Aug 15th, 2012 | By | Category: 24-1: Communicating Yesterday's Stories Today, Web Exclusive
By Kathy Anderson

This winter, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College held a storytelling series. In the past, there were only one or two events of this nature. This year was different: there were three opportunities to hear stories from tribal members. The first was a young man, the second was the tribal historian, and the third was a panel of elders. The audience included college students and faculty, elementary-aged children from Waadookodaading (the Lac Courte Oreilles School’s tribal immersion school), and people from the surrounding community. I enjoy hearing the old stories. I have tried not to miss any storytelling because it remains an integral part of tribal culture that should be cherished and preserved.

Jason Schlender (Lac Courte Oreilles) was the first presenter. I was surprised at how young he was! He gave his background, Indian name, where he’s from, and a brief summary of his recent life. This was told in Ojibwe and then in English. Then Jason honored the mentors in his life, those who gave him encouragement to find and live his dream. He told us that his telling us stories is his way of giving back to the community. He also stressed the importance of conducting your life in the proper way by first giving tobacco and making sure that your actions are legal in the eyes of the Great Spirit, because you must obey the natural laws. Second, you must think about the purpose of what you are doing, acknowledge all beings and spirits and ask for protection during the venture, not just for yourself but for all involved. This includes people, plants, animals, nature, and places. This is a beautiful teaching not just directed towards the children, but a skillful reminder to the adults as well, and was delivered in a non-judgmental way to all.

Next to speak was the tribal historian, Jerry Smith (Lac Courte Oreilles). I have heard Jerry before and really look forward to it when he comes to speak. He directs the topics of his stories to the audience, addressing what most of us are feeling, thinking, or wondering about. Even if nobody asks the question, Jerry answers it. He spoke this time about aging. He expressed a great reverence concerning his grandparents who raised him. When he heard the stories, one’s age was determined by how many winters one had survived. Things were tough back in the day, but to hear a story about it allows people to experience it without having to endure the hardship. Jerry spoke of visions, wisdom, healing, and stories of the spirits and the sky world. He spoke of the transition to the spirit world.  There were teachings about appropriate behavior and customs concerning pre-teen and teenage boys, girls, and their families. He reminded us all to be humble.

            The final stories were from a group of tribal elders from Lac Courte Oreilles. They gave their individual histories and stories of growing up. They all knew each other but had lived in different places. Most of them had been away from the Rez for some time and now they are all home. They recounted stories from their childhoods, along with their parents’ and grandparents’ time. Two issues that came up repeatedly were the lack of respect in the dance ring and reverence for sacred items. There was extreme sadness when the removal of their parents to boarding school was discussed. How much had been lost? They all said that times were hard but there was always fresh food in the woods and lakes. All are studying the language and very concerned at the way the younger ones are conducting themselves.

These stories are passed down to teach us, and it is amazing that tales as ancient as some of these still have meaning and value today. Each person speaking brings their own perspective and personality to what they are relating. All of the presenters stressed the importance of conducting your life in the proper way. The transfer of knowledge, tradition, and customs is paramount in the preservation of culture in a society.

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