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Don’t you dare edit our voices

Don’t you dare edit our voices

An opinion piece from me almost always begins with me ranting or offering my two cents on an issue. I don’t know if that’s a reflection on me or the things that make we want to write with passion — but I like to think it’s just me exercising my voice. I mean, I guess

An opinion piece from me almost always begins with me ranting or offering my two cents on an issue. I don’t know if that’s a reflection on me or the things that make we want to write with passion — but I like to think it’s just me exercising my voice.

I mean, I guess it’s just me feeling out fresh new linens because the voices that came before me were drowned out in blood or simply stolen.

And I do love to write, my fingers and mind ache when I don’t.

But imagine writing an age-old story told from mouth to ear that is filled with emotion and knowledge; a story from oral tradition that was never even meant to be trapped by words written by a person on a keyboard. Imagine stitching this story down, taking away it’s looseness, it’s freedom, and sharing it to those that cannot hear your voice from mouth to ear. Now once you’ve imagined it, understand that it takes a lot from the soul of a person to subject oral tradition to the commitment of pen and ink.

But I suppose writing a story down like that is a great way of sharing and remembering the story, isn’t it?

Sure.

Now, think with me and imagine someone looking at this story, reading it, and not identifying with it because it was never theirs to identify with. Now imagine them rewriting it the way they would like it, in a way that would make them identify with it. In a way that was selfish, and ignorantly so.

This has happened to me twice in this life.

I will tell you how anger heated my stomach as I read a changed, heavily edited text. The story once shared with me, a part of my ancestors and the collective voices of those before me, now felt alien.

It felt like something precious was taken and altered beyond recognition; and altered in a way that made it hard for me to read it. It had been washed in a colour that took the emotion, the connection from it and this was done without my knowledge. I had thought that grammar and punctuation was all that might have needed to be altered, but I was wrong both times. And soon after the anger died, I felt ashamed.

“That’s why you don’t write those things down,” was all I could hear in my head.

But then I thought; no, that’s why indigenous writers should only be edited by those that are culturally sensitive or understanding, or by an indigenous editor that holds equal or more knowledge on the subject at hand. They should also be consulted in regards to the alterations of their story because it is in their voice with their name on the byline.

And our voices aren’t radio stations — to be turned down when we are too loud, or to be changed when we say something that doesn’t want to be heard. They are the echoes of our ancestors, the rumblings of thunder, and the carriers of our traditions.

So…

When an indigenous person speaks, let them speak.

When an indigenous person writes, let them write.

Because so many before them did not have the tools, education or the option to do so.

What we say might not identify with you.

What we say might hurt you.

What we write might cut into you.

But let us have our voices as you have yours.

We don’t have to stroke your ego or offer patriotism beside you.

We do not have to speak or write in a way that you can understand.

Ours is a history that once did not include you.

And we do not owe it to you to be silent.

So, edit for grammatical errors all you want.

But don’t you dare edit our voices.

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