Justin Huenemann has heard a lot of stories during his upbringing as a Native American.
“People would gather around a fire and elders would tell humor stories, or stories with a lesson element, an actual event or a creation story,” said Huenemann, who is an employee of the American Indian Learning Resource Center.
There was no fire Friday at the St. Paul Student Center, but elders from many different Native American tribes still gathered to pass on their wisdom and humor through stories. The annual “Winter Storytelling” event was held to uphold a Native American tradition of elders passing down information to young people and serving as an inspiration to them.
“Stories are only told in the winter,” said Dennis Jones, assistant education specialist in the Department of American Indian Studies. “Spring and fall are time for ceremony.”
“Whether we’re in an auditorium or our houses, it is still the passing down of culture, traditions and stories,” Huenemann said.
The event was hosted by the American Indian Student Cultural Center, the Ojibwe Language Society and the American Indian Learning Resource Center.
Organizer Maymangwa Flying Earth, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, said the cultural center organizes the event each year, not only for the students, but also for the community.
“Storytelling is an integral part of Native American culture, and this event is good for Native American students on campus,” said Flying Earth. “It is also a good way to share it with outside community and let them know what our organizations do.”
Jerry Dearly, a storyteller, as well as an educator in the American Indian Education Program for St. Paul public schools, told a story about the origins of names and his hand drum, and encouraged people to identify with their nation, which refers to a Native American tribe.
“If you have a question, ask an elder, ask someone in the nation,” Dearly said.
Dearly also addressed some stereotypes that he has encountered. He said many people think because he always carries a pipe and he has a drum, he must be part of a ceremony.
Besides elder storytellers, a group of second-year Ojibwe students performed a skit comparing Native American life of many years ago to today.
Storytellers also separated to tell children their stories.
“We live in an urban setting,” Dearly said. “Many of our children today are intermarried and intercultural children. Any stories to provide direction for them are very, very valuable.”
Dearly said education is the key to success and he will continue to educate people of all ages and of each culture.
“We’re all one. All our cultures are one,” Dearly said.