to be storytellers

Indigenous Curatorial Collective | September 2020

Website currently under construction
part of the the to be storztellers project bz Gillian Joseph. This picture features a poem as well as analogue photography and personal drawings by Gillian Joseph

audio: Travis Joseph

poetry: Gillian Joseph


the intention of this project is to create a living artifact of knowledge transmission between myself and my Até (father), Travis. because I did not grow up on my ancestral homelands, storytelling is how my Até ensured that my younger brother and I were raised with our Indigenous knowledge and culture, despite the physical distance between us and our community and having a blended Dakota/Lakota/white family.

my Até and I have engaged in a practice of storytelling and reflective writing for over a decade, doing so more frequently in the past five years as I have moved around and through the world. it is the lifeline of our relationship, a mechanism of breaking and healing the cyclical trauma which has been embodied for generations in our family as a result of residential schooling and other genocidal acts against our people. it has helped me better understand myself as a queer two-spirit person, led me to undertake new phases of life that I never imagined as possible, and guided us into deeper conversations, the difficulty of which could only be supported by this means of communication.

ultimately, storytelling has been our way of knowing for the entirety of my life — this is how I know my Até, myself, and all the relationships I partake in.

I invite you to join us in this process by listening to my Até share stories with me, and reading my written responses to him.



my medicine is


made up of L-s

sticky-sweet back-of-the-throat syllables

lingering for generations, soothing

repetitive journeys of

honesty-sharpened words

teeth clenched against

explanations about how this coating

protects from voice-stealers

coaxes out protests to


as though you could forget a time

before time was even invented


my body is


full of pronunciations

i wasn’t taught, but they are

familiar in my mouth

telling stories spanning beyond


my current-existence    is


not restricted or bound by something

as sacred as life and death

iyowalya … 

            like “healing” in memories

mulled over in childhood homes

spilling forth from wine glasses

brim-filled with streams

of consciousness, of tears and

liquid laughter — yours

so comforting it melts fears

they’ll pool, offer reflections

on stoic faces navigating

thoughts brought up again,

again I go to ask

but am told to sit, look, listen

patiently, without expectations

or self-judgements


imagine iyowalya

            like “lightness” in sleep

like “revelations” in another

like “blossoming” in chests

that intertwine with ribs

before finding release

in sighs, perhaps many

slipped between breaths


like meditations held

in single moments

feeling each sensation


like “being” in harmony

with the present

Makȟa wrapped me in tȟo

— surrounded me in tȟo —

terry towels mimicking

mniwáŋča’s ripples when

strewn across the floor

in temporary discard

clinging tightly to salt and sand

the way my hands are

clasped around Até’s neck

as he wades us in, sure to remind me

there is power much greater than him


even though his frame keeps us afloat

even though mŋi and his eyes

share shades of tȟo


i welcome the drops crowding on eyelashes

misty visions give me space

to feel instead of look


here i am known

no pushing, pulling, hard divides

between shore and sea

or where mniwáŋča holds the sky

tȟo flowing into sibling hues

containing other spirits’ knowledge


i become this, sinking, flowing


i let go.