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Storytelling Is An Art Form

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      POWWOW ISSUE 1998      v28 n03 p14  
Storytelling, we are often told, is an art regulated to "storytellers" of the community. In my experience, in an effort not to dance blind, I have never found that to be the case. Each family unit had someone who was the most skilful in the art and passed the stories to all the family members and each family member was able to tell the stories in preparation for the time when he or she began to raise a family. It is very hard for me to imagine a family unit wintering on their own, as they most often did due to the scarcity of game, to go through the winter without stories because the "storyteller" was miles away at another camp.

Wintering on the trapline in northern Saskatchewan when I was a child, my late mother would tell us stories as we were laying down to go to sleep. None of this romantic notion of sitting around a campfire listening to the community "storyteller" have I ever experienced. It would have to be a pretty big teepee- a multi-family condo-teepee perhaps-- to include all the people to come listen to the community "storyteller". It is true that in social gatherings like powwows the best storyteller of the community would be asked to tell stories and often did. Nevertheless, it was necessary for each person in the community to know the stories even if they were not "storytellers". It was necessary because telling stories was one of the key components of educating our young about the world and about our cultures- if the family members did not relate the stories to their children then many would grow up without an education for most of the year because tribal gatherings were rare and often held in summer months when traditional stories were not told.

The term "storyteller", as I use it here in quotation marks, is merely one of the many "invented traditions" that have run amok since we began the blindfold dance ages ago- it is dangerous to accept that such a notion ever existed.

I was shocked by a young mother this winter at storytelling session when she told me she didn't tell her children traditional stories or even read traditional stories to them because she was not a "storyteller". She had bought into this notion of "storyteller". Poor kids they are missing so much!