Friday, March 13, 2015

Legends in the Land: The Importance and Preservation of Tribal Storytelling

Timm Whissen

Dr. John Low lecturing on The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians- Survival and Revival Through Storytelling, February 25, 2015. Image Courtesy of Timothy E. Black, DMIN Photography.
Dr. John Low lecturing on The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians- Survival and Revival Through Storytelling, February 25, 2015. Image Courtesy of Timothy E. Black, DMIN Photography.
Dr. John Low, Assistant Professor of Comparative Studies at the Ohio State University Newark Campus and member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi gave the closing lecture on Wednesday, February 25th for the Newark Earthworks Center sponsored lecture series entitled: “Returning to the Earthworks”.

He discussed the importance of storytelling for both his tribe and for people everywhere. They are a way of conveying customs and language, history and identity to descendants and to those who are invited to listen.

Dr. Low emphasized that as listeners they do not tell others that their stories are wrong, “stories feed us, they nurture us and they keep us alive. So we share those stories”.

In one brief account, Dr. Low mentions the sweat lodge and the Longhouse he knew of growing up. Within the fire of the lodge were four circles, representative of; The Mammoth people or Paleo-Indians, the Adena culture, the Hopewell culture, and the Potawatomi. The circles are a celebration of the connection between these groups and the land.

This connection is one example of why storytelling, in all of its forms, is important to American Indians. Earthworks are one of many ways in which stories are told, like songs, scrolls, or ledger art, they symbolize important cultural details and must be preserved in order to be passed on.

As a member of the closest federally recognized tribe to the ancient Earthworks here in central Ohio, Dr. Low feels that maintaining a connection to the ancestors who had built the Earthworks, and the mounds themselves, is important for their identity and also for preserving the Earthworks both in meaning and in form.

Tribal support in recent years has helped the Newark Earthworks Center in seeking World Heritage Status for many of Ohio’s ancient structures, including the Great Circle and Octagon Mound here in Newark.

The importance of being listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site is great.

It would garnish international support in the preservation of these sites and provide additional economic advantages, such as a boost in tourism which would benefit the mounds and the local community greatly.

He concluded by discussing the importance of community support in finding a way to preserve the earthworks in a fashion more representative of what we think the mounds were originally intended for; as a public space where people can come together.

“Stories are created from experiences”. Many are lost and may not be able to be reclaimed, but there should be no reason why we cannot create stories here in the present.

Even collaboration with the current and divisive land lease holders of the Octagon Mound, the Mound builders Country Club, would help in preserving the Earthworks until they could be respectively returned to the community as a place to share and inspire.

Ultimately, preservation of the Earthworks is dependent on help from many groups. Working together will help in ensuring that the mounds, and their stories, remain intact for future generations.

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