First Nations, Inuit, and Metis cultures have long passed on knowledge from generation to generation through oral traditions, including storytelling. Storytelling is a traditional method used to teach about cultural beliefs, values, customs, rituals, history, practices, relationships, and ways of life. First Nations storytelling is a foundation for holistic learning, relationship building, and experiential learning.
“The most important qualities of our culture are our language and our stories. In oral traditions such as ours, telling stories is how we pass on the history and the teachings of our ancestors. Without these stories, we would have to rely on other people for guidance and information about our past. Teachings in the form of stories are an integral part of our identity as a people and as a nation. If we lose these stories, we will do a disservice to our ancestors – those who gave us the responsibility to keep our culture alive.” (Hanna & Henry, 1995, p. 201)
First Nations storytelling involves expert use of the voice, vocal and body expression, intonation, the use of verbal imagery, facial animation, context, plot and character development, natural pacing of the telling, and careful authentic recall of the story.
“Patience and trust are essential for preparing to listen to stories. Listening involves more than just using the auditory sense. Listening encompasses visualizing the characters and their actions and letting the emotions surface. Some say we should listen with three ears: two on our head and one in our heart.” (Archibald, 1997, p. 10).
First Nations Stories
Stories can vary from the sacred to the historical.
☉ Some focus on social, political, and cultural ways.
☉ Some are entertaining, even humorous.
☉ Some tell of personal, family, community or an entire nation’s experiences.
☉ Some are “owned” by certain clans or families and can only be told by a member of that group.
☉ Others can be told by anyone who knows them and cares for them.
☉ Stories reflect the perceptions, relationships, beliefs and attitudes of a particular people.
Native Storytelling Festival: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves
Two Hungry Bears by Tamarack Song and Moses (Amik) Beaver
Elder Stories of Buffalo Hunting
Teaching Storytelling in the Classroom
Haida-Manga Animation "Flight of the Hummingbird"
HAIDA GWAII - Raven and the First Men
Coyote Stories for Martin & Lucy (Salish)
Big Buck Bunny (Salish)
The Story of Cedar - Phil Ives
A Story Before Time
EXPLORE: Circle of Stories – a beautiful collection of five Aboriginal stories recorded by five dynamic Aboriginal storytellers, and presented by PBS. Circle of Stories uses documentary film, photography, artwork and music to honor and explore Aboriginal storytelling.
CONSIDER: The showcased storytellers on this site demonstrate how to engage listeners with their voice fluctuations and expressiveness. How can you apply similar voice inflections in your storytelling in the classroom?
EXPLORE: Our Voices, Our Stories: First Nations, Metis and Inuit Stories – this site by Library and Archives Canada presents an educational resource for teachers that focuses on two online stories with a complementary lesson plan. The site also provides other Aboriginal stories that can be included within school settings.
CONSIDER: What differences and similarities did you notice between the First Nations, Metis and Inuit stories? Does the concept of a ‘story blanket’ help you to plan a storytelling activity for classroom settings? How?
Story Telling in the Classroom
STORY TELLER PREPARATION Download the Story Teller Worksheet to help you plan a learning activity for students to participate in story telling.
Hanna, D. & Henry, M. (1995). Our Telling: Interior Salish stories of the Nlha7kapmx people. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Archibald, J. (1997). Coyote learns to make a storybasket: The place of First Nations stories in education. Simon Fraser University dissertation.