An American Flag of Stories

This wall of faces, feathers, beads, and wax attached to sticks of woven leather represents the art of storytelling, self-expression, and free speech called “story” sticks. The “Story Flag” is a sculpture of the American Flag created to bring awareness to a disability video and oral history project called “It’s Our Story”. The massive conceptual art piece towers twelve feet into the air, spans twenty feet across and is uniquely American. Each feathered stick represents one of a thousand video portraits of living in America with a disability.

The goal of “It’s Our Story” is facilitate the art of story telling inspired by the Native American tradition of a “story” stick. Long before the United States was a nation, the local populations of our Continent embraced a tool for free speech called “story” sticks. Simple yet elegantly adorned sticks or bones were used to mediate conflict and find resolutions through understanding how each other felt the way that they did. These “sticks” empowered each other to tell their truths without the fear of reprisal.

Anyone who possessed a “story” stick would not be interrupted until their story had been told but, once told, the speaker had to pass this power of free speech to anyone who wanted to tell their story. This is how decisions were made whenever two people, two families, two tribes, or two nations would have a difference of opinion. Through this sharing of views, complex disagreements could become shared understandings of what each one truly believed.

“To enable it to do its work naturally, every new idea must be in some way embedded in what is old.”
-Albert Schweitzer

The Native American proverb of “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story,” is literally manifested from four years of traveling to one hundred cities to listen to the stories each disability community has to share. This one hundred thousand mile journey has taught us many things; the most important is we are here to facilitate the tools of story telling so the disability community may tell their stories with a “Nothing about us without us” power of creation. “It’s Our Story” is not about having one editor tell our story, it’s about empowering a thousand editors to tell the story.

What are these tools that evolve the art of story telling in our day and age? Look around, what do you hear about, see, and if your “hip” enough, do. Most under the age of thirty Text, Tweet, and Blog, create new friends on My Space, Facebook and Linkeden, post videos on YouTube, IReporter, and Vlogs. If our stories are not online, we do not exist. Brave new methods of communication are changing the way we see ourselves as well as the World that surrounds us. For so many, the primary way to access information is through a cell phone.

“Adapt or Perish,” is a natural law that cannot be ignored in the digital age. We have a responsibility to the generation that follows us be a relative part of their lives. Just as they have a responsibility to know what the previous generations contribution mean to them so they can make bigger contributions for those who follow. If a whole generation can’t find us on their phone, to them, nobody’s home, and there is no forwarding address. If our information is not modern, it’s lost and may never be found.

“It’s Our Story” is about taking the lessons of communication learned from an ancient “story” stick and evolving those techniques to meet the needs of today’s storytellers with technology. As we film and collect interviews, we weave a network of critical information vital to maintaining the identity of the disability community in a relevant way. When we encode and process the data of the past, we make the beads of wisdom available to everyone. As we share the archives online, we give wings to our stories that let this knowledge soar across the world in ways never before imagined.

Scott Cooper, Creator of the IOS Projects