Native American Stories Teach Life Lessons

An audience of all ages gathered in the Africana, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 21, to hear Perry Ground, a Haudenosaunee storyteller, tell his stories and learn about his culture. 

Carol Ann Lorenz, associate professor of Native American studies and the director of the Native American studies program introduced the event. She told the audience that the villages of the Oneida Nation were once on the very land that Colgate is built upon.

“We are here to pay respect to the homeland of the Native people,” Lorenz said.

Perry Ground then took center stage. He was incredibly energetic and it was instantly obvious that he was here doing what he loved. He gave a history of the Haudenosaunee people before beginning his stories. Haudenosaunee means “the people who are building a longhouse,” and is the all-encompassing word for the six nations that joined together in peace: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora. After giving a history of the meaning of these names and explaining how the nations all came together, Perry Ground enthusiastically jumped into his first story.

The first story told the audience how Black Bear got his short tail. This story, like the other two that followed, began a long time ago when Turtle Island, or the Earth, was still brand new. It featured a big, prideful bear with a beautiful long tail and a jealous fox. Like each story shared, this one featured an overarching moral, an explanation of the culture and a history lesson.

Between stories, Perry Ground paused to explain how important stories are to Native American culture. Stories passed information and lessons down through generations. In the winter time, people used to gather in the longhouses in front of a fire at night, and it was the job of the storyteller to put the people to sleep with his stories.

“So if you fall asleep on me, I’ll be doing my job,” Perry Ground said.

Between every story, Perry Ground rubbed his hands together, getting ready to jump into another energetic tale for the audience. 

Next, Perry Ground spoke about a game that is still very prominent in society today: lacrosse. It was originally a Haudenosaunee game played with sticks by huge groups of people at once, and had little to no official rules because players would agree on rules for a specific game the day before. This story gave the origins of the bat and the flying squirrel and how they got their “wings” by playing the Haudenosaunee stick game on a team of birds. 

Before the next and final story, Perry Ground addressed his beautiful clothing. He explained to the children in the audience the difference between a costume and his traditional clothing, or Regalia. He took the audience on a tour of what he was wearing, starting with his beaded moccasins and ending with the headdress made of goose feathers. The clothes he wore on his bottom half were all things that can be made in the forest from natural materials such as buffalo skin, deer skin and shells. The top half was mainly made from materials that would have been brought over from Europe, such as wool and glass. This clothing was also all made specifically for him as it represented his membership in the Turtle Clan. 

The final story was about a race between a turtle and a bear, where the turtle won due to his cunning intelligence. It explained the importance of being smart and using your brain instead of just relying on physical strengths. It was wonderful to see the children in the audience understand that physical talents are not the only things that can make you a winner. 

With that, the wonderful evening of storytelling came to a close. The audience loved the interactive and vibrant performance, and the lessons and stories of the Haudenosaunee culture were valuable to everyone, not just the children. 

Contact Sasha Balasanov at [email protected].