Articles

Our Stories Connect Us to Place and People

Indigenous people have always been some of the best storytellers, and recently a growing number of talented Native actors, writers, and directors are sharing their stories on TV and film. For example, on Reservation Dogs, the story of Deer Woman – a supernatural being who makes bad men disappear – was featured. Today, as in the past, our dances, beadwork, comic books, songs, and fashion tell amazing narratives.

A common thread uniting many of our stories is that they are often connected to a specific place. For example, in the Cherokee telling of how the world was made, the world was soft mud in the beginning. When the animals sent Buzzard down to see if the mud was dry, his wings cut through the mud, carving the familiar valleys and hills of the Smoky Mountains. This story wouldn’t be the same without that specific connection to the place where the Cherokee people are from.

We have a strong connection to our lands, and our histories are tied to those places. The stories we tell – in whatever form – often have a deep connection to place as well. Many of our oral histories, traditions, and customs, for example, are tied to our connection to a land base. As a result, our stories contain powerful lessons about the land, plants, and animals in that area. For example, the stories of Tribes in the Southeast – where there are rolling hills and forests – are often very different from Tribes in the Southwest – where there are more deserts and mountains.

Though storytelling has been a part of our cultures for thousands of years, our creative expression is not limited to traditional practices. Many Native people are finding new and exciting ways to tell stories in the 21st century, whether it’s through film, comic books, podcasts, fashion, or literature.

Interested in joining this trend? Consider lighting your creative spark using these writing (or artmaking) prompts:

  • Retell one of your traditional stories in a modern setting (if appropriate).
  • Imagine you could travel back in time to meet your ancestors – What would you tell them about your Tribal nation today? How would you tell them?
  • Pick a place that is relevant to you or your people – tell the story of that place throughout time.

We can use our storytelling skills to create positive representations of our people, rather than perpetuate harmful stereotypes. In a world where so many of the same stories are told and retold, we can bring a fresh perspective to the table – one that connects us all to the land and each other.

To learn more about this topic, check out the following:

Author: McKalee Steen is a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and is currently a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management department. She is passionate about studying Indigenous land stewardship practices, providing resources for Indigenous youth, and the power of storytelling. 

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