Localized vs. global storytelling traditions

jesusStorytelling informs cultural capitol
Excerpt from Truth & Bright Water by Thomas King

Do you speak your language? says Teresa.
Yes, maam says Rebecca.
Good, says Lucille.
Then you can tell your story in Cherokee.
You guys dont speak Cherokee, I say.
More to a story than just the words, says my Grandmother…

The storytelling tradition of First Nations is persistent yet highly diversified by region. Because the storytelling tradition of First Nations is intended to stimulate the listener by leveraging the ability of audiences to share in the experience of the story, these narratives are often highly localized. Stories are often related in the first person, tied to the local geography and contextualized within the daily activities of the community. Alluding to this dynamic, one of the early observations made by A. Irving Hallowell in his ethnographic treatise on the Ojibwe of Berens River contrasts the degree of local knowledge demonstrated by the inhabitants at the mouth of the Berens River as opposed to their inland knowledge.

Narrators imbue the stories with features of the local landscape both to deepen their own connection to the story as well as the audience members. The exploits of the characters in traditional stories usually relate to their immediate relationship with that local landscape and the creatures inhabiting it; an environment directly shared by the audience members. Dualistically the outcome of the interactions the characters have with the local environment is tied, causally, to many of the unique features of that particular landscape shared by the contemporary audience member. Whether told in the first or second person, traditional stories like that of Ishinishahmaatiwinak or The Origin of Likenesses of Nanabushu as well as contemporary stories like Truth & Bright Water (King, 1999) tie the narrative experience to the local landscape as a means of allowing the audience member to form meaningful associations.

If the stories represent the fabric of cultural capitol in First Nations tradition, then the language represents the thread that weaves it all together. As stories migrate across varied geographical and cultural landscapes the context and references used to narrate them become imprinted with variations in dialogue. In Canada alone, contemporary research demonstrates that amongst First Nations peoples 50 major language groups exist within 12 language families. The similarities between the creation exploits of Nanabushu and Glooscap are informative of this process of story migration, occurring over generations. While migration imbues traditional stories with geo-cultural and linguistic nuances reflecting the rich narrative legacy of First Nations people, as I will examines next, it also limits the perceived value of traditional storytelling as a vehicle for cultural capitol from the perspective of Western audiences.