Native Village
Youth and Education news
 APRIL 1, 2010 Volume 2

Anishinaabe stories preserve tradition
Condensed by Native Village

Amik Smallwood briefly smoked his ceremonial pipe before beginning an old Anishinaabe teaching. He smoked as an offering that asked Creator to forgive him for telling stories during the day instead of night.

In Anishinaabe tradition, stories were told on winter nights when families gathered together, inside, before bedtime. The stories can be be both funny and sad. They tell of life lessons, adventure and values.

Smallwood spoke at the "American Indian Storytelling Event: Sharing our Gifts," at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Sharing our Gifts" was organized by groups from
UWS, Lake Superior College, The College of St. Scholastica, and The University of Minnesota Duluth.

Amik was among four Ojibwe and Lakota storytellers who shared their gifts. Their stories connect those with similar beliefs in
the Anishinaabe's and other tribal homelands.
Smallwood's first language is Ojibwe. His first lecture, as he calls it, was told with broad, humorous gestures to give the words more meaning for non-Ojibwe speakers.

He told a tale of the Creator’s son walking past a large swamp. On the other side was a very tall man waving at him. Creator's son waved back, and the other man kept waving. Because Creator's son was stubborn he returned the wave. Seasons passed and the Creator's son was starving,  but he would not put his arm down. Finally, the other man fell over. The Creator’s son walked around the swamp, and saw that the man was a tree branch.

The lesson in that, Smallwood said, is one shouldn’t be stubborn or so set on winning.

“We’re taught not to be better than anyone else; we’re taught to be equals,” he said.

Bill Howes from St. Scholastica said the stories are gifts passed down through generations. Great-grandparents learned these same stories when they were little. 

“They teach us about … a good way to live life, and they help us understand ourselves,” he said. “Our worldview, our perspective, is in those stories. When those things may be missing in other parts of your life, you can find them by listening.”

Smallwood — who runs a language and culture camp— translated each of his stories, something he seldom does.
“When it’s told in English it loses a lot of meaning,” he said.

He said Anishinaabe stories are oral, and not to be printed in books. “I tried to do that once … two silver-haired uncles said absolutely not,” he said.

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