by Cyndi Pyatskowit, College of Menominee Nation (CMN) Restorative Teachings Project Director
Through storytelling, the Menominee are keeping their tribal language alive. Storytelling is both an art and a necessary method for educating our young early childhood children in the Menominee community. The Menominee have used oral stories to pass down traditions to future generations, such as their local customs, how to live off the forest land, and how to survive in the natural environment in which they live. The oral stories are important ways for the Menominee to stay connected and to keep their customs, language, and religion alive.
The College of Menominee Nation held classes this spring with students in its Emergent Literacy Course, focused on the traditional art of telling oral stories. Understanding and creating narratives is a fundamental literacy skill—it is also the focus of how the Menominee tribe told stories to impart life lessons. As students worked with written texts they were learning to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate the lessons each story told. Students were a ssigned to develop a traditional story on a goat hide and place Native symbols representing the story to create a story hide. Story hides developed in the class were designed to be used as guides for early childhood children to follow along when an oral story was being told in Menominee or English.
Three of the CMN students were assigned to present their stories at an off-reservation kindergarten classroom. The school has an enrollment of approximately 35% Native American children, so both Native and non-Native children enjoyed the oral storytelling, giving Native students an immersion into their culture and non-Native student’s exposure to a culture other than their own.
The CMN students told the story first in English using the visuals created on the goat hides. Then the CMN students explained to the kindergarteners that they were members of the Menominee Nation, as are some of their fellow students, and how the Menominee tribe has a language of its own.
Next the students retold the story using the Menominee language.
The CMN student presenters were excited to see how engaged the kindergarten children were while listening to the language of the Menominee Nation. With so few Menominee who speak their tribal language, they said it was an amazing experience for all members of the class.
After their presentation, the teacher education department had its annual teacher education advisory committee meeting. The Principal stated at the meeting how grateful he was that College of Menominee Nation placed pre-service students at their school to share the Menominee language and cultural traditions in their classrooms.
It is heartwarming to hear that the Menominee language and culture, which CMN students are bringing to the communities’ surrounding schools, is valued.