Gillian Joseph

the intention of this project is to create a living artifact of knowledge transmission between
myself and my Até (father), Travis. because I did not grow up on my ancestral homelands,
storytelling is how my Até ensured that my younger brother and I were raised with our
Indigenous knowledge and culture, despite the physical distance between us and our community
and having a blended Dakota/Lakota/white family.

my Até and I have engaged in a practice of storytelling and reflective writing for over a decade,
doing so more frequently in the past five years as I have moved around and through the world. it
is the lifeline of our relationship, a mechanism of breaking and healing the cyclical trauma which
has been embodied for generations in our family as a result of residential schooling and other
genocidal acts against our people. it has helped me better understand myself as a queer two-spirit
person, led me to undertake new phases of life that I never imagined as possible, and guided us
into deeper conversations, the difficulty of which could only be supported by this means of
communication.

ultimately, storytelling has been our way of knowing for the entirety of my life — this is how I
know my Até, myself, and all the relationships I partake in.

I invite you to join us in this process by listening to my Até share stories with me, and reading
my written responses to him.

-gillian

audio: Travis Joseph
poetry: Gillian Joseph

my medicine is
made up of L-s
sticky-sweet back-of-the-throat syllables
lingering for generations, soothing
repetitive journeys of
honesty-sharpened words
teeth clenched against
explanations about how this coating
protects from voice-stealers
coaxes out protests to
its-just-been-like-this-forever
as though you could forget a time
before time was even invented
my body is
full of pronunciations
i wasn’t taught, but they are
familiar in my mouth
telling stories spanning beyond
my current-existence is

not restricted or bound by something
as sacred as life and death

iyowalya …
like “healing” in memories
mulled over in childhood homes
spilling forth from wine glasses
brim-filled with streams
of consciousness, of tears and
liquid laughter — yours
so comforting it melts fears
they’ll pool, offer reflections
on stoic faces navigating
thoughts brought up again,
again I go to ask
but am told to sit, look, listen
patiently, without expectations
or self-judgements
imagine iyowalya
like “lightness” in sleep
like “revelations” in another
like “blossoming” in chests

that intertwine with ribs
before finding release
in sighs, perhaps many
slipped between breaths
like meditations held
in single moments
feeling each sensation
like “being” in harmony
with the present

Makȟa wrapped me in tȟo
— surrounded me in tȟo —
terry towels mimicking
mniwáŋča’s ripples when
strewn across the floor
in temporary discard
clinging tightly to salt and sand
the way my hands are
clasped around Até’s neck
as he wades us in, sure to remind me
there is power much greater than him

even though his frame keeps us afloat
even though mŋi and his eyes
share shades of tȟo
i welcome the drops crowding on eyelashes
misty visions give me space
to feel instead of look
here i am known
no pushing, pulling, hard divides
between shore and sea
or where mniwáŋča holds the sky
tȟo flowing into sibling hues
containing other spirits’ knowledge
i become this, sinking, flowing
and
i let go.

Gillian Joseph is a queer, non-binary Ihaŋktoŋwaŋ Dakota writer who grew up in the amerikan South as a guest on Waxhaw and Catawba lands. The importance of storytelling in their family and culture has encouraged Gillian to share their voice with others since childhood through the medium of writing. Now, they find poetry to be a means of self-exploration and healing as they navigate the world. Gillian enjoys spending time near mní (water), making playlists, talking with friends about starting a lit magazine for queer BIPOC, and trying to figure out what dreams mean.

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