Campfire Stories Tell the Tales of Our Land


Ground enthusiastically begins to tell the stories of the Haudenosaunee people while adorned in traditional garb.

Sasha Balasanov, Maroon-News Staff

On a quiet Wednesday evening, an excited audience of students and ALANA staff trekked up the steep hill behind the residential quad, heading towards the light of an inviting fire. From the top of the hill, the audience could see the sun setting over the distant mountains, and anticipation grew in the darkness as the S’mores and Storytelling event hosted by ALANA on Sept.ember 5 began.

Perry Ground, the featured storyteller, who also visited Colgate in the spring of 2018, arrived just as everyone was finishing roasting their marshmallows over the roaring fire. The new ALANA director LeAnna Rice introduced herself and Ground to everyone, and Ground took the stage.

He began by providing a quick history of the Haudenosaunee. Ground is a member of the Turtle Clan of the Oneida nation, which make up one sixth of the Haudenosaunee. Haudenosaunee is an all-encompassing name for the people of the six nations that came together in peace a long time ago: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. The Oneida lived on what is now Colgate’s land about 300 years ago, and their culture has grown and evolved ever since. Storytelling has been passed down through generations and is a method of teaching important lessons and morals. Stories also give explanations for many of nature’s mysterious occurrences.

Ground wore traditional clothing that featured a variety of turtle designs to represent his clan. His first story was the story of creation, one of the most formative stories to the Haudenosaunee culture. Acording to the story, the universe was initially entirely water with a world in the heavens full of sky people. A tree of life growing in the heavenly world was once uprooted, leaving a gaping hole reaching all the way through the sky. A pregnant sky woman fell down this hole and was rescued by the water birds who placed her on the back of a massive turtle. The turtle was then covered in mud and dirt from the ocean bottom, and the great Turtle Island (Earth) was created as the sky woman danced on the turtle’s back. Ground described every detail of this story so colorfully that it was almost as if we were all there with the sky woman, discovering a new world.

Between stories, Ground explained another important factor of Haudenosaunee culture. As seen in this story of creation, a woman was the first person on Earth. Her daughter was the first person born on Earth. Eventually two twin boys were born, and according to the Haudenosaunee, they were the ones who ruined the perfection of the new world. Ground emphasized the importance of stories to the formation of Haudenosaunee culture and gender relations. Women are seen differently in this culture than in those whose religions state that a man was the first person on Earth. In fact, when a new member is born into the Haudenosaunee, their clan membership is determined by the clan that their mother is in, not the father.

“I had no idea how important women were to Native American culture. It is very empowering to hear how such a rich and old culture values women, and so interesting to compare how women are treated in male-centered cultures,” sophomore Kaitlyn Colby said.

For his final story, Ground told his favorite tale. This story was about a haughty bear that was challenged to a race by a clever turtle. With his cunning, the turtle won the race and the bear, confused and deflated, lumbered into his cave for the rest of the winter to sleep off his sadness. Not only did this story explain why bears hibernate, but it also explained the importance of intelligence and that physical strength is not the only strength one possesses.   

This story was one that Ground told in the ALANA center this past spring, but it was just as magical the second time around. Ground interacted with the audience as he jumped around, involving everyone in the story as his shadows raced behind him against the darkness of the woods.

“It is really important as we honor the history of Colgate, and particularly in this really special year of the bicentennial, that we honor the history of the land we are on and the native Americans who originally inhabited the land,” Rice said.

Contact Sasha Balasanov at [email protected].