Rob Aptaker

Traditional Native American Stories and Teachings

For over 40 years I have been visiting and learning from Native American people all over what is now America (and parts of Canada).  Two things amazed me in my travels: the first is that despite the repression and hardships the original people of this land endured, they have managed to preserve and retain so much of their culture.  The second is that many Native People were willing to share their knowledge with me.  For over 25 years I have been sharing what I learned and telling stories at schools, pow-wows, museums, libraries, senior centers and scout gatherings.  I’m also on the roster of Young Audiences of Pennsylvania and New Jersey where I present educational programs about pre-colonial Lenni Lenape life.

Most of the stories I share are from tribal nations in the eastern part of the country.  The Iroquois and Cherokee are the better known of these, but I also carry Abenaki, Lenape, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy stories as well as some from the northern plains tribal nations, the northwest coast and the desert regions.  I’m not content just to tell a story without providing context.  Simply describing a story as ‘Indian’ is a disservice to the listener, the story, and the people from whom the tale originates.  So I tell a little bit about the tribal nation whose story I’m sharing: their original home territory and something of the way they lived before colonial contact.  I also try to credit the Native person who shared the story with me.  This  acknowledges and honors the lineage of those who carried the story to the present day.  Often it is a way of remembering one who has passed on from this world.

Native American stories are often called myths and folklore, but Native People call them the sacred teachings.  And I think of them that way too.  The stories of creation — of how things came to be and how we are supposed to act, as well tales of heroes large and small — serve as touchstones for how to live well and to care for the Earth.  Stories of The Animal People invariably end up being stories about all people — our strengths and weaknesses, our needs and feelings, and the ways we act toward one another.  Many of the stories are funny, some are poignant.  They all contain moral teachings intended to guide the conscience of the listener.

I’m a physical guy; when I tell, I move around, acting out the parts of the story, and giving different voices to the animals and characters.  These stories are meant to be shared with people of all ages.  They’ve stood the test of time.  And I love them.

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