Chirping Sparrow/Ron Evans

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.


MA Storyteller - Tim Van Egmond

MA Storyteller – Tim Van Egmond

118 E. Chestnut Hill Road

Montague, MA   01351

413-367-9304

413-221-5156 (cell)

tim@tmvanegmond.com

 

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.

 


Comments

Chirping Sparrow/Ron Evans — 3 Comments

  1. I really appreciate this story about Ron Evans. Thank you, Tim. I got to your blog via google search for Ron Evans. I heard stories from Ron Evans many years ago at the Bear Tribe Medicine Society in Northeastern Washington. I was in my early twenties. I’m in my fifties now. Those stories really helped educate me–to inspire me to educate myself. He was a major influence on me. I heard a shortened version of a four day long story; it went about eight hours. I was a bit young for it. Now I would love to hear the long version. Ron shared powerful transforming sweat lodge ceremonies also. As I recall, he studied storytelling for twenty years before going through five years of testing before the elders. The stories were great. But for me the best part was just listening and learning from the preambles and conversations around the stories. He was completely unpretentious, a real down to Earth guy and a powerful healer. I think it was he who taught me how to build a wikiup, but that might have been another teacher I met at the same place named Bear Heart. One little anecdote tale he told about a time when he was very young; misionaries came to his reservation to tell the stories of genesis. The little ones gathered around, excited, for they just loved stories. When the story of Creation was over the children were thrilled–they loved it. They said; tell us some more creation stories! The missionaries then informed them, that’s the only one. That’s The story of Creation. The children were confused by that. But we have many creation stories. Other tribes have many more. Why would there be only one? I was struck by that profound cultural difference. One people had a rigid belief system. They were religious. They had a great story but seemed to believed in it literally, like it precisely described the vast creation of the universe. The other saw the Great Spirit as Great Mystery, and could hardly fathom any reason for limiting the creativity of language to one way of explaining something that was really beyond explaining fully–and I think, so inspiring and fun to continue attempting to explain. I sure would love to see that wonderful Uncle, Ron Evans, again. Please let me know if he comes around again. I’m just over the NH border. Thanks again for the story!

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