Mohawk storyteller Kay Olan (Ionataiewas) shares traditional Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) stories to challenge stereotypes about Native Americans by exposing children and adults to her culture. “We are proud of our identity,” Olan explains. She describes herself as “living in two worlds, my traditional world and the greater community… and I’m able to balance that.”
Paul Larson produced this segment for the Native American Artistry series. It was presented as a “Spotlight” segment on Mountain Lake PBS programs. The Native American Artistry pieces are produced by Mountain Lake PBS in cooperation with the New York State Historical Association’s Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York. (Borderless North)
Olan recounts tales that she learned as a girl as well as new stories that creates to illuminate her heritage in ways that are relevant to a contemporary audience. “We still know who we are,” she says. “We haven’t forgotten from where we have come, that we remember our traditions and our culture, that we’re proud of our identity.”
As a young child Ms. Olan spent almost every summer at Akwesasne, a Mohawk reservation in upstate New York, learning about her heritage from family and members of the Haudenosaunee community. She listened and was inspired by her Native people. (Mohawk Storyteller Kay Olan)
While Olan’s focus is preserving and sharing Haudenosaunee culture through storytelling, she also emphasizes the importance of stories in general, especially in this digital age rich with powerful storytelling tools.
Storytelling is a living tradition. The Story Bag is constantly growing fuller. It includes stories that have been passed down from generation to generation… We all have stories to tell. We need to make the time to tell them so they won’t be forgotten. We need to tell them in order to maintain our connections to one another. We need to stay connected so that we will remember that we are all related… when we take the time to sit together and tell our stories, we discover that we have more in common than we have differences. We find that we have similar hopes and dreams for the future generations. We remember that we can accomplish much more if we learn to communicate and work together. ~ Kay Olan (Iroquois Indian Museum)
This immersive art of storytelling and story sharing is once again increasing in popularity among Native Americans, but Olan is quick to point out that this is only one aspect of storytelling which is alive and thriving today.
Storytellers may be orators, painters, dancers, writers, poets, singers, sculptors, potters, weavers, quilters, beaders, jewelry makers or architects. The past, present and future are being portrayed in an increasing number of ways… There are more every day and there are many ways in which to tell them.. ~ Kay Olan (Let Me Tell you a Story)