In this challenge, students explore the knowledge, beliefs, values and relationship with the land represented in selected Aboriginal stories. These stories are only one aspect of First Nations oral traditions, which also include epic poems, prayers, speeches, spiritual teachings, songs and histories. The focus of this challenge is on oral traditions, narratives and stories and what they reveal about Aboriginal peoples. First Nations people distinguish between personal stories, which relate individual or personal experiences, and communal stories, which are passed down through generations and contain deeper cultural knowledge. These latter stories are often sacred and can be shared only if certain protocols are followed. A helpful discussion of Aboriginal oral traditions, as well as background information to help interpret the themes in many Aboriginal stories (e.g., land and identity, creation), is available in Aboriginal Perspectives: The Oral Tradition (Background Information). In preparation for this challenge, collect a variety of stories of Aboriginal peoples of Alberta.
Introduce the topic by asking students if older people in their family or community tell them stories. Invite students to share some of these accounts or ask local seniors to share their remembrances and lessons. Suggest that many of these stories are personal stories and while they may be entertaining and perhaps interesting, stories told by Aboriginals are owned by the whole community and help young people learn about Aboriginal beliefs and culture. If appropriate, encourage students to share stories that reflect understanding of historical, social, economic and origin stories of First Nations people of Alberta.
Discuss how seniors in all societies play a role in passing along cultural stories and ideas. Then, explain that oral traditions are especially important among First Nations and Inuit peoples in passing on their cultures. Explain that many stories are so important that they are owned by the entire community and can only be told under strict conditions. If possible, following appropriate protocol, invite an Aboriginal storyteller to share some of his or her stories. Alternatively, play an audio recording of an Aboriginal storyteller. Discuss the importance and purpose of oral traditions, including storytelling in Aboriginal communities; e.g., passes on important information about people and events, helps people remember the past, teaches important lessons. Explain how, in First Nations communities, Elders are especially important in nurturing cultural, traditional and spiritual understanding, and are shown a special kind of respect because of their knowledge, wisdom and life experiences. The stories they tell bring life from the past to the present in a way that not only tells, but also teaches.
After hearing or reading a story, invite students to consider what the story reveals about Aboriginal peoples and their relationship with the land. Ask students to consider the following questions, first individually, then in pairs and then in groups of four.
- What does the story describe?
- Who are the Aboriginal peoples in the story?
- Where does the story take place?
- What information does this story provide about the land and about the relationship between people and the land?
- Why would Aboriginal Elders believe that it is important to tell the story to young people?
- Why was this story told and retold?
Referring to their answers to the above questions and other understandings from hearing and reading stories of Aboriginal peoples, invite students to draw conclusions about the beliefs of Aboriginal peoples regarding the relationship between people and the land.