Oral history entails listening and gaining knowledge from the stories of the past. Embedded in the old story telling traditions, oral history happens all the time around dinner tables, classrooms, coffee shops, and along trap lines (McGregor 2018). Oral tradition also occurs between generations, among teachers and students, historical actors, and researchers (McGregor 2018). Listening to oral history depends on the people involved and the type of participants learning and sharing: past experiences, understanding of events, practical skills and listening to sacred teachings (McGregor 2018). The first people of Canada living in the country today have been there for more than 11,000 years. Throughout that period, they have lived well in harsh surroundings, making all basic requirements without negatively effecting the environment (McGregor 2018). Also, they never decimated the animal population or damaged the land they lived in (McGregor 2018). Understanding the oral traditions of indigenous people of Canada helps one learn how they influences their lifestyle.
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The indigenous people of Canada lacked a system of writing information based on alphabet; however, they had a strong oral tradition. Therefore, the preservation of knowledge about events and mattes of historic importance was made successful by passing information from one generation to the other (Hanson 2021). There were specific people in the tribes who had full understanding about the history of the community and transferred this knowledge to others in special gatherings. Tales of significant events were told and retold around the campfire, as narratives were told everywhere (Hanson 2021). Additionally, these people had different ways of recording events, to activate the memories of those relating the events. For instance, wampum belts had pictures woven in them to narrate a story. Dsrawings on hide or bark were also used to preserve a record of events (Hanson 2021). Therefore, information about important events of the people was preserved and could be transferred from generation to generation through word of mouth. Moreover, they were able to remember some of these events by viewing messages written on their attires.
The indigenous people, such as the Métis people, passed their accounts, legends and family remembrances down through the oral tradition. All through the “Métis Nation Homeland,” transmission of their culture took place via the oral traditions, usually through the “Old people” or Elders. This is because the elderly were traditionally known to possess vast knowledge about the community (Dubois 2017). Therefore, through some aspects of oral tradition such as story telling elders were able to pass beliefs of the community to the young generation influencing how they felt as part of the whole community.
Generally, all traditional indigenous stories have a non-linear narrative and thus they lack a real foundation, central point or end. Indigenous people’s stories are often continual and can be passed over with time (Castleden et al., 2017). The narratives are structured and have different implications; therefore, individuals from various geographical locations will interpret the oral stories differently (Castleden et al., 2017). The Métis Oral Traditions teaches valuable lessons about the people. For example, there is the narrative about greediness which may be narrated using various entertaining Wiisakaychak (trickster) stories (Castleden et al., 2017). The story influences the lives of the indigenous people by teaching the young generation about the dangers of gluttony and over-consumption. Moreover, the idea of these oral traditions being non-linear enabled people to interpret them differently aiming at building the morality of the young generation.
The oral traditions of the indigenous people are founded on spirituality. This is because the process of creation of how things came to be is normally narrated in trickster stories (Daigneault et al., 2019). Li Jiyaab (the Devil) or Roogaroo (werewolf) stories are narrated so that young people never forgets about spiritual responsibilities to the Creator (Daigneault et al., 2019). The traditional indigenous cosmologies are reserved via the narration of these stories from one generation to the other. The indigenous people of Canada have preserved their spiritual aspect from the cultures of their Algonquian ancestry (Cree and Ojibwas) through traditional narratives (Daigneault et al., 2019). Additionally, contacting traditional prayers and thanks giving in Métis traditions enabled languages to be passed down to families and such information was shared during special occasions (Daigneault et al. 2019). Therefore, narration of some of these stories provides spiritual guidance to the people helping them to always remember their duty to their creator.
Stories of indigenous people, such as Métis Oral Traditions, have been effective in defining kinship networks and genealogies. Prior to printed lineages, this body of family knowledge and kinship connection hindered marriages between close relatives (Hurlburt 2017). Maintaining a record about community and all family relations was a task given to the older women in the society (Furniss 2017). Therefore, the oral stories of the indigenous people of Canada helped them identify which person belonged to which family tree thus preventing marriages of people from the same ancestry.
For a long period of time, Oral Tradition has been very vital instrument of ensuring survival of different families. For instance, Oral Traditional narrative educated people about the best places where food could be found, methods of food harvesting as well as techniques of food preparation and consumption (Bagelman 2018). Such knowledge was diverse covering the techniques of identifying the best places of digging wild turnips (“navoos” in Michif), as well as the appropriate time of hunting wild animals (Bagelman 2018). The oral traditions were important in the maintenance of people’s unity and identity. Specifically narratives associated with the Battle of Seven Oaks (1816), and Grand Coteau (1851) linked the listeners with efforts made by their ancestors’ to sustain their status as a self-sufficient independent indigenous nation (Bagelman 2018). Therefore, it is through oral traditions that indigenous people were able to survive droughts and famine because they knew the best places they can find food and best hunting techniques.
Some traditional narratives of the Indigenous people of Canada comprise of the malevolent spirits that sin against the society and the Creator, as well as the morality and trickster-based narratives. Trickster narratives are very hilarious; generally, they are stories that talk about creation and closely follow the oral stories in Ojibwa and Cree languages (“Oral Tradition” 2021). Some of the Métis’ tricksters, such as Chi-Jean, Wiisakaychak, and Nanabush, are basically very great characters with human faults consisting of selfishness and gluttony (“Oral Tradition” 2021). They act as intermediaries between people and the Creator and describe how the natural environment works. Such narrative helps the indigenous people change their morals and create a good relationship with their God.
The narratives of indigenous people are darkened by the li Jiyaab (the Devil), Paakuk, Whiitigo, and li Roogaroo. The Métis Werewolf, the Roogaroo, is a result of two traditions: the Cree shape-shifter and the French-Canadian werewolf (“Oral Tradition” 2021). The Roogaroos can convert into black bears, horses, pigs, and dogs and they are normally considered as bad persons who turn their backs on God (“Oral Tradition” 2021). Narration of the Roogaroo stories aims at developing good behaviors among the youth especially during Lent.
Pakakosh or Pakahk, Paakuks, and Whiitigos or Windigos are malicious beings. Whiitigos are giant cannibalistic monsters with monstrous white heads and skeleton bodies (“Oral Tradition” 2021). They are also referred to as “Koomoowachik” in Michif (cannibal spirit). There are also human Whiitigos; these are individuals who do awful things and are under the possession of a malevolent spirit (“Oral Tradition” 2021). Pakakoshs/Pakahks/Paakuks are emaciated skeletons that fly and are symbols of diseases (“Oral Tradition” 2021). During the night, they enjoy spooking unsuspecting persons with their demonic laughter (“Oral Tradition” 2021). The Pakakosh, Paakuks and Whiitigos symbolize the unseen risk of starvation in gathering and hunting cultures in the community thus helps people prepare accordingly.
In majority of indigenous people traditional stories, there is an element of Catholicism as shown by characters of li Roogaroo and li Jiyaab (the Devil). Li Jiyaab can appear upon unsuspecting persons as a tall handsome stranger who visits country dances and mesmerizes all young women with mysterious, impeccable dresses and good looks (“Oral Tradition” 2021). Additionally, many narrators consider the black dog as a Roogaroo. Oral traditions explain that li Jiyaab deceits people to steal their souls as well as playing simple tricks such as spoiling milk (“Oral Tradition” 2021). The interpretation of the Devil is a mix of Catholic Doctrines and folk Catholicism that views the Devil as a bad-mannered trickster (“Oral Tradition” 2021). Therefore, oral traditions teach people to avoid characters that might associate them with li Jiyaab and li Roogaroo who are considered to be bad mannered.
There is still continuation of indigenous people’s tradition today in our print-based society, where stories are being written inform of films, art, poetry and novels. However, some of these communities still tell narratives and pass teaching using oral traditions. The traditional knowledge of the native people has never been fully recorded and continues its intergenerational transmission via oral expression (Bruchac 2014). However, this method has always been interfered with by pressures for the society and forced assimilation of policies such as the Sixties Scoop and residential schools (Bruchac 2014). Nonetheless, the community is still able to preserve their cultural beliefs even today.
Conclusively, this paper has explored various oral traditions that influence people lifestyles. They comprise traditions of preserving knowledge through story telling that passed information from generation to generation and oral traditions being founded on spirituality explaining how things started which is explained through trickster stories. There is also the effectiveness of oral traditions in defining kinship networks and genealogy and oral traditions ensuring survival of families during droughts among others. The narratives of indigenous people are not “make-believe” stories; they are an essential part of the people’s worldview. However, these stories have an undercurrent of truth and thus ought not to be dismissed as a superstition or a myth. Finally, these stories are vital to the story tellers because they link the story teller and the people to their Elders, ancestors and language thus influencing the lifestyle of the people.
Bagelman, Caroline. 2018. Unsettling Food Security: The Role Of Young People In Indigenous Food System Revitalisation. Children & Society, 32(3), 219–232.
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