A Solstice Story: Putting the Pieces Back Together Again

By Madronna Holden

Just after the US set up their space program, NASA hosted a group of Asian scientists, treating them to a tour of their facility– with which the visitors were duly impressed.  There followed a presentation of the benefits of Western science, during which the NASA administrators touted the importance of specialization.

The visitors listened attentively, but when the time came for questions, one asked, “Your technology is excellent at taking the world apart.  What is your plan for putting it back together again?”

To me, that is one of the central questions of the modern age.

There is an ancient answer to that question, in the storytelling technology that bridged so many aspects of the world, bringing them together.

Such stories bridged generations– and brought human culture itself into being.  Though we might not recognize passing stories between generations as a technology in the age of digital phones, such stories are the basic human tool that empowered us to expand our reach in both time and space.

This technology is  a powerful tool for not only bridging generations, but for linking human life with the larger community of natural life. When Siletz Takelma elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim tells the story of the salmon’s struggle to return to their home waters to carry on the the generations of the salmon people, that story brings humans and the salmon into  special solidarity.

Such stories not only bring communities together across generations and species. They have the potential to bring us from times of relative hopelessness and fear into vision.

The Chehalis knew how valuable such stories were, since they would bring those who heard them to a place where they “could take care of themselves”;  where they knew “how to get along with one another.”

Children would “pay” for stories by doing a task designated by the storyteller. The nurturance and wisdom of such storytellers was signed by the tasks they designed for these children. A child afraid to go to a certain place in the woods, for instance, might be told to fetch a stick from a place nearby–and then to repeat that task until he or she drew so near to the feared place, their fear would disappear.

Thelma Adamson’s  Chehalis fieldnotes (drawn up in 1926) record the profound insight that the power of our past will haunt us until we turn and face it. At that point it will become a vision power for us to use.

There is working knowledge here of the links between past and future– between wisdom learned from our past and vision for the future.  There is the working knowledge of how human generations depend upon and may nurture one another.

According to Jacob Bighorn, former administrator of the Chemawa Indian School, Native American education works from the premise that each child is given a natural “life plan” by the Creator that is theirs alone.  Certainly, giving children the understanding that each of their lives is a unique story the Creator waits to hear is an antidote to any future smallness imposed on them.

In this context, education is a “natural process” of supporting the child as his or her spirit-calling emerged.

In cultures throughout the world, the time of year surrounding the winter solstice is the season to draw inward and pay close attention to our dreams–and to tell stories.  Indeed, many indigenous peoples  only tell their traditional stories in the winter.

As Adamson’s recorded statement about the haunting of the past that chases us until we can learn to face–facing up to it may take considerable courage.  But certainly each of our pasts as well as our past as a society will continue to haunt us until we face it. Only then might we gain the wisdom of our past and the power to guide our future with vision.

This is the process that traditional stories enable.

Today we stand together on the verge of the longest night of the year, which is also the moment when our dreams are strongest. This is the moment when we need stories and their vision– when we need the hearth of community in which elders and young people come together to share their gifts with one another–and with our precious ravaged world.

The faith in the returning sun celebrated by solstice ceremonies is more difficult to hold to today, in the face of such things to face as climate change — or the 252 toxins recently found in the umbilical cords of 10 babies.

If you were an elder, how you would create the stories that are called for at this moment?  What gift would you share? What trust would you express in the actions of the next generation?

These questions were answered in the wisdom, generosity, and trust of the speaker at a gathering honoring indigenous environmental knowledge at OSU.

Here is the story she created, a story that truly brings us together as it teller Val Goodness notes, in relating a bit about the event where it took place, which she helped to organize.

The speaker, Elder Gail Woodside held a handmade clay pot in her hands.

This clay pot was decorated by native hands and she proudly said it was her Grandmother’s pot. It showed wear, and even had a small crack, which Elder Gail said happened when her daughter dropped it when she was young.

This pot was 100 years old. Elder Gail told us that the pot resembled her Grandmother’s knowledge about things in nature, full and complete knowledge handed down generation after generation through oral history. Her Grandmother’s indigenous knowledge about sustainability and the practice of her father’s use of fire to help things grow.

Elder Gail then held the pot up over her head and let the pot drop.We were shocked, and held our breath as the pretty little pot broke to pieces.

In her soft voice, Elder Gail bent down, picking up a piece of the broken pot, and said, “This….is the knowledge I have.”

She said the old ways and the knowledge are broken. Small pieces are used–borrowed from Native peoples– while the rest ignored as un-specialized or not scientific.

Elder Gail then asked all of us to come forward and take a piece of the pot. She challenged us all to come back this coming spring to put the little 100 year old pot back together as a symbol of unity in sharing our efforts to present indigenous knowledge in sustainability as an all day event for spring term.

So that the knowledge of sustainability can once again be whole.

Kiowa writer Scott Momaday once noted that oral tradition is as fragile as it is precious, since it is always “one generation away from extinction”.

The story created by Elder Gail illustrates this.  It is only the fact that pieces of this precious pot of tradition are in the hands of community that it has a chance of remaining whole.  But only if its members are each willing to keep and share and enable their piece so that it remains alive in the whole.

332 Responses

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  2. This post leaves me thinking about what connects us all as a people. A people that don’t share a bloodline, a religion or maybe even a lifestyle. What is the thread (the pieces of the pot) that connect us all. Is it the responsibility to the Earth, to eachother? Is it our innate struggle for survival on a planet that we all know, on some level whether conscious or unconscious, is under stress?

    The act of storytelling is a way that the First Peoples connected with their ancestry, their past and continued the line of deliberate care taking of the Earth. Since this line has been broken we must assume the responsibility of remembering what we can and re-threading the line. Putting the pieces back together now requires a new commitment, one that weaves the old knowledge back into our lives so that we may create a new story that resonates with our current world. A story that draws upon the past and rests in the present.

    • A great question about what connects us–and some excellent perspectives based on a sense of connection and empathy, Jessica. It is certainly true that there are far too many broken connections in our current world–ones we need to heal as we heal our communities and the natural world that sustains us. I very much like your response to the need to tell a story that can reweave our connections with one another, a story, as you say, “that draws upon the past and rests n the present.” Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  3. I really like the part about a child being afraid of a certain part of the woods. The story teller would send him out to get a stick, and by doing this task he would lose his fear. It’s really easy for somebody to get information off the internet or tv, but it lacks the personal connection between what we are learning and how we can change. When the boy gets his task, he is changing his behavior. Looking up something on the internet informs you, but it may not motivate you to change.
    There is also the problem of selected learning. With story tellers, you learned many different values and behaviors. When you watch tv or go on the internet, you are selecting to research things you are interested in. I think that the main point is, we need somebody to push us a little in order to change sometimes, and with these stories we get more involved because it is more personal, and we become more connected with the experiences.

    • Great comparison about the impersonal versus interpersonal way of learning, Benj. Also a good insight about the fact that storytelling (as a traditional process) expands us– taking us where we might not have known we want to go–or even could go, whereas carefully selected the information we want to take in does not do this for us. I like these perceptive points!

  4. I do believe that we all have a “life plan”. And it’s a great idea to tell children that the creator will be waiting for them to tell their life story. I should do this, but keeping a journal of our life is a great way to hand down a family story. I’ve often heard that you should live your life by what you would want to read in your obituary. I love to hear the stories of the elders. We need more stories like them because of their inspiration.

    • Thanks for the comment on the way we perceive and design the stories of our lives, Judilyn. We do indeed need to hear and treasure the stories of our elders. I have been so very fortunate to have been in a place to hear so many of them and pass a few of them on here. And since an audience helps to make a story, you have helped keep these alive as well.

  5. I like the idea of story time and the elders passing down history and knowledge to future generations through story telling. I think that there are benefits to writing down a history, but I think that story telling creates a bond between the teller and the listeners. I think we have lost some of this personal connection within our relationships. We have lost the closeness in communities created by story telling. We have created an impersonal world where we can use the internet to learn new information. We no longer need to pass down wisdom as a way of survival. It would be a sad, cold world if we did not need any personal contact to survive.

    • I think you have come very close to the heart of the matter is the interpersonal sharing that builds community as it passes down oral tradition, Hannah.

    • Hanna, your point about the internet and written history made me think about how easy it is to misinterpret the written word. Take for example the confusion often resulting from sarcasm or wit in emails. Without the nuances of facial expression and tone of voice the reader often mistakes meaning. I also thought of the conflicts resulting from translation and ancient language loss which color the readings of the written gospels of the Bible and Q’uran. Oral story tellers help ensure that the listener leaves with the correct interpretation of the story.

  6. Dr. Holden,

    The pieces of stories seem to be as fragile as the pieces of that pot…but somehow, they not only survive the generations, but they strengthen in that the further you travel from the time the story was first told, the stronger the stories are held. The become legends, if only for the family for which the story is told. They become history and tradition. My family has many stories and my father tells them…some over and over every time I go home. they are a source of pride to him and a joy to listen to for me. They are the only connection I have to my ancestors and their lives.

    Maria Gilmore

  7. Madronna, another beautiful essay. I, as a mother, am deeply saddened by the lack of oral tradition in our modern lives. I long for elders in my life and the lives of my children who can impart to us the importance of life and our responsibility to life, in the form of stories and tradition. I find that I want this so badly for us (all of us) but even with this desire, I don’t know how to find it. Our communities and families have become so fragmented that it is difficult even to remember what tradition truly is. Thank goodness for people like Gail Woodside and the Thirteen Grandmothers who are devoted to rekindling this sacred knowledge and tradition. Perhaps through their work and others like them, we will once again be able to access our connection to the past in a way that will encourage more respect for the future.

    • Thank you, Dazzia. The elders you mention are indeed a treasure in their generosity. Meanwhile, stories being passed down in your family can start with your relationship to your children. Just because the line of stories has been broken does not mean it can never be established. This is the faith Gail Woodside so eloquently expressed in her action here.

  8. WOW! I found the pot analogy to perfectly describe what I feel is our current status. I especially relate this to sustainable practices and how it fits into our present day circumstance. It really is like everyone took one piece of a pot… but then didn’t leave in Spring to put it back together in a united fashion. This may be a long shot, but I do not even think that my generation (mid-twenties) were the people who received one of the pieces of the pot! This motivates me to use my job at the Student Sustainability Center to put our knowledge together even more so than we are doing.

    This was also a nice article because I did not know that the Solstice has the purpose to dream the strongest dreams… I will remember that for next year!

    Great article, thank you!

    • I am so glad you liked this, Dana. And congratulations on your job and its potentials for making change on the OSU campus! The enthusiasm and ethics of so many in your generations certainly adds to my hope quotient it the context of the crises we currently face!
      I think that natural cycles have much to offer us– if we are in tune with them.
      And as for your not getting a piece of the pot–that is tragic. At the same time, I have a sense that there are certain memories buried in our bodies and the ways in which our senses respond to the natural world that signal ways in which we can find our piece of the pot–and help to reconstruct the whole. Thanks for your comment.

  9. With modern technology as advanced as it is, we are in an ideal position to draw from both our past and future when it comes to environmental decisions. We have access to an immense database of knowledge (of course via the internet) of lessons learned. Elder Gail Woodside’s story about her grandmother’s clay pot is a very good example of an interdependent relationship between individual and society. We see that we can not rebuild the pot, or solve our environmental crisis, without drawing from all sources of experience and knowledge. So with this vast information system, what is keeping us from solving our own self-induced problems? Maybe we are looking at the issues with more of a dualistic value set, trying to put patches on a piece at a time – and with the economic system we have I don’t see how it could be another way as long as we try to solve problems on a global level. So again, I think that localization of our efforts will be most beneficial in making positive changes.

    • Great points, Kate. I think that our mindset (or worldview, what Frances Moore Lappe calls “mind maps”) stop us from “solving our own self-induced problems”. I agree with you on localization and beginning change with individual steps. I also think we need to engage self-determined others in the global community in helping to “put the pieces back together” again.

    • I think that we need to go a step further than localization and look to internalizing the healing that must be done to the world. As I read about the power of stories I contemplated my personal stories and the healing power of telling them that I have gratefully received. We stay so separated into our houses and apartments watching television and looking at the internet. I think we often forget that every person we see throughout our day had an infinite amount of stories of themselves and their families and world to share. Stories can be the bridge that reconnect us to ourselves and our neighbors in this digital age.

      • Indeed, Rosie. I like Scott Momaday’s statement, “I am the story of myself”– if we each realized that we were living our story and that that story was part of the larger story of our human community and of life itself, there would certainly be more of the intimacy you are holding out for here.

  10. Elder Gail Woodside’s story of the pot that her grandmother made brings up a point to me that really should hit all of us hard. Native people’s traditions and languages have been taken from them since the Euro American arrival. The Spanish tried to convert the tribes in California to Christianity. These tribes were not allowed to practice any of the traditions or speak their native language. They were persecuted to the point that many of the traditions are gone today. This type of tyranny has been imposed on the Native American populations for centuries. We have lost a very important part of American history due to these horrible acts. We have to put the pot back together to preserve the handing down of the stories of what remains of Native American culture. They knew how to preserve the flora and fauna of this land. If we are not to include their visions of sustainability, I think that we will be running in circles looking for an answer to solving our burgeoning environmental crisis, when we just could have looked and listened to all sources of knowledge that are afforded to us to save the land.

    • I appreciate both your rationality and your emphasis on justice in the case the Native American history that has been lost through colonialism: it is, as you point out, our loss as well. Thanks for your comment, Scott.

  11. I am still reeling from the amount of chemicals present in the ten newborns’ umbilical cords. I read the article and I am so surprised that things like perchlorate from rocket fuel were present in nine out of ten. And to think these chemicals have been in the mother’s body for years.
    The story of the broken pot helps to illustrate how anything that we share as a society is as fragile as the pot, and how the only way to hold it all together is for everyone to participate. One or two people are not going to cut it. A wonderful analogy/story.

    • The chemicals in baby’s umbilical cords is a sad indeed: the good news is that we can change such pervasiveness of chemicals in the environment if we have a will to do that. Sweden cleaned up their breast milk contamination by addressing its source– usage of these chemicals, especially law chemicals. Israel used enormous amounts of pesticides when they first began their agricultural endeavor– and their breast cancer rate was soon double the rate of the rest of the industrialized world. After they cut back on chemical usage (at least to make it comparable with the rate in the Western world I still think is careless and foolish), their breast cancer rate fell back to the baseline of nations like ourselves where “only” one is 8 women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. Can you imagine? I think of the women I know and the number of them who will develop breast cancer– unacceptable. And our new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson would like to address that among other issues by changing our chemical regs to come up to the standard of the EU. I think we should watch this and support her wherever we can!

    • Ashley – I know, right? My stomach churned at the idea when I read about the newborns. It’s a harsh and imperfect world we live in. And in terms of the pot, I agree entirely with the idea of fragility and the importance of our world working as a team.

      • Thanks for sharing the supportive comment, Chamae. And the most physically vulnerable among us require the care of all of us in things like technological choices that will effect the future.

  12. The pot breaking into pieces analogy is a good one–I’m sure I would have been affected if I were in the audience. In a way it made sure the audience was not a passive one, but active and involved participants. What people can do when they work together to fix and put things back together. Being involved personally connects people-connects them to the problem and solution. Scientists observe, disect and dicipher things to discover and learn about what things are made up of. The idea that we need to put things back together and look at things as whole is equally important. What our culture values is so different than those from Native Cultures. Stories were told to the colonists, but were quickly dismissed as stories. The elders pass down knowledge through these stories, and explain how and why things are the way they are, as well as how and why things should be done. I think it is good that we are listining and being more active in the solutions.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Erin. Perhaps we can institute more of a holistic emphasis in our science-one that allows us to construct bridges and understand the living rather than merely the dissected world in the ways in which traditional stories allow us to do this.

    • Although, I notice your posting was from April, earlier this year, I absolutely, love your comments here, Erin. You recognizing that we are active participants took me back to the earlier mention of NASA at the beginning of the article and tied it all together for me. It seems to me that in the United States, many of us are like a kid I knew in high school whose parents would buy him the most expensive things that no one else had at the time – a graphing calculator, a fancy car, a cell phone, a cool gaming sytem and a big TV, a computer, just to name a few. Every other kid wanted everything he had!

      Oddly enough, that kid who seemed to have every cool thing in the world any seventeen year-old would want took those things, each and every one of them, and tore them apart, claiming he wanted to see how they worked. He destroyed nearly everything his parents gave him, including that fancy car, but he would always get more. Most of us were dismayed by his actions, and even more so when we realized he did not know how to put anything back together. He would not have cared to do so if he did know how. Then he threw them out – junk. At the time, I would have prized half of the things he had when they were in their whole complete state, in good working order.

      It is too bad we cannot think of our own unique cultures as valuable in the same way I saw his possessions before they are similarly broken and discarded. And we also need to realize that unlike that kid in high school, we cannot get more from mom and dad once they are gone. As you said, we are active participants. To hang on to what we have, we really need figure out how to put things back together so we can start making repairs.

      PHL 443

  13. One thing in particular that I found especially interesting about this article was the idea of children paying for stories – especially in ways that allowed elders to teach them. The example given, which was that “A child afraid to go to a certain place in the woods, for instance, might be told to fetch a stick from a place nearby–and then to repeat that task until he or she drew so near to the feared place, their fear would disappear” was a classic example of psychological desensitization. This really rang out to me & resonated with the examples presented in Suzuki & Knudtson’s “Wisdom of the Elders” and class notes, lesson one, wherein many environmental facts which have been long known to indigenous peoples are just now being recognized scientific realities. It appears that not only did these populations have a firm grasp on ecological knowledge, they were also quite “ahead of the time” in psychological matters! Of course, I sadly doubt I’ll ever have a psych. class (having almost completed my psych. major) which actually focuses on ancient ways of knowing about the human mind and behavior.

  14. It is interesting how the Asian scientists see the American technology as being “excellent at taking the world apart and not having a plan to put it back together.”

    I believe that there is more power in the use of story telling rather than scientific “knowledge” Science can tell us how to do things but story telling can teach us how to take caare of each other, ourselves and how to get along with one another.

    Once we realize that each of us do have a “life plan” layed out before us and we can follow that plan if we are willing to listen to our own personal spirit our lives will be better and things will be put back together rather than being taken apart.

    Like Adamson states, “facing up to our past may take considerable courage. But certainly each of our pasts as well as our past as a society will continue to haunt us until we face it.”

    We can create our own stories but it is important to listen and hear the stories from our elders because if we don’t they are truly, “one generation away from extinction.” How sad would that be?

    • Just a note: Adamson didn’t originate this says, but recorded it from Chehalis elders. I appreciate telling what you agreed with about this essay, Jeff. Thank you. It would also be great to hear a bit more of what you think about this.

  15. Storytelling is an art worth sharing. I think about all the ways we tell stories; the cowboy poet, the American Indian at the pow-wow, the park interpreter, the movies we watch, or the coworker describing their children’s experience. There are stories being told in many unique ways, we might not think of them as stories; some are short and some are long walk stories, some are formal and some are only with best friends. Every story has a lesson, has some meaning that is meant to be shared as thoughts are generated by the receivers. It is a connection to one another that drives us to share stories and communicate our feelings.

    I feel like putting the pieces back together is a synonym for creating stories and reviving storytelling among all people. Stories are our past, our present and our future and we have the choice to convey them in many ways. This reminds me of Out of Africa; the main characters gift was storytelling. She told long colorful and exciting stories that many people enjoyed. In this time of fast paced movies and television, many people don’t take the time to develop the art of storytelling or create traditions unless it is something they feel passionate about. This is something to strive toward.

    • I couldn’t agree more with your response. “storytelling is an art worth sharing.” and isn’t that true. Stories can be simply for entertainment, provide a better understanding, give comfort, or even teach the importance of morals and right from wrong. There are cultures who are definetly more passionate with the act of storytelling, but i do agree, it is something to strive toward.

      • It is true that “literate” cultures tend to value stories less–but I am heartened by the upsurge in the interest in stories in our society in the last few decades.

  16. I am reminded of the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. The idea that all within a group, a community have a special part in raising the kid, that there is something to having more then one person involved that produces an adult properly situated within a community.

    To take the image of the pottery vase further, each person within a community holds a piece of knowledge, a kernel of understanding life to pass on to others. Learning from just one or two people doesnt give a child or anyone learning the full picture of life. If there is someone missing, their kernel of knowledge missing, then the picture is incomplete.

    As in the vase, one person not holding up to their part leads to an incomplete piece, something that will never meet its full potential due to that missing hole, such it is with a child and their learning.

  17. What a powerful piece this is. My jaw dropped twice while reading it. First when hearing of the 252 toxins recently found in umbilical cords of 10 babies. That is very sad and is sickening to hear, I hope the babies were OK. Second time my jaw dropped is when she, coincidentally, dropped the jar. I couldn’t believe it and couldn’t wait to get to the part that describes her reasoning to do it. What a sacrifice she made to do her part in helping the community, this lady should be praised for such an action. Are there plans to meet this next December already???
    I also love how the Asian scientist asked ““Your technology is excellent at taking the world apart. What is your plan for putting it back together again?” I couldn’t have said it better myself. What would have taken me 10 minutes worth of discussion to convey the same message he did in five seconds.
    Honestly a great post that I enjoyed very much.

  18. Stories connect us as people. Cultures have endured for thousands of years without agriculture, industrializing, banking and literacy, but there has never been a culture without music, stories and poems. Nor has there been a long term culture without an educational enterprise, and that education has always moved in two direction: back, to learn the stories of the past and get them right, and forward, to transcend the past and create a more viable future. And always that education has covered the range that is now what we call the arts and humanities. The goal of that education- until the last few decades, when the goal shifted to job skills- has always been wisdom; intelligence, intuition, information, knowledge and insight put in service to the community to enable ‘the people’ to survive. (And, in indigenous cultures, ‘the people includes four-leggeds and bird people). There is an integrity reflected in unity that we must strive to uphold.

  19. If you were an elder, how you would create the stories that are called for at this moment? What gift would you share? What trust would you express in the actions of the next generation?

    I appreciate this question, even though I don’t now have an answer, I have a sense that new stories are desperately needed. I feel that many of us are still clinging to stories of colonizers and conquerers, while others are trying to make sure that ancient wisdom survives the cataclysm of human progress and capitalism. I think there is evidence that all the major monotheistic religions are starting to die, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and while I don’t mourn the loss, and I do think that science can replace these traditions, I don’t think that science will be a good stand in unless it is given a new spiritual and metaphorical interpretation (such as the oneness of all things, as demonstrated in the Earth being a dependent, whole, ecosystem, which it scientifically is.) So we need new stories, or new versions of old stories, and we need these stories to be unifying, just, and in line with our current view of the earth as pictured from the moon: just one shared planet of life and light, floating in a sea of darkness.

    • I think you are directly focused on the key issue in our need for new kinds of stories to supplant ones of domination. We certainly need to tell stories that bring us together and motivate our care and responsibility. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  20. The image of the shattered pot is a very powerful depiction of the current state of our world. It also poses important questions and challenges for our generation as to the methods by which we should proceed. In reality, everyone holds a piece of that pot and is our responsibility as a generation to put the pot back together to pass on to future generations. For Native Americans, it may be a symbol of having traditions and values to pass on. It may be even as broad as having a natural world to pass on. So much change has occurred in the past few centuries, especially in terms of the environment, that it is hard to predict the state of the world in future years. The rapid depletion of resources is startling and does not provide any reassurance in planning for the future. Whether we like it or not, we do all posses a piece of the pot and if we don’t take any action to ensure that the pot can be reassembled, then we are at fault. We hold the power to put the pieces back together, the challenge is whether we will take the initiative and take action. I know that for myself, I want to have something to pass on to my children and provide for the future. I do not to turn empty hands to them and simply say, “sorry, I just didn’t want to try”. We hold the power, it’s a matter of feeling the weight of the pieces of the pot we hold.

    • We do indeed hold the power to put things back together, Ellie. After all, the original sense of heal is to “make whole”. It a profound moment you imagine in speaking with your children–and something we should all visualize in terms of the children of the future, whether they are our biological children or not.

  21. Wow, when I read this powerful story told by the speaker Elder Gail Woodside, it really makes me think about how much knowledge about sustainability we are actually loosing as our ancestors knowledge is pieced apart and passed along across the generations. There has to be something we can do as a society to make sure all the pieces of knowledge are absorbed, and kept, being passed down from generation to generation. We need to strive as a community of people and a society to preserve this bits of knowledge, and keep them together as a tradition of sustainability, if we do not, what can our future generations be faced with? What if the pieces slowly disappear until there is no tradition left? A haunting possible reality.

  22. I found this essay extremely interesting. One idea in this essay that I found very true, and one that many of us need to realize, is the quote “Thelma Adamson’s Chehalis fieldnotes (drawn up in 1926) record the profound insight that the power of our past will haunt us until we turn and face it. At that point it will become a vision power for us to use.” We must face our past, no matter how scary or traumatizing it might be. While this might be a very difficult thing for some to do, we can never get over our past if we do not face it. This is something I feel I have needed to do in the past. There have been many times when I was younger when I was scared to do something, and could never gather myself to do it, until I finally did. Once we conquer our fears, they don’t seem so bad.

    Another part of this essay I found very interesting, is Gail Woodside’s way of bringing unity to her group. By destroying something that meant so much to her, she used it to teach her group of unity, which shocked me! This shows how much she cared about real values, instead of tangible objects. This shows her true character, and how many of us should strive to be.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience in terms of the importance of facing our past, Daniel. Seems we would do well to apply this to our culture as a whole. I am also touched by the integrity and care of Woodside in expressing, as you put it, “real values”.

  23. What a very powerful story about Elder Gail Woodside’s handmade 100 year-old clay pot! I could relate to this story, thinking of how something in my own family made by my own grandmother who is now 94 years old would be so valued by my own siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Within a greater society, our family is small. To see something like that shattered by a family member would be shocking!

    Right as I read that Elder Gail broke her grandmother’s pot, I was immediately startled, as I did not see the story going in that direction at all. Reflecting on that, I got this feeling that the real message was that we should be just as shocked to see the broken nature of the oral tradition, the lives, and the precious culture of our Native peoples.

    Perhaps, in the same way, those of us who count ourselves among descendents of white settlers have never seen the story of our Native Peoples going the way it has. Symbolically, we should be equally concerned that oral traditions are instruments of a culture we ourselves have broken, and in extension are a part of our own histories and culture. Oral traditions belong to a unique culture within the human race, making them part of our race, part of our family. I definitely got the message that if we do not take action now, time will allow pieces to become lost, and what has been broken may not be able to be repaired, ever. If our native peoples lose their traditions, we lose many colorful aspects of our shared histories which were fused into the cultural heritage of the white settlers as well.

    • Nice analysis of the importance of the shock in the breaking of this pot, Odhran. Oral tradition tends to be more predominant in some cultures than in others, but all peoples have it (as you noted when you called on the image of your grandmother’s belongings). It IS fragile– can you think of something else besides time that might cause it to be lost in the case of indigenous peoples?
      Can you say just a bit more about what you mean by “colorful”? That word is likely to have a stereotypical or pejorative meaning if you don’t give more of an explanation. For instance, we would not think of our own survival or our religious beliefs– as oral tradition is to native peoples– as “colorful”.

    • I think the story of the broken pot can really relate to so many of our lives, whether it be with tangible objects or even friendships over time and to me it was almost showing that she isn’t afraid of taking one step backwards if we all are going to take the next step together. After all she did have the people try to put the pot together again. I also then thought while the pot may be broken at least she may know how to build a similar one from the experience she has had in the past. This is something many of our newer generations will never learn without our help.

      Also, answering Prof. Holden’s questions to your statement, I think the term colorful in this instance implies that the traditions have some complexity to them. It reminded me of how often rumors get started because one person will note one thing yet the next person who heard it will tell the rumor completely differently. It almost implies that if we don’t respect our natives and their stories we won’t be able to blend well together as a successful society, because many of these pieces that made the tradition complex will be lost. As far as things other than time affecting many of these traditions, I think marriage often pushes people to go separate ways away from their family yet starting a new tradition in a way.

      • Thanks for this thoughtful response to your classmate, Christopher– and for answering with your take on the word, “colorful”. Oral tradition–being able to pass on experience through the generations — is an essential part of what made us human–and continues to make us what we are as a species.

      • I like your thoughts about relating the pot to friendship. It is a really great image to think about. I also agree what we should respect the native stories because they are a great link to a past full of tradition.

  24. Definitely an interesting article, . As I read I thought about how people often will take things apart in figuring out how things work but are never able to put them back together. I used to do this as a kid all the time and never learning from past mistakes. Obviously, I am wiser now but the point is many people never come to realization. They aren’t simply learning from the stories that were told to them.

    Taking a deeper look into the article, I would like to mention how education almost seemed like a gift in the Chehalis’ culture. This to me almost noted it’s importance, and it also gave you somewhat of an idea of how qualified the storyteller is. Overall, I think as more stories simply die out we as a new generation need to think about the role these stories played in our lives and how important similar stories can in our children’s lives. Really, a hollow piece of metal will never be as strong as it’s solid counterpart, and I think we forget that in a world that is simply about cutting upfront costs instead of looking at the overall costs of a lot of projects.

    • Thoughtful points, Christopher. A hollow piece of metal– or a facade of any kind– will never be as strong or vital as something of substance. Thanks for sharing your own experience and learning.

  25. A very interesting and thought provoking article. I really liked the thought that the woman brings up to the NASA scientists about taking the world apart but not being sure of how to piece it back together. It seems as if that is a common theory that is starting to spin out of control. When two different people do a puzzle and are both stubborn that their way to do it is the right way, then there can be no compromise on how to work on it together. That is a shinning theme nowadays.

    The native story towards the end reminded me of an Anthropology class i took last term about basket-weaving and native stories. About how each story is passed on during the winter months and during specific parts of the day. This really related to that.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica. It reminds me of a statement about her own Laguna Pueblo oral tradition by Leslie Marmon Silko (in Storyteller). She notes that her people feel that a tradition is not complete unless it includes all who keep and share their story– even though one may know stories that could be told for days and nights on end and one may keep only a single sentence worth, the story of the people is not whole without them all.

  26. This story reminds me of the role and impact traditional story telling has played and still plays in the African culture and other cultures. It’s good to see how these stories are created to make sense of the world in one way or the other. It also reminds me of my personal experience while growing up. I always looked forward to visiting my grandparents in the village as the act of storytelling is rarely practiced in the urban areas. The best part was my grandparents/elders bringing everyone together to tell stories including great words of encouragement, advice and history of our ancestors which one could hardly forget. They would bless us and pass on wisdom which they said was passed from generation to generation and most go on. I think that these stories entertain, instruct, and inform us in very positive ways, and it is a very good way of bonding with family, elders and the community as a whole.

    • Thanks for sharing your own experience with traditional stories, Member– how fortunate your are to have such stories and their telling to remember!
      This something we do not have enough of in Western culture.

  27. In response to elder Gale’s story “Putting the Pieces Back Together Again,” in my opinion it simply tells me that no matter how things fall apart or things go wrong, if we are determined to fix it, then we will. All we have to do is stay motivated to pick up the broken pieces and rebuild it individually and/or collectively. It is also important to stay connected and united as a group or community in order to make the world a better place.

  28. I was happy to reread this lovely post, and my comment from the first time I read it. This time I pictured the pot as the Earth, and thought that we are each responsible for carrying our one little piece, and caring for it, so it can be made whole. But, at the same time, we are responsible for calling out and working to stop those practices that are causing the Earth to be broken in the first place. This means forcing our government to take action against polluting corporations, and taking action against out government’s own pollution and cruel, greedy agenda.

    • Wonderful image of this pot as earth–and each of our responsibility for caring for our little piece, Michele! Wonderful analogy that should incite responsibility on the part of all of us.

    • I loved your symbolism of the pot being the Earth. It is such an appropriate analogy of what we are doing to our planet every day. I too see the need not only to protect our little piece of the pot, but to also care for it as a whole. We seem to have a rather blase’ attitude when it comes to what is happening in other places around the world. It goes back to the NIMBY idea and the importance of thinking not only about what happens here, but what is happening everywhere. The entire planet needs to be cared for and protected, not just our little piece of it.

  29. In one of my last posts, I came to the conclusion, based on the reading, that society was falling apart because it lacked “community”. Now, after reading “A Solstice Story”, I can add the fact that (in my opinion) we no longer properly nurture our children as another contributing factor. By telling stories to our children, we teach them life’s lessons by way of example. We provide them with a context to their lives that connects their past, present and future.

    I know I’m not an isolated example of modern-day parenting (and I certainly don’t consider myself a failure in every regard) but my kids grew up primarily in front of a television and even I am forced to admit that Wiley E. Coyote is a role model unlikely to instill any of life’s important lessons. If television teaches us anything at all, it is to live in that single mesmerizing moment, which does not include cause and effect, consequences, or taking responsibility for the same.

    As an aside, at the end of your first paragraph, you state that there was a presentation by the NASA administrators wherein they “touted the importance of specialization”. I would add that in nature, the more highly specialized an organism is, the more vulnerable it becomes to extinction. Just a thought.

    • I think that at the same time that community is not fostered by our current economic system, aspects of community are springing up everywhere about us- many seem to understand that community is an essential part of our humanness that we cannot do without. Community gardens are one illustration of this.
      I do agree that we do not have much teaching between generations on the skills involved in parenting in this society. And you make a good point about the specialization of organisms– I elaborated that a bit in the essay on biodiversity here. We could do worse than take nature as our model– especially since we survive within natural systems.

    • “To live in that single mesmerizing moment”—the non-indigenous American view on life is certainly very short-sighted. It’s interesting to compare our financial quarters to that of Japan’s, whose fiscal look-back period is typically 5-10 years. How much can we really learn from a couple months to a year? With our tendency to myopia, it seems that we should all take a step back for a much broader view.

    • I know this may sound corny, but Hillary Clinton coined the phrase “it takes a village” and I think she is right when it comes to our community relations and to our children. I know we all have an individual responsibility to nuture our children and each other but imagine the benefits if all practiced that just a little bit more. We need to teach our children that all people and all living things have equal value to themselves and need to be respected. We need to teach our kids by setting the right example for them in how we live our lives and how we give to others and to recipricate when we ourselves recieve something.

      • I don’t think it sounds corny, Deborah– but Hillary Clinton did not coin this phrase, though she popularized it in the US, it is a traditional African saying.
        And your discussion of it is very apt in this context. thanks for your comment.

  30. The story told by Elder Gail remindes us all of how important our heritage is. When we forget where we come from, we lose ourselves in the process. Each person has a unique upbringing that makes them who they are, and the collection of these experiences should be something to learn from. Even if we don’t recognize it, we have so much to learn from other cultures and people. Their knowledge and experiences can aid in issues ranging from sustainability to childcare. We, as a society, should be looking forward as a whole instead of individual parts.

    • Great perspective, Jamie. We each can learn not only from our specific heritage, but from elder cultures.
      Over and again, I have heard from my students how they missed out on learning from a grandparent or favorite aunt before they passed away. Such person to person knowledge is, as Momaday has said, as fragile as it is valuable.

  31. This essay brought to mind a passage in a biology textbook that I had for a recent course that specifically mentioned that scientists are actively trying to determine the exact nature of how a special type of protein helps create chemical energy in order to exploit this knowledge. In science it is commonplace to hear someone say that such and such knowledge or property of something was exploited to create a new technology or invention. However, it was interesting to read about how much indigenous knowledge about the world has also been divided into two categories by our society: knowledge that can be exploited for human gain and broader systemic knowledge that is considered insignificant.

    As a society we definitely appear to be more interested in the details of the world that we can use for our benefit than larger understandings of how natural systems fit together. As the impact of this short-term detail oriented thinking continues to cause large problems, like global warming, we are finding that only broad knowledge of our natural world is going to help us out of these problems.

    • Thoughtful point about useful knowledge (knowledge we can exploit) as opposed to holistic knowledge (of the kind we need to make broader– perhaps survival– decisions), Darcy. When we are only looking at the world as it can be used for our benefit , we miss much– including information pertinent to the continuance of our species. This sense of science as the useful also relates to the quote of the week in our sidebar, which refers to Science in the Public Interest’s report on the ways in which science is manipulated for political interest in our society today. Thanks for your comment, Darcy.

  32. I wish that I could’ve seen the facial expressions of those NASA administrators when that Asian scientist asked his question. He sure nailed it!

    I completely agree with both Thelma Adamson’s Chehalis field notes regarding facing our past to gain wisdom toward our future. I also found inspiration in Jacob Bighorn’s natural “life plan” description. My personal belief is quite similar. I’ve always felt that people can only be their best if they’re allowed to hone those skills that are natural to them and that those skills were gifted by the “Creator”. Therefore, I’ve often felt that a community can only accomplish its finest achievements if its members are allowed to reach theirs.

    Scott Momaday’s quote about how oral tradition are always only “one generation away from extinction” was very interesting. I’ve never actually thought about it in those terms but it also reminded me that the media in which we use to record information, for educational purposes of future generations, is not nearly as capable of surviving time as some of those before us have done (i.e. Aztecs, Mayans, Egyptians). How fragile are our traditions that are written on the pages in books or E-files on computers in comparison to those carved in stone? These feelings helped me rationalize Elder Gail’s example using her 100 year old clay pot and her premise about unity in the effort to achieve sustainability.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Ryan. I appreciate the way in which you have obviously mulled over the ideas and perspectives in this essay–and connected them to the developing sense of purpose and meaning you are working out for your own life.

    • I think you bring up an interesting point when talking about how fragile our traditions are. I think that maintaining our traditions are not as impotant to us and our generation as maybe the Egyptians as you have stated. They had to make sure that tradition was passed on or their people would have been forgotten. Great measures went in to preserving culture and traditions in their era. In our generations now, we can store anything in computers with ease which makes it harder to maintain traditions in my opinion. Interesting point though.

      • Thoughtful point, Kyle. We might discuss whether computers make tradition more or less accessible. Certainly, they make some information more accessible on a global level– although they hardly replace the person to person community building that is created by oral tradition in ancient cultures.

  33. Elder Gail has a very holistic view. We have become very good at dichotomizing life. Whether it’s the mind and body in biomedicine or splitting the atom in science, our technology is “excellent at taking the world apart”. However, how much more can we learn about the world by taking a holistic view? Elder Gail demonstrated in her pot metaphor that each individual is an important element to the whole. Science itself offers many valuable insights, however when combined with the oral tradition passed on from generation to generation, it can provide a much expansive view of life.

    • Great points for consideration in terms of the benefits of a holistic view. Is that not our challenge today– to share and bridge and combine all the perspectives we can as we create a true global community?

    • I think it is interesting that this was the interpretation you got from the metaphor. I got the interpretation that the pot was all of the knowledge over all of time, but that the knowledge was not useful if everyone did not believe in it or use it.

      I guess what i am saying is pretty similar, that with out the individuals AND the knowledge, we do not have a whole.

      • This is the beauty of meaningful metaphor, Sarah. It allows each of us to develop a meaning for it in our own ways– and if we share them, we have a very rich community of ideas.

  34. I love the concept of passing stories between generations as technology, as a human tool ! And really, when you think about the components of stories as using imagination, memory and language they are quite sophisticated tools. To paraphrase Joseph Campbell story and myth are how we give ‘body’ to our human experiences and celebrate them.
    I suppose that the colorfully illustrated storybooks that we read to our children are a form of this continuation of knowledge. I heard a story on NPR last week while driving home from OSU to Eugene, (I love this OPB time) the news story reported that the publishing of children’s pre-school picture books has dropped dramatically and in their place are the playschool plastic digital books. That made me very sad because like the storytelling, sitting with a child holding and reading a beautifully illustrated book, has a kind of magic to it. Taking that additional step away from traditional storytelling as shared by elders such as Agnes Baker Pilgrim to book form and now to a plastic box feels terrible empty to me. What is the plan “for putting it back together” when we are straying so far from the beauty and wisdom of this ancient “human” technology?

    • Thank you for your thoughtful points on oral tradition and storytelling, Maureen. Much as I love the exquisite illustrations in some of these old picture books, as a professional storyteller, using books of any kind (in my experience) limited the imagination of the audience, who otherwise each picture the happenings in a story in their own minds. And reading anything word for word detracts from the traditional embodiment of the story by the storyteller.
      I certainly think you are right about digital boxes. The old illustrated books were an art form in themselves.

  35. Putting back together the pieces – I think that first of all, this essay states the importance of community and each one of us is important to putting back together what has been wrecked, which is our planet. But I feel our communication with each other has been dimenished in which we don’t hear each other any more. i think of the verse from the Ecclesiastes 4:9 in which it states that two are better than one in working together to get a job done. And it goes on to say that if a man falls, it is best to have another person there to pick him up, then to be alone. I think how in American society, how the elderly and the young are segregated from one another. I think of the communities in Arizona that I lived in, where the retirement age people live in their own communities apart from the younger communities. I think how the older generations should teach the younger generations has become diminished. Especially in which technology, mainly entertainment devices have taken precedence in children’s minds in which parents do have to be creative ways to get their attention. I think for us to come together and put the pieces back together concerning ourselves and our planet, we first need to hear the stories that are being told by the elders instead of selective hearing in which we only hear what we want to and when there is a story to tell, to write down and pass it on.

    • Great point about the necessity of honing our skill in listening in order to “put the pieces back together” in creating the community we want, Tina. When the connection between generations works, I have seen it as a reciprocal process of mutual respect that just keeps building. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  36. It seems in both Native American and African culture stories were very important. These stories educated the younger generations on the ways of their people. I remember reading somewhere that the African slaves told stories and sang songs on to share knowledge on the best way to get to the underground railroad. These stories, I believe, help to entertain the listeners as well as educate them. Stories can teach valuable lessons. My oldest daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome and I used to use stories to help her make the right choices when she was younger. When she was younger she used to do impulsive things and telling her moral type stories, which allowed her to think through the choices she was making. I see great value in storytelling.

    • It is great that you were able to use stories to communicate with (and empower) your daughter, Elizabeth! Songs sung by African slaves guided them to freedom.
      But all communities have their share of oral tradition.

  37. This article combines lessons on how to teach children appreciation and value, as well as how to see that what is appreciated and valued; our long used belief system including methods to see the environment sustained is what is taught to our children. This seems to be so realistic and easy to accomplish, to pass along a way of doing things and not see this way change as a result of long term influences. This is our downfall: the face that we can be influenced and without even realizing it, because of influence and lack of drive to sustain the culture and the belief, we lose it and cant seem to understand what the benefits of this are until it is gone or so much is gone, the pieces cannot be reassembled,
    The idea of breaking this teapot that represented all of the information and ideas of a grandmother to demonstrate what modernizations result have been; fragmented tradition, loss of hope, and thankfully, an appeal for collaboration

  38. I think the tradition of generations passing down knowledge through storytelling is so important and, unfortunately, its quite lost on us today. What makes it so effective is that you actually have a connection to the person you’re receiving the information from. It’s one thing to read information from a book, but when someone who you greatly respect illustrates a point to you, then that is knowledge you will internalize hold onto for the rest of your life. There is a sense of community where you can trust that what you’re being taught is true. It’s the difference between just learning something and understanding why what you learned is significant.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Roman– I think the good news is that it is not quite lost on all of us today, as I learned in my own experience with the Chehalis people (and for that matter, my own family). Storytelling has experienced a resurgence in this country in the last few decades. Important for the reasons you point out here! I especially like your points about community and learning why something is significant to understand.

    • Hi Roman,

      Reading your post reminded me of something sad but also wonderful. The stories I most treasured that my mother used to tell me were the ones about me, when I was a baby. I think I enjoyed hearing them so much because they were a testament to the fact that she had been with me before my memories began. And when she died (when I was 36) that was the first horrible thought I had – that the one person who had been with me from my very beginning was now gone and there was no one left who could remember for me.

      • This is a powerful point, Barbara. I am sorry that you lost your mother and experienced this grief. And in another way– in the love you express for her here (and your appreciation of her love for you), you will never lose her presence and influence in your life. I can feel this as you tell this story.

  39. There is no doubt that Native American culture rely heavily on storytelling, and stories being passed on from generation to generation. The example story is a great example of the importance of community and remembering and honoring the past. If too much of our focus is on the future we are potentially losing past traditions such as storytelling. The author says we must challenge ourselves in order to keep the past alive. If not generations are at risk of being forgotten. The pot in the story could symbolize the eartch as it is slowly breaking and it is up to every member of the community to help preserve it. Stories help communites come together and learn importlant lessons which will hopefully help us in the future. That is the whole point of the author’s essay. The Native American author urges his people to realize storytelling is on the verge of becoming extinct, and it is up to the elders to make sure it does not. I believe that storytelling impacts how we treat the environment as we must learn from the past in order to preserve it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kyle– generations are not only in danger of being forgotten (an important point), but as we forget them, we lose the ability to learn from our past. To concentrate on the future without any grounding in the past and its knowledge and perspective is to set ourselves on a careless and often, dangerous course, as we are seeing today.

  40. A meaningful post…got me thinking from the get go, how the world always manages to cause such destruction– but what does it do to make this a beautiful place? It’s important to hear stories like this and see how it changes the world. The world is forever changing, and it is up to us to do our part to keep it beautiful, and pass our things on from time to time whatever it may be. Passing stories on is one of the most important things you can do- it is how you pass things on from you to everyone else. The children that paid for these stories to be told to them didn’t realize what they were getting out of these stories until now I’m sure, and it is probably not until now that they realize how amazing a story truly can be. We pass these stories through our friends, family, and even strangers, and they mean the world to some people- yet we don’t even know. We don’t understand much as it is happening but it helps us understand things later in life. You have to keep things alive in order for your little piece of “you” and your tradition to live on. I think the points made in this are very important and insightful.

    • I am not sure what you mean by the “world” causing “such destruction”…do you mean certain humans, as in current industrialized societies?
      In other cultures–as in the one in which children paid for stories, they treasured these dearly. I think they understood their value in the traditional context. That context (in which oral tradition flourished) is not one that we see often today– but the instance in this indicates how some still treasure such tradition, I think.
      You have a very good point about planting seeds that we only understand “when it comes time for us to use them”, as a traditional Chehalis storyteller once told me.,
      Let us hope we do not only understand what we had in such stories until they are gone…

      Thanks for your comment, Tayler.

  41. When I was reading the essay “Putting the Pieces Back Together Again” I was really shocked when Elder Gail Woodside held the pot up in the air only to let it drop and break into pieces. This analogy really got me thinking about what great Native American knowledge has been lost in the area of sustainability. While this made me sad, Elder Gail also gave me a sense of hope that people can share what knowledge they have when she challenged people to help put the pieces back together again.
    Another powerful line in this essay is that oral tradition is “one generation away from extinction”. This makes me think of my own family traditions. When I was a little girl my Grandmother always made it a point to take me to the cemetery where my family is buried. As we laid flowers on the graves of her siblings, parents and grandparents, she always included stories about the individuals. Over time and countless trips to the cemetery I got to know family I never even met which helped give me a strong sense of who I am and where I come from.
    Although my Grandmother has since passed I try to keep those stories alive and my family alive by bringing my own Daughter to the cemetery and retelling the the stories I was told. I know if I don’t those stories will end up just like Scott Momaday noted “one generation away from extinction”. anonymous

    • What a gift you had in these stories and experiences your grandmother shared with you! It is wonderful that you are keeping these traditions alive by passing on the things that give you a sense of knowing who you are to your own daughter.

    • I had the same reaction to the tea pot analogy, and how powerful it was given the hands that the tea pot passed through are from many generations. I hope we can slow down enough to realize that we are the answer to the problems that currently exist. We must put the pieces back together and fill the tea pot with the answers to these problems that will only come through collaborative efforts across nations.

      I am afraid for the future, and I am more afraid of the fact that I only can control what I do, nothing more, and can care for my piece of this world as best as I understand is possible. I can do right in this way, and also can try to do right by speaking my mind, sharing my thoughts and fighting for my beliefs.

      • It takes some courage to face the issues of our future, Lizzy. I know their is fear (and grief) involved in this– I hope that you will find those who share your concerns and working for a better future– and that will raise your spirits.
        Thank you for “fighting for your beliefs” in terms of the need for care for our shared earth.
        You are not alone.

  42. One thing I found very interesting about this article was the idea that the winter solstice is the time of year that stories are told. I was curious as to why cultures tell stories at this particular time of year. Maybe because it is the time of year in which native american communities sans technology would have the least work to do. The weather would be colder and would not be time to plant, or time to harvest. Therefore there would be a lot less work as agriculturally and so maybe stories are told?

    It also could be because springtime is when life begins, winter ends and lives start all over again. So perhaps that is why.

    I also found it interesting of all the angles this article used to get the same point across, which was that knowledge is broken. It used NASA, a native american elder perspective, as well as those of academics who have studied natives.

    • I think you have some ideas in terms of following the cycle of seasons, Sarah. Gathered into winter houses and living from gathered foods, stories both entertained and played off the creativity of this “dark” and dreaming time of the year. Like the bear who sleeps through the winter and dreams, stories brought the dreams of the people to life.

  43. Madronna — I wondered if you could get a hold of me. I was looking up info on my friend Gail and came across your essay. You make mention of my uncle, Jacob Bighorn, and I was wondering how you came upon his wise words. I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you for this beautiful essay.

  44. I appreciate your thoughtful response, Lauren. In such cultures, where each person was so highly valued, there was sophisticated knowledge of human development. You might be interested in two resources: The Healing Wisdom of Africa (Malidoma Some) and the Swinomish tribe’s culturally appropriate mental health workers guide: A Gathering of Wisdoms. And I have gone into a bit of such wisdom in my article in Dialectical Anthropology (see “about” button for the link here.

  45. I think we all have a life plan and we all have a story behind it. I like the part where children are thought of as creators. It is as though they are creators of wisdom and are to tell a story when they grow up. The question is, are we or aren’t we the real answer to the problems that currently persist? I think we are. I think we all have a purpose to serve and to tell the story like I said above. I am not quite sure what my purpose in life is yet but am beginning to wonder that every mistake I have made is for good reason in the end.

    • Thoughtful perspective about the role of story–and living a story in each of our lives. It would be wonderful if we lived a story of healing the current wounds in ecosystems and the human social fabric– and it is my belief that you can indeed tell/live your story in a way that sees all your mistakes as “for a reason”– as an essential part, that is, of a story that is woven together as the reason for your life.

    • I think that we are the answers as well as the creators of the problems that currently persist.
      I also think that each of our lives is a story of its own and I think that though we may have a specific purpose we still have the ability to choose our paths and should definetly consider our mistakes as lessons that occur for good reason.

      • Nice point, Ely. We certainly have the ability to weave our experiences into the story of each of our lives, Ely. I also think the way we see those as coming together (the way we tell our story) has much to do with the choices we make throughout out life.

  46. When I read about this it reminds me that telling the story passes tradition along. It also helps from learning from other’s mistakes. Depending where you go and who you talk to the stories you may hear.. Passing the story helps form young people. I think your view point is based on the stories you were told or things you might have experienced growing up. A person might be a great person but you will never know about it unless their story is told.

    • Hello Bob. thanks for your comment. Your point is well taken– our stories are woven into the whole of life, and everyone’s story deserves to be told. Leslie Marmon Silko says that in her Laguna Pueblo tradition, her peoples story is not whole until it contains the stories of all of its members. Some of those stories may be brief in the extreme and some of them may be elaborate and reach back through generations– but the story of a people is not complete until it contains them all.
      I can only imagine how it might change the decisions we make as a nation if we included all the stories of others in our story of ourselves.

  47. This anthropomorphosis of nature is something I noticed about Disney movies as I grew up. By giving the animals in “Bambi” a story and emotions- the audience can relate and feel bad. Realistically, the animals probably don’t feel sad or angry, rather feel more instictual things like being scared, content and hungry. I do completely agree that creating those stories much like the native americans did, will enable us hard-headed humans to get involved with the “feelings” of our surroundings, perhaps acting less selfishly and thinking of those around us.

    • Thoughtful, Samantha. Disney’s rendering of things is of course, very different from traditional stories (including European ones). In an upcoming reading here, we will see some data that indicate animals at least express empathy toward one another.

  48. I really value what Scott Momaday says about oral tradition being as fragile as it is precious- “one generation away from extinction”. It is up to everyone, generation after generation to keep stories alive. It seems that without oral tradition history just wouldn’t be the same. There would most likely be one version of everything that happened- the written version- and little to no emotion and feeling. Life would be dull.
    The knowledge and wisdom that comes with oral tradition is priceless. It is important to teach the children how valuable the traditions are and how to use them to gain the most knowledge and experience from them.

    The symbolism that Elder Gails demonstration has is powerful. If we let traditions go we are slowly taking little pieces of our history away and eventually there will be little to no traces left for our future ancestors to be able to fall back on and learn from.

  49. Momoday’s statement that storytelling is “one generation away from extinction” really demonstrates how vulnerable the oral tradition is. That stories are passed from generation to the next is vital. I notice that continuity is a trait that appears in many aspects of Native American culture. Education, for example, is not something that has a starting bell and dismissal bell and occurs between the ages of 5 and 18. Education is a lifelong process that is immersed into the natural occurences of life. Rather than being “one size fits all”, adults assist children in learning what they are drawn to. There is a homeschooling philosophy called “unschooling” that reminds me much of this. I homeschooled my son last year and we knew several families who were unschoolers. Initially, I was skeptical of unschooling, but soon realized that children (and adults) have an ingrained curiosity and desire to learn. They are drawn to what they are meant to be doing. There are no boundaries between work, play and education. These children pursued their passions with the support of their community. And what is often lacking in today’s families- conversation and discussion of the past, present and future- flows naturally throughout the day as the family shares experiences together.

    • Thanks for sharing your “unschooling” experience, Valerie. I once took two young sons of a friend with me to visit Henry Cultee. He was enthusiastic about showing them things like mending nets, saying, “This is what you should be learning in school”. As a matter of fact, his stories made me a student in the same way (and I certainly over 18!). There was true “wonder and delight” in them, as Scott Momaday has also said of traditional stories– and they were interwoven with life.

  50. This really got me thinking about when it is that all children stop listening to the stories people tell them. Because ALL children love stories and are enamored by them, but almost all seem to forget the lessons they teach sometime before adolescence. I believe that another great question that is central to our time is how we lose their focus? How do we lose their enjoyment of simple lessons? And how do we ourselves go back to thinking as we did when we were children? And, how can we as a society find the answers to help us move forward (or backward) with issues such as sustainability?

    • To me one of the most vital thing about stories is the flexibility of their lessons in responding to different situations and listeners (see my discussion of this point in the top topic button “oral tradition and folklore here.”
      Thoughtful point about losing our focus: I think that training in listening is another powerful benefit of passing such stories between generations: we certainly see an example of the generosity of elders in this process in this story.
      Backward or forward, I think we need definition of where we wish to be headed. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

    • That’s a great question, John. When do all the children stop listening to the stories people tell them? I think that modern society in the United States has molded several generations that have an increasing lack of respect for their elders. It is evident in the attitudes children display in school, even youngsters. They way they talk and their terrible attitudes toward adults is mind blowing. It has changed drastically since I was a child. I went to my daughter’s school to have lunch with her. As I sat listening to the different conversations at the table of 8 year-olds, I was astonished to hear some of the things coming out of their mouths (thankfully not from my daughter). There was a lack of innocence, like it has been lost far before it should be, if at all. In addition, their focus was on the latest technological distractions of the modern age. All of these modern tools weren’t around for centuries and children used their imaginations much, much more. We are only to blame for this lack of interest; particularly, pop-culture and its foundations (if you want to call them foundations). Once we rip our kids away from that, at least limit their use of and exposure to that part of society, then we will see a change in their focus and attitudes.

      • Sad examples of obsession with technology and “things” instead of relationships with other humans, Carol. Let us hope this changes–and media does not continue to hold sway over these children’s values as you saw them expressed here.

    • John, you bring up some great points that I wish I knew the answer to. What caused us to lose our enjoyment of simple lessons? I wish I could go back to my childhood way of thinking… when everything my elders told me was a lesson to live by.

      • It sounds like you had a great relationship with your own elders, Courtney. And I think it is never too late to recognize and honor the sense in us that might see the world as full of wonder– even though we may have to make some pretty serious decisions in our lives. I don’t think a sense of wonder can ever hurt…

  51. I found this article very enlightening. ” We are always one generation away from distinction”. The way the elder speaks of knowledge and stories makes it seem like something to be cherished, and kept close to your heart. If we don’t pass down the knowledge be gain from our lifetime, then it it will vanish, and be forgotten. Yet, when you have traditions and stories told from generations before you, you can take those ideas and stories and apply them to your own generation. We all grow from one generation to the next, and it just makes me realize how precious our history really is. If no one wrote or took pictures of the civil rights movement, maybe that would be a historic event lost in time. Taking ideas and notions from our past is not only necessary, but sacred. This article opens my eyes to the fact that what we do in our lifetime is truly important, and it’s important that we tell our story.Weather that be and individual story, or a story of your generation. Something I’m taking away from this article is… Tell your story, everyone.

    • Your use of the word “precious” here is very apt, Melinda. If our history is precious (and I think it is), how much more precious the history spoken in the voices of those we treasure, with whom we have an interpersonal relationship.
      Many indigenous societies would agree with you that taking ideas from our past is not only “necessary but sacred.”
      Though modern Western society has a bit of cult of individualism which sees us as isolated from one another, as you indicate, our individual actions are not only important in themselves– but when we touch others and tell our stories. The spring 2011 issue of YES magazine has an article by an “accidental activist” who wound up inspiring thousands. One bit of advice he has: tell your story.

  52. It’s very interesting throughout the article to find all of the evidence of our world, what should be a whole, and is in broken into pieces. The idea of storytelling, folklore, and the ancient traditions of all people is close to heart. I particularly liked the story of children facing their fears in the woods. Hearing stories such as these can remind the readers that many face the same problems and fears, the stories and beliefs can be that of comfort.

    It was said “Such stories bridged generations– and brought human culture itself into being.” and this is entirely true. The stories, traditions, and beliefs of all people make people who they truly are and that creates a beautiful and diverse world. While we all may hold different beliefs and perspectives, we are all connected, and that can become evident through stories of culture.

    • Yet another way that traditional stories can act as a bridge– not only between generations in a single culture, but between cultures. Thanks for your comment, Chamae.

  53. This essay really emphasized the concern I have had about modern technology destroying the creativity and curiosity in our children. I loved to listen to my parents and grandparents tell stories about their adventures. They did not always connect them to a life lesson, but if they did, it was an added bonus. I also loved the connection between indigenous oral tradition (storytelling) and how it was the basic human tool. My father and I were just discussing the exact same idea several weeks ago in regard to how a father would teach his children (usually sons) how to hunt sustainably and ethically. Their stories were not for mere entertainment even though they held that value, they were for educating their youth and it was a system that worked for thousands of years. Sadly, our society is far too conditioned to think of entertainment as being only one-dimensional. Video games and “smart” phone apps (“smart” there’s a contradiction if there ever was one, they are geared to make everything as easy as pushing a button). Look at a weather report app, for example, what good does it do if it says there is going to be rain when the sun is quite obviously shining all around you? All of these distractions take us away from the here and now.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal family history here, Carol. You were very fortunate to grow up amidst these stories–and the intimacy with your family that this gave you.
      Many stories not specifically tied to a “life lesson” allow the listener to suit the story to his or her own context.
      In my own experience as a storyteller, I did find that children who were not exposed to the experience of listening to stories were not able to pay attention in the same way as those who had such experience in listening.

  54. ‘Your technology is excellent at taking the world apart. What is your plan for putting it back together again?’ This is a great question, and I dont think scientists even think about how to put the world back together when they are conducting research. It seems to me like they dont think, or care, about the reprocussions and consequences of their research.
    On another note, I do believe that we all have a ‘life plan’. And i think it is a good idea to tell children that the ‘creator’ will be waiting for them to tell their life story. I believe if people live as if they will have to ‘tell their story’ their lives would be drastically different. If everyone thought they would have to explain themselves to their ‘creator’ someday they would think twice before making their decisions.

    • I like the life plan idea very much. Assuming that you will someday be held accountable for all the good (and bad!) that each of us goes through makes you do a double -take with your actions.

    • Thanks for reminding us about each of us “telling our story” in a larger context– depending on our beliefs, to the Creator or to the generations that will follow (in which case we may tell our story in the results of our actions on them).
      Our short term limited vision worldview does not encourage much emphasis on holistic thinking and “putting the world back together”– which is why I would argue we need to consider a change in worldview if we expect a change in focus and action on the part of our scientists.

  55. I find it extremely interesting ecofeminism keeps coming back to Native Americans. I can think of no better example of a culture that has such a good relationship with nature. It seems like the rest of the world has a lot to learn about the giving and taking of nature, and they could certainly learn some pointers from Native Americans!

  56. The power of oral tradition is the most powerful tool we have to pass down knowledge from generation to generation. The written word is fallible, subject to mistakes in writing, recopying, or deliberate attempts to destroy it, but our breath, our word does not carry these errors. The power of the story is in the telling, and everyone has a story to tell. Some of us forget, and take longer to remember. Some don’t whisper their story until their dying whisper. But the story WILL come out, and when it does it is very powerful to the listeners. If we are wise we will listen to others stories, take their piece, and add it to our own and then get busy telling our story.

    • It is interesting, Erica, that those in societies where written rather than oral tradition predominates critique oral tradition for its lack of accuracy: but I have found that oral tradition has a core honesty firstly, because in telling something in community there are so many checks on it (if the audience discounts it, it will not be passed on) and secondly, I have been profoundly touched by the willingness of those at the end of their lives- who understood the importance of their truth to their community– to share their knowledge of their own mistakes.
      I agree that we should “get busy telling our story”– the story of our lives in the living of it, that is.
      Thank you for your comment.

  57. Oral tradition is an amazing thing in my opinion. The quote from Scott Momaday it think helps bring the realiity and seriouness of oral tradition to light. I know in my family we are big story tellers. We may not be passing down the wisdom of a culture but whenever we share stories of ourselved and relatives it makes me feel very connected to my family and I am proud to share the knowledge just bestowed on me.

    I think that if Oral tradition was more incorporated into western science it would bring a sense of closeness and excitment to the knowledge we have. I feel that many people today stay out of scientific and environmental issues as much as possible because it is cryptic and they feel no real connection to the issues. If oral tradition was thought of when telling people information maybe more people would feel that excitment, pride and closeness that I feel when sharing stories with my family, and there would be a more welcoming outlook on the information and the actions that need to take place to better our world.

    • I agree with you about the amazing qualities of oral tradition, Carly. You might be interested in reading the page on “oral tradition” here (button on the top of the home page)–and you have quite a good point in the potential use of oral tradition in science. Dean Bavington has made an excellent case for the problems science created by overlooking what he terms “local knowledge” in the management of the Nova Scotia cod fishery.

    • I agree, Oral tradition is a powerful tool. It can be sad or happy. It can be used to pass on morals or just to entertain but it will always bring people together.

  58. It is remarkable how these stories can impact people. I know growing up I didn’t have stories like these ones but I had something similar. In the article it says “the power of our past will haunt us until we turn and face it”, and this reminded me of a story I grew up with. The Lion King. When Simba ran away he left all of his problem behind him. Then he was confronted with his past and didn’t know whether to face it or keep running. He then met a wise baboon who said either you can run from it or learn from it. Finally he went back to face his past, which took courage, and took his rightful place as king. This isn’t some story passed down from generation to generation, but it had an impact on me and taught me a lesson.
    Also, when Elder Gail smashed the pot and told every to grab a piece and come back to put it together, I feel this can only work if the group who took the pieces were willing to come back and put the knowledge back together. Stories are only as good as the people who take them to heart and are willing to pass them on.

    • It is obvious you have some understanding of the importance and meaning of stories in passing on knowledge–and having an impact on our decision-making, Desiree. I especially like your last sentence, where you make the point that “stories are only as good as those who take them to heart and pass them on.” In this sense, we pass on parts of ourselves with the stories we tell.

    • Your statement regarding stories are only as good as the people who take them to heart and pass them on is wonderful! But it also got me to think that it is also subjective. I may take a different meaning from a story than another person and thus what I pass on will be different from them. Perhaps this is the intent? I would think it could spark debates as well which I think foster understanding and maybe acceptance. Very good insight! Thank you for sharing.

      • Stories are told in an inter-subjective rather than objective format: that is part of what lends them their vitality. As a Chehalis storyteller once told me, “We know what our stories mean when it comes time for us to use them”. That is, indeed, the point, as you put it.

    • I agree! What a poignant story. It makes me sad that I have not shared stories like this with my own children. I will have to make more of an effort to share stories like this with my children and their friends. There is so much to learn with just a simple story.

  59. The train pulled in, on board another group of captives. Who would be forced to decide this time? Who would live in torture and who would die painfully? He was chosen from the few people who survived the last train, He was the one chosen. On threat of his wife and children he was to decide. But how to make the choices? No choice was a moral one, no choice would work. He stood there with tears in his eyes watching as the men stood proud, as the women held their children to their breast, As the children shook from fear. He could not do this. He looked at the camp, looked around for his family. He then walked over to the captives and stood with them. He refused to decide. The torturers beat him. They took his hand so he could no longer work. They did not feed him or give him water. Yet he never regretted his decision not to decide.

    I know this story has nothing to do with the environment or our stewardship of it but it does illustrate a point.This is a story of my Great Grandfather who was captured in Czechoslovakia as passed onto me by my Grandfather, a schoolteacher. It is a story of a concentration camp. It was told to me when I was only 7 and I still remember it to this day. Stories are powerful tools to teach our children. The tradition should never have been stopped. People need to turn of their TV’s, game systems, and other various electronics and listen to one another. Tell the stories of their youth, of their ancestors. The knowledge that can be passed down are invaluable. I feel the pain of Elder Gail.

    • Thanks for sharing this very powerful story, Tamara. It is obvious that it has influenced many lives–and thus made the decision not to decide–not to side, that is, with the torturers– even more powerful. What a powerful statement about the human ability to keep the best sense of our humanity in the absolute worst of situations that might be imposed by other humans.

    • What a powerful story. Being able to have a such a strong constitution, to hold onto the moral imperatives of right and wrong under so much duress is truly amazing. Your great grandfather made an incredible example of self-sacrifice in the face of great adversity. Stories such as that need to be retold, how lucky we all are that it was able to passed along and shared anew. Thank you.

  60. This article gave me a sense of hope as I read and considered the importance of the message. I believe the central question it addresses is the questions raised by the Asian scientists during the NASA facility tour: “Your technology is excellent at taking the world apart. What is your plan for putting it back together?” Communication is a powerful tool and technology to be utilized to put our world back together, and I feel that our modern society is finally moving towards using it to advocate for and enact social change though it is in a different format. The indigenous groups discussed here use language and human interaction to perpetuate positives and prevent negatives in a way that unifies the group. It is this focus on oral traditions that allows them to sustain the beauty and strength of their culture, in my opinion. Our modern society is using new communication technologies to create bonds and transmit stories; social media technologies are serving to enact change and bring awareness about important issues to communities worldwide. For instance, in my Global Women course this past year, we used Twitter to bring about awareness of issues pertaining to the social justice of women. Though it was not an oral transmittance of values, the importance and effects were palpable – not only were members of the class getting involved with our tweets but also all of our friends and followers who were not members of the course. This is far from the beauty and authenticity of oral communication and tradition present within the Chehalis, but it makes me hopeful that one day our modern world will recognize the power of communication and begin to advocate for more bridges among humanity. We are far from sharing common oral traditions across all of the human species, and I believe it is impossible to actually achieve such a feat. We are, however, beginning to create new types of “oral” traditions that will be recognized as important to humanity that will potentially entice more intimate conversations and sharing across not only similar groups but across diverse boundaries as well.

    • Thanks for sharing your own sense of hope with us, Amber. Hope is contagious, as is the caring it rests upon here. I agree about the positive potentials for global communication. I have been very heartened by responses on this website. It does not replace the “beauty and authenticity of oral communication”, as you note– but it can help create the community in which such communication might take place. Or extend our communication to those we will never see face to face.
      Interesting point about our new “oral” traditions.

  61. Elder Gail Woodside’s story about the knowledge represented in the pot as a whole and also in the small fragments shared by the community represent the true power of the story in helping to affect change and providing learning and education. The act of breaking the accumulated knowledge of her ancestors and then placing that knowledge in the hands of the listening body also placed a sense of responsibility and solidarity into the community. Each person present at that event now would have to make the personal choice whether or not to help recompile the knowledge and understanding of the past. Whether or not these individuals would follow through on the attempt to rebuild the pot, they now lived in a world where their choices and efforts would affect those around them. Too often in our society, people feel insignificant, that they don’t have a part to play in promoting a better environment. A story such as this is a powerful metaphor that illustrates just how every small piece is needed to create the whole.

    • I very much like your analysis of this event, Dale. The significance of the choices of the audience created by breaking this pot is a wise observation indeed. And you are right: too often our sense of insignificance leads to apathy or simply ignoring ethical choices; this is why, I think, our acting in line with our own ethical standards is also an act of personal empowerment.

    • I agree with you Dale in that most people feel like they do not make a difference. Usually someone that is throwing the plastic water bottle in the trash can will say “one bottle won’t make a difference” or “I usually recycle, but this time I’ll just let it slide.” As more and more people use the excuse of “I don’t make a difference” then of course the whole group won’t make a difference because their will not be one that stands up to make the difference. The same goes for voting. Many people do not register because they feel that their vote won’t decide a candidate or a piece of legislation. If all of those people that felt they didn’t make a difference were to come together for a single election and vote, they would make a difference. Everyone should do their part and reduce consumption, recycle, and vote.

      • I’m with both of you in the idea that we each make a difference–what if we all decided to become aware enough to vote responsibly versus if we decided it didn’t matter…

  62. Two thoughts came to me as I read this article. The first is in relation to the comment at the beginning, “Your technology is excellent at taking the world apart. What is your plan for putting it back together again?”. This statement alone is so powerful to me as it rings so true. We are really great at creating technology, a society, values, that take things apart. Both in a negative and positive way; we create things that can obliterate the earth quickly (bombs) or very slowly (degradation of our environment). We have taken apart our own bodies such as sequencing our genome. All of this though hasn’t led us to a path of putting it back together and I wonder if we as humans have gotten “greedy” with the knowledge we have gathered. Maybe it’s an addiction? We “solved” one big question, now we have to move on and conquer all the other mysteries of the world.
    The other thought was in regards to the statement, “But certainly each of our pasts as well as our past as a society will continue to haunt us until we face it.” This may have nothing to do with the scope of the article but it made me wonder. We are always talking about our past and in some cultures it is believed you have a past life. This statement saying you had to face your pasts made me think that each of our personal actions in our past is our past life, not that you have lived a separate life all together but that your actions leading up to the place you are now is your past life and you need to reflect on those and face those choices you made that perhaps were not the best so that you will not make them again.
    Lastly, I think that we as a society have lost touch with the spiritual side of being a community. Not in the sense of a religion as I think some get those two terms confused. Or maybe I do. But I seem them as separate. Spiritual to me is a deep connection with all that you surround yourself with, your friends, family, values and beliefs. While Religion helps you foster those, your connected is spiritual. I think as we become mass producing, all consuming and disconnected by the vary technologies we create we are loosing that spark, our spirit and soul.

    • It seems like you have a common theme in this comment, Brandie– integrating or putting things together. I am not sure I want to go so far as to talk about past lives, but I do feel that the past exists in a very real way, and that we can only make a vital world by connecting to it in the way that is meaningful to us.
      And whatever one calls it, a deep connection to that which around us– and the sense of meaning entailed in that seems to me to be something too few of us feel.

  63. I would just like to share that this article made me think about the stories that my grandfather told me as a child. I’ve realized that I can recall his stories more easily than stories I have read from books. It is clear to me that the stories are so much more real and meaningful when someone is telling them to your face. It is so easy to just skim lines in a book and not get the full effect of the story, but it is hard to ignore someone as they are speaking to you and are taking the time to tell you something they care deeply about. The connection with the person and the story is so much more powerful.

    • I appreciate your comments Sage, and I agree that it is often easier to recall stories told by family and handed down than it is to recall a story we have no connection to. I was thinking the same things while reading this essay and thinking about how my family loves to hear stories from our parents and grandparents about the past and how they lived. I think it is important for generations to continue these stories and share what they learned and continue to learn.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience here, Sage– I am sure it mimics the experience of many of us. How fortunate you were to have a grandfather who shared stories with you in t his way. As you point out, caring is an essential thing passed between those who tell stories and those who here them.

  64. This was an interesting article and the story at the end made me catch my breath when Elder Gail dropped the pot. What a dramatic and bold statement! I agree with her point though, if we do not continue these oral traditions and learn from them we are bound to lose valuable historical and environmental knowledge that cannot be gained through modern science. Just as each piece of the pot was important, so is each source of information and knowledge about our connection with the natural world.

    • Perceptive analogy about the importance of every piece of the pot–and of knowledge of the natural world, Brandt. Her dropping the pot certainly took trust in the audience’s motivation to return its pieces.

  65. I think the story of how the Asian scientists met with the NASA engineers was a great example of how the Western world is always geared towards answering a problem or finding a solution but not geared in understanding what impact that solution will have on the status quo environment. There are so many incentives for western scientists to put their mind to use and come up with better ways to extract resources out of the earth. For example, Exxon and Cheveron both tout their ability in commercials that they are hiring the best minds to go after renewable fuels and better ways to find resources. This is great, however, you still have to think that we are still extracting from the ground and not solving the real problem of consumption. What is more alarming as both of these companies push on these commercials as Green or environmental friendly commercials. I don’t think the environment would like for its coal to be removed just as its oil has been removed in the past. Even if the coal burns cleaner, we are still extracting the finite resources from the earth.

    • My own sense is that those “green” oil commercials are a bit disingenuous, given the intensive lobbying such corporations to to receive subsidies for actions that are environmentally destructive. On the other hand, I think that some folks see “the writing on the wall”–= we will just run out of fossil fuels in the bear future. So there is the recent pact between Obama and the car manufacturers to make cleaner cares. I think Chevron has some explaining to do to the US public in their devastation of the Amazon.
      And I haven’t seen any serious data that really indicates we can get coal to burn reasonably cleanly. What I have seen is date indicating that the highest source of mercury in the food of the Chinese is now rice– caused by mercury burned in coal plants.
      Thanks for your comment. We do indeed, have plenty to do and need all the good minds we can get to work on it.

  66. Story telling is about life lessons that teach behavior, trust, and love. Most importantly they serve as lessons in heritage. As we conitinue to serparate native people from their traditional lifestyles and their native languages these stories will be lost forever. Elder Gail and her story signify what keeps these stories alive; a community. Without a community to keep these stories alive they will die with that community.

    • Thanks for the reminder that traditional stories and their lessons in “behavior, trust and love”, as you put it, are a form of history intimately connected to community, Kiley.

  67. Modern mythology and oral traditions are seemingly in the hands of mass media as I write this. Our children and their children are inundated with stories already created for them and projected onto movie screens, computers, and televisions. The hope of our youth ever finding their way through the “forest” of emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical challenges seems remote. But all is not lost, if great people among us, namely parents and teachers, can foster in a child the mythological romance and caretaker worldview of the ancient Druids, Mayans, Cherokee, or thousands of other indigenous peoples.

    Joseph Campbell brought to life the common thread of stories from many cultures around the planet. He united them in a stream of consciousness we all share. Each of us can contribute to this consciousness by imparting our knowledge and wisdom of the planet, nature and humanity to the next generation. Our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, even our neighbors can gain much if we are willing to share what we know of the past so the future can be more hopeful.

    We should challenge ourselves every day to set an example, and find opportunities to show our compassion to others and the natural world.

    • I don’t think the hope of our children’s finding their way back into the gift of oral tradition is entirely remote, Dwayne, as indicated by the surge in the interest in storytelling in the US in the past three decades.
      I have had numerous students in my folklore classes throughout the years who treasured their family traditions–and many who created new ones for those that were lost. Your comment indicates the priceless gift of sharing the stories of our lives with others– whether those stories be from inherited traditions or our personal experience. Thanks for your comment.

  68. This article made me consider the importance of story telling. I also realize this vital tradition seems to be broken like Elder Gail Woodsides pot or forgotten by todays people. Todays generation is lacking the attention of great storytellers.Our modern society moves so fast with technology and life, I fear that few are slowing down to see the buauty and relavence of a story. By dropping the pot Elder Gail Woodside proved that the continuation and relevence of her story was more important than the hundred year pot by itself.

    • Very nice perspective on storytelling, Zach–and the importance of the “continuance and relevance of her story” (that is, the story passed on to her by her people, which it was her responsibility to pass on in turn.
      Such interweaving between generations is indeed more important than any material “thing”–even something as lovely as this pot.
      Thanks for sharing your insights.

  69. Their is a joke among Natives and those who are close to them, running on “Indian time.” This saying is sometimes used derogatory, but it’s essence comes from Natives living at a slower pace. Not too many generations ago we had more time to share stories openly, these stories almost always carry a teaching to be shared. Traditionally stories, teachings and even languages were never written down, like any culture you lived it to be a part of it. Storytelling is an art form and it hides in plain sight sometimes, you just have to listen to people speak and sometimes you are blessed with a teaching.

    • “Indian time” is joked about when one makes a contrast with industrial clock time and busy-ness– but I have also heard it described as “appropriate time”– that is, in “Indian time”, things happens when it is right time for them. Indian time also, as you note, allows a community to take the time to do what the community needs–I think there is a parallel among the San People of Africa, who spend 2-5 hours a day around 3 days a week providing for their material needs–and the rest of the time on telling stories and singing and dancing– all of which work to develop ways for the community to get along with one another.
      “Hiding in plain sight” is a wonderful idea: watching for the moment when the blessing of a lesson will come also makes the members of a community more attentive to one another. One of the things storytelling imparts to any community, I think, is practice in listening. When I told stories in different classrooms, I could easily pick out those children of any culture who had spent the most time listening to stories, since they were such good listeners–they had learned to pay attention with all of themselves by entering all those stories.
      Thanks for sharing your own cultural insights here.

  70. This article points out something I find very interesting “She said the old ways and the knowledge are broken. Small pieces are used–borrowed from Native peoples–while the rest ignored as un-specialized or not scientific” (stated by Elder Gail Woodside). There is so much knowledge borrowed or taken from the Native’s. Who in modern society decides what knowledge is used and not used? How did we get so off course from the native people’s sustainable and environmentally friendly way of life?

    We need to step back and look into the past to find a way to continue advancements in technology, yet be more environmentally friendly. If we don’t do this there will be destructible consequences for future generations. This Japanese visitor to NASA says this best “Your technology is excellent at taking the world apart. What is your plan for putting it back together again?” The key concept is to make scientific developments to fix our mistakes of the past and stop making more of a mess NOW.

    • I appreciate the balance here, Chris. If our science is not able to help fix the problems resulting from our past mistakes, it doesn’t seem good for much. In fact, I think it is capable of this–we just need to work to make it so. Just think what it would be like if we lived in a world in which more of our science were applied to healing our world and teaching how to get along with one another– as opposed to making profits for some that result in the tragedies outlined in “The Trouble with Progress” on this site.
      Thank you for your comment.

  71. I love the concept of supporting children through the emerging of their own “spirit-calling.” Pay attention to your child and they will tell you who they are. Respect that and help them develop positively but don’t try to change them or make them into who you want them to be. Difficult lessons to remember.
    This is a wonderful idea for a solstice celebration! We try to hold one every year, and struggle to find ways to make them about more than just a party with friends. Lovely as those are, they lack the feeling of world solidarity I always hope to gain from them.
    Did you all come back together? Was the pot put back together, the pieces of the knowledge shared?

    • I don’t know the next chapter of this story, since it was not mine, but belonged to Val Goodness, who is quoted here– since she was the one at the gathering who witnessed Elder Gail’s act and related it.
      Your child obviously has the precious gift of such attention from you, Neyssa. And I think you are right about solstice– what might better celebrate the balance point of the year in which the darkest nights become light again than the idea of continuance of wisdom passed between human generations?

    • The lack of solidarity is a sad part of society today. I’m humbled by your attempts to make it work every year. Even if they only turn out to be parties, it is still an effort made. I hope you continue with your attempts to gain from such gatherings and I hope you are able to find a way to express or teach your findings to others as an attempt to gain more support and (hopefully solidarity) in the long run. Thank you.

  72. I think with technology we are learning and even yearning for instant gratification, our youth are growing up in this culture of speed, right now. Facebook for instance, at any moment with a cell phone you can update your status for all your friends to see and comment on within one minute of having a thought.

  73. I have to admit it- this one really tugged at my heartstrings. Thinking about something as precious as that pottery being shattered, and then trying to imagine how it must feel to apply that same concept to loved ones of myriad species, was difficult. Not only because I literally cannot imagine how it must feel, but because of the unpleasant emotional response.

    Half of my family came from Yugoslavia to Oregon three generations ago because of the timber industry. I never thought much about it growing up, but after I began to realize and understand the implications of that, it seemed clear to me that I should spend a goodly amount of effort working to repair some of the damages inflicted by that and other industries. I may not have a tangible piece of pottery to work back into place, but it is my intention to eventually assume a position that allows me to work positively with others towards restoring ecological balances.

    • Wonderful goal and sense of responsibility, Adrienne. Thanks for indicating something very special about stories that bring us close to them as this one brought you close to it– and that is, that they are never finished in one telling, but expand into their meaning as each generation hears and relates and is influenced by them. Thus you have joined that circle (now hearteningly grown larger) of those gathered around Elder Gail as she broke this pot and transmitted the charge of healing as she did so.

  74. Inspiring.

    The story is almost bittersweet, but overall inspiring. Elder Gail was absolutely right about people in society today taking only pieces of what was once a whole bunch of important knowledge from the past. The pieces not taken for consideration because the information was “unscientific” is sad. I am encouraged as more people relate to older cultures more and more. Hopefully more importance can be placed on the teachings of the wise ones of the past.
    Whatever happened the next spring? Thank you Dr. Holden for sharing such a great story!

    • In response to my last question…. I just read above that the story was played out elsewhere. 🙂

    • There is one way of answering your question about the next spring (which I did not attend, since I am only passing this story on)– and that is the tradition of ancient stories that says an audience makes a story as much as the teller. And now you have become a part of that story and can take it up in a parallel way to the way Adrienne is doing this. Thanks for sharing your personal care here!

  75. I really like the idea of the world being the clay pot and it breaking. In my opinion, I think the only way that people can fix the issues of the world is to come together; just as the pieces of the pot needed to be brought together to fix it. It is always easier to destroy something than to fix it.

    • Well stated about the ease in which to destroy verses coming together to overcome or succeed. I believe we all have value and like many things in life, when concentrated, it is that much more powerful. We are all part of the solution yet the solution is an assemblage of the parts.

  76. The idea that each child is given a natural life plan and that their creator waits to hear their unique story was truly touching to me. This allows the children to understand that each thing they do throughout their lives is important. If this were me, I would carefully gage each action and make sure everything I did was meaningful.

    I was also impressed by the eagerness each child portrayed in hearing the elders stories. They were willing to pay for each one of the stories by doing tasks. I found it wonderful that the elders helped the young conquer their fears through these tasks. Through these stories the elders were able to teach the children about the importance of community, how to face their fears and how to take care of themselves. What a wonderful way to teach children so many lessons.

    • I agree children love stories what a great way to teach the children about their family’s history as well as educating them about nature. What an interesting way to get kids to do tasks near places they were afraid so they could get over their fears. This was also a great way to teach the children good values and ethics witch some people lack today.

      • The reactions the children had to the elder’s stories and how they took them to heart so that an oral history can be preserved for generations, truly shows the respect the elder’s had and the importance of their stories.The elders were also wise in the ways they bribed the children with the stories helping them to learning something about themselves in the process.

    • Great perspectives, Alicia. The touching connections between generations here is something we can certainly learn from.

  77. Wow I loved the story Elder Gail Woodside told that gives me a big picture of how our knowledge from generation to generation was passed down. Many of us today think that our children are going to school to learn but in fact we are there teachers also. Without family values and the knowledge of our elders in our family what do we really have? I was shocked when she dropped the 100 year old pot of her grandmothers. But I really got the point that she was trying to give. I feel sad to think that yes I know some of the stories my grandparents told me about when they grew up but that’s really all I know. I agree that we need to educate our own children about the past so they can learn about their family’s history. I don’t know any child or adult who does not like hearing stories from their elders. I need to share more stories with my child this would be a start and also to ask my parents more about their past. Unfortunately my grandparents have already passed so I am too late to find out more about their pasts.

    • Christi, I appreciate your recognition of needing to share stories with your child. As a mother and a grandmother, I certainly understand the value…and realize that I could have gotten so much more from my parents and grandparents, but wasn’t ready to listen. I am now and they are gone. My advice? Keep trying…somewhere in their souls, they will hear you.

      • Lovely point, Bev. No better way to recognize the lives of others than to hear their stories–and I have had the experience of receiving stories that others said no one remembered– just because I was around and listening.

    • I agree, learning from our elders is a way to keep the history alive. Most of my grandparents in my family were already gone when I was born, so the only stories I know are from what my parents told me and what little I remember from my grandmother when she was still living.

    • Maybe, this essay give us a big picture of how our knowledge from generation to generation was passsed down…In this article, I think it emphasized that we need to face our own past no matter how bad it might be. Because if we do not take action it is quite difficult to get out from the difficulities which we have right now. The quote that proved what I mentioned, is here.. “profound insight that the power of our past will haunt us until we turn and face it”

    • Hi Christi, those stories you keep of your grandparents are a priceless treasure–and honoring the elders of the past (including natural ones such as ancient trees) can begin as a family tradition any time. Thanks for your comment.

    • Oral history is a huge part of many indigenous cultures. I know as a child I sat mesmerized by the stories of my grandfather during WWII. As an adult I know how to work the land and manage a house because of what I learned as a child. It saddens me to think that parents send their children to school to learn, when in reality, they should learn how to live a life at home, and school should be the academics to support that. Having been a teacher and a foster parent I know that many parents no longer care to teach their children what is most important in life: who they are, where they came from, and how to life a responsible productive life.

      In another of my classes we were discussing the best methods to instill a sense of responsibility and community within our children. It was suggested that, like many countries and religions, teenage children should be required to do a year of community service type work for those in need. I disagree with that. I think we should start teaching our children in early grade school the importance of community service and the best place to start would be taking the children once a week to a nursing home where they can practice reading to the elders. In turn, what really would be happening, is a sense of respect for our elders, their ways, and while the reading might be minimal at best, the children would get to hear stories of the past.

      • Very thoughtful points to consider here, Kristy. I don’t think we can blame families, but support them to be more responsible.
        Without reciprocal connections between generations, neither our communities nor our ability to learn from history can stand.

  78. The story by Elder Gail Woodside truly moved me. She was willing to let the precious pot made by her Grandmother fall to the ground and break into many pieces. It did occur to me she might have used this as an illustration and had other pots, in order to illustrate the story again, but the story was still very powerful, nonetheless. My grandmother was from a tribe of Indigenous Peoples and as a child, she seemed “out of touch” and “old fashioned”. She used every part of any slaughtered animal including fat to make soap. I don’t remember seeing boxes of anything in her tiny house. A trip to the grocery story was usually for the basics; salt, coffee, flour and sugar, but if she could get by on the honey from the bees, she did so. I remember hearing stories of remedies from many generations. Tobacco for a bee-sting, cream for sunburns, vinegar for continual health. I rolled my eyes and went to the pharmacy to get all the latest medicines for everyday maladies. The irony in all of this is that I have reverted back to my grandmother’s remedies and find that they work just fine. I have my grandmother’s coffee grinder. It is just as Elder Gail Woodside described her grandmother’s pot, in that it shows wear and has a crack. I bet if I dropped it, it would break into many pieces, but don’t think I will.

    • I know you want to protect this pot from breaking! But I can’t imagine her breaking anything but the real thing.
      And since you mentioned honey, researchers are finding it effective in healing particular antibiotic resistant wounds. Cheers for our bees–and time to stop spraying the pesticides that are killing them off.
      I like the idea that this kind of medicine is “complementary”– assisting modern medicine in its work.
      Here is a brief piece on wound healing of honey:

    • Bev, I too have done a turnaround and started using those old fashioned remedies, especially for cleaning my house. I have gone back to the old fashioned cooking and making meals from scratch, I even save money. The old family recipes are like handed down stories from great-grandma or grandmas to each new generation. In my kitchen I have a couple of my grandmas cookbooks and would consider then my cherished memories.

    • One of my grandmothers was the same in many ways. She is modern today, but as a child I recall her stirring wood ashes to make lye for soap and I still have the corn husk doll that I, and my female cousins, made with her. My greatest treasure though, is a hand written recipe. She has had the same sour dough starter that her mother gave her after her wedding. When she came to live with me for awhile, she brought that and one day she taught me to make sour dough biscuits. She moves very slowly these days and carefully unfolded this very very worn faded recipe. She set it to the side of the counter never looking at it again and proceeded to make amazing biscuits, measuring only with her hands. That afternoon as we were cleaning up, I picked up the recipe and offered to type it for her, but only if I got to keep the original. She laughed as she hasn’t read it in years but it was habit. Today is the framed centerpiece of my antique cooking instruments and cookbooks in my dining room.

      My other grandmother was a “proper businessman’s wife” who never left her impeccable etiquette of the 1950s. But I will never forget her chiding me for getting a bee sting and “wasting a perfectly good cigarette” to fix it. The tobacco soaked in her mouth, then applied to my sting must have worked well as my brother and I would be right back out playing in the same honeysuckle awaiting the next sting.

      • What a true treasure this framed recipe written in the hand of your grandmother is, Kristy.
        I love the idea of sourdough starters passed from generation to generation.
        And tobacco for bee stings is something I had not hear about– those of us who don’t smoke will have to keep some tobacco on hand to try it out!

  79. I found Elder Gail Woodside’s story very symbolic on several levels. One perspective comes from reflecting on the Asian scientist’s comment, she demonstrated how easy it can be for a single person to disassemble a world of knowledge with a simple careless act yet presents the challenges to come together as a society and reassemble the individual pieces into knowledge and wisdom. We all are a part of the big picture but until we unite, we will remain as individual pieces, specialists in only what we know.

    • I also found Elder Gail Woodside’s story to be very symbolic. I agree that is easy to simply and carelessly easy to disassemble something, such as knowledge or the clay pot. Yet it is very difficult to bring people together as a community to reassemble the pieces. It seems like the demolition takes less time and presents fewer obstacles, while the rebuilding takes a lot of time and requires overcoming many more obstacles. I agree that we must unite to see the big picture. I also wonder if each person that got a piece of the clay pot came back the next year.

    • Great points to ponder concerning our power to both dissemble our world and connect to it in a system in which absolutely everyone is essential. This, by the way is what Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko says of oral tradition in her book, Storyteller. In her community, the stories held by every single person we4re essential to their tradition–and though one might know only a sentence or two and one a story that went on for four days and nights, the tradition was not complete without them all.

  80. This essay made me think of the continuity of life and the circularity of it. Folklore and storytelling traditions ensure that knowledge is passed along, but also provide a means to acknowledge and face fears, reflect on losses, and find hope and meaning in life. When the circle is broken, then the ability to transmit experiences and knowledge is lost. I think this happens when cultures are assimulated into foreign or colonial invaders, when indigenous people lose their connection to the land or no longer have the ability to use the resources, or when they are scattered because they have to go somewhere else to support their families.

    • Great points about the emotional benefits of folklore. It is sad indeed when, as you state, “the circle is broken”– what I find amazing in the case of many indigenous is how tenacious and persistent certain values are in spite of the tragedies they have been hit with.
      That is not to downplay those tragedies, just to indicate that there is something of a resilience in their communities that we in the industrial world might use more of.

  81. Elder Gail Woodside’s telling of the pot story and the strong imagery shared was a fantastic way of showing that everything can be destroyed no matter how old it is including the Earth. The fragility of the pot symbolizing the fragility of the is world and how we are currently dropping it from a high place, breaking it into oblivion. Only the world’s fate won’t be so easy to put back together.

    • And we might even say, in the context of a worldview that favors the new over the old, that such fragile things, passing through generations (or balanced by thousands of years of natural selection) are precious?

    • It is true, the world is not so easy “to put back together again”, though I am heartened by the resiliency of the natural world. As long as we don’t go too far, it is we rather than nature who will suffer the most from such breakage.

  82. As I read this essay, I think the most important thing in the essay was, we must face our own past no matter how terrible it might be. It was shown in the quote, “profound insight that the power of our past will haunt us until we turn and face it”. It is sometimes difficult to face on it. However, we cannot solve forever if we do not face our past. If we do not take action right now, we will be losing something and we will not be able to repair that we has been broken. We need to face on our past now!! (regarding native people or nature environment…or whatever we have…)

  83. Two thoughts came to me as I read this article. The first is in relation to the comment at the beginning, “Your technology is excellent at taking the world apart. What is your plan for putting it back together again?”. This statement alone is so powerful to me as it rings so true. We are really great at creating technology, a society, values, that take things apart. Both in a negative and positive way; we create things that can obliterate the earth quickly (bombs) or very slowly (degradation of our environment). We have taken apart our own bodies such as sequencing our genome. All of this though hasn’t led us to a path of putting it back together and I wonder if we as humans have gotten “greedy” with the knowledge we have gathered. Maybe it’s an addiction? We “solved” one big question, now we have to move on and conquer all the other mysteries of the world.
    The other thought was in regards to the statement, “But certainly each of our pasts as well as our past as a society will continue to haunt us until we face it.” This may have nothing to do with the scope of the article but it made me wonder. We are always talking about our past and in some cultures it is believed you have a past life. This statement saying you had to face your pasts made me think that each of our personal actions in our past is our past life, not that you have lived a separate life all together but that your actions leading up to the place you are now is your past life and you need to reflect on those and face those choices you made that perhaps were not the best so that you will not make them again.
    Lastly, I think that we as a society have lost touch with the spiritual side of being a community. Not in the sense of a religion as I think some get those two terms confused. Or maybe I do. But I seem them as separate. Spiritual to me is a deep connection with all that you surround yourself with, your friends, family, values and beliefs. While Religion helps you foster those, your connected is spiritual. I think as we become mass producing, all consuming and disconnected by the vary technologies we create we are loosing that spark, our spirit and soul.

    • Some excellent cases to ponder on taking things apart, Brandie. I don’t think seeking knowledge per se is an addiction– but seeking the knowledge to control things may well be–and since our knowledge has put so many things out of control, we keep searching for that power we never get…
      I imagine we might think of a “past life” in metaphorical terms– what does this belief (especially in the modern US where it does not stem from any deep seated religious belief) indicate about our search for a past we literally abandon with our push to “progress”?
      I think a number of people distinguish spirituality and religion in these terms, which religion is some form of institutionalized social organization with a dogma, etc., and spirituality is the personal experience of what Otto called the “numimous”.

  84. So often as Americans we are too busy in life to take time out and visit with grandpa’s and grandma’s, even great-grandparents. I am just as guilty as anyone else. As I read this story about the pot breaking it reminds me how we are all one in this nation, what ever happens to America we are all affected by it one way or another. Our older generations were all affected by the Great Depression or Pearl Harbor or the death of President John F. Kennedy. These are the stories in their lives they want to share, the ones that effected us all. As the pot breaks, so does these stories because we are too busy to take the time and call or visit one on one with are elders to put the pieces back together and share special moments connecting with our grandparents or great-grandparents. The pot means nothing if you can’t share it with someone, as does the stories are elders have from past experiences. So often I think stories are left untold as we say goodbye to our elders in death. Now that I am older and appreciate more, there are thinks I would love to have asked my grandfather on my mom’s side, but he pasted away when I was 12 years old. He lived such an adventurous life and I think only half his stories were ever told, because nobody in the family sat down and asked. Family stories are apart of history that needs to be shared as with the broken pot story being shared with everyone that day and today.

    • Important perspective, Debbie. Indeed, such a pot means nothing if, as you point out, it is not shared with someone. Some eloquent reasons here why we should be attending to such stories which are, after all, our inheritance, and a most treasured one, since they are held only in the hearts and minds of those most close to us.
      And you might also collect (or listen to) stories of your children’s days as well– not only should they each see the story of their own lives as valuable, but that is likely to make them more ready to honor the stories of other lives.

    • I liked you comment on how Americans have become disconnected with their grandparents but i believe it’s with everyone. With technology and social networks people don’t even call or visit anymore its all a text or a message on facebook for everything. I do think that we can learn from our grandparents and many have lived through and seen a lot but so often they are put in retirement homes and forgotten. I volunteer at nursing homes and its sad. They often just want someone to talk to.

      • Volunteering at nursing homes is a wonderful thing to do, Francisco! It is tragic indeed to see so many who seem to have been simply thrown away by our modern society–when they have so much to share. I have spent some time with elderly neighbors and friends in such places as well, and there is such hunger for human companionship. There are such stereotypes on the part of certain caregivers there as well (who are often poorly paid and trained for all the money to be made in the nursing home business). In more than one instance, elders were perfectly lucid every time I visited, but dismissed as “senile” by too many of the staff. And they were too often over-drugged to make them easier for the staff to “manage”.
        I am heartened by in home care and other community based alternatives that some are coming up with. I hope we see more of these, as our current system of caring for our elderly is a loss for all concerned. In the meantime, such volunteering as you are doing is priceless.

  85. I have to admit that reading this essay initially made me feel a bit disconnected from the tradition of storytelling. It seemed like the type of thing that I could appreciate as an observer, since it was practiced by other cultures and families that had ancestries that were less “watered down” than mine.

    But I started thinking about all the things I’ve learned from my father. His tales of his childhood provided some insight into his personal history, but also conveyed a sense of perseverance, honor, and fun.

    My mother told the story of her rescue from a swarm of bees that had been stirred up after she climbed a fence to play in an area that was deemed off-limits by my grandmother. My grandmother, who had a near-fatal allergy to bee stings, scaled the fence, picked her off her feet, and rushed her safety. It was a simple story that instilled a great desire to heed my parents’ warnings. But it also illustrated the bond that parents have with their children and showed me what people should be willing to do for one another.

    And then there are the stories my grandmother tells about her parents and grandparents, and so on. The oral history passed down through the generations in my family is subtle, but rich. It’s a delightful thing to realize.

  86. Leadership takes delegation, cohesiveness, and delegation. People must come together and come up with a plan to save the world we live in. We can run from the fact that we are partially if not fully responsible for the environmental disasters that take place. We must face our wrong-doings. It starts with recognizing our talents/gifts and using them to do good.

    The relation of our community and the efforts of its members provides a willingness & potential to do good and encourages a society to continue to do his/her part or share as a membership. This long-lasting, strong, and withholding against struggle helps a community become powerful and gives an opportunity to restore the health of our environment.

    The moment is now. We have to serve other. We must give more than what we receive.


    Bring the Faith Back


    Care for Nature

    • Hi Brianna, can you tell us what part of the reading inspired this response?

      • The essay/article mentions that the United States Space Program (NASA) hosted a group of Asian Scientists. When it was time to ask questions they asked what was the plan for putting the world back together again? The technology the United States had been building was destructive. Therefore, the scientists wanted to know the plan. This is an example of leadership.

        The article/essay also mentions a pilgrim that tells a story about salmon’s struggle to return to their home waters. The story teaches the community about the nature of life. In our darkest moments=climate change & etc. people must come together to teach and help one another. This is an example of how are community can restore the health of our enviornment.

  87. When I read about “oral traditions” I immediately think about indigenous peoples because I think that our society has lost this art. One of the things I miss the most about my grandmother is her stories of when she was little. At her funeral I was able to tell a story about her and her mother that she had told me once when I was a child. It was about the first time she had ever gone to a fair and all of the wonderful things she enjoyed while she was there. One being a science exhibit of butterflies. We all knew she loved butterflies and that story was where it started. None of my aunts or uncles had ever heard that story, and neither had my own mother. It was strange to be telling my mom and her brothers and sisters something about their mother that they had never heard, but it was an amazing feeling to pass on something so special to the people I love. This must be only a small part of the feelings that overcome indigenous peoples when they pass on their history and teachings. It is such an indescribable feeling to watch someone learn from you. They have a very different way of teaching that is extremely hands on and is central to their lifestyle. I am sure that this is one of the reasons that indigenous peoples have such a strong bond between each other. I can definitely learn from this example of teaching and can only hope that I have the ability to pass on stories to the children I will someday have.

    • Great example of the bonds created by the passing on of oral tradition, Jamie. What a wonderful tribute to you grandmother’s life–and a gift to all present that you were able to share this story!

  88. This article makes me think of two things how people are connected and the dramatic dropping of the pot to get a valid point across. Being Native American and living in a Native American community i know first hand of how much knowledge, traditions,skills and our language have been lost. I think an important point she made was how Native knowledge was mostly ignored as un-specialized or not scientific. I would like to think that in today’s age we can over look the way people look or how they live and respect their choose of life.

    • Indeed, Francisco, perhaps we might even see our own human potential in all the ways humans have chosen to live– and expand our possibilities and vision in this way.

    • Your statement, “I would like to think that in today’s age we can over look the way people look or how they live and respect their choose of life,” makes a lot of sense to me. I do try to do this as much as possible, and when my superficial ego surfaces I do my best to silence it. However, I’m afraid this good intention and acceptance is far from the status quo in America. This is a huge obstacle we face as a nation, which inhibits our progress. I don’t think this is a coincidental phenomenon. It seems like the more control the corporations have over the public the better off they think they are, because this reinforces their position of power, as they continue to expand, and make more money for themselves. When a person is afraid to be themselves, they sacrifice or stifle a very significant part of who they are. This is very tragic for the individual and us as a whole. I too wish more people were accepting of others and confident enough to be themselves. I think if more people did so, we would see great progress.

      • Excellent points about the losses we all suffer when many among us are afraid to be themselves (or pressured not to be).
        I do see some “good intention and acceptance” emerged even it might not make the nightly news. I am thinking, for instance, of the “Not in our Town” movement (and video that went with it) in which mainstream American cities put together campaigns to overcome local racism– or the folks at the Southern Poverty Law Conference who have been working on issues related to every type of discrimination for several decades: their “teaching tolerance” are available for free to classroom teachers.

  89. I’ve never thought of telling stories, learning or sharing wisdom in such a manner as I read here. Especially today our instant-gratification society is teaching our children impatience and not having to work for what you want. We don’t reward them with knowledge, we reward them with toys or money or candy. The consumerism infiltration has been overwhelmingly swift.

    The question posed by the group of scientists quite probably was never even considered by the NASA scientists. When science has discovered all the mysteries of the cosmos, or believes that it has, what will the future look like afterward? The unknown is what drives us and inspires us and also encourages us. I, for one, hope that is never taken away from the human species.

    • I like the way you put this of rewarding our children with knowledge rather than with candy or toys or money…in traditional society such rewards were importance because of both the joy and intimacy involved in sharing a story, and the fact that they thereby got knowledge essential survival.
      I agree with you about the unknown. If I thought that all the data science currently has about the world were all there were, I would feel the future was much bleaker.

  90. Story telling as a link of the past to the future is such a profound thought to me and I am saddened by the fact that I think in many aspects our culture does not protect it’s importance. In reflecting on my own childhood I remember spending time baking with my grandma and the stories that she told as we worked together. Even though we did not get to do this often, as we lived far apart, the time that I did have was very special to me. As I look at the time that my parents have had to spend with my children I notice a big difference. They have had careers for the majority of my life and it has only been recently that they have had some major life changes that have given them the ability to spend some time with the grandchildren. It definitely gives me pause to stop and think about how I want my own children to grow and pass on information to their children and how I will be able to participate in that.
    I also really liked the thought of the broken pot analogy in that each member of the community held a piece of the knowledge and that by coming together the community could have the whole once again. Too many times I feel that information or knowledge is held onto to gain some advantage or power and used competitively against each other when it should be used communally to benefit the whole.

    • Some excellent things to ponder here, Kim. The intimacy between generations takes time to nurture–and such sharing is a priceless gift, as you understood with respect to your time with your grandmother.
      And an essential perspective on knowledge that is held onto to gain advantage over another rather than knowledge that is shared to helped strengthen the web of life that contains us all.

  91. Storytelling seems to be more and more of a lost tradition these days. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to recall a time when I sat down with family and listened to a grandparent or great aunt or uncle tell a story. I’ve heard stories of people telling stories, but I hardly think that counts. Kind of sad when you think about it. Similar to the child fetching the stick closer and closer to the place he fears, stories are ways to teach lessons without seeming too preachy or domineering. I think it would be much easier to get the point across to tell my future children about how I got this scar on my finger instead of yelling at them every time they got near a hot stove.

    • Some perceptive points about storytelling, Phillip. This is something we can each cultivate with our friends and families (listening to family stories does have to entail rituals or great occasions). And as we listen to the stories of others, we learn to tell them ourselves.
      And whereas there is one trend of decline in this tradition, there is another in which there are more storytellers and more and more occasions in which stories are told (on PBS, for instance). I am thinking of a national storytelling conference that had a handful of participants in the 1970s and thousands recently.

    • The next time you have the family around, ask some questions. It can be amazing how just a simple question can lead into a story (and that can trigger another thought and lead into another story) and before you know it, no one will be able to get a word in edge wise–the room will be buzzing with conversation! This might sound silly, but in my family (usually at dinner) we have “sharing time” where everyone has to tell some kind of story–it can be something we experienced personally that day/week, something we read, something we over heard, something we listened to etc. but it gives everyone a chance to talk and share. It can be fun to do with friends too.

  92. The art of teaching by storytelling and passing knowledge down from generation to generation, never occurred to me as a technological tool. This is an interesting perspective, and it does make perfect sense. The essay also stated that this is considered a human tool, that transcends time and space, and brings forth vision. By sharing our inherited knowledge with other people from our community, we collectively have a better interpretation of the whole picture. Also, by working together and sharing our individual visions, we will be more able-bodied to bring forth sustainability.

    Personally, I do recall my great-grandmother telling me stories about the land in Chile (where she was raised), while showing me smooth, colorful, stones from her homeland. These stones were softer than any stone I have ever felt, and she let me pick out some to keep. My great-grandfather taught me to play chess and would always let me win, to encourage me to play more. Another way my elder generations have taught me is by singing songs. This has always been one of my grandmother’s ways of expressing herself. She seems to have a song for everything. Another way they have taught me is by example; they all have exhibited great character, principle, and charm. All this talk about my elders makes me want to play a game of chess with my great-granddad.

  93. In this article, I loved the story of the pot breaking and the coming together to put it back together–the overall message that we, as earth (people and nature), have an incredible way of somehow recovering–even from the worst situations. Our history tells us a story. It is one large narrative, swirling around our globe. It talks of conflict, struggle, destruction and death, as well as faith, hope, promise, and healing.

    When I traveled to places like Vietnam, Cambodia, South Africa, and Japan, I thought about “recovery.” Cultural conflict, war, discrimination, and natural disasters etc. occur in places all over the world and no matter how terrible, somehow they have the ability to recover, are currently recovering or have recovered. In some cases, history (the story) is the only trace of what is left. Recovery is not easy, nor fast. It can take a long time to mend broken hearts, broken land and broken ties. However, it is possible. It is important to keep the stories alive (to remember our history) and learn from our mistakes. The future is bright, and we have the ability to write our own story. “The cracks” help us to remember, and the coming together can help us heal and march forward.

    • As for the cracks, I love this line from the Leonard Cohen song: “Ring the bells that still can ring/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”
      An inspiring mediation on mending you have shared, Rudy: and one of the important points to ponder here is the issue of time: we must give ourselves and our world the time to heal and recover. I think of this, for instance, in comparing a clear cut to sustained yield logging (which takes out only a few trees per year, maintaining the forest ecosystem. If we want to revive a clear cut we may need hundreds of years (and a multitude of species) for the forest ecosystem to come back. Thus we should require not just that one tree is planted for every one taken down, but that we not take them down faster than they come back.

  94. This article was profound for me. When Elder Gail dropped her grandmother’s pot of a hundred years, it stated how she thought of objects of treasure compared to how many of us look at our passed down treasures. Its only value was the stories and knowledge which it still may hold in the hardened clay, not the fact that her grandmother made it a 100 years ago. However, she needed her audience to hopefully ponder their ways of thinking compared to the indigenous people’s ways concerning value.
    Pondering this reminded me of the biblical phrase “life is but a vapor.” Elder Gail may not know this phrase, but she practices better than me. The bowl was full of generations of knowledge, does any of the precious objects I have, hold a rich history such as this bowl which she intentionally shattered? I think not, and to me her bowl would be my number one treasure. Elder Gail, sees life as a vapor, as a moment in time, here today and gone tomorrow. The bowl is a vapor, a lesson and by giving a piece of the shattered bowl to each student hopes they will bring it all back together again; each one of their hands holding a pot fragment in place with the hands of another holding a fragment as well and another ….. I can see her story; 50 to 100 hands can make the pot whole again. Her grandmothers pot, our grandmothers pot. Beautiful.

    • Indeed, Debora. Thoughtful interpretation–and life becomes more than a “vapor” in the voices of all those who share this story, yes?

      • That is absolutely true! 🙂 For energy is a constant, and all objects are in motion. The hardened clay vibrates and we have yet to know the depth of the intelligence of each of those vibrating molecules, they may whisper, exchange, give voice and share if we listen. We could say they are vapors!

        • I was actually thinking more of the ways in which the passing on of oral tradition embodies this knowledge in the relationship between individual human beings– as in my outline of folklore and oral tradition above.

  95. There seem to be so many messages to this story. One I come away wiith seems to be the sadness or maybe disrespect Elder Gail feels in way traditional technology and knowledge is either used without any appreciation or disregarded. The other is her appreciation for sharing of knowledge through oral traditonal stories. The way she demonstrates this by asking each person to take a piece of her family history with them as they leave, illustrates her view of her sharing pieces of history through story. Sadly, as families move further away from each other these histories are being lost, except for the physical material objects, that if we follow Elder Gail’s thinking are of much less value.

    • And perhaps that is one of the lessons of this story, Kendra? That the human persons that embody tradition and speak it to one another cannot be replaced by even the most precious of “things”?
      There is certainly the lesson here of the fragility of the family stories you speak of: unless there is a community to hold them and pass them on, they are lost.
      And perhaps, just perhaps, if we embraced such a community, we might even begin to learn from our history.

  96. I have always appreciated and valued native story telling for its intrinsic ties with the natural world around us and the nature of human beings. Both of these are often pointed out clearly in these stories and just as often, if one listens close enough, insights about natural history, ecology, and interdependence among both the biotic and abiotic worlds can be learned and a different world view can be achieved. This change in view is precisely what I recieved when I first started listening to and telling native stories. Many native cultures believed that stories were living things which once heard were taken into each person and when retold by them, took on a new slighty different life.
    The Chumas here in Southern California held their largest celebration for the solstice. Their understanding of the undeniable importance of the sun and the entire worlds dpenedence upon it led them to hold such high value for the day on which the sun would again return to bring life to all things. This is another fantasic insight that is often overlooked when judging native knowledge of ecological processes.

    • Thanks for your content, Paul. Not only the content of these stories contain so many layers of information– but I am also impressed by the sense of community entailed in telling them.

  97. To see the loss of valuable traditional knowledge is a sad thing. The elder’s willing breaking of her century-old pot to make a point is certainly commendable, I hope that it was for good. However, it may be worth asking of perhaps the old ways that they speak of were perhaps reflected upon and improved? Make no mistake, I’m quite the advocate of tradition myself. However, perhaps that is a question I would raise-can the new be added to the old in such a case as this? Is the old ever questioned and evaluated so as to determine its worth?

    • All traditional communities that I know of were dynamic rather than static, using oral tradition to adapt to situation (see the outlines of “Folklore and Oral Tradition” here). The assault on Native communities in US history has been a dual assault on tradition and community– in which native children were forcibly removed from their families to attend federal boarding schools for three generations running, for instance. Breaking the pot symbolizes the tragedy of such dynamics and an attempt to change this story and restore community.
      Thanks for your comment.

  98. Oddly, this essay makes me reminiscent of cooking. My mother is an amazing cook. As I got older and asked for more and more of her “recipes”, the reply was always the same, “I can show you how”. Growing up with so much structure, I didn’t readily understand how she couldn’t tell me in words how the components of a recipe were unified to create a dish. After a while, it became clear that nothing was ever the same way twice, and there were many ways to accomplish the same task without having to define it. Tastes change from day-to-day, from person-to-person, so allowing some flexibility while keeping the main contents similar just makes sense. Had I not been face-to-face with her to satisfy all my inquisitive “whys” and “hows”, I wouldn’t have the insight to be able to tweak the same recipe to my liking on a given day. What I take from it is, obviously, is the importance of oral tradition. There is so much that is lost when culture, or in my case recipes, are put to paper and it is no longer told verbally to be passed down to future generations. Storytelling provides personal relevance, as well as the speaker’s ability to use tone, body/hand gestures, emotions, and the ability to interact with the story in the moment. Not to discount the incredible ability of some authors, but the written word cannot accomplish this. I hope that the spring reunion is a success- what a great story.

    • There is a great example of oral tradition in your description of these recipes, their flexibility (adaptation to context), and their interpersonal dimension. Oral tradition does not just consist of stories– but also of things like the recipes you now have to re-create for yourself.
      Thanks for an excellent expression of these important dimensions of oral tradition here.

    • Latifa- I appreciate your story about sharing recipes with your mother- what a great thing to share with her and what a great way to learn about cooking! Your comment about the written word not being as relevant as the spoken word is an idea that I find intriguing. I wonder if part of it is the sense of relationship you have with the other person, when you are sharing a physical space with them and hearing the words first hand (or being shown). One thing I keep coming across in my research in education is that the relationship between the teacher and learner is of utmost importance- often even more so than the curriculum being used. I wonder if there is a relationship here…

      Peace, Jen

      • Hi Jen, among oral traditions, interestingly, written materials were sometimes thought to be less valid, since, as a Chehalis elder once told me, “Everything important told around here is told person to person.”

    • Latifa, I had a similar request of my Grandmother, who made the most amazing baked goods. I finally got her to write down one of her recipes for me, while I was going to be away for school. When it came in the mail, I was so excited to try it, and then had to laugh at what was written down: a handful of this, two pinches of that, a bit of this, a touch of that…then flavor to taste, cook till done. It was very much my Grandmother and her style of cooking. Much like the storytellers who combined traditional knowledge with personal value and new information, my Grandmother had melded the act into an artform to create something beautiful that couldn’t be captured in written form with nearly the grace or grit of physically being present.

      • It sounds like those recipes were delightful in having your grandmother’s touch on them, Anna. And now all you have to do is practice the baking until you get the proper “feel” of things that echoes hers– at least you have a list of ingredients!

    • What a great take on this reading. As a parent, I appreciate the tip! Your mother certainly gave you a gift when she taught you not only skills and traditions but also the flexibility you speak of. And, the relationship that was nutured through the process is a plus, for the both of you, I’m sure. I can see using this “parenting technique” in many aspects of life, but for sure in all areas of the production of food.
      Thanks for sharing.

  99. This essay makes me immediately think of my grandmother, who passed away about 7 years ago. She was a family keeper of stories and also provided the link to our family’s history. She knew the family tree going back many generations. Thankfully, many of this knowledge has been recorded by one of my aunts to keep it alive and pass on this important link to our past. Hearing these stories told from my grandmother made me feel close to family that were no longer around, a feeling similar to bonding with them. The stories tied me to them, and linked me to the past. I miss my grandmother and her stories, but I have these and other stories that I may one day pass on to future generations.

    I also found meaning in the idea that our pasts will haunt us until we face it. I have had experience with this in my own life, specifically due to having been a cancer survivor as well as in my way to overcome things in my past that haunt me. Just this week, I finally confronted one action in my past that I was not proud of and a certain music album reminded me of the event. By refusing to play that music for almost a year I refused to let go of that hurt. It was largely healing for me to finally play that music, let go of some of the hurt I was holding onto, and move on. This is such a small example but shows me the possibilities if it were set within a larger scheme.

    • It is a precious gift that your family has these stories of past generations that bring you close to the experience of your ancestors, Jillian. And you have made that gift active by acknowledging it and keeping these stories yourself. That is a treasure indeed for future generations.
      Congratulations on your personal courage–and your awareness of your personal sense of timing– in integrating the past into who you are now. And also in being a cancer survivor– or as a friend of mine whose breast cancer is in remission puts it, a “cancer thriver”.

  100. I am intrigued by the idea of using stories as a way to move from hopelessness and fear into vision. I am not sure I have ever thought about it this way, but I can see how this has played out in my life. There are a few books I have read, “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach and “The Fifth Sacred Thing” by Starhawk, that have helped me stay hopeful. Both of these books portray radically different ways we could structure our society, from what we have today- and that would be in greater harmony with the Earth, and with each other. I first read “Ecotopia” in 1990 or so, on the recommendation of someone in the Masters program I was in at UT Austin. In short, the story is based in the Pacific Northwest, which has seceded from the rest of the USA and has been able to create a more sustainable culture. That book is actually the reason I live in Oregon today! I was so inspired by the idea of this place that I came to visit and knew it was where I wanted to be- and here I am! I read Starhawk’s book when it first came out, which came out in 1993 and also appreciated the way the community in this story interacted with each other and the Earth. I think books like these are important in sharing visions with us of how things could be different. In my own experience, I have found myself to be limited by what I thought of as possible- and having more visions can actually create possibilities.

    • Traditional stories have this kind of power to inspire, Jennifer–some native cultures even believed them to be alive.
      Your post reminds me of a sign that at the May-June student uprising in 1968 in Paris: “The worst oppression is the belief that reality is the only possibility”.

      • Thanks for that quote Madronna- I will have to find lots of excuses to drop that in conversation with everyone I know! It is a point I often try to make to people- fits with a “subvert the dominant paradigm” bumper-sticker I had for years…

        Peace, Jen

  101. The question asked by that Asian scientist is wonderful. I don’t know if it is in American cultural vernacular to even consider why one would want to put the world back together. The same arrogance and lack of humility towards the planet that we see daily in America breeds the drive to unlock and ultimately control nature (Monsanto).

    It seems the oral tradition has been replaced by the digital tradition.The “stories” being told today are a hive mind proliferation based on the internet. The cycle of the seasons will be replaced by the business cycle. I once heard of a woman that was able to help a drowning man because she was watching a sunset stream online and saw the man in the frame. While I am glad the man was saved – watching a sunset stream online is a perfect summation of the disconnect from nature that is occuring in this “information age.” The oral tradition of many cultures requires patience – a good thing. The new digital tradition requires no patience. Answers and stimulation can be had instantaneously furthering us from ourselves and the human experience – a bad thing.

    As a side note – these are all sidetones really – I really like the significance of the winter solstice as told in the article. It seems we all need natural cycles to balance us. That is yet another integral connection between humans and the environment. The health of the biosphere equals the health of humanity….Perhaps we should all turn off our computers and go stare at the sun…..just joking….

    • There is something to be said for turning off one’s computer and going outdoors!
      And I also think that computers do not necessarily express a “hive mind”– as a mode of communication they have both positive and negative potential. For instance, they offer a potential recovery of democratic information networks usurped by corporate owned mass media. Besides, the hive mind is not necessarily a negative image to a beekeeper– nor is it to biologist Edmund Wilson, whose newest book analyzes the way the most successful species rely on group interaction.
      And there is this to ponder: look at the quality of comment that your classmates express in this forum.
      The integrity of oral tradition is upheld in part because so many are overseeing the words that are passed between people– do you think that this forum might motivate commentators to higher standards in a parallel fashion.
      I do know that there are also forums everywhere on the internet in which comments are just throwaways and outright abusive.
      I also agree that patience is important and that our “instant” culture has caused some serious problems.

      • Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree that the democratization of information networks as allowed by the internet is a very positive thing.

        • Of course, this is not automatic. There is a current move to pressure Facebook to stop spying on its members and handing off their info to the government. It seems that this could too easily be a lead in to some sort of censorship.

  102. What powerful imagery! I can almost see the 100-year-old clay pot shattering, hear the piercing sound of the clay as it broke into those tiny pieces, scattering across the floor, and even feel the material connection to history disintegrating. The action is so impactful because of how similarly fragile the traditional ecological knowledge is. After the BIA boarding schools whitewashed so many Native children, a cultural genocide enacted by our government, many tribal languages were nearly extinct and the stories that had been passed down since the time of the creator were lost. Many tribes struggle to continue their traditional storytelling, and preserve their heritage of balance and sustainability. Witness to their dedication to environmental awareness and respect, I think many can indeed see the painful lessons of the past and make more conscientious choices for the future. Hopefully, we can embrace some of these lessons as a country, incorporating these values into our public education and bringing traditional ecological knowledge to the children who will have the responsibility of healing that which previous generations have destroyed. With the proper education, we will be able to come together as a large community to respond to the crisis that we have created.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and compassionate response, Anna. It is obvious that we need to heal both social and environmental crises– and that an important first step is to support the self-determination of communities like those gathered around Elder Gail.
      And yes, the story told here by Val is vivid– that is the standard of traditional storytelling, as another elder phrased it to me, “These things would always be told as if you were right there, seeing it happen.”

  103. Such a moving essay! I loved it! Storytelling from Elders to children is a wonderful way to intimately express history, traditions and worldviews. I remember when I was little I loved to sit and listen to my father, uncles and grandfather talk about their time in the service and what life was like when they were growing up. Listening to them i believe gave me a little bit of knowledge and understanding that is not learned in school and I will always remember them, but i can’t say the same for what I read last week in the news. Children are losing out on these experiences and the worldviews that accompany them because technology is fragmenting knowledge, communities and worldviews. For my children the stories and information received from technological sources seem to be of higher importance than sitting down with grandma listening to her story but it’s hard to get their attention when there is so many distractions and in turn they tend to think more selfishly and less community oriented.

    • Great, Melissa. I think it was wonderful of Valeria to pass this story on to us. It is also wonderful that you grew up listening to stories in your family; that certainly indicates the intimacy you note here.
      It is also great that you will always remember these stories, as they are precious and in the keeping of their listeners, whereas the weekly news that you mention is not.
      When I did my years of storytelling, I did find that children needed to hear a certain number of stories in order to learn how to listen to them– but then, they loved them. It would be great if your children could experience something like this.

  104. Today our world has so many broken connections not only with our own kind but with our natural world itself. As humans regardless of where you come from, what you do, your likes and dislikes we share one common responsibility and that is to care for the earth that has given us life. We should struggle to survive in a world that gives life free food, yet many in this world are starving. The globalization of economics has put a strain in our world and our humankind.

    How is it that we stay connected to the world that we lived in? simply is by passing on the knowledge from generation to generation, just like in todays world we pass on the knowledge by books, but what is the harm in that? Many of us are interested in one thing and dislike others, when it comes to gathering knowledge from books we have selective reading, where we only read about and learn about what we are interested in. With storytelling the knowledge of the elder was passed on the young and they will indeed pass on that knowledge to their young but at the same time allow the young to find their own interest but have knowledge of both their like and ancestors knowledge and be able to learn different values. Storytelling is not just about finding inspirational hope but about finding knowledge that was once lost, because technology does not have all the answers, it cannot tell you how to grow something and care for it a certain way. As a society we need to become a bit less dependent on technology and a bit more open minded in knowledge of our elders. My favorite part of the story was when Elder Gail dropped the pot and asked everyone to take a piece, then return and put it back together in the hopes that we can unite and share our efforts to pass on the knowledge. Knowledge is what keeps us moving forward everyday and what will keep our world together.

    • I like your portrait of the diverse and inclusive kinds of knowledge that is passed on between generations with stories, Moises, as well as the sense that we should all honor the world that gives us life. My hope is that this care might someday unite all of us as humans in a common cause.
      Wisdom that tells us how to grow our food, for instance– wisdom, that is, that makes us personally powerful as well as intimate with our environment is certainly more important than a technology that separates us from it.
      And there is also this: tending the land is also a form of technology (a tool). It seems that it is not technology that fails us, but too much technology of the wrong type.

  105. I was very fortunate enough to take one of Elder Gail’s courses. It was eye opening and definitely changed me on a deep level. The story of breaking the 100 year old pot made me gasp, but it did drive home the fragility of the collection of indigenous knowledge and stories. My own family history is as fragmented as the pot. Unfortunately, I am some what alone in my quest to hold on to the pieces. Some of my favorite memories of my grandparents are the times when they told me stories about our family. Relatives from a hundred years ago become living people in my imagination. Through stories we are better able to see the people we are today and hopefully the generation to come. I think as a society we are losing our grasp on this essential part of ourselves. I read an article not too long ago that talked about the break down of information sharing because of technological records. Technology is not usually designed to be retro fitted. So a photo saved on a floppy disc ten years ago is extremely hard to retrieve because the technology to read it has been phased out. How much valuable information are we losing because of this lack of foresight? We will most likely lose decades of memories because of this trend. If anything oral tradition is even more important today because the technology we hope to use to preserve our stories is working against us.

    • I am glad you had this special opportunity to study with Elder Gail, Lindsay. You have a precious legacy in the stories that bring your grandparents and their ancestors to life.
      The fact that our technology is not designed to be “retrofitted” says something vital about the careless way we think about our past– as if only the future matters (though we might even have a future unless we learn the lessons of the past).
      Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  106. I really enjoyed reading this article as it put into perspective how often we forget about the consequences of our actions and how much influence we can have on the next generation. I have tried to instill in my own family the importance of preservation and conservation with regards to nature, in the hopes that they will carry on these lessons and actions in their own lives with their own children one day. We tend to mimic what we see in our lives and if more adults act as positive role models for today’s youth by showing them ways to recycle, conserve water, drive less, and walk more, we can hope to inspire future generations to carry on these actions. Enough cannot be said about the importance of listening to our elders and learning from their experiences and vast knowledge.

    • You have an essential point in the importance of modeling the values you wish to pass on to the next generations, Jamie. Listening to the stories of our elders and caring for our children sets us in our places in the ancient dynamic of human belonging.
      Congratulations on doing your part to bring your own children into this circle.

  107. I was impressed that to help children overcome fears of certain places, the Chehalis would have the child gradually go closer and closer to the feared place. This is very similar to one of the current psychological treatments for phobias. I was also amazed that Elder Gail broke the pot in order to create something more valuable. I honestly do not think that I would be able to do such a thing.

    The study of chemicals found in the umbilical cord blood of African American, Asian and Hispanic newborns found that among the many toxic chemicals were a flame retardant, and perchlorate, which is a solid rocket fuel component that negatively damages the thyroid gland and can disrupt the production of hormones essential for normal brain development. At the time that the article was published, four democrats in Congress had introduced legislation which changes the way that chemicals are assessed before they are allowed to be sold.

    • The model of care for generations to come–and insight in expressing this care is something we might well look to as you indicate, Lenore.
      As you also point out, there are very solid reasons indeed to pass the Toxics Chemicals Reform Act– which keeps getting stalled in Congress (see the “Your Choices Count” page for ways to support this act and links to its sponsors and supporters.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Why didn’t the same chemicals found in the unmbilical cord blood show up in white newborns or Idigenous people?

    • I think that is great that we have democrats pushing for legislation that will change the way we assess chemicals before widespread use. The only reason I can think for not regulating chemicals is that we create such a large number of new chemicals that it would not be feasible to actually test each individual chemical within a reasonable amount of time. The cost is also a factor, should the testing be government funded or should the company that is releasing the chemical foot the bill for testing. Regardless of the logistics, a solution for regulation should be enacted or future generation will suffer.

      • And here is something to think about: if we cannot test all those chemicals we are releasing into the environment, then we should not be releasing them. We have no ethical license to act when we do not understand the repercussions of our actions.
        As you state, “regardless of the logistics”, we need to behavior differently for the sake of future generations of all species.

  108. I like the part about Elder Gail and the pot. When I think about it, it reminds me of what we have done to Idigenous people in our country. When white man did not have enough land to live on, they chased the natives off theirs, took over the land by developing on it, and gave Indians parcels of government approved land promising them something better would happen for them. Instead, we tried to drive them away from their traditions, and in some cases, dessimated Indian tribes. While we can’t repair what we did, we can come together as Elder Gail suggested and work at putting the pieces back together again.
    I also wonder what would happen if we put a stop to NASA. NASA may have been good for the country in the beginning but my thought after they did the last space mission to Mars is when will it ever be enough? We don’t need to know anything else.

    • Hi Mary,

      I feel the same way about NASA. I understand that there is always this race to be the best at every scientific advancement. But wouldn’t it be great if all this time and money was put into environmental restoration and ending world hunger? I understand the desire to learn more but at what cost? I hope the priorities shift soon.

      • Or perhaps we might even concentrate on learning our full history and developing some more self-knowledge– that research does not even take massive funding– but we are only creating danger for ourselves in developing powerful technologies without self-knowledge to make good choices over their uses.

    • Thoughtful points, Mary. On balance, there is also the point that NASA is one of the strongest groups giving us data on climate change– and one of the strongest lobbyists for change in this respect.
      So sometimes pure research gives us more than we expected. It is the research folks fund to make a buck that I worry more about. You have a good point about thoughtful investment of government dollars.

  109. Story as the best technology, this is an amazing concept. Although a story is only a generation from extinction, a computer, camera or cell phone is one quick drop from being completely worthless. I was touched by the comment from Jacob Bighorn, the idea of having a life story or a meaning must provide such a sense of self-worth, especially when the whole world is telling you otherwise.

    What struck me as pure wisdom is the fact that we must turn around and face the fears or mistakes we have made and turn this experience into power. The best real life stories are of those who overcome great struggle. Our world history has the chance of doing that, if we are able to turn around the destruction we have done to the world, if we are able to physically pick up the pieces and glue them back together, we might stand a chance. Reading this article gives me hope that people, such as Elder Gail Woodside, exist and are able to physically impact the people she touches.

    • Stories are certainly the most enduring of human technologies– and perhaps the more distinctive characteristic of our species is the ability to pass on stories between generations.
      Like you, I am touched by the tradition of fostering self-worth in each child.
      The bit about turning to face our history in order for it to empower us is “pure wisdom” indeed– something we might well take to heart in the modern age. Memory is right up there as telling stories’ twin in the human trait that allows us to survive long and well.

  110. The story of the 100 year old pot really resonated with me. It helped me understand how information is passed from generation to generation, but often only bits and pieces are taken and applied. The sentence stating that oral history is always “one generation away from extinction,” really helps me understand how easily past knowledge has been forgotten once the current digital age of information came into existence. I believe that modern science should not disregard ancient information as “non-scientific” and should use their ability to recover old knowledge and it will give us a starting point to lead us to new discoveries. If old knowledge and modern science can integrate, society will benefit.

  111. What a profound illustration of knowledge! I can imagine the dead-silence that was in the room, when Elder Gail broke her grandmother’s pot. However, I am sure that the message came across (loud and clear) by Elder Gail’s gesture.

    As with the Asian scientists (mentioned in this essay), I too wonder why Western Science is not more focused on repairing the world? We can easily do things to destruct nature, but would it not be better to help it flourish? This seems the most beneficial option for all of nature (including humans). Additionally, I recently listened to a podcast about Zoe Weil’s book “Most Good, Least Harm”. I believe (if people followed the mantra of doing the most good and least harmful actions towards nature) we would not only see positive changes in our environment, but in ourselves as well.

    • Thanks for sharing this resource, Leah. I am heartened by the creative responses to caring for our world that are coming up everywhere–we need every one of them!

    • I wonder too about why science is not more focused on repairing the world. I think that there are many people that are trying, like the creation of solar panels and wind turbines. However, Western Science is all about pushing for the new and useful. New inventions have to be useful to humans too for them to be funded for by the rich. Research for new things in Science are not cheap and repairing the world is less profitable than something that can be sold to millions of people around the world.

      • The supposedly “new” obviously brings profits to its inventors– and as in the essay here, “The Trouble with Progress”, our cultural values include the “new” as “progress”. This needs some serious evaluation and disengagement from values created by money for its own sake.
        I also think we need a new and more carefully constructed definition of what is really “useful” to us. It seems to me that healing the broken parts of our world is about as useful as we can get.

  112. What a beautiful story about the pot. It reminds me of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers and their goal of sharing their knowledge with the world, hoping to keep future generations informed so that we are not “one generation from extinction.” We really have been digging ourselves into the ground. We need to stop using up all our natural resources and we need to seriously start giving back as much as we take from the world. We need to be thinking about what kind of place we are leaving our children and our grandchildren when we leave this world. What condition will it be in if we continue being as destructive as we have been?

    • This is both a beautiful and powerful story, Ruth. Putting the world back together– or acting in such a way that it heals from the results of our behavior– is a central task in our responsibility to pass on a vital world to those who come after us.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • You are right Ruth. Currently, we are not thinking of future generations and growing the resources for them. We are not teaching our children sustainable practices either. I believe these are few reasons why the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers came together. They felt that their wisdom on sustainable living was much needed in the world today, in order to ensure a thriving tomorrow.

    • I too wonder what kind of condition the earth will be in once we are done here. There are so many species of animals becoming extinct we could signify how old we are by what species is living at the time. How sad that my grandchildren might not be able to enjoy the same beauty I have seen. It makes me focus more on what I should be doing instead of what I could be doing. I think the only way to turn this around is by being active. Its something I’m beginning to be pretty passionate about and I hope there is something for me to put all of this information into once I have enough. I’d really like to see which scientists are active in the environment and what they are doing to try to help.

      Just for fun, here’s a How-To on making your own ecosystem: http://www.ehow.com/how_5164713_make-ecosystem-bottle.html

      There is a viral photo on the internet of a man holding a huge jar with a self-sustaining ecosystem that has been functioning for 40 years. It looks amazing, and its things like this that provide hope for our future.

      • I am heartened by your passion and commitment to leave a world for our grand children that is every bit as vital and full of wonder as the one most of us experienced., Jamie.
        Neat link to a small experiment that children can do (and perhaps we can learn from this as well?)

  113. I like the story of the pot. In a way it can be related to many lessons in life. Stories are so important. I truly believe that everything and everyone has a story. I love hearing them. It makes me feel connected. These pieces are vital for the next generations.

  114. What a great essay! I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Elder Gail Woodside’s speech at OSU–it made me wish I had been a part of it. I think we tend to overlook the consequences of the lives we live–that, or we’d rather not face the harsh reality. While experimenting can be beneficial, how can we expect to fully use it when the matter we dissected to get there is never repaired? I often wish I had come from a culture as strong as the Native Americans; even the Greek or the Irish. It’s saddening to see complete nations and societies crumbling just because we are so focused on obtaining power instead of being humbled by the knowledge passed down to us. Just another example of how humans are never satisfied.

    • Thank you for your generous response, Kristina. You are part of a culture that you can begin to create this moment with your own actions and values. I agree that it is a privilege to have such models before us as we make our choices.

  115. Reading about the Grandmothers, and reading this essay, makes me wish that I was a part of a culture like the Native Americans also. My family is largely disjointed, my grandparents don’t really speak to us much, and it feels like the history of our family is lost. Almost all of my relatives have never met my daughter who is going to be 12 this year, or my wife and granddaughter. I long to know the stories of my people. I have asked some of my immediate family, and have seen pictures, but there isn’t much to learn without the extended family. I very much enjoy reading these stories and learning the history and cultures of the Grandmothers, and will love to learn more of them so that at least we can pass them on to our daughters.

    • Your longing to know the stories of your people obviously motivates you to begin to gather what you can of this history–and make the rest, starting with your own family. There is also community and local history as well-you may find some connections there.

    • I know what you mean about being out of touch with your family history. I just learned recently that my great grandmother’s name was Francis. All this time I thought it was Brook, but that was her last name! My grandmother on my fatner’s side has been good about keeping new clippings, photos, and things about our Scandinavian family history. But between you and me, she’s so senile, I’d almost rather let it remain a mystery than ask her about it.

      • The senility in your grandmother’s “senility” is that she may have a much clearer memory of things that happened decades ago than of recent events. I wouldn’t pass up the chance to learn from her if at all possible.

  116. The emphasis on oral history is key in this essay. Humans first began as a literary society, before human vocal cords had fully developed, communicating with figures outlined on the palms of hands or on the ground. Then oral society developed, and since then there have been transitions between oral and literary preferences in society. I believe both are important and equally fragile. As stated above, oral history can die within a generation. The children’s rhyme “Ring around the rosies” is an example of a relic or oral history. The Rosetta Stone is an example of literary history. When looked at in this context, you can see the value of both.
    Humans seem to, in the last century, have gone from a primarily literary society with the invention of the printing press, to an oral society with television and radio as mediums for stories. Today, it seems everyone everywhere is telling more stories than ever before, but in a literary format on the platform of digital media such as blogs and Facebook.
    Although the increase of stories being told through these tools is wonderful, the danger is that they are stored digitally. Stories, important pieces of history, told on a digital, literary format, may be less likely to survive than a 2,000 year old rock buried in the Nile river.

    • Thoughtful response, Aften. Where did you get your information about “literary” communication before vocal cords (palms of the hand or drawing on dirt?) I have never heard this before anywhere. I also did not know that archeology had really pinned down when vocal chords for human language developed, though I know that there are a number of species who use different kinds of sounds (cetaceans, for instance) and do not have our vocal chords.
      Those who composed the Rosetta Stone were certainly speaking.
      I would certainly agree that literary and oral history are complementary.

  117. The recounting of the teapot is my favorite story on this website yet. It is not because the blog entry is short :-)–but exactly because the story is short on words. I am so tempted to follow by saying nothing more, but the academic in me will continue tediously on, just like the teapot story does not. I am struck by courage of Elder Gail in the story–to let go of an entity that has such history and potential personal value–so decisively and share the pieces out. If this was a story like the blog started with, a NASA representative would go into detail of how the curvature of each piece can be laser analyzed and the patterns in the clay scrutinized to ensure that EVERY last fragment would go back to EXACTLY where it started–except for the fact that is would be riddled with cracks and not really quite the same. I imagine that Elder Gail would have suggested that a new pot be made. using all the pieces, and then some: each person would bring a little bit of themselves to add. The oral tradition is not exact, but fluid, flexible, adaptable to changing circumstances, like water that comes together as water, even after being broken. What would the new pot be?

    • Perceptive analysis on the flexibility (and faith in community) in oral tradition, Kate. On the issue of faith, there is also the point that placing such faith in others may well motivate them to follow through on it. You have hit on a key point in terms of the effectiveness of oral tradition as it passes from generation to generation– which, not incidentally, brings generations closer to one another.
      Thoughtful point about NASA– which has actually produced some of the most important data on climate change, since it has the opportunity to view earth systems as a whole. Jim Hanson (retired from NASA) is a proponent of the idea that climate change (based on the science of viewing the earth as a vital whole) is human-caused and carbon must taken out of the atmosphere. He is a featured speaker at the upcoming Environmental Law Conference at the UO.
      The best science, as far as I am concerned, takes its cues from the effective use of oral traditions in human history and uses holistic and dynamic thinking. Just as we cannot predict what the future generation will do– but can elicit something of their ethical self-determination, the whole systems approach to the natural world allows for self-determining natural systems.

      • As much as I love (love love) the written word, I feel that the written word, as it replaces oral tradition, has come at a great cost. We are now beholden to what has been written and we are in some ways condemned to repeat the same patterns over and over because in written word we have the recipe well documented. I know interpretation can change ( hence the soft rulings from the Supreme Court over time) but, as with a game of operator, what would the Bible become if we lost all of our written history, how would our culture change? It would be such a less rich place to live, but would there be benefits that would emerge that we might aspire to in other ways?

        • Your love for the written word is apparent in your writing.
          I would like to think that we could have a more flexible logic (to replace our predominant objective and reductive one) expressed in our language and still have the written word while honoring the dialogue of oral tradition. I am thinking of the story of a child whose first language was Navajo to whom English did not make sense until he saw poetry, at which point he exclaimed, “Everyone here [among the Navajo] speaks in poetry.” Jerome Rothenberg who compiled many collections of world literature that included that of indigenous peoples remarked that contemporary English-speaking poets live in a “neolithic subculture” in which they change the object-heavy English language into a more verbal and dynamic (and I would add, metaphorical) one.
          The Bible has changed a good deal over the last centuries, as it has been copied and re-translated– so in this case, being literal did not mean staying the same.
          Thanks for the follow up comment!

  118. Thank you for the Navajo child story. It made me smile. I believe if we listen carefully, we all speak in poetry.

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