Studying and using Indigenous storywork can have two core benefits. First, it provides an educational method that can be used in a wide range of learning settings, and second, it provides a window into an understanding of Indigenous culture.
Indigenous Storywork: Educational Method
It is useful to remember the Indigenous storywork evolved in a setting where written records where not practiced. The implication is that the spoken word (oral tradition) was used as the permanent record. The storyteller world begin speaking by repeating a history of her/his ancestors, where the story came from, and that she/he had permission to use the story.
It is also useful to remember that there were Indigenous Stories of different types, told for different reasons. For example, there were personal stories told to maintain the historical record. There were legends told to build a shared sense of identity. And there were fictional stories told to teach shared knowledge and values.
Given this context Indigenous storywork as an educational method has two key characteristics. The first and most obvious is that the learner absorbs Indigenous ways of doing things by observing the approach of the storyteller. The second characteristic is that Indigenous Storywork is inductive, the story provides a specific situation and learners are expected to sort out the general lesson to be remembered.
To return to the “Lady Louse” story. Q’um Q’um Xiiem started with recognition of where the story came from and that she had permission to use the story. Learners hearing this type of preamble whenever stories are told would soon come to recognized “that is how we do things.” In other words, the storyteller’s style is part of the lesson.
As described in the text box for the Lady Louse story, if Q’um Q’um Xiiem were using the story with a group of learners rather than via video, she would have stopped after the story narrative and encouraged learners to sort out for themselves what lessons should be taken. In other orders stories use an inductive approach intended to stimulate learner initiative and creativity.
Indigenous Storywork: Window into Culture
As indicated above in cultures with an oral tradition, storytelling goes beyond an educational method. Storytelling is the living record of the culture.
This central importance on storytelling provides educators with the opportunity to both use storytelling as an education method, and also as a starting point for learning about Indigenous culture.
This prompts two questions. What is culture? and What is Indigenous Culture?
Culture? Dictionaries will describe culture with words such as a set of shared history, perceptions, attitudes, values, goals, and practices.
perceptions of big picture history: the things that have happened good & bad.
perception & expectations of practices & responsibilities: how things should be done.
sharing and generosity
gatherings and feasts