“We create and recreate ourselves and our families through stories. We come to understand, know and learn through the stories we tell and the ones to which we listen.” Dr. Cynthia Chambers
Family literacy is all about stories not just the ones we read with children, but also the ones we tell our children. Among Aboriginal peoples, oral storytelling is a way to pass on language, traditions, cultural values and beliefs. The struggle to save their languages is one that Indigenous people all over the world are familiar with.
At a recent conference organized by the Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre, several people spoke eloquently about this. John B. Zoe, a member of the Tlicho First Nation, explained how places are named in his culture. For example the name of a lake would embody the fish most commonly caught in it and how to catch that fish. Likewise a place at which caribou gathered would have caribou within its name and how to hunt them. The name then gives valuable information to the people who live on the land and holds this information for centuries.
Narcisse Blood, from the Blackfoot Confederacy, spoke about the importance of language in defining place and said, “We do not have range roads and townships. We identify our territory by the stories, songs and ceremonies that are told in a given place. Stories are always tied to particular people, animals, events, and places. “
Blood states, “The words of songs remain the same, even over centuries of change. By encoding history in songs, the Nitsitapi (Blackfeet) remember their history from generation to generation.” Interested readers can find more information on this topic at www.trailtribes.org/greatfalls/home.htm.
For Aboriginal families, the challenge is to honour and pass on the languages and culture they have inherited from their ancestors, while also preparing their children for the mainstream school system. The Centre’s programs encourage parents to use their mother tongues, or any of the languages in which they are fluent. Our programs promote reading, singing, rhyming, and telling family stories that help children gain and adults retain language as well as a strong sense of self.
As the Centre’s Aboriginal Family Literacy Coordinator, Colleen Crozier delivers Aboriginal family literacy programs in Edmonton and supports Aboriginal family literacy across the province. Colleen states “I am privileged to be able to travel to Aboriginal communities First Nations and Métis - for visits that are rich with new ideas and new stories. “