking them delicious dough dishes, of their fathers making them labor endlessly in the fields, and of their siblings coaxing them into mischief. Through these relationships, Germans from Russia not only learned about their ethnic group's identity, but they also reshaped it into a new identity, blending their past with their present. Within the context of family relationships, these German Russian descendants forged a new identity rooted in their ethnic heritage and history, but serviceable to new, American-born generations.
First Nations' perspectives on health and health care as delivered by doctors, nurses, and Canada's former Indian hospital system form a significant part of Canada's medical history, as well as a part of First Nations people's personal histories. Oral histories collected in Alberta and British Columbia suggest that First Nations people who experienced the Nanaimo and Charles Camsell Indian hospitals between 1945 and 1965 perceive the value of their experiences to be reflected in their survivance, a concept recalled through narratives emphasizing both humour and pain, as well as past and present personal resilience.
Although small beings such as the "qupirruit" (insects and worms) appear in many different contexts in Inuit culture, they have not received much attention from scholars. In this paper we examine the symbolism associated with these small animals. We show that their small size makes them suitable to operate on the level of the "tarniq," a miniature image of a being. We discuss how insects often connect different scales and easily transform into other beings. We first deal with the perceptions of insects as they take shape in narratives and practices, and their roles in the manufacture and use of amulets. Then we move to a more specific analysis of the distinctive features of the various "qupirruit".
A collaborative study of the Smithsonian Institution's ethnology collections has inspired the narration of Alaska Native oral traditions, including Yupik Elder Estelle Oozevaseuk's re-telling (in 2001) of the story of Kukulek village and the St. Lawrence Island famine and epidemic of 1878–80. The loss of at least 1,000 lives and all but two of the island's villages was a devastating event that is well documented in historical sources and archaeology, as well as multiple Yupik accounts. Yupiget have transmitted memories of extreme weather, bad hunting conditions, and a wave of fatal contagion that swept the island. The Kukulek narrative, with origins traceable to the late nineteenth century, provides a spiritual perspective on the disaster's underlying cause, found in the Kukulek people's disrespect toward the animal beings that sustained them. This paper explores the cultural and historical contexts of this narrative, and contrasts it with Western perspectives.
One of our goals in this session was, not just to talk about the healing power of narrative, but to experience it as well. Louise Profeit-LeBlanc is one of the presenters we invited specifically because of her skills as a storyteller. She has been heavily involved for several years as both an organizer and a participant in the Yukon Storytelling Festival, held every year in late May in Whitehorse. Woven into her presentation is a useful framework for differentiating various kinds of stories. As she tells us a series of stories, she takes us through a wide range of emotions from grief and loss to laughter and awe. For each of her stories, she gives us some personal contextual information that adds to the story’s meaning and helps us appreciate its significance. Her final story, in particular, is the kind of traditional story that has probably existed for a very long time. Such stories may be told with slightly different emphases, depending on the occasion, but they carry wisdom and value for every generation that hears them.