By Noah Dwain Arney (Cannexus22 GSEP Award Winner)

In her book Pathways for Remembering and Recognizing Indigenous Thought in Education: Philosophies of Iethi’nihsténha Ohwentsia’kékha (Land), Sandra Styres explains that the purpose of stories is to make sense of “one’s place in the past in order to be in the present” (Styres 2017, 50). This use of stories, or storying (Styres, 2011), for people to understand themselves, their relationships and their connections to others, places and concepts is a philosophical perspective that can support career development work.

Storying is more than the person’s self-making (Savickas, 2012), it includes the context the person brings to each experience through responsibility and relationship “to family, community, nations, and the environment” (Firman, 2005, 226-227). Or, as Styres puts it, “storying refers to how we describe in story our experiences through personal, community, national, and global narratives” (Styres, 2008 as cited in Styres, 2011, 718).

When we tell our story (Offet-Gartner, 2011) we learn from our telling. We tell our stories in circles (Little Bear, 2012), where each time we tell the same story we add “depth and dimension” (Styres, 2017, 186) to it. As we tell our stories we are actively building our connections to not only our physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional selves, but our connections to our family and communities (Pidgeon, 2014) and all the holistic individuals within those groups, each with their own physical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional selves. This, then, is the impact of storying: the construction of the holistic self.

Styres concept of storying is “circular, iterative, and relational” (Styres 2017, 38). When it applies to career development, storying requires three parts: story, circularity and awareness of relationships. Story, or narrative, is a core aspect of modern career development practice (McIlveen & Patton, 2007) and Peavy has identified how we link our experiences together through stories and create “an evolving biographical narrative under continuous revision” (Peavy, 1995, 1-2). For Anishinaabek (Peltier, 2018) and Niitsitapi (Marule, 2012) peoples as well as many other Indigenous peoples, the story is not just a narrative but is derived from observation and critical reflection.

Circularity, or iterativeness, is embraced by Western career development professionals who focus on experiential learning (Kolb & Kolb, 2009, Jarvis, 2006). It is a concept that is especially important for career development because we learn from the telling, and learn again from the retelling later (Styres, Haig-Brown, & Blimkie, 2013); with every revisit to the story the person brings their prior experiences to bear (Styres, 2017) on the retelling. This circularity (Akan, 1999) enables a great deal of reflection and personal growth.

The awareness of relationships is an aspect which is not centred as much as it should be in career development. Krumbotlz (2009) and others touch on the importance of relationships to clients, but it is rarely with the complexity and centrality of relationships that is seen in the Indigenous paradigm (Kovach, 2020, Peltier, 2018, Held, 2019). From Saulteaux (Akan, 1999), to Oneida (Antone, 2003), Okanagan (Cohen, 2001), Mi’kmaq (Pidgeon, 2014) and Mohawk (Styres, 2017), the “self-in-relationship” (Styres, 2017, 56) concept is central to the understanding of humans for Indigenous peoples in what is now Canada. From this perspective the relationship is not simply of a familial or romantic nature, but a relationship with the land, nature, our family, community and nation, and those who came before and those who will follow (Chartrand, 2012, p. 148).

The exploration of storying as a career development method, and the Indigenous philosophical paradigm, may open future directions for career development and counselling research and practice.

Noah Arney is a Master of Education student in Educational Research at the University of Calgary. He is a Certified Career Development Professional with over 10 years of experience in student affairs. He is a Career Services Co-ordinator with Thompson Rivers University. His research focuses on Indigenous students’ perception of work-integrated learning.


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