Jessica Hum on Indigenous Story-telling, Decolonizing Media, and a Quest to Rectify Indigenous Traumas of the Past

Jessica Hum (She/Her/Hers) is a self-identified Indigenous-Chinese-Canadian person, who has created and published a podcast called, “Story-telling / Story-listening.” I was drawn to interviewing Jessica because of her quest to decolonize media and her dedication to elevating Indigneous voices on her podcast. This podcast is dedicated to employing traditional oral storytelling to prepare for climate change, as well as exploring and utilizing Indigenous ways of knowing and thinking about the world. Jessica is earning a Master’s degree in Environment and Resource Management at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, where she first got the idea to start her podcast after learning about the value in Indigenous oral storytelling practices for elevating Indigenous voices and decolonizing media; working to decolonize our own research and education is something any student or researcher in marine and environmental affairs should value.

Jessica also hopes to reconnect to her Indigenous heritage through this podcast. Her father was removed from his mother in the 1950s and placed with a Chinese family by the Canadian government, a strategic colonial practice known as the Sixties Scoop designed to systematically erase Indigenous cultures in Canada. Jessica therefore does not know the First Nation her family belongs to. Her podcast is an opportunity to share her family’s story, and to possibly even connect her to her grandmother: “Part of having this podcast is sharing this story. If anyone knows Alice Kozeyah, I’d love to get in touch!”


Jessica Hum is a master’s student at Dalhousie University. Jessica is inspired by new media, particularly because of its potential to Indigenize mainstream media. Photo credit: Jessica Hum, 2020, location: Porters Lake, Nova Scotia.

On what inspired this podcast:

Early in my work, after studying planning, I was really influenced by a Tibetan Elder. I was interested in going abroad in international development. I was working in my hometown of Toronto, and this Tibetan Elder really questioned my interest in working internationally when there was so much work to be done in Canada.

Some years later, I moved to the Northwest Territories. I began working with the Tłı̨chǫ government, which is a Dene First Nation self-government in the Northwest Territories, on land protection files. This work involved looking at water, land, wildlife, and the protection of language, culture, and way of life. I worked with some wonderful folks that opened my eyes to the original stewardship principles that had been applied on land and water for sustainability. That became the focus of my research and it prompted me to look deeper and to go back to school at a master’s level and be able to invest some more time deeply investigating some of these issues of sustainability and original stewardship principles.

When asking Dr. Sherry Pictou what to read on these topics, she had a lot of advice on working with new media. Sherry has worked with new media as a way of documenting trails, and I was so inspired by her method of using media to document stories. Maybe this inspiration was influenced by my aversion to getting back into academic writing after so many years away from it, and after so many years of reading Traditional Knowledge, where the whole story is provided, instead of just taking one quote out.

This cover photo for Jessica’s podcast provides a view of Bear Glacier and Strohn Lake north of Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK. Jessica has recorded interviews with Indigenous academics and Indigenous Elders, all of whom offer decolonizing and relationship-building perspectives that are vital to preserving Indigenous ways of living amidst the era of climate change. Photo credit: Jessica Hum, 2018.

On the importance of oral storytelling:

Radio is still the backbone of communication in our small communities, but the internet is also becoming an important medium, and podcasts allow for listening on asynchronously. You never have to cut the story short! A podcast is an oral story that we record, like a radio, that lives on the internet forever. It’s an offering of the full recorded story to anyone who wants to access it. This is connected to the oral story tradition that is the key to re-Indigenizing. For one episode, I interviewed an Elder who essentially only had a Grade 3 [settler] education. If he was asked to write his story down, he would not be able to. Podcasts allow us to tell these oral stories, which can only be done by listening through our ears and our hearts, not necessarily through reading and writing.

From my experiences working with the Tłı̨chǫ, who live close to the northern tree line, I can say that they are seeing firsthand the effects of climate change. Solving climate change is not just a nice thing to do, like recycling in the city. It’s a matter of surviving. It’s a matter of keeping the language, culture, and way of life alive. I am inspired by Indigenous people who are guardians of their land and of wildlife, but it’s not fair to ask Indigenous peoples to be the sole guardians of the land. We need to practice allyship, to stand and walk with Indigenous groups in appropriate and respectful ways, which is such an important role for allies. We can’t just put it all on Indigenous peoples to stand up for the right decisions on environmental resource management and protection. We all have to participate in that process.

Dr. John B. Zoe (a guest on Jessica’s podcast) and family on the Tłı̨chǫ Trails of the Ancestors. Photo Credit: Tee Lim, 2018.

 

One concept I really love is the idea of a “boundary object.” A boundary object represents objectives that can span an ethical space, such as between two cultures, two Elders, or two ideas. If we take the Tłı̨chǫ for example, there is a Western way of knowing and there is an Indigenous way of knowing. They are not necessarily polar opposites. In our podcast conversation, Elder Albert Marshall spoke about learning to see with the strengths of both as in “Two-Eyed Seeing” or “Etuaptmumk ” in the Mi’kmaw language. Another related idea from the late Tłı̨chǫ Chief Jimmy Bruneau is “Strong Like Two People.” There are some common values and some common ways of walking together, which is what a boundary object represents.

To me, a boundary object is my way of reciprocating both these streams of knowledge and being. It’s a gift that I can give back to Indigenous communities because of the gifts they gave me.

Jessica’s podcast, “Story-telling/Story-listening,” can be found on all podcast platforms, including Apple, Spotify, YouTube, and Google.