In days of old, Native Americans communicated via smoke signals.  Most tribes had their own signaling system.  Typically, a smoke signaler started a fire using damp grass.  Because the grass was damp, the smoke would rise.  As the grass dried, new bundles of wet grass were added. 

The location of the smoke conveyed its meaning.  Smoke from one location would indicate that all was well.  From another location, it could mean that danger was present.

During the same period that smoke signals were used as warnings,  moral lessons were taught to the people of the tribe through the use Story Tellers.  In addition to telling stories to teach lessons on life, Story Tellers also told stories to amuse and entertain. 

These stories were handed down from Story Teller to Story Teller and as such were an oral history of the tribe.   

If those stories not been committed to a written form, they would have been lost forever.  Most tribes had no written language so the stories were frequently related to non-natives who recorded them so that would not be lost to future generations. 

We are beyond smoke signals.  Today,  public and community warning systems are used to warn us of impending danger.  We also beyond having to have an official  Story Teller available to us as the only source for Native American legends and lore. 

Thanks to many historians (most non-native), these stories, legends and lore are readily accessible in art form, printed form, tape, film, and on-line.  Contemporary communication techniques have made both smoke signals and official Story Tellers another part of our history.

Each Wednesday Night we have a Story Hour on our Etsy Native American Forum Team.  The team is comprised of registered/enrolled Native Americans, non-registered Native Americans, and non-native individuals.  The purpose of Story Hour is to provide an opportunity for our members to hear and learn from these legends of old as told by our Native ancestors.

Volunteers from our team research stories and present them during our Story Hour.  It is an opportunity for our members to enjoy and learn the lessons taught by our ancestors. 

One of our members was recently severely ridiculed on a blog for telling an Ojibwe story during one of our Story Hours. 

The author of the blog said, “She (our member) tells Native American oral tradition stories like they’re hers to tell (she has recently told an Ojibwe story during some online story hour – which I personally find offensive since I am Chippewa).

The author of tht blog needs to be aware that our member took no credit for the story.  The title of the blog post in question clearly states “as told by”…not written by or belonging to.  She merely shared it. 

The story was published on line by Professor Ian E. McKenzie, M.A, a faculty member at Nipissing University in North Bay, ON, Canada.  One can read the exact story in the same words by scrolling down past the Sioux Prayer at this link:

So our member did not take a Native American oral tradition story as her own. 

This story may have been an “oral tradition” story when there were smoke signals, it is now readily available in printed hard copy and on the net.  It is available on numerous other websites as well as the one offered here. 

The Mille Lac Band of the Ojibwe sells comic books as well as other resources and provides teachers guides in their use at this site:  http://www.millelacsband.com/Page_EducationalMaterials.aspx  No where does it say that only Natives can purchase and/or use these materials.

Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa sources this publication: Living Our Language: Ojibwe Tales & Oral Histories for sale on Amazon for $18.95. It says that this dual-language text will provide instruction for those interested in Ojibwe language and culture, while the stories themselves offer the gift of a living language and the history of a people.  The book does not stipulate that only an Ojibwe or Native American can purchase the book but rather views it as a “gift” to those interested in learning. 

If an apology is owed for having presented a story that is widely available in print and on-line, it is owed by the Lakota and Ojibwe people who shared their oral story traditions with someone (probably a non-native) to record them for publication and for use by future generations..  Don’t blame the messenger (our team mate), look to how the message came to be available if you must assign blame or ridicule!

Modern technology allows us to share our stories and through them, our history, philosophy, and morality. 

We should be pleased that people of any walk of life or color are interested enough to research our history and share what they have found.  The world might be a better place if mankind applied the lessons that can learned from them. 

Granted there are many problems facing the contemporary Native Americans but having someone relate a story to a group of friends simply isn’t one of them.  I don’t think we need to put more wet grass on the fire to signal that there is an impending danger of injustice over the telling of a story. 

We have moved beyond smoke signals!   

Authors Note:  This is an excellent article should one wish to further explore the rights of story tellers.

Swapping Tales and Stealing Stories: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Folklore in Children’s Literature
Betsy Hearne, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 501 E. Daniel Street, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL 61820 LIBRARY TRENDS, Vol. 47, No. 3, Winter 1999, pp. 509-528 01999 The Board of Trustees, University of Illinois

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