Effects of Indigenous Knowledge

Hello fellow Indigenous knowledge supporters!

Today I thought I would share a few the great works I have studied this semester and try to distribute some of the knowledge that I have gained personally. There were so many novels, videos and articles that I have had the chance to study this year, and I have enjoyed almost everything I was given. 

ImageOne novel that we studied in class was Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, this novel is greatly intertwined with the importance storytelling, and the necessity of tradition. In this novel, storytelling is completed through poems, with poems at the beginning and the end of the novel, but also spread throughout as well. Storytelling is a very important aspect of life for the main character Tayo, stories help his understand the world around him through his Native American roots (which are often contested against). Stories are more than just an understanding though, it is also a healing power. Through the remembrance of stories Tayo comes to the conclusion that he is not alone and that his community has also shared some of his past experiences. This novel was the first novel assigned to us in class and I respect it greatly. Stories are more than just words on paper to the Native American culture, it is a teacher, a healer and a identifier. Stories, much like the stories that Tayo experiences, are a dream for rejuvenation.

 

One of the most difficult novels to read this term was Robert Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls. This Imagenovel was very powerful and effective at getting the message across. I’m not sure about any of you, but when I was in elementary school learning about the residential schools that Aboriginal children forced to attend, it didn’t seem that bad. But after learning about the brutal and disgusting conditions that these children had to endure, I can really say with pure confidence that is really was that bad, and worse. This novel faces some of the great challenges that Indigenous people face in their everyday life, and it does not try to break it to you gently. Alexie writes of a community of Indigenous individuals who have faced horrible tragedies while attending the residential schools which follows them to their adult life. Child molestation and abuse are two of the most powerful matters that are faced in the novel. This novel was a learning experience for me, and it had a very powerful lesson. Storytelling is a great theme for this novel and is used as a healer. By telling their personal stories of the horrible acts committed against them, the community is able to heal together and defeat the demons that clung on to their lives.

 

In addition to these two novels that were of the greatest importance to myself, we had a chance to research into the Idle No More movement that ” calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water” (www.idlenomore.ca). One of my classmates has done a great job of summarizing what the movement is, and what it is fighting for, so if you’re interested just follow the link right here: 
Idle no more

This class has been one of the most compelling, insightful and fascinating classes that I have taken in my entire University career. Not only have I had the chance to read such amazing pieces of work, but it is one of the only classes I have experienced that I feel truly connected with, and that I will take with me further into my education. The learning does not end here, for this was just a stepping stone into the power of Indigenous Knowledge in my eyes. Just as storytelling restores hope for Indigenous people, so has this class instilled a hope within myself of the revival of Indigenous Knowledge and the power of the story.

 

 

Smoke Signals & the Oral Tradition

     In my first post I made references to Disney’s Brother Bear, which I realize not a great example to use for discussing Indigenous knowledge. Along with a lot of other Disney films, though lovable, Brother Bear does not have any Indigenous individuals who worked on the film, or even did the voices of the characters. However, being one of the only films based on the Indigenous cultures that was mass produced and distributed it was one of the only films when I was younger that I could use to learn about any Indigenous culture. When I was in school, we were taught a little about the Indigenous tribes that reside in Canada, but I really do not remember learning as much then as I really feel is necessary. Now that I have almost completed an Indigenous Fiction class in University I feel I am armed with much more knowledge and a different view of my country.

     One film that we focused on in our class was the independent film Smoke Signals. One major feature that is different from this film and Disney’s Brother Bear is that it was actually written and directed by two Indigenous members, with a cast of all Indigenous individuals. Disney, however, is created by white individuals, for white individuals. I am really glad that Smoke Signals was a part of the syllabus for this course, because without it I never would seen it. Chris Eyre and Sherman Alexie were the two head honchos behind this project, and it is one of the few films that are truly Indigenous. One reason why I felt this movie would be a good representation of Indigenous film for this blog is the amount to storytelling and oral tradition that is in place throughout the entire film.

     There are two main characters that appear in the film, Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire who live in a reservation in Idaho. Victor and Thomas have known each other all their lives, but they do seem like an odd mix. Victor is a great basketball player who is often very moody. Thomas is just the opposite, always having a smile on his face and a story to tell. Just as I mentioned in my last post, storytelling is a gift, a gift that Thomas certainly has and uses to his advantage. For example, Thomas uses the oral tradition to hitch a ride to the bus station with two local girls:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBEhz8vw2AM

Thomas definitely has a way with words, and shares his knowledge and his past through stories.      Though, all of these stories may not be the perfect truth, as Victor calls him out on a story about his mother splitting the frybread among the entire crowd, there is always something to learn from when he speaks.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TgT-B9qLq8

     Storytelling is very important to the young character, and although his opposing friend may not agree, he learns from Victor. The basic principle of the stories that are shared by these gifted storytellers is to teach, and Victor takes great pride in the stories he tells and really gives us some knowledge that we cannot easily forget, especially with this delivery.

What is Indigenous Storytelling

     

 Storytelling to the Indigenous culture is a gift, it is also a very important custom. A wide selection of Indigenous stories have to do with teaching their culture, ceremonies and spiritualities to the younger generation, but there is still pure entertainment stories as well. Of course, the stories with the lessons moulded inside them are very important to the Indigenous. There stories are told through ceremonies and spiritualities, but the Indigenous look at it as a way of life.

Because Aboriginal people see these things as a way of life, they also live their lives by the laws that govern their spirituality and ceremonies. So, it is not considered telling religious stories or teaching religion; it is considered more along the lines of sharing the teachings of their way of life.” 

 

Teaching through stories is an absolutely vital role through storytelling, but morals and culture are not the only things that are taught through storytelling. Storytelling is also a very key aspect of instructing or training for a number of careers as well, such as policing, doctoring, educating and trade work. Even government jobs can be profited by stories and storytelling. These stories have a very deep impact on Indigenous Identity and it makes a connection with their culture and history. These stories and the act of the storytelling are very important, and are even considered to be sacred, and because it is so closely related to spirituality it can really be considered the basis of the Indigenous customs, traditions and is important to their everyday life.

 

The delivery of the story is also a very important aspect to the understanding of the lessons being taught. Storytelling was often performed by an elder or the tribal leader. Elders were a very important component to Indigenous culture and their hierarchy. Many lessons and wisdom can be taken from the elders of any tribe. Sometimes the storytellers would use music and sound to help make the connection of their stories and their audience. The reason sound would be important to connect to the audience is to heighten the senses and therefore support deep feelings of connection between the Indigenous population and their surroundings around them.

 

     Though oral storytelling is not as common today, storytellers are still highly honourable and attempt to keep the connection of their audience to the stories of their heritage. There are many storytellers who continue to try and save and preserve these important life lessons for future generations to come. Stories that are popular in Indigenous culture today, are now being published in written traditions, unlike the original oral traditions that would be used these stories still have a lesson to teach its audience. For example, bestseller The Rabbit’s Race” is a story written by Deborah L. Delaronde which has been given many awards, including First Nation Communities Read, 2010, Highlighted Title. This story is about a young boy who hears a story from his grandfather about two groups of rabbits who must learn to co-exist. The elder rabbit plays a very important role by sharing his wisdom and this closely reflects the importance of the elders in the indigenous community. 

 

The Influence of the Story

 Ever since we were young, stories have been a way to entertain and enlighten us. Dictionary.com defines a story as “a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale”. But, I believe that stories are much more grand, and definitely much more important than just an entertainment tool. I have always loved stories, stories that tell grand tales of great feats and beautiful princesses and magical lands have always been my favourite. Had I known then, that I was actually learning something from these stories, maybe I wouldn’t have been as thrilled.

Essentially stories make up a large portion of our language and communication. If you think about sharing how your day was to your friend, family or significant other, what you’re really doing is sharing your story. Truth is, everyone has one. Even language itself is founded on stories. If we take a look back, way waayy back, to our heritage we would see that the way in which they communicated was through oral stories. The birth of language brought these stories to life to explain customs, heritage and history.

Storytelling is an essential component to the creation of language and stories, this is especially true for Indigenous individuals. Storytelling would be passed on from generation to generation and is the way that these people would learn values, history and their culture. By communicating through stories, it allowed for their mythological, spiritual and their historical knowledge to be transferred onto their children, and further onto their children’s children. This ensured their knowledge of the world around them to be continued on through their genealogy and to help keep them true to their culture and their heritage.

Maybe it is just me, but I imagine a lot of the rituals and traditions to be a lot like they are depicted in popular films like Disney’s “Brother Bear”, though this would seem a little far fetched. 

Can't a girl dream this is what it like?
Can’t a girl dream this is what it is like?

Or even the depiction of the wise and powerful shaman of the same movie definitely makes this story even better in my opinion.

Shaman

 Though “Brother Bear” is just a Disney film, it does detail the level of importance that storytelling means to the Inuit peoples that is focuses on. Though not historically accurate, and sure the animals talk, I really believe that this movie represents the value that storytelling has to the Indigenous population. The stories that would be told, much like stories we learn as children, contain many morals which we learn by. We know these stories as fables. Fables are a genre in which utilizes animals or mystical elements, or some kind of inanimate object that is transformed and given human characteristics (for example, the animals in “Brother Bear” all talk), in order to teach a moral. This is an incredibly popular practice for Indigenous people to help teach their history and their culture to the future generations. Animals are especially important to the Native stories.

Here, for example, is a clip I found online of Debra Morningstar who is a professional Oneida storyteller. She tells a story of how rainbows came to be. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M1F88gf8Wg

Storytelling is a very important aspect of all communicating human beings today.