A reflection on two Native American storytellers who made a big impression on me with their perspectives on life and community.
By Tim Van Egmond
Once during the 1980’s or 90s I went to the Clearwater Festival, also known as the “Great Hudson River Revival,” in Croton-On-Hudson, NY. I went to the “Story Grove” storytelling area, and attended a session with an elderly Native American woman from the south, maybe from Virginia, named Chirping Sparrow. When she began talking, she said she didn’t want to tell old stories – she felt more like telling people about her life.
She told us about explaining to children why she left coins on the ground when she gathered berries or other foods, to show gratitude and give something in return. She told us how someone in her community lost his barn and animals in a fire, and the community got together and soon built him a new barn and put new animals in it. She told us about being at her uncle’s side when he was dying, and when he said he saw a dog of his ahead of him that she knew had been long gone, she knew it was his time. She held him in her arms and told him he could go follow that dog, and he left.
I was very moved by her, and I feel that this was a time I received wisdom from an elder. I had a glimpse of a rich way of life that was different from the modern paradigm of the rugged individual. This was a vision of living in gratitude to nature, of strong ties between people that brought help and support when needed.
This reminds me of another Native American storyteller I saw – Ron Evans, a “Keeper of the Talking Stick” from the Cree-Chippewa of Montana and Saskatchewan. I first saw him at the National Storytellers Convention in Jonesborough, TN. I was struck by his reverent approach to storytelling, having his medicine helper burn braided sweet grass for him before each session, and he washed himself in the smoke. He told traditional stories of Wiesaheesak, the Foolish Creator, and also from his French background, he told a story that gave an alternate view of death as a bringer of comfort and rest.
Years later, Ron Evans came to my area for a presentation at the Old Meetinghouse in Wendell, MA. He began by simply asking if anyone had any questions. One of the audience asked him if there were any questions he would especially hope people would ask. He answered that the one thing he would want to talk about with people most is how to live in community.
These are some memories of the experiences and insights storytelling has brought to me. I hope there is something here for you as I pass it along.
118 E. Chestnut Hill Road
Montague, MA 01351
Raised in a musical family, a lover of books from an early age, enraptured by daily sing-alongs at day camp, enchanted by a storyteller who performed at his grade school, Tim Van Egmond had a lot leading him to his chosen profession as a folksinger and storyteller from an early age. Van Egmond has performed for over 30 years throughout the country, weaving together tales, tunes and songs to share their wellspring of rib-tickling, spine-tingling, heartwarming richness. He’s been chosen for the New England States Touring Program, the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s STARS Residency Programs, and the New Hampshire State Library’s “Kids, Books, and the Arts” roster. He’s presented his workshop on Music in Storytelling a couple times at “Sharing the Fire” Northeast Storytelling Conference, and he’s slated to present it to teachers as part of the New Jersey Storytelling Festival in September of 2016.