Let me tell you a story

A few years ago I wrote a post on native oral tradition and its implications for speech therapy.  To date I still get blog hits and emails about that post and although it is late coming here is a bit more on the subject.

Oral tradition and stories are an integral part of Native culture.They are the means by which the culture teaches younger members, records history, explains questions, expresses spirituality and fosters pleasure and pride in the participants. Native oral traditions and stories have been the cornerstone to the survival of the culture and are traditionally valued above the written word.
Native oral traditions are difficult to write about because it is taboo in traditional First Nation culture to write down oral traditions. Research and academic writings involving First Nations people is dominated by non-Natives.  This is significant because research done by non-Natives has the potential for misinterpretation on matters of cultural significance.

It is an elder’s responsibility to teach legends, stories and the traditional ways of their people. When a story is being told the listener is not allowed to make noise, talk, or walk around. Elders and storytellers utilize a low gentle tone to inspire a “dream like” quality to the stories. It is thought that presenting the stories in this manner to children insures that they will never forget them.

Oral traditions are an essential component to the survival of all native cultures. They include elements of kinship responsibility, identity, a sense of belonging and responsibility. Passing on oral traditions is a responsibility. There is an understanding among native peoples that they will give back by passing these stories on thus keeping the stories and culture alive.
Native culture has four main types of stories that are told via oral tradition. Since there are more than 500 tribes in the United States alone, for simplicity the Plains Cree definitions of these stories will be used here. (Chosen because I am Cree and understand this specific tribe best.)  Plains Cree is the language of the native peoples of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada. There are several dialects of Cree, but all are mutually understandable to native speakers. The dialects of Cree are Swampy Cree, Plains Cree, Moose Cree, Wood Cree and Atihkamek Cree. Plains Cree is known to linguists as the “Y” dialect, but Crees call it the Prairie Language or Paskwawinimowin. The four types of Cree oral tradition stories are:
1. Acimowin – a regular simple story that captures and retells the common events of everyday life.
2. Atayohkewin – often called legends or myths by nonnatives, often are the oldest stories in oral traditions.
3. Mamahtawacimowin – translates directly as “it is a miracle to tell a story.” These stories retell strange and unbelievable experiences that some would call miracles.
4. Pawamewacimowin – these stories tell of a spiritual journey that generally involves special powers and the natural gifts of nature.

All people tell stories, we all have tales that have been passed down through our families.  I remember fondly the stories my Kohkom and Moosom shared with me.  I’ve already started to share them with my children.  Maybe you would like to share a story with me…I promise to listen and remember.

That time today when my parents were talking about ass

We have been without power for over 25 hours now thanks to the storm. Earlier today my babies were getting antsy so I decided to take them to the rez to visit my parents. While there my parents decided to make me coffee (because they are awesome) over the fire. As I walked towards the fire pit I overheard this conversation…

“Geez you got a little ass” (ok I don’t know why I didn’t turn around but I thought I was mistaken)

“This is my mothers ass” (um, awkward)

“Eee as if, that’s my little ass!” (now I had to interrupt and was all….”wth??”)

And my mom said, “look, Dad  is chopping wood with that little axe. ”

Thank goodness they were talking about axe

Thunderchild Treaty Day 2012

It iofficially Treaty Day on Thunderchild First Nation.

Piyesiw Awasis

I am proud of being a band member of TCFN and I’m looking forward to bringing my children to partake in the days festivities.  I scheduled myself to be off work and I am taking the kids out of school at 10 am so we can head to the rez.  I’m excited as always to visit everyone in the community and celebrate that  All Saskatchewan people are Treaty People .  Today is a day to remember our relationship with the Crown, the government and to celebrate our rights.  I made a treaty day post a few years ago here if you are interested in reading about the history of TREATY 6.


8th Fire in 2012

Tan’si! Hi….this feels awkward only because I haven’t posted in so long.  I obviously missed the obligatory “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” posts but I hope you all had a great holiday.  Now that we are well into the new year our lives are all returning to normal.  Thank goodness. 2012.  I thought for sure I would have a jetpack by now.

I was having coffee with my dad the other day and he was looking through the pictures on my laptop of my children over the holidays.  He told me how lucky they are to have so many pictures from their childhood.  He said he only has a few baby pictures of himself and I mentioned that I had a couple that I found online.  He stared at me blankly and I reminded him that I had told him about it over a year ago.  He continued to stare at me so I directed him to this website and showed him this picture. The caption of the picture (from a newspaper at the time) was

“Santa Visits Indian Kiddies at North Battleford.”

Can you guess which one is my dad?

He was completely stunned.  He stared at the picture for the longest time and named all the other boys without reading the caption below it.  He laughed and told me, “We even rounddanced for him. That was a nice day.”  My dad was sick a lot as a child, and spent quite a bit of time in the hospital.  He told me that was why he was only in residential school for a year, he was taken out and put in the hospital .  Maybe being sick saved him from years and years in residential school like my mother had to attend.

I thought of this picture not only because it pertained to Christmas but because I watched 8th Fire – Indigenous in the City on CBC last night, hosted by Wab Kinew.  It is a powerful 4 part documentary that I hope has inspired conversations today.  View it here if you missed it last night.  Please watch it and share the link.  Talk about it as well.  I loved it.  I’m anxious to see the next part and I can’t wait until my children are old enough to discuss it with me.  I myself am not an urban Indian.  (Yes, I just said Indian instead of native, but that is my right.  I was Indian as a child and in my own head I still use the term.  This however doesn’t mean I appreciate others using it in a derogatory manner.)  I grew up on Thunderchild First Nation and only left for university.  Now I find myself living in a small town 10 minutes from my rez, it is not a city but this program resonated with me.  Living in town is so different.  I have neighbors, I can hear vehicles that are not coming to visit…it isn’t quiet and still like I am used to. 
I’m fortunate in that I know what it is like to grow up with my traditions, I was always proud but I wanted more.  I hungered for something I didn’t quite understand.  I always wanted to be “better,” to be “more,” to be “successful.”  I don’t even know where those desires came from, or where or if I even heard them expressed aloud by an adult.  As a child I loved to write, sing in talent shows, dance pow wow and enjoyed performing in plays…but I always knew I was going to university, because I had to.  My parents pushed me towards education, telling me it was my future and that it was the ONLY path I could consider for my future. 
As you know I am now a Speech Pathologist.  Currently I am the only native SLP in my home province of Saskatchewan.  I’ve had people ask me why I choose to live here, why I don’t take my degree and go to the city.  Clearly these people do not understand me.  I might only be 10 minutes from my rez, but it feels farther.  I don’t know that I could move farther because my heart is there.  I love to travel and have not done it much lately but I want to be able to see the world, go to the city and then come home.  It grounds me.  It heals me.  It is me.
(btw the boy with the biggest smile closest to Santa is my dad Gordon Angus)

It’s a Good Day to Dance

When asked what interests, motivates and inspires me besides Speech Pathology several things run through my mind:

1)      Shopping (certainly)

2)      Food (definitely)

3)      Social media (most assuredly)

However, my strongest and most important interests and sources of motivation and inspiration are best described by my twitter handle @ndnspeechmomNdn is an abbreviation of the term “Indian” which, although not politically correct is the term I grew up using to describe myself as a First Nations individual.  Speech seems self-explanatory and mom is the title I wear most proudly. 

The importance of family and cultural identity is the cornerstone of my life and is something that I plan to pass on to my children.  As a child I danced Pow Wow and was even once Thunderchild Junior Princess in 1986.  (If you’d like to see my beaded moosehide sash my dad has it in his man cave.)  It is difficult to describe the feeling you get when you dance to the drum.  It has been years since I was part of the Pow Wow circle but whenever I hear the drum and the singers start those familiar songs I can feel it in my heart.  Someday I want to dance again, but I especially want to raise my children to be comfortable traveling on the Pow Wow trail.  I was so proud on August 28, 2011 at the Thunderchild Pow Wow because that was the first day I got to take all three children into the center while they danced Tiny Tots.  My nervousness as to whether they would like it melted away when I saw my daughter lift her arms and begin to dance.  I was surprised because I didn’t even know that she knew any steps.  My sons were more reserved but they didn’t panic even with the crowds watching them.   I was so excited I forgot to take as many pictures as I would have liked. 

This compilation video includes pictures from the Thunderchild 2011 Pow Wow and several from my family photo album.  The music is a song called, “It’s a Good Day to Dance” by the drum group Blackstone. 


This is a video that I shot with my phone of the drum group that sat directly in front of us.  I was proud that my children enjoyed listening to the drum so close.  The two men visible onscreen are my cousin Marvin Thunderchild and my uncle Eric Tootoosis.  The name of the drum group is Saddleback and I believe they are from the Edmonton area of Alberta.

I feel as though my focus on family and culture serves me well in my professional life as well since I am a school based Speech Pathologist travelling to several different First Nations communities.  I find it rewarding to work with children in the communities around my home reserve of Thunderchild and I hope that I can encourage more First Nations  people to enter the fields of Speech Pathology and Audiology.   I encourage everyone reading this to partake in the beauty that is native culture and to feel the heartbeat of the drum.  It is always indeed “A Good Day to Dance.”