Stories are powerful pedagogical tools that help learners understand their history and the environment in which they live. The teachings from stories allow listeners to come to their own decisions and conclusions. They help demonstrate that there are many different ways of looking at problems, and solutions to those problems. Storytelling has been, and continues to be, a central part of our identity as people and as nations. We can generally distinguish between two types of Indigenous storytelling.
- Personal stories that include observations, accounts of places, and experiences. This type of story evolves over time, and is based on the needs and relevancy to the population.
- Creation or Teaching Stories also known as Myths and Fables. Many of these stories, which are spiritual in nature, remain unchanged over time.
The speaker shared the Creation story about Turtle Island and how what we call North America is called Turtle Island to the Indigenous.
Abbreviated story of Turtle Island:
Sky Woman falls from the sky. And there's a whole story above that where she lives in the sky world, and why she falls through the sky, falls through the hole in the sky, and the animals help her. The geese help her land on turtle's back, and then the earth is covered in water, and so she asks some of the animals, the water animals, to help her. And so she asks beaver if he can go down and get, she just needs a handful, of dirt because, with that and her magical power, she's able to do something with it. So, he figures, beaver's pretty strong, a strong swimmer, and he says, "I can do this," and he slaps his tail on the top of the water, and he dives down, and he dives, and he dives, and he dives, and he dives, and he dives, but he just can't make it. So he struggles, and he swims back up, and he's kind of hanging on turtle's back, leaning on it, catching his breath, and couldn't make it to the bottom for that handful of earth. And so she asks otter, and otter's a very sleek swimmer and says, "I can do this. I'm a good swimmer. I'm in the water all the time," and he's swimming around, and so he dives down, and he swims, and he swims, and he swims, and he swims and, again, he runs out of air, and has to swim back up. He can't make it. So, again, he gets to the top, and has to rest again on turtle's back. And so then she asks little Muskrat, and he's unsure. He's not a strong swimmer, and she encourages him and gives him some, I guess that encouragement of what he needs, so that he musters it all up, and he decides he's going to try this. And so he swims and does his best. And he swims, and swims, and swims, and swims, and swims, and swims, and he's just about out of air, and he's able just to reach and grab just a few grains, and he swims back up. And he's just about depleted, he can hardly make it, they actually have to help him up for the rest of the way, and he catches his breath, and he gives her those two little grains of earth. And she's able to take those grains, and in her hand, because she has those magical powers, she blows on those and the earth begins to grow off of turtle's back. So, what we call North America today is Turtle Island, and so that's where that creation story comes from.
They shared the story of Wisacejak (wee-sak-ee-jack) with us as another exmaple of the role of story-telling in the spiritual connection for Indigenous peoples.
Through stories and storytelling Indigenous societies transmit the central knowledge critical to survival, and provide a cultural framework for promoting happy, healthy communities. In this way stories hold a lot of power, think about it. Stories can elicit strong emotions from humans. They can make us cry and laugh, feel anger, relief, empathy, and love. Human beings enjoy telling stories as much as they enjoy listening to them. Wherever and whenever people meet and gather, you can bet there are stories being told. Outsiders tend to see these stories as legends, fiction, folklore, myths, or fairy tales. For Indigenous people, these stories function in essential and thoughtful ways. They work to instruct and educate on how to behave properly. They can also act as guides for how to live and engage with the world. Each nation has a creation story and it's own distinct oral tradition. There are four general components of storytelling for Indigenous people. First, stories connect the past to the present and to future generations. There are many versions of the Wisacejak Creation Story, but the meaning remains the same as it is told from great-grandmothers to their great-grandchildren. Stories are gifts to be shared and handed down generation to generation. As in Nehiyaw'iskwew, or Cree woman can be reassured that while she may not have met her great-great-grandmother. The Wisacejak story transcends time and connects her to her ancestors. This means that a story I hear from my grandmother is the same one that she heard from her grandmother and so and so on. These stories allow us to communicate with future generations in the same way our ancestors communicate with us. See how powerful stories can be? Secondly, while the sacred stories may not have changed much over time, the personal, everyday stories do change. They integrate new information and new knowledge. They may evolve with changing surroundings, food source supply and movement, landscape reconfiguration, and new encounters with foreign populations. It is important to know that even though Indigenous stories may be thousands of years old, some of the stories change to bring the past forward to the present. They change and evolve based on the needs of the population. The next thing to remember about stories is that while stories may sometimes be entertaining, there are also messages instructing people how to live and behave. Indigenous storytelling operates as a moral guide in a socializing mechanism. Stories teach the next generation how to behave and reinforce roles and responsibilities. We find many examples of this in the story of Wisacejak. Muskrat’s heroic action of diving for Earth demonstrates a lesson of perseverance and courage. While Wisacejak's laziness in keeping a peaceful community shows the consequences of being irresponsible. Finally, storytelling is a way to transmit the history of the land and cultural knowledge to the next generation. Many creation stories include specific geographical boundaries such as rivers, lakes, and mountains to define the territorial lines. For example, in the previous narrative, Nehiyawak described how Wisacejak made the land come to be. In some Wisacejak creation stories, features of the landscape to describe the traditional territories of the Nehiyawak are included. The natural surroundings of the land become the history book. We said that stories have power, and they embody complex worldviews associated with a particular Indigenous culture. For instance, the Nehiyawak or storytellers will only tell you the Wisacejak stories in the wintertime. Their worldview and belief systems are illustrated by this fact. Nehiyawak storytellers believe that because so many creatures and spirits hibernate and sleep in the winter, it is safer to tell certain stories. Invoking the stricter’s name Wisacejak in the summer is just asking for trouble.
The role of language in their culture, beliefs and passing down of their history - it just breaks my heart thinking about how my ancestors tried to eliminate their native language and culture by taking children from their homes into the residential schools where they tried to convert them to Christian beliefs and speaking only English.
The following article is a nice wrap up of what was covered in the introduction to the course on the importance of language and stories to the Indigenous culture and faith! I was amazed that there are over 50 different indigenous languages spoken across North America/Turtle Island.
The interactive learning about this painting and the history and stories contained within it were fascinating! If you'd like to learn too the upper left Idle No More, Middle is the Connection to Earth, the right side top is story of Metis Women, Left side under Idle no more is speaking of the Trauma of Residential schools, centre is symbol and story of Creation of the Turtle Island, right hand middle is history of Inuit woman, on the left side again Story of Berries, along the bottom is the story of the Connection to Water
Excited for next weeks lessons!!