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by Alisa Lombard
Not only do the Métis people have their own stories to tell, but they have their own way of telling those stories. Métis oral histories form a complex web of valuable lessons, traditions and customs. They are the cornerstone of Métis knowledge, culture and ways of knowing.
Because illiteracy was widespread in Métis communities in past generations, an oral storytelling tradition was used-much like in other Aboriginal societies-to transmit Métis culture and history. Although these stories can be categorized to a certain extent, they are an interwoven compilation of information and, much like art and literature, fictional or not, they served many purposes. Métis oral histories and traditions in the form of stories are crucial to fostering a heightened understanding of the Métis people in the world, their ways and their understanding of history as a whole. Stories are to the Métis what books and documents are to European-based societies, a map of collective existence and knowledge. As a result, it has always been understood that stories must be told to create awareness of the history, societal and political struggles, and fundamental beliefs of Métis people across the land, from east to west, north to south.
Some stories have their origin in the distinct society of the Métis people (Read The Story of the Rabbit Dance by Jeanne Pelletier.), whereas other stories come from First Nations oral histories, and still others from the Métis' European forebears. Métis stories reflect a certain degree of "in-betweenness," which is a fundamental reality of Métis existence. Some Métis feel closer to their First Nations roots and speak and live their First Nations culture, while others feel closer to their European roots, and, of course, there are many degrees between these two extremes. Despite this, Métis storytelling, like First Nations storytelling, has remained largely unchanged through the generations, including the protocols surrounding the traditional telling of these stories.
While some stories have not changed since as early as the 15th century, other types of stories are a dynamic body of knowledge shifting to fit contemporary times. These stories or acimownina, in the Plains Cree/Michif language, are most often understood as being "everyday stories." They can also vary, depending largely on the geographical location of the storyteller. Their contents are as diverse as the Métis people who tell them. At times, they were recited, for instance, when an Elder felt that a particular individual in the community was in need of direction. Even today, inquiries to an Elder for advice are often met with answers woven into stories, sometimes drawn from personal experience or from the experience of famous leaders, such as Louis Riel or Gabriel Dumont.
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