Storytelling for an Indigenous person is ingrained in our bones, much like the water that is in our skin. There is a rhythm in life that is carried through our words. Flowing strong and each word crashing into the next, existing like a flowing river. Just like riding down the river, you are bound to slam into a rock. Honestly, the moment an Indigenous person mentions storytelling, it is assumed that wind needs to be blowing through our long unkempt hair and someone needs to be banging a drum to bring out “the rain dance.” An unwritten rule that is dictated by colonial thinking, in order to fit the ideal Indigenous artist. When navigating these colonial spaces, there's this invisible checklist of which cookie cutter Indigenous people are needed to be dusted off and presented.
How to be an Indigenous Artist
First, you must have long hair
Second, you must work in traditional crafts
Third, never ask to be considered anything else other than the box you fit in
As an Indigenous artist, there is a dissection performed by the viewer. Carefully examining the craft and seeing if it fits their lens of what the Indigenous world should act and look like. We can blame the western films for their depiction of the “Wild Indian” “Wagon Burners” giving the world the expectation that we are all singing Colors of the Wind. This unrealistic expectation that shoves Indigenous people into a box that has no connection to the authentic Indigenous experience. Creating the problem of not fitting into the box and the model that is perpetuated upon us, then being judged for not meeting the colonial ideology. This is being shoved into the role of Sisyphus, and it has nothing to do with you, only colonized expectations. Forced to push the boulder of the “Ideal Indian” up the hill of colonial expectations.
The art of storytelling is instilled in Indigenous culture and is the backbone for keeping the history of Indigenous people alive. Many of the stories shared are used to establish the morals and the heart of the people; often sharing a valued lesson. The exploration of story existing as poetry, film, and art, carries the craft of storytelling into a modern space and allows for a space to create a new genre. Storytelling lives in everything: our rugs, the pottery crafted, the regalia sewn, and the lives lived. As Indigenous people take the mic in colonial settings, the space forms for Indigenous people to delve into a new definition for Indigenous storytelling. Through exploring the art of storytelling, this offers a freshly cleaned lens into the perspective of the Indigenous life. Modern Indigenous stories shed light on the unique experience.
Through exploring the performative world as a method to dive into the conversation of not being Indian enough, having to process the traditional life with the modern world or coming back/leaving the traditional ways. The life on the reservation carries similarities across Turtle Island, many can recall the healing power of the auntie's laughter or having a relative who makes the best stew. The various experiences building stories that hold truth and authenticity to the craft, like weaving a rug connecting the disconnected. By discussing the lives of the Indigenous people and what it means to live life in a predominantly colonial setting.
Although many of the stories are moving with the times, traditional stories are often relied upon as a guide, a reference, or a starting point for some. Bringing the old stories into modern times gives the characters a new meaning and place to continue serving as a guide for the next seven generations. As these new stories become more prominent, the traditional stories still exist camouflaged into new stories of challenges or sneaking in, in a cameo, to establish their presence in our lives-showing a sliver of the relationship between Indigenous people and their faith. The coexistence of life and nature exploring the intertwining relationship and how the world and human life goes hand-in-hand becoming more than a superficial connection going deeper than surface level. The expanding of Indigenous stories beyond the bounds of traditional storytelling gives space for modern/ contemporary tales to develop a new shape and share a new voice. Indigenous stories are unique for their iconic lens into all genres, changing the dynamic from the Wild West Shows to Reservation Dogs. Making fun of the bag of mixed-up Indians and the “Cherokee Princesses,” deliberately showing the constant colonial behavior of intentionally distorting Indigenous voices and history of the Indigenous people.
The reclamation of the Indigenous narrative empowers the drive for contemporizing Indigenous spaces and expanding our crafts into the arts. The cautioned care each story is handled with before being produced to the public and shared in non-Indigenous setting is unfathomable to colonized thinking. The scrutiny that Indigenous people face when taking their works out of traditional settings is done with the utmost care and delicacy to provide the space for each story to grow and for the spirit and the impact of the story. There is a rhythm, a flow that comes through, allowing the words to take on a life of their own. It is a power to create a world through words and that reflects the genuine nature of the Indigenous life. Storytelling is a craft that has existed all around the world, and the separation has been determined by where the writers come from. Our surroundings often influence the work created, life influences art. The transformation of storytelling for Indigenous people transcends the bounds created by colonization and expands the definition of Indigenous storytelling to a more contemporary setting. The expansion of storytelling helps absolve the expectation of the “Wild West Indians” and establishes Indigenous people in the modern world, unlike the portion of the population that believes Indigenous people are extinct.
It's important to destroy the colonial idealization of what Indigenous stories should look like. By bringing to attention that there is more than one genre of storytelling, as there is more than one genre of music. Although the Indigenous art world is small, there is more than one category and more than one version of similar encounters. The art of storytelling has existed for centuries and has continued to develop and transform alongside the changing times. Even though the traditional aspects will find their way to exist along with the contemporary world, this serves as a way to pay homage to the Indigenous roots. The reflection of the past sprung into the present and into the future, gives life to a world that was almost erased by genocide. Supporting the transformation of modern storytelling by being unapologetically and authentically Indigenous, telling our beautiful raw Indigenous truths by our own definition breaks the glasses of the colonized view and lays bare the old new Indigenous stories.