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  • Jasper Woods

Two-Eyed Seeing

“Before the Sorrow, scores of cities spewed unnatural light bleeding away the shimmering vastness. Then, they could only see a few hundred. On this night, like any other clear night, the Trio can see ten thousand poking through the dark veil.
Shyaklá circles a gentle finger over Xaslú on the map. “Do you think it might be they are not only spirits but something else too?”
Anahoy and Psúni scrunch their faces as Anahoy kneels beside Shyaklá. “Like what?”
“Like fires.”

12-year-old Indigenous girl observing the stars, outsider art

Context is important. What was “outer space” to someone living twelve thousand years ago? What a star? Carl Sagan discusses a civilization’s technological adolescence. What was its childhood like?

I was blessed with many synchronistic events while writing Trajectories. One I am especially grateful for is coming across Mi'kmaq Elder Albert Marshall’s concept of Etuaptmumk (Two-Eyed Seeing).

"Two-Eyed Seeing refers to learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous ways of knowing and from the other eye with the strengths of Western ways of knowing and to using both of these eyes together” (Bartlett, Marshall, & Marshall, 2012, p. 335).

Two-Eyed Seeing, outsider art

I came across this about four months after I got my developmental edit back. (If you’re unfamiliar, in essence, a developmental edit is when an editor reads through a novel and makes suggestions to strengthen the story.) I found the concept validating of the primary theme of Trajectories—we must live in balance. In balance with each other, our home (this planet floating through a vast infinity of nothing and everything), our cousin creatures, fauna, waters, all that live in the waters and on. Currently, we do not live in balance. But this you know.

Earth floating through a vast infinity of nothing and everything

Shyaklá was a difficult birth. She, her friends, family and community became very real to me. Yet, I wondered if I could or should be depicting them. I reached out to Indigenous experts in language, culture as well as Indigenous nations. But, I wasn’t getting anywhere primarily because no one knows anything about the people who lived in the Paleolithic. I was very intent on walking the thin line of not romanticizing and not appropriating. So, how could I be reverent and still include them in the story?

Once Shya’s scenes were completed (as much as any are ever completed) I engaged a series of culture coaches (aka sensitivity readers). While each gave helpful feedback which I incorporated, most of it was positive. Here is my favorite:

“Something else that I noticed and appreciated is that you did not focus on portraying Indigenous spirituality or rituals, which did not make the plot any less mystical. It is nice to have mystical adventures take place on this continent without the exploitation of closed Indigenous practices. A refreshing experience that proves to me it can be done.”

Since Shya's timeline is from what is known as the Paleolithic, I searched for the oldest Indigenous language. Sahaptin came up. Shyaklá’s name and those in her community are derived from the Sahaptin Yakama Dialect Practical Dictionary by Yakama Nation Elder Virginia Beavert and Sharon Hargus. (Elder Virginia is so fascinating she requires her own riff. So it will be.) Not only did Elder Virginia write an entire dictionary of her language, she also made a pronunciation key.

Why did she do all this? Because, as I understand it as of this writing,Yakama is an endangered language. She did all that work to ensure her language continues to live on. Elder Virginia’s dedication spurred me to include them. Why? So, I could bring awareness to endangered languages. (See links below). I reached out to gain permission to use words from their dictionary for the character names in Trajectories for Shyaklá’s community and it was granted.

What does Shyaklá mean in the Yakama dialect? It means: scout.


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