Adam and Zack Khalil’s film, “INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it
flies. falls./]” left me breathless.
Screened at the 2017 Traverse City Film Festival, the unique storytelling helped me learn more about the Ojibway and reconnect with my culture.
According to the TCFF film guide, “the Khalil’s examine what it’s like to be a modern
Ojibway. Inspired by the story of The Seven Fires, a prophecy that foretold the arrival of Europeans in America, the brothers focus on their home in Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Peninsula. Past and present collide in this imaginative, sensational investigation into the
importance of tradition and the price of assimilation.”
After the screening, Adam met with the audience. In minutes, he was discussing who gets
to tell someone’s story, performing his identity for others, what a group needs to share and
keep secret, being stared at and gazing back, ethnographic grabbing of information, cultural appropriation, information compared to knowledge and resisting.
I felt an exchange of cultures with Adam; I heard his voice, his experience of his history. In a non-competitive way, I also internally connected what he shared to disability culture.
Every time I’m in public, I’m performing my disability identity. Whether I’m getting into my
car, at work or grocery shopping. I breathe resistance; to any example of unequalized
power. Once, in France, I was refused service because the owner said he couldn’t serve
me properly at his only open table. Every part of me resisted this denial, until my French friends revealed the futility.
Sometimes strangers staring at me don’t realize I may be staring back as they watch me. Often, I tell well-meaning people that how I’m physically doing something looks more
pained than it is. Many health care folks inform me that to be healthy I must wash my hands and drink lots of water, without the knowledge that restrooms are often inaccessible. Persons with disabilities speak differently to one another than they do to the able-bodied. We hold secrets and truths that aren’t readily shared outside of our group.
Every TV show, book or movie featuring disability prompts me to ask, “Whose story is this?
Who gets to tell it? What do the varied members of the disability community think? Have the creators done their personal and professional work?
In my life, cultural appropriation has taken many forms; well-intended people “trying on a day in a wheelchair,” able-bodied folks bragging that they’re using their deceased grandma’s handicapped parking placard and others nervously apologizing for occupying
the one accessible restroom stall, as I’ve languished next to a row of empty standard
I won’t soon forget Kylie Jenner sitting in a gold covered wheelchair on the December
2015 cover of Interview. Her stylized doll appearance was meant to convey women with disabilities as exotic. And, at this time of year, umpteen nonprofits mail fundraising appeal letters. Many have a strong victim current referred to as “inspiration porn.”
I am one voice, with many stories. There are millions of voices in my culture. Author,
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, explores “The dangers of a single story” in her TED talk.
Chimamanda reminds me to strive to act with sensitivity and respect of context. Her words encourage me to invite others to share their culture with me. And, for me to share mine.
Susan Odgers is a 30-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 41 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University. She can be reached by contacting the Record-Eagle.
Susan Odgers has a BA degree, double-major in English and Communication Arts from Oakland University. Her graduate degrees from Wayne State University(WSU) include an MA in Counseling Psychology- specialty in Human Sexuality and a PhD ABD in Counseling Psychology. Twice, she was awarded the prestigious Thomas Rumble Doctoral Fellowship at WSU.
As a university professor for the past thirty-five years, she’s been employed at The University of Nice, FR, Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University and Northwestern MI College. As a consulting psychologist, she’s worked with diverse populations/clients and received numerous grants in varied human service areas.
Since 2008, she’s written a monthly newspaper column about disability and health issues “Adapted in TC” for the award-winning Traverse City Record Eagle.
In 2017, she was awarded a Ragdale Foundation writing residency fellowship at Lake Forest, IL.
Susan, a paraplegic from a stroke, has used a manual wheelchair for the past 41. She was a board member of MI Protection and Advocacy Services, Inc. for 17 years; including two years as president. In 2017, she competed and won the opportunity to give a TEDx presentation “Reclaiming the Untapped Power of Neighbors”. In 2010, she was recognized with the Traverse City Humanitarian of the Year award and since 2015, has served as a TC HRC Commissioner.
Community service is of the utmost importance to Susan; currently, she’s the VP of the board of MI Writers, board member of Blu Front Media, board president of Real People Media, board member and educator for the TC Chamber of Commerce’s leadership programs, board member at Munson Hospital– three boards-Recipient Rights, Cowell Cancer Center and Family Advisory Council, board member on the United Way Allocation Team, co-founder of Poets Meet Musicians, Friend of the Traverse Area District Library, thirteen year consultant to the Traverse City Film Festival, thirty year member of the Central Neighborhood Association and member of the Traverse City Community Gardens.
Susan lives in Traverse City, MI with her husband of thirty-five years, Tom, a Grand Traverse County Commissioner and their black lab dog, Olive Marie.