Irene Jansen

Mar 112019

I facilitate digital storytelling. Here’s how I describe it …

Digital storytelling is a form of story work – personal stories told in first-person voice. It uses a group process, bringing small groups of people together in workshops to develop these stories.

Digital stories are short (two to four minute) first-person video narratives. With help, participants write their story (roughly 300 words) and record themselves telling the story. They combine the voiceover with photos; some add video clips, artwork and music or other sound. Each participant creates their own story, in their own voice.

I was trained by Community Story Strategies and Story Center, organizations with a social justice orientation.

Social justice organizations use digital storytelling in many ways: member education, leadership development and team building. They might use members’ personal stories (with permission) to educate others, recruit new activists and motivate people to take action. The organizers of a project choose the theme, participants and approach based on community strengths and needs.

Unions are getting back to their roots with storytelling; digital storytelling adds visual and digital elements. Digital storytelling workshops help members reflect on an issue, deepen their analysis and learn how to hone stories for organizing, media, presentations and other forms of communication. Bargaining and other campaign teams use digital storytelling to deepen trust, teamwork and mutual commitment.

The ethics and process of digital storytelling, like any participatory media, are super important. See ethical guidelines here and process here.

Below are examples of stories produced in a digital storytelling workshop – specifically, ones that emphasize collective action for social change.

No More Waiting – by Clarissa Doutherd

Clarissa’s story was created in a workshop organized by the Women’s Policy Institute of California and facilitated by StoryCenter. WPI trains women leaders of grassroots organizations in the areas of child care, criminal justice, environmental justice, reproductive justice, and trauma justice. Their graduates have been leaders in 29 legislative wins, including the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.

Clarissa’s organization, Parent Voices California, has also made important gains over its 20 years, including public funding for non-profit child care, and they’re part of a coalition that won paid sick days and fair scheduling regulation.

Here are some more digital stories produced in a three-day workshop, these ones led by Community Story Strategies in Toronto:

How to Connect – by Leona

Healing Beat – by Lynn

I’ve produced a few digital stories of my own, most recently here.

Mar 102019

I made this four-minute digital story for myself and fellow settlers, to reflect on family stories and settler privilege.

I was inspired in part by this 30-minute documentary by Liz Carlson, Gladys Rowe, Sarah Story and Teddy Zegeye-Gebrehiwot.

Stories of Decolonization: Land Dispossession and Settlement presents Indigenous scholars and activists as well as settlers. The film is thought-provoking, educational and beautiful. Please watch it. This article describes the filmmaking process.

My personal story is an effort to reconcile different family stories: the one I grew up with and repeated for most of my life, and this new one about my part in colonialism. Both are true, but one is rarely told.

I was inspired by the History Workshop invitation to “dig where you stand” and Indigenous leaders’ invitation to learn about Indigenous history and current struggles on the land we occupy (as one step in allyship).

I got motivated last winter by a project led by Geneviève Cloutier with six other researchers who are using art in their academic and community practices. Gladys Rowe was another member of the group. Gladys and her colleagues’ film moved me. It prompted me to tell my own story of settler privilege and rural roots.

This digital story Stolen Land has already sparked good conversations with other settlers. I find the conversations difficult at times, but I learn from each one, and hopefully others feel the same.

I have plans to screen Gladys and colleagues’ film in two rural communities near Ottawa, to invite more conversations with settlers about dispossession, settlement and privilege and about concrete actions we can take for anti-colonial social change. I will do this in collaboration with Indigenous people who have a relationship to that land.

I want to thank everyone who helped me with this digital story: my partners in the art research project (Geneviève Cloutier, Gladys Rowe, Nadine Flagel, Wendy Crocker, Lucia Lorenzi and Adam Clare) and these colleagues, friends and acquaintances: Greg Taylor, Timothy Armstrong, Chris Lawson, Rosa Barker, Carol Hodgson, Pei-Ju Wang, Soha Kneen, Vadim Belotserkovsky, Michael Desautels, Daniel McNeil, Liliane Braga and Allix Thompson. Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to watch a version and offer your thoughts or permission to use your work.

This story first occurred to me last year, in a workshop organized by Daniel McNeil of Carleton University and facilitated by Henry Daniel of Simon Fraser University. The workshop explored colonialism, slavery and migration through personal narratives and movement improvisation. Thank you for the spark.

Here are books I recommend in the video: The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, Indigenous Writes by Chelsea Vowel, The Reconciliation Manifesto by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson, and The Truth That Wampum Tells by Lynn Gehl. For a podcast, MEDIA INDIGENA by Rick Harp and colleagues is fabulous.

A note on process, adding to what I described above … I tried to be accountable with this digital story. I ran it by several Indigenous friends and colleagues who work in/with grassroots Indigenous organizations, asking if the digital story is safe and helpful. They said yes. I made changes they suggested: choice of map and quote. I also ran it by several settlers who work for Indigenous organizations. Their feedback helped me hone the visuals. I tried to make the story safe (not reinforce colonialism) and at the same time not ask Indigenous people for a lot of time since this is a settler narrative geared to other settlers. We need to educate ourselves. I don’t know if I struck the right balance, but I thought a brief note on accountability might be interesting to other settlers doing this type of storytelling.

Originally published: June 2018.