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.