For Aboriginal people, storytelling is both a gift, and a very old custom, sanctioned by the people. It has a place, and it has those who are recognized by the community as translators of this custom. In Aboriginal storytelling there is a difference between stories used more for entertainment and those that are more focused on the teachings of culture, ceremonies, and spirituality. There are many stories that are tied to the ceremonies and spirituality of Aboriginal culture. Stories of this nature are used not as entertainment, but as messengers. These stories may not be as entertaining to those unaccustomed to the process of why and what we communicate. These stories are used more as a bridge to get a teaching across to the audience; in these instances the actual stories may be nothing more than a stage prop, and the teaching or meaning of the story is the main attraction. Some stories are funny, some are sad, scary, disturbing; and not all have happy endings. Some stories are true others are not. Some are animated and some are somber. Some have room for embellishment; others must remain as true to the way they have been told for centuries. Again, stories that must remain as true to their origins as possible are usually ones that are fundamental to the teachings, ceremonies, and way of life of Aboriginal people.
We also have to take into account the way Aboriginal people look at ceremonies and spirituality. In mainstream society ceremony and spirituality are almost always terms that are, associated with religion. Aboriginal people do not see their ceremonies and spirituality as a religion, they see it as a way of life . The ceremonies and spirituality of Aboriginal people are embedded deeply in their everyday life. Aboriginal people are more intimate with their ceremonies and spirituality; there is less detachment because they do not only practice this way of life on Sundays, or other designated times. This way of life is virtually ingrained into values and morals that motivate those who embrace it, into everyday action. 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. This is in part because (such as in the Cree language) there is no word specifically designated for "religion." This is because it is very difficult to convey the meaning of Aboriginal concepts using the English language; so the word used for "religion" in Cree for example, is a descriptive word that basically means "another way." The stories share the teachings, history, culture, and way of life of the Aboriginal people. Because Saskatchewan has many Aboriginal languages with different dialects, there will be distinct terms for everything.
Various nations on Turtle Island (Mother Earth) had a word designated for the storytelling role or the act of storytelling. In most Indigenous languages there are many cases when a word is simply a description of an object, action, person, and a place; so when there is a word specifically designated for something, it is important. With all the drama, pageantry, and stimulus entrenched in our media today, it is not surprising that people unfamiliar with what Aboriginal Storytelling actually is, usually come to expect something totally different.
The term ‘storytelling' gives the audience a perception, and that perception is based on expectations the listener brings to a storytelling session. Without Storytelling, there would be no avenue to instruct and train for policing, doctoring, educating, trades, and those involved in aspects of government as leaders and as protectors both from a military and civil perspective. Almost everything that is here in the present was there in the past. The language barrier was one of many challenges that kept those coming into contact with the First Peoples of this land from knowing and understanding this.
When a person hears the phrase Aboriginal Storytelling , they will all most likely come to different meanings to the term within themselves, and there are many reasons for this. The way a person is raised, his or her influences on others, as well as a person's familiarity with a language, will have much to do with how they perceive Aboriginal Storytelling. Again, in many cases it is almost impossible to convey the meaning of Indigenous concepts using the English language. Much of the meaning gets lost in translation and we do our best with what we have left. Within each Aboriginal community in Saskatchewan there are very powerful and distinguished original terms for Storytelling in the orator's first language: what it does, why it's used and so on.
However a story may differ from one to another, one key reminder should be acknowledged about Aboriginal Storytelling. These are our stories . They have a rich connection to who we are as Aboriginals since they are an important component of Aboriginal identity. If the stories are not understood, perhaps the fault lies not with the orator, but in the bridge between the orator and his/her audience that might include negative stereotypes. It is impossible for our storytelling to resist evolving or changing as our culture continues to; however, our storytelling and stories are still considered sacred. As storytelling is rooted to spirituality; it is the basis of all customs, traditions, and everyday actions. As N ê hieyawak, Dakota/Nakota/Lakota, Denesuline, and Anishinabek, Inuit, and Métis, we cannot easily compartmentalize categories of our customs and lives.
Within Aboriginal circles, and since time immemorial, storytelling has been more than sheer entertainment. It has been a critical and profound component in our ancestral camps, and was as commonplace in daily life as eating a meal. Evaluations of subsequent participation in this event have proved this endeavor has been worth every minute of its winter month timing campaign.
Prepared by Nina Wilson and Jeremy Fourhorns