Learning to Listen

Here’s the short version:

I have an RP entry ready to post, but I’m waiting to hear back from the Mescalero Apache Tribe before I do so, out of respect.

Here’s the longer version:

I got into a fight with my friend the other day.

She’d been advising me over the last two weeks, as she is part Native and I was working on an entry for an Apache woman. I was struggling pretty hard with how to portray the woman’s story, which was deeply intertwined with Apache spiritualism. Not being Apache herself, my friend advised me to get in contact with a tribe member.

And I tried – but I didn’t have high hopes. In the past, I’ve tried contacting experts to advise on other RP entries, and it’s never worked well. Most of the time they wouldn’t get back to me – and when they did, it was often months later… an eternity when you’re trying to post regularly on the web. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, I had left messages with two tribes and sent emails to three personal contacts. Followed up a day or two after, and nothing.

Unable to progress past a certain point with that entry until I heard back, I put it on the backburner and started work on the story of a related Apache woman, whose story was more straightforward. More than straightforward – it was all laid out by one of the Apache storytellers, whose telling had been transcribed verbatim into a book. It was a powerful story, beautifully told. All the details one could want were already there. I couldn’t wait to get the entry online.

And then I got into that fight.

My friend had continued to nudge me, saying that if I was worried about representation, then perhaps do an entry on a tribe without living members. I retorted, that would rule out virtually every story out there – then, realizing she was getting upset, I backed down and apologized. She replied:

It’s just that it seems to me that there is an attitude here that access to these stories is something you are due because you want to tell them. And I realize that you want to do these women honor, it’s just that’s not how it works when you have no tribal affiliation.

Which was something I hadn’t thought about.

I mean, intellectually, of course I knew that many peoples held storytelling as a sacred part of their culture. But I had been coming at it from the Western perspective, the one I was raised with – the one that’s about Fair Use and Free Speech and libel laws. But that’s Western law, something many cultures were forced to adopt at gunpoint. And just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should.

Even still, part of me argued, the story’s in a book! Anyone can go read it! But, I realized, that story is told in the exact way of the Apache – my version was an adaptation. I’d read how the Apache would remember exact details and recite them verbatim decades later, keeping an unbroken oral tradition. Would my Jewish ancestors be cool with me making an adaptation of the Torah and it possibly being passed off as the original? No, that would be sacrilege.

Bottom line: this isn’t my story to tell.

That doesn’t mean I won’t ever tell it, per se. It does mean that I want to get the blessing of the Mescalero Apache to tell that story before I go any further. That goes for both the original entry (let’s drop the guessing game – it was Lozen), and the “stopgap” entry (Gouyen). I sent them the PDF the other day, and am waiting to hear back. Maybe it won’t be a big deal and I can post it up today. Maybe it will and I’ll never post it online. I don’t know.

(proof I actually have it done!)

Thank you for understanding. It’s the goal of this project to be respectful and always punch up, not punch down. I try and take that pretty seriously, realizing where I’m in the wrong and correcting myself going forward.

Will regroup and figure out what to do for the next entry, and announce a hint soon.


A reader wrote in to ask what sources I’d used for these entries: