Importance

Today many young people do not have access to elders and storytellers who can teach them our traditional ways. Families are scattered, life styles have changed. A new generation of storytellers among First Peoples is emerging who are using art, music, dance, film, television, books and the internet as their medium. Many of us are also doing what we can to learn our Indigenous languages, our traditional ceremonies and music. This is an important part of regaining our identities and honouring our responsibilities to the next seven generations. Here is what other people have to say:

Learning Cree

It is important that my children learn their native language and history but it is challenging since we live so far away from our family elders in Alberta. My children won’t have the experiences that I had as a child, when I lived with my grandmother. My husband and I speak what Cree we can to them. We are also learning Cree at home from audio tapes and dictionaries. We go to culture and language camps in the spring and summer. The telephone is a convenient way to talk to family members when we have questions, but we do not learn cultural stories over the phone.

Although we have places to learn about ceremonies, languages and First Peoples’ culture, nothing compares to stories told over an open fire or on the lap of a grandparent. My favourite place for listening to stories was within the circle of my grandmother’s arms. She would cuddle me and pat my back. Sometimes she sang songs to me; other times she told me stories. It is those moments I wish my children to experience.

On Traditional Knowledge

Despite being far away from Blackfoot territory, I have learned to respect and follow traditional Blackfoot ways and teachings. Living, working and studying in worlds set apart from these ways makes it a constant struggle to strike balances in my personal and professional life. I’ve learned for myself that if I am to survive I must keep those ways and teachings close and never lose them or otherwise I’ll lose myself. But at the same time I must balance what works for me in my life and my surroundings outside my community. This is where traditional knowledge runs head-on into the contemporary and/or mainstream world.  I think this is where Indigenous people, especially youth, face the most difficult but very important challenges. As an Indigenous man working in the cultural sector, I see this as a vital time for safeguarding our languages, stories and culture. But it is also an exciting time for Indigenous creators and artists.

Jonathan Breaker
Blackfoot/Cree
Siksika Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy

Changes in Culture

The Inuit have many traditional practices which are becoming popular once again through the youth. Inuit throat-singing, drumming, and ayaya singing were the common forms of music in the north. These practices were lost for several years due to residential schools, with very few elders who still maintained their skills.

Now throat-singing is re-emerging through the youth, and becoming well known in non-Indigenous communities. Throat singers are performing for the public and creating a greater sense of awareness about our culture. This new style of performance has only existed for approximately 10 years in the south, and it is growing. Youth are teaching other youth these skills and some are becoming successful, traveling nationally and internationally. But throat-singing is changing in sound. That’s because young people are not learning directly from the elders, but from their friends. Throat-singing takes many years to master, and it can take a lifetime of practice to sound equivalent to the elders. Many of the old songs are still being sung such as Qimmiruluapik and The Mosquito, but with each individual, comes a unique sound.

Drumming has also changed in its style and use. Traditionally, only men drummed in some communities. Now, many youth are drumming, male and female. Choreography is also added with the drumming to give the performance an artistic effect for stage demonstrations. Drumming was originally an improvised form of music, and was also used by shamans during ceremonial practices. Drumming is still for celebration purposes, but is used less for spiritual purposes. Many youth drum out of interest and entertainment, as well as feelings of pride for our traditional culture.

Kendra Tagoona,
urban Inuit from Ottawa,
originally Baker Lake, Nunavut.

Go Find It

Traditions have changed. Many elders who carried our traditions are now gone, but they taught me that if I want to learn about myself or my culture it is my responsibility to go find it. Knowledge is out there. As a youth, it was like that for me. It was up to me to go out and learn to find those teachings for which I have been searching.

Prayer has helped me through many changes. I learned that from my elders. Also I learned a lot about myself from ceremonies. Those ceremonies and that knowledge are not gone. People are sharing and teaching traditional knowledge and stories. They are helping others, people like me, to heal. As a way to be thankful for those gifts of knowledge I think we need to help our youth.

Trina Shirt
Blackfoot/Cree
Saddle Lake Reserve

Summing Up

It is interesting how people still have protocols with stories. Recently I asked a friend if he would like to share a story for this website. He agreed to it, but first he said he would have to sing me a song then he would tell me a story.

There are times we are overwhelmed with life experiences and we need tools in order to reconnect us to ourselves, to our people and culture. Those tools can be stories, symbols, songs, dances, ceremonies or relationships. We must keep connected to where we come from and who we are.  This will help many of us to balance our lives everyday.

Knowledge is Out There

Traditions have changed. Many elders who carried our traditions are now gone, but they taught me that if I want to learn about myself or my culture it is my responsibility to go find it. Knowledge is out there. As a youth, it was like that for me. It was up to me to go out and learn to find those teachings for which I have been searching.

Prayer has helped me through many changes. I learned that from my elders. Also I learned a lot about myself from ceremonies. Those ceremonies and that knowledge are not gone. People are sharing and teaching traditional knowledge and stories. They are helping others, people like me, to heal. As a way to be thankful for those gifts of knowledge I think we need to help our youth.

Trina Shirt
Blackfoot/Cree
Saddle Lake Reserve