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Whispers of the Ancients

Native Tales for Teaching and Healing in Our Time

Tamarack Song

Publication Year: 2011

"Whispers of the Ancients helps us reconnect with the spirit of story that is a part of all our heritages. With respect for the wisdom of the past and with an eye toward the cross-cultural links that legends can make between us, Tamarack Song offers a gathering of tales and insightful comments that point the way back to the circle." ---Joseph Bruchac, author of more than 70 books for children and adults, including (with coauthor Michael J. Caduto) the best-selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children It's easy to imagine yourself transported back to a time when an Elder might have told stories like those in Whispers of the Ancients around a glowing hearth. Thanks to Tamarack Song's storytelling skills, monsters, heroes, and shapeshifters come alive and open a doorway to the mysteries of life. Easily accessible to all ages, this is a book that speaks to each person at his or her own level of comprehension and need. It is as beautiful to read as it is to look at. Stunning Aboriginal artwork by Moses (Amik) Beaver combines with provocative storytelling to renew, in all their traditional splendor, exceptional legends from around the world. Entertaining, profound, passionate, glorious---these are stories that illustrate and evoke themes common to everyone's life, with an ancient wisdom that helps the listener to cope with today's opportunities for tenderness, grief, passion, and irony. Easily accessible to all ages, this is a book that speaks to each person at his or her own level of comprehension and need. It's as beautiful to read as it is to look at. Tamarack Song has sought out the stories of the North African and Central Asian tribal peoples from whom he is descended, and he has listened to the tales of indigenous people from the tundra to the tropics. His books include Journey to the Ancestral Self, and he has contributed to Lois Einhorn's Forgiveness and Child Abuse. He is also a counselor, wilderness skills teacher, rites-of-passage guide, and founder of the Teaching Drum Outdoor School. Song lives in the Nicolet National Forest near Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Moses (Amik) Beaver is an Ojibwe artist from the isolated fly-in community of Nibinamik (Summer Beaver), Ontario, three hundred miles north of Lake Superior. Grants from the Ontario Arts Council and other sources support his ongoing work with youth, and partial support for this book's illustrations comes from the District School Board of Nibinamik.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page and Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. x-xii

When Moses and I first envisioned this collection, we did not realize how challenging it would be to convert oral tradition to print. Even though Moses, an artist renowned for his narrative pictures, and I, a word crafter, each possessed one of the core components of recorded story, at the same time we shared the same character flaw: a penchant for dreams that defied reality. Where the...

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Dedication: In Honor of Keewaydinoquay

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pp. xiii-xiv

Were it not for the sporadic flicker of firelight visible between the trees, I may not have found the campsite. A moonless night in a dense forest can be a very dark place. Once at the clearing, I leaned my pack against a tree and took a place on one of the logs circling the fire. Across from me was an Elder with the flickering fire’s glow shining upon her as though she were in a spotlight. Her dark skin was weathered; her long, white hair lay finely braided and tied...

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Preface: by Moses (Amik) Beaver

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pp. xv-xvii

My name is Najekiaabe (Above-Looking-Down). My English name is Moses Amik (Beaver), and I am a full-blooded Ojibwe First Nation in this vast Anishnaabek territory. I was born in traditional territory, at a time when we still lived off the land and dog teams were a vital means of transportation...

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The Doorway to These Stories

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pp. xviii-xxi

Starlight glows opalescent on the wind-polished snow, and iceglazed branches crackle in the breeze. A perfect night to draw close to the fire. Pull your blankets up around you and let the children cuddle in your laps. The winter nights are long and the firewood is stacked high, so we have the time for listening. The drum will soon sound, to signal that the stories are about to begin. I am Tamarack Song...

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Introduction: A Story to Invoke All Stories

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pp. xxii

Several years ago , my mate Lety told me an old Mayan story about the bitter fruit of gossip. The tale has been passed down for generations in her family, who are Indians of Maya, Olmec, Mixtec, and Popoluca descent. I have since heard the same story (found in this book under the title “The Woman and the Talking Feathers”) in places as seemingly unrelated to ancient Mesoamerica as Ireland, Billy...

I. The Power of Story: Where Stories Come from and Why We Tell Them

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pp. 1

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Introduction: Story Is Life

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pp. 2

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms,”18 poet Muriel Rukeyser once said. Whether it be the entire cosmos or a speck within it, stories hold their blueprint for existence, stories give them purpose, and stories are the web that binds them together. The life of our universe is one immense adventure story. Our Mother Planet’s life is the story of evolution, the birth of our...

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1. The Role of Stories

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pp. 3-6

Just like th e wind, a story can bring the chill of foreboding clouds or the warmth of a familiar essence. Its seductive touch might entice one on a Journey of Discovery. As with the wind, a story travels from one region to another, its origins often remaining wrapped in a veil of mystery. And as with the wind, a story has a...

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2. The Soul of a Story

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pp. 7-9

A story ’s voice, or soul, belongs to no one and everyone. The body of a story reflects the personality of the storyteller and the character of the culture, and like the storyteller and the culture, it is born and it will die. Not so with the soul, for like all souls, it is eternal. We remember stories because they take care of us. Our stories are more important than food or...

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3. The Body of a Story

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pp. 10-12

A good story is like good food : It is anticipated, savored, and nourishing. The same happens when the appetite is whetted by the storyteller. If she were Saami, she might begin with Ennen vanhaan,43 or if she were a Gamilaraay Aborigine, it would be Yilambu,44 both of which mean In former times or In days of old...

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4. Where Stories Come From

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pp. 13-23

How is it that the same story can be found in diverse and seemingly unrelated cultures, sometimes on opposite sides of the globe? And why are the same stories passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years? Each question has a different answer and yet they both address the same basic reason as to why stories exist: to perpetuate our human culture and give it continuity...

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5. The Role of the Storyteller

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pp. 24-29

Listening to a story becomes a transformative experience when a masterful storyteller draws out the child within us to dance in the greater consciousness. Why our child? Because he is our inquisitive, impetuous, changeable self—just the person to sashay through the world of a story. Who are the masterful storytellers? “Bizindaw weweni gichi-anishinabeg (Listen to the Elders)” is guidance...

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6. Learning through Stories

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pp. 30-33

It is commonly believed that our natural ways of learning are by experience and example; however, the popular saying, “Experience is the best teacher,”80 makes no mention of example. In defense of the saying (a favorite of mine), greater perspective shows that experience and example can quite easily be seen as one...

Part II: The Stories

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7. The Gifting Way

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pp. 35-52

Because we are social creatures, our natural tendency is to be helpful, share what we have, and aid those in need. My Elders call this the Gifting Way: the state of abundance and personal fulfillment that comes, often seemingly without effort, from living the natural law that giving is receiving. A Native Person often gifts anonymously and customarily strives to give without expectation of anything...

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8. Self-Discovery

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pp. 53-82

The Mbuti (Congolese Pygmies ) consider themselves Mbuti because of their nomadic hunter–gatherer way of life. If one of them were to join a farming village, his new lifestyle would be so alien to his kin that they would no longer consider him Mbuti. Nor would he identify himself as Mbuti. Their identity is profoundly rooted in how and where they live, rather than on blood relationship...

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9. Winter Stories

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pp. 83-109

“The time for telling Indian stories is in the evening: best of all around a glowing wood fire on the long nights of Winter,”93 said Ohiyesa, an 1800s Santee Dakota who was brought up in the traditional way. He went on to say that “since the subjects lie half in the shadow of mystery, they have to be taken up at night, the proper realm of mysticism . . . There was...

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10. The Guardian-Warrior Path

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pp. 110-133

Protector , scout, emissary , negotiator, provider, mentor: these and more are the roles of the Guardian-Warrior. In a real sense, we are all Guardians because we each, in our own way, are called upon to serve our People. Every one of us is born with a special gift, or talent, which we are to develop, in order that...

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11. Seeing through Different Eyes

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pp. 134-162

Many of us are coming to see that by not realizing the full extent of our Human intelligence, we are placing limitations on our relationship with our world. We have put great stock primarily in our rational capacity, and to some degree our five senses, whereas Native People also rely heavily upon intuition, instinct, feelings, dreams, and Ancestral memories. These largely dismissed aspects of Human intelligence could provide additional and invaluable...

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12. The Journey Called Life

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pp. 163-180

In walking our given Lifep a ths , we pass through major transitions as we enter states of life such as puberty, marriage, and Death. The ritualized commemorations of these times are generally referred to as rites of passage. Along with celebrating the milestones reached, these rites act as gateways to our future. Stories, ritual enactments, and visionary experiences paint a picture of what life is intended to be like after the...


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pp. 181


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pp. 18-183

Glossary of Ojibwe Terms

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pp. 184-185


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pp. 186-188

For Further Reading

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pp. 189-190


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pp. 191-196

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027880
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051069

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011