Sharing stories at SOADI: our way, our issues, our matter, our culture

THORALD — It doesn’t matter how old you are, storytelling is for everyone and is a part of all First Nations cultures.

“Stories are so precious. They have so much to offer us,” said Tehakanere to a room filled with children and adults of all ages last Friday.

Southern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative (SOADI) held a cultural teachings event in Thorald on March 18. Part of the day included a workshop with Gail Whitlow, owner of Ancestral Voices Healing Centre in Ohsweken, followed by a time of storytelling with Tehakanere and Grandmother Renée.

“We used to share all of our stories just like this,” said Tehakanere, referencing the way his ancestors used to share stories together. “With the young ones, the men, the women and the elders together, this is exactly how it was.”

Tehakanere has been learning the Kanyen’kéha language, also known as Mohawk, for more than three years. He will be completing his third year of study at Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa (Kanyen’kéha Immersion School) in May.

Tehakanere shared a story he learned this year from one of his teachers, Tehota’karaton, who learned the story from Tekahkwa, an elder in the community. He told the bulk of the story in english, but said specific words and sayings like “archery”, “birds” and “got up” in Kanyen’kéha — really emphasizing the importance of storytelling, but also taking the opportunity to teach those in the audience.

“When he [Tehakanere] was telling the story, I could really feel his passion for sharing,” said one of the audience members. “When he looked happy, it made me feel happy. When he looked excited, it made me feel excited.”

The story teaches how the Haudenosaunee learned to tell stories to one another; a young boy comes across a speaking stone while he is hunting birds for his family and the stone begins to share okara’shón:à (stories), with him. Tehakanere shared the story much more eloquently and descriptive than that, but by the end the young boy’s entire village was sitting down near the speaking stone, listening to its stories about life above the earth and life inside or underneath the earth.

“Telling stories wasn’t just ‘kids’ story time’”, said Tehakanere. “Out stories carry a lot of information and guidance for everyone.”

Grandmother Renée spoke after Tehakanere shared his story and she too shared valuable truths from her ancestors’ teachings.

She told stories about what happened when the creator made the animals and other creatures. She said that the creator made them from the earth and one-by-one they told the creator a special skill or lesson they could use to teach humans how to live and care for the earth.

The dog teaches us to love and care for one another by drying our tears and making us laugh, the cat teaches us to “do things right” by learning how to pet it properly from head to tail and not going against the fur (a lesson learned rather quickly if you aren’t careful) and the squirrel teaches us to pay close attention to our surroundings and reminds us not to say bad things to one another by the chattering sound it makes.

“Animals were here long before we were,” said Grandmother Renée, who taught lessons from 10 different animals or so. “They were given gifts to share with us and to remind us that our mother [earth] is to be respected and appreciated.”

Storytelling doesn’t just bring family and friends together, it’s also an important step in the community’s healing process.

“Learning how to be healthy is a part of our heritage and traditions,” said Kathleen LaForme, family wellness co-ordinator at SOADI. “So storytelling is huge in our community. We always had big, huge storytelling sessions long, long ago, but we kind of got away from that in recent years.”

She said through storytelling the kids learn useful, important skills that have been handed down for many generations and that adults too are given the opportunity to learn or relearn stories that they may have heard when they were younger and forgotten about.

“Bringing that in and incorporating those traditional teachings is key to our health,” she said.

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