The oral tradition of passing down stories to the next generation is incredibly important to the Native Americans. In the past it was the main way they kept their traditions alive. Treuer, author of Living our Language states, ‘A language carries a people’s memories, whether they are recounted as individual reminiscences, as communal history, or as humorous tales’ It is these memories which must be passed on to give the next generation a sense of who they are and from where they come.
The Ojibwe oral tradition crops up time and again in The Birchbark House, where both Deydey (father) and Nokomis (grandmother) relay stories either from their past or from their current adventures. However we first came across it in the Native American History for Kids book which we read during week 1. An activity that was suggested in this book was to have the children retell a memory from their past. I had them do this as a written narration first (Traditions of Old). My goal was to teach them particular methods of retelling a story orally and have them give their siblings a proper oral rendition of it.
In order to teach the children a bit more about the Ojibwe oral tradition, we read the following book:
This book was a collection of different Ojibwe stories. On the left hand page they were written in Ojibwe and on the right they were translated into English. I read a few out each day during our morning meeting. The children found the stories peculiar to listen too as they didn’t seem to make sense and there were many repetitions of certain words- ‘There, over there’ comes to mind.
They then watched this YouTube video, after which I handed out some general information about Oral Tradition from this site for them to read. Armed with this new information I sent them away to change their own story into a more oral version to tell to their younger sisters.
To go along with their Native American study, I had bought a few Ojibwe picture books. Each week I wanted to focus on one or two of them, bringing out the truths about the Ojibwe from their pages. I chose the following book about the Legend of Minnesota to use as an example of an Ojibwe legend that would have been told through the ages:
I read this out each day over the course of the week. I then asked the children to participate in a story circle. The Ojibwe tribe would gather round in a circle and they would have one piece of wood or a decorated stick. Whoever was holding the stick was the storyteller. When they finished they passed the stick onto the next person, who then had his turn telling a story. No one was allowed to talk except the person holding the stick. The children had some time to work out who would go first, second and third, and which part of the book they would retell. They were instructed to utilise all their knowledge on the oral tradition to narrate The Legend of Minnesota. This was a hugely successful activity which C11 in particular excelled at. I was really impressed:
This was a great study of the oral traditions of the Ojibwe tribe, particularly because A6 joined in whenever she could.