Wisdom held its annual Northwest Indian Storytelling Association Retreat the weekend of May 16-18 outside of Olympia, Washington. Five elder tribal storytellers and 18 emerging tellers joined us this year at a beautiful equestrian center in Olympia in a majestic old home just a few minutes from I-5. But we were surrounded with the sights and sounds of nature, horses grazing in the surrounding green rolling pastures, the air scented with lilacs, and sunshine. NISA’s emerging tribal storytellers were treated to a sparkling variety of oral tradition, including instruction, oral history, traditional storytelling, historic reenactments and personal reminiscences. Every participant demonstrated talent, skill and commitment, with a depth of communication conveyed through body language. Our storytelling space became huge, filled with the shadowy presences of eagle, raven and bear. This was not a competition. Every teller who stood up and spoke learned from the experience, as did every listener.
Young storytellers experimented and tested their wings while taking the opportunity to listen and learn from their elders. More experienced storytellers soared with confidence, amazing us with their expertise. Some tellers received directives for legends from ancestors, which completely awed a first-time storyteller like me. I learned that it is evidently common among tellers who have been engaged in this practice for even just a few years.
As a new emerging teller, I experienced a palpable sense of community while listening to all the stories told around the metaphorical fire. For me, the most important element of this shared experience was encountering the unexpected sense of family. I was now one of them, or sensed that I could be, and their acceptance of who I am – an Apache whose family hid their ancestry because of unresolved historical trauma – was personally fulfilling.
Humans learn and heal and grow through story. Without story, we are not human. Besides, without stories, learning just isn’t fun! As we packed up and drove off, hugs were given and received. New and old friends alike, we went our separate ways filled with each other’s tales, looking forward to our next gathering. “See you in October!”