INTRODUCTION TO ORAL TRADITION

"Indigenous storytelling is rooted in the earth. Years upon years of a kinship with the land, life, water and sky have produced a variety of narratives about intimate connections to the earth. In a call and response lasting through time, First Nations peoples have experienced a relationship of give and take with the natural world."
Read Many Voices.

Activity # Objectives Activities Subject

1

Oral Tradition

The students will gain an understanding of the role that oral tradition plays in First Nations culture.
  • Invite a First Nations storyteller to share some of his or her stories with the students or use audio recording of a storyteller to introduce oral tradition to the students.
  • Discuss the purpose of oral tradition and define myth, legend, fable, and folktale.
Language Arts

2

First Nations Cultural Areas

The students will be able to identify the location of the various First Nations cultural areas.
  • Use the digital projector to teach students the locations of each cultural area.
  • Discuss the geographical differences.
Social Studies

3

Influence of Geographic Location

Students will be able to explain verbally how the geographic location of a tribe influenced the transportation, shelter, food, and way of life of the people.
  • Small groups are assigned different geographic locations and they must research the transportation, shelter, food, and way of life of the people who lived in that region. This is to be done through examination of folklore from the assigned region.
  • Informal oral presentations of findings.
Social Studies Language Arts

4

Dramatizing Folklore

Student will dramatize an event that occurs in one of the pieces of folklore they used in the research (done in activity 6) that demonstrates a tribes particular way of life.
  • In the same groups as above, students select a scene from one of the books to dramatize for the class.
  • The scene selected should demonstrate the way of life in that region.
  • Discuss the dramatizations and compare findings from different regions.

Drama
Social Studies



Activity 1: Oral Tradition

The following information provides a brief introduction to the role of oral tradition in First Nations culture. For more information, you may wish to refer to Donna E Norton’s Through the Eyes of a Child. Prior to inviting a First Nations storyteller (or using a recording of such) to your class discuss the following:

What is oral tradition? Long before people ever recorded information about their way of life in written form, they passed valuable information about their culture, values, beliefs and ways of life through the telling of stories. This is referred to as oral tradition. Read Many Voices.

What role does oral tradition play in First Nations culture? Oral tradition has been the means by which the First Nations culture, and many other cultures, have survived throughout the years. Each time the traditional tales of the First Nations people are shared, the listeners learn something about the beliefs, values, culture and the ways of life practiced by the First Nations people. This is how cultural knowledge is passed on and shared with others. Myths were told to help explain the creation of plant and animals life, and to help explain natural phenomenon that otherwise could not be explained. Trickster tales were told to teach lessons and to entertain. Family drama tales and threshold tales were told to help the listeners learn about the way of the tribe and the First Nations way of life.

Who is the author of the folklore passed on through oral tradition? Because the stories are told by many people and passed down through generations there are no known authors of these traditional tales. The lack of a known author makes these tales different from literary tales that have been written by an author.

Did the stories ever change? Traditional tales were told by many different people and often the same type of tales were told in different areas of North America. The Supreme Court of Canada recognizes First Nations "Oral Tradition" as important as written documents when looking at legal issues. These stories DO NOT change. The oral historians were very exact and this was passed on down through generations. Many of the stories have not changed over the years due to the exact nature of First Nations Oral Tradition. (Susan Beaudin, Project Leader: Aboriginal Perspectives and Content
SPSD)

What is the difference between a myth, legend, fable, and folktale? Myths are narratives that are considered to be true to the people in which the story was originally told. They take place long ago, before and during the creation of the Earth and people. Myths usually have non human characters as the main characters, like the Creator or Great Spirit. Myths are sacred to the people.Legends are also considered to be true. But, they take place in a world that we would recognize, the Earth as we know it today. Unlike myths, the main characters tend to be human and therefore legends are usually secular instead of sacred.Unlike myths and legends, fables are fiction. The main purpose of a fable is to teach a lesson or a moral to the audience. The characters can be animals or humans.Folktales are also considered to be untrue, and they have human or non-human characters. Most of these stories take place in symbolic settings (“Once upon a time …” or “In the deep dark woods…”).

Do different cultural areas have different stories? Yes. The First Nations people often had local tales that had been created to explain the landscape, the seasons, or local events (tornadoes, floods, etc). Although many tribes told similar stories and the stories had similar themes or lessons in them, different cultural areas have tales that belong exclusively to them. (Norton,1995)


Activity 2: Map of First Nations Cultural Areas

North America can be divided into several different First Nations cultural areas. Each area is distinct in its own way. As Waldman states, “since the environment determines many lifeways, tribes within each division share a significant number of cultural traits. The different geographic regions therefore define and delineate cultural area” (p.30, 1985).

  • Use the digital projector to teach students the locations of each cultural area.
  • Discuss the geographical differences.

The cultural areas do not represent rigid boundaries – sometimes the First Nation’s moved among different tribes and this movement resulted in the passing on of cultural traits from one area to another.

View map of Pre-Contact Cultural Areas

Activity 3: Influence of Geographic Location on Tribal Life

Procedure:

1. Divide students into small groups.
2. Assign each group a geographic location.
3. Provide each group with literature from their assigned geographic location. (Refer to the list of references at the end of the unit for suggested literature suggestions).
4. The template on the following page can be used by students to record information from the books they are examining. The chart may look something like the one started below.

Title-Author Geographic Region(Describe) Information about Transportation Information about Shelter Information about Way of Life Information about Food Supply

Tomie dePaola

The Legend of the Blue-bonnet.

Great plains area hills and valleysdrought/drybluebonnet is a First Nations wildflower nothing other than foot mentioned

tipis with decoration painted on them

drought severe – hard on the people

prayed to spirits for help

dances and ceremonies for rain

believe the drought is punishment for selfishness

buffalo- use bows to hunt

5. Have each group present their findings to the class. The students may wish to show illustrations from the literature to help other students to understand the diversity in culture caused by geographic location.


Activity 4: Dramatizing Folklore

After the students have presented the information they have collected from the literature of a particular region, have them re-group and do the following:

  1. Select a favorite scene from one of the books that demonstrates the way of life that is unique to the First Nationss of that region.
  2. (Involve all group members). Practice dramatizing the selected scene several times.
  3. When the groups feel they are ready, gather all of the students in a circle on the floor.
  4. Have each group introduce their scene and perform it for the class in the center of the circle.
  5. Encourage the students in the audience to provide positive feedback and/or to ask questions.
  6. Discuss the dramatizations and the differences among regions.

 



© 2004 Jennifer Berthelot. (berthelotj@spsd.sk.ca) All rights reserved.
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