Native American Storytelling: A Reader of Myths and Legends

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Storytellers have unique ways of sharing: using vocal inflections, verbal skills, content omissions, additions, shifts in events, and change in characters Kroeber, The voices of ancestors within stories come alive through the energy of the words expressed, metaphors, analogies, and sounds from the land. Many Cree stories are tied to the northern landscape where you can actually hear sounds from nature within the language.


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The Cree have had a long period of cultural and linguistic development within particular regions that give rise to different Cree language dialects. According to one theory, the Woodlands Cree moved to their present territories at least four thousand years prior to European contact Siggens, ; Smith, David Meyer provides a summary of archeological evidence known as the Selkirk composite and concludes Cree occupation of northern Manitoba can be traced back to the s c.

Native American Stories

Brightman, , p. However, more recent arrowhead discoveries in Manitoba and Saskatchewan known as the Oxbow complex suggests the Cree were hunting and trapping in the North as far back as BC Siggens, The Woodlands Cree are originally an oral literate Algonquian language group associated with the Montagnais, Naskapi, Ojibwe, Attikamek, and Beothuk peoples.

Eventually the term transformed into Kri and then the current term Cree. The Cree are the largest and most widespread Indigenous group in Canada.


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They also live in cities, towns, and villages across the country. In northern Saskatchewan, we identify ourselves as Rock Cree people or Nihithawak who traditionally lived along the Churchill River system and its tributaries. The Cree language is an inseparable part of the Nihithaway Pimitasiwin Cree way of life. The language reinforces how we see the world and our place in it Wilson, Our Cree worldview provides a framework for our beliefs, values, experiences, and knowledge system Michell, Cree words used in stories contain teachings.

Some stories are considered sacred, such as those shared in ceremonies. Cajete states the language is sacred because " Language is powered with energies and can move people in different ways. Language is used to express human thought.

Native American Legends (Folklore, Myths, and Traditional Indian Stories)

The words expressed carry a responsibility. Words are known to soothe, instruct, and bring happiness. Words can be used to heal the wounded. Sharing stories and experiences gives voice to the lost and silent. On the contrary, words can also destroy and bring harm if used inappropriately. Rules of sharing are important in storytelling circles. In order to understand Cree language and stories, one has to speak, listen, observe, and be immersed in Cree way of life.

Learning the language is not just about memorizing words, phrases, and sentences, although this is a good start; the language must be lived, spoken, and illuminated through stories.

Multicultural Literature

Cree storytelling is one way of passing on knowledge. Listening to stories allows people to engage in deep thinking processes such as critical reflection, predicting, relating, and imagining. A tone of compassion and humility are key aspects of sharing. When Cree people reflect and share stories about their culture and traditions, they convey the spiritual connections they feel to the places from which they come through their language. The stories give voice to their communities and of spirit that is manifested in the land.

Stories shed light on the complexity of Cree thought and our northern land-based identity. In a study by Friesen and Orr , stories shared by teachers of First Nations ancestry in an Aboriginal focused teacher education program in northern Saskatchewan revealed they learned traditional knowledge from their ancestral connection to the land. When they talk about these special places in their languages, they connect their spirit to them through their words, thoughts, and feelings. There are different types of Cree stories and different types of storytellers.

Today, storytellers use different mediums such as technology, videos, music, art, drama, comedy, poetry, painting, writing, photos, plays, puppetry, dancing, drumming, and singing. Storytelling can be used to reinforce mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional development depending on the types of activities planned. Some Cree stories are private and can only be shared by those given that responsibility. There are certain stories that must remain oral. Quite often meaning is lost in translation to the English language. Brightman identifies two types of stories among the Woodlands Cree: achimowina regular stories and achithookiwina traditional stories.

The northern Cree have their own creation story from which all other traditional stories flow. These stories contain deep philosophical principles that are linked to Cree identity. It is these stories that we must turn to in order to heal from colonization and impacts of residential schools. Wisakechak teaches us to embrace ambivalence, change, and transformation as a necessary part of survival.

Showing respect and helping others are relational values rooted in our Cree creation story. It was Wisakechak with the help of Muskrat who restored the earth after diving into the depths of the lake to grab soil.

Native American Myth - Nlaka'pamux: The Adventures of Coyote - Extra Mythology

In this story, everyone makes an attempt and is ready to make a sacrifice. Finally, Muskrat takes the challenge despite the risks involved. The story evokes compassion for others, putting aside individual comforts for the sake of the collective. In our Cree belief system, animals give up their lives for the hunter and thus a deep respect is held for the natural world.

Proper protocols are used to honor the sacredness of life. Offerings are made that remind us of the Cree ethic of reciprocity. Many Cree trappers and hunters are storytellers, and have an intimate knowledge of the land, lakes, and river systems. Their stories contain valuable knowledge of the environment and sustainable ways of living and being. I remember sitting and listening to trappers when they visited our camp.

Complex topics included social, historical, economic, and political issues. Some trappers and hunters use specific Cree words, striking oral phrases, and body nuances to express underlying concepts so that people "remember. Berry picking excursions are times when bear stories are shared so that children do not wander too far away from the group. Storytellers use voice tones, singing, clapping, and sounds of animals, birds, wind, and other aspects of the natural world.

A skillful storyteller is one who can work with a variety of memory anchors. The more vivid the story, the more easy it is to retain certain pieces of information. The listener looks for patterns of meaning. Some hunters filter humor into storytelling. Laughter is good medicine. It brings healing and it breathes life into stories. Depending on the age of listeners, naughty stories are always shared with sensitivity.

In our Cree belief system, the spiritual breath of Kitchi Munto filters through our words and indeed through the entire circularity of life. In conclusion, many Bush Cree stories are open-ended, allowing for a diversity of possible meanings with no beginning and no ending. They often say they heard the story from someone else, thereby expunging subjectivity. Many Cree stories are re-workings, refinements, and revisions that result in a sharpness of words and sentences to an increasingly complex meaningfulness. In this paper, I have outlined essential aspects of storytelling within Bush Cree culture.

The content is incomplete in order to invite critique and a starting base for others who wish to expand on Cree storytelling discourse. It is through story that our experiences and knowledge of the northern landscape can be shared, taught, and passed on. The energy of stories enters and leaves our inner consciousness and outward into the minds of others in a relational way. Aikenhead, G. Bridging cultures: Indigenous and scientific ways of knowing nature. Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada.

At first the earth was flat and very soft and wet. At last it seemed to be time, and they sent out the Buzzard and told him to go and make ready for them. This was the Great Buzzard, the father of all the buzzards we see now. He flew all over the earth, low down near the ground, and it was still soft. When he reached the Cherokee country, he was very tired, and his wings began to flap and strike the ground, and wherever they struck the earth there was a valley, and where they turned up again there was a mountain.

When the animals above saw this, they were afraid that the whole world would be mountains, so they called him back, but the Cherokee country remains full of mountains to this day. When the earth was dry and the animals came down, it was still dark, so they got the sun and set it in a track to go every day across the island from east to west, just overhead. The conjurers put the sun another hand-breadth higher in the air, but it was still too hot. They raised it another time, and another, until it was seven handbreadths high and just under the sky arch.

Then it was right, and they left it so. Every day the sun goes along under this arch, and returns at night on the upper side to the starting place. There is another world under this, and it is like ours in everything—animals, plants, and people—save that the seasons are different. The streams that come down from the mountains are the trails by which we reach this underworld, and the springs at their heads are the doorways by which we enter, it, but to do this one must fast and, go to water and have one of the underground people for a guide.

We know that the seasons in the underworld are different from ours, because the water in the springs is always warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the outer air. When the animals and plants were first made—we do not know by whom—they were told to watch and keep awake for seven nights, just as young men now fast and keep awake when they pray to their medicine. They tried to do this, and nearly all were awake through the first night, but the next night several dropped off to sleep, and the third night others were asleep, and then others, until, on the seventh night, of all the animals only the owl, the panther, and one or two more were still awake.

To these were given the power to see and to go about in the dark, and to make prey of the birds and animals which must sleep at night. Men came after the animals and plants. At first there were only a brother and sister until he struck her with a fish and told her to multiply, and so it was. In seven days a child was born to her, and thereafter every seven days another, and they increased very fast until there was danger that the world could not keep them.

Then it was made that a woman should have only one child in a year, and it has been so ever since. Available through Google Books.

The Native American Myths: Creation to Death

Native American Creation Stories These two Native American creation stories are among thousands of accounts for the origins of the world.