12/1/2014 11 Comments
watched the Fifth Estate the other night. Chris Boyce, the Executive Director of CBC Radio was interviewed by Gillian Findlay about the Jian Ghomeshi matter. Like many I felt it was pretty good reporting but I think something was missed by the interviewer. This particular phenomenon is recurring, and while I am always quick to address it when I encounter it when talking with people, I have yet to write about it.
Regardless of what many may think, all peoples are well vested in the oral tradition, not just the people of Turtle Island. We all talk and listen to one another, we all tell and listen to stories, we all listen to the natural elements such as the wind and rain. This use of the oral tradition continues today. We all listen to the radio, television, and music. The oral tradition has a long history that predates written language and what is recorded in the books, journals, and archives stored in our personal, public, and national libraries.
In many ways it can be said the more important knowledge is the oral knowledge that circulates in our discussions that take place around the dinner table, our sidewalks, our coffee shops, and our places of work such as the lunch and board rooms. It is this oral knowledge that has not been “cleaned up” by higher powers and political agendas that houses many truths of who we are.
When people and a nation began to define knowledge in legal positivistic terms relegating it to the written word, an artifact, or a criminal conviction, they did the oral tradition and the truths contained a disservice. When a nation of people began to do this, define knowledge through these narrow parameters, they put many, in particular women and children, in harm’s way.
What really concerned me was the way the CBC executive responded when asked, and only after repeatedly being asked, if he knew of the Jian Ghomeshi abuse. His response was dismissive of the oral tradition stating “only through office gossip”. It was at this moment when the CBC executive spun very legitimate and valid oral knowledge into nothing worth listening to.
While gossip has an interesting etymology worthy of learning, in the contemporary context it is crucial that we understand that gossip refers to the process of intentionally undermining a person through spreading malicious untruths about them. Gossip is intended to harm and discredit good people. Both men and women engage in the practice of gossip. It is not something that only women do. As a matter of fact I have witnessed men engage in gossip as a mechanism to see who they can rely on in their larger goal of undermining another person and gain power over.
The knowledge sharing that takes place in our social spaces where we meet, such as coffee rooms and office hallways, is not gossip. It is the oral tradition. This particular CBC executive has been grossly misinformed about what is knowledge.
In a world where people abuse their power, and where women are unwilling to move forward with a complaint due to issues of power and the narrow interpretation of evidence and truth, it is even more crucial that the oral tradition not be dismissed as mere gossip. Employers, such as this CBC executive, must learn to value the oral tradition and act to protect their employees.
Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.