Anishinaabe stories preserve
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
Lake Superior College,
The College of St. Scholastica,
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
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.
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
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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