We Are Idaho: Tai Simpson "The Storyteller"

Jan 8, 2021

Everything is based in stories. We want to be understood in our most human level, and storytelling is the easiest way to do that. When I create spaces for myself to be a storyteller, it's not so much about me. It's about making sure that folks around me also in that space know that they are storytellers. My name is The Storyteller, but everybody is capable of storytelling.

I'll offer my introduction first in my Indigenous language. [Nimipuutímt is an oral language. Out of respect for Nimiipuu culture, transcription has been omitted.] In Nimipuutímt or the language of the Nez Perce tribe my name is The Storyteller and in English my name Tai Simpson.

I identify as a citizen of the Nimiipuu Nation or Nez Perce that we commonly know them. I also identify as Black.

And I love my name. I grew into it. Storytelling now into adulthood is not only a cultural and spiritual practice, but storytelling is my love language. It's how I champion justice and equity and love and radical inclusion as part of my work, both as an advocate and as an organizer.

In my language, I say [Transcription has been omitted]. I am a descendant of Chief Red Heart and our lineage in Idaho goes back about 15,000 years or so. I am so much older than Idaho. Idaho is a baby, a microscopic sliver of time in relation to how old my people are and how deep our ties to this land go. And the land remembers.

There's another storyteller … his stories are always told from the perspective of Coyote. And Coyote had one day started to look around him and noticed that White folks had built cages for themselves on the land. These fences that they build on these plots of land aren't to keep people out, but to keep themselves fenced in. And then they create a sense of isolation and they poison themselves in this tiny little world that they fenced themselves into.

And then they look up and wonder why they have no neighbors that they can connect with, why they have no legacy, why the land is poisoned. And so Coyote laughed, and then moved on.

In the big picture, we are now all of these humans trapped inside this little cage that is Idaho. And we're doing a horrible job of taking care of each other. And I think that there's an opportunity for us to engage in storytelling to really get a better understanding of why all of us are in so much pain that we would cause pain to others.

And of course, the knee jerk reaction is go somewhere else. No y'all, this is my land. Like y'all are on my land messing up, not the other way around.

We need the land. She doesn't need us. We need to take care of nature. She doesn't need us. We have divorced ourselves from that relationship and are now feeling the very acute adverse effects of that … the adverse effects of climate change, the poor salmon runs on Idaho's rivers, the poor water quality, the poor air quality.

There's a recent hashtag, #LandBack, that grew out of the effort from the Lakota Nation protecting Mount Rushmore. Decolonization is more or less being a champion of LandBack policies. The LandBack initiative isn't just saying we want all the land back and all of our White neighbors can go somewhere else, wherever that is.

LandBack is about … letting Indigenous people make decisions about the well-being of nature, about how we live in balance with her and how we create systems that are sustainable and equitable and just both for humans and for the land into the future. And again, that requires big vision, big stories, big communication, big community building.

Because I have that ancestral knowledge and because I'm carried so dearly and with love by my ancestors, my work now is to make sure that their voices carry on; carrying the stories, carrying language, carrying culture … anything that I can do to center the voices of my people so that my descendants can thrive and live in a world where all of my work is rendered irrelevant.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio