Occasional Paper Series #45

What Stories, Like Water, Hold: A Response to Fikile Nxumalo

by Debbie Sonu

The stories we tell carry our beliefs, our histories, and our relationships. They orient us toward particular ways of living and being, both with each other and with the natural world, and guide us into our sense of self and our encounters with difference. They describe what is made alive and what is rendered in service.

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013), botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, welcomes us into the story of Skywoman, who falls downward on a stream of light and looks into the dark waters below to see not emptiness, but the glimmers of many eyes gazing up at her. Carried by a council of animals, she is grounded, and upon the back of Turtle, she spreads the mud found in the clenched paw of Muskrat. As the land grows from the mud, she sings and dances her gratitude for the extraordinary gifts of the animals, forming together with them what the original peoples of the Great Lakes call Turtle Island. From the hands of Skywoman are scattered the branches and seeds of the many grasses, flowers, and medicines that abundantly flourish there.

About the Author

Debbie Sonu is an associate professor of education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching and doctoral faculty in the PhD Urban Education Program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her scholarly interests include curriculum theory as it relates to urban education, politically-oriented teaching in public schools, and critical childhood studies. Her work has been published in Race, Ethnicity and Education, Curriculum Inquiry, Journal of Teacher Education, and Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, among others. Currently, she is collaborating on a grant exploring teacher memories of childhood.

Debbie Sonu