Culture, tradition come alive with storytelling

A group told stories for the American Indian Student Cultural Center’s Winter Storytelling Evening.

Liala Helal

Storyteller Colin Wesaw said his elders used to always tell him it doesn’t matter how old you are – you can always learn something from listening to a story.

“Stories are meant to help people understand life, no matter what culture you’re from,” he said.

Wesaw and other storytellers kept the American Indian tradition alive Saturday at the McNamara alumni center. The group told stories full of meanings and lessons during the American Indian Student Cultural Center’s annual Winter Storytelling Evening.

Origin stories are traditionally told during the winter, and many stories told explained how things came to be. Approximately 75 attendees heard stories about why birds are bald, where the flute came from, why it snows and how the seasons change.

Participants told stories in the Ojibwa, Dakota and English languages. Many students of the native languages participated in the event.

“The native languages are dying, and to see young people picking them up is inspiring,” Wesaw said. “It’s very powerful; people need to see that.”

He said every country or culture has a story of how its land originated, and these are their stories.

“This is our land, it doesn’t matter what happens to it,” Wesaw said. “It is still our land, and this is our story about our land.”

Nigel Perrote, an officer in the American Indian Student Cultural Center, said there are numerous stories explaining the beginning of things.

He said many people have negative stereotypes about American Indians. Through this event, he hoped people would become more culturally aware, Perrote said.

“I hope people came here and thought, ‘You know, it’s not what I thought it was,’ ” he said. “I hope they walk away with a message.”

He said there are many messages that come out of the stories, such as the importance of watching what one says, guiding young children and taking care not to be hurtful or hateful.

Wesaw said American Indians raise their children through storytelling.

“A long time ago, when children, or even adults, made a mistake, there was always a story that went with your actions,” Wesaw said. “Instead of whipping a child or scolding someone who makes a mistake, we tell them a story that they can learn from.”

It’s a more compassionate, sharing, understanding and loving way to live, compared with the harshness of hitting a child, he said.

Each generation basically makes the same mistakes, and “that’s what keeps the world going,” Wesaw said.

“Life doesn’t change; you’re young, you get old, you learn, you get older and you die,” he said. “So, each generation is learning the same thing.”

Storytelling is also a way to keep family history alive, Wesaw said. That is why he enjoyed listening to young people tell stories during the event, he said.

“A storyteller only dreams of seeing young people giving back,” he said. “Their heart is learning about life and sharing.”

Storyteller Darren Cobenais, 14, said he loves to speak Ojibwa; he learned it throughout his life. He said he enjoys telling stories.

“I really enjoy myself, and when I tell a story, most of the time, people really listen and pay attention, just like I do when I listen to a story,” he said.

The lessons that came from the stories he told focused on keeping one’s word and not tricking around with a trickster. He also told a story of why buzzards are bald.

Students also performed plays with elaborate costumes. One of the plays showed the tradition of putting tobacco at the end of a stick and throwing it at the moon. It symbolized throwing away sickness and bringing well-being.

“I hope they were entertained and left being more culturally aware,” Perrote said of the attendees.