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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 29, 2001 - Issue 52


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Elders Council Keeps Traditions Alive

Lazyboy by Reiss
Lazyboy by ReissMark Zavala took his audience back more than 80 years last week.

He told them about a boy growing up on a Navajo reservation, a boy who came to the University of Kansas on a college football scholarship, and a man who had a lengthy career at Beech (now Raytheon) Aircraft Co.

This was his story and his way of carrying on the long-standing Native American tradition of storytelling.

The tradition comes alive twice a month at the Mid-America All-Indian Center thanks to one group, the Native American Elders Council.

Zavala stood as he spoke to about 20 members of the council in an Indian Center room that has partitions for walls. To his side, another elder recorded his words on a video camera, something that's always done to preserve the elders' stories.

As Zavala spoke, he gently held a microphone, but he hardly spoke into it. So instead of hearing his magnified voice, the audience heard his soft voice, almost the same one he would use in conversation with just one person.

Zavala and fellow council member Gloria Johnico started the elders group about three years ago when they noticed that many of the customs and traditions among Native Americans were being forgotten and lost. They created the council, in part, to preserve some of those traditions, such as storytelling.

Johnico said storytelling is something Native Americans have always done as a way to record history.

"That was their way to keep the younger people" informed, she said.

One reason such traditions are being lost is that the Native American population has not grown, Johnico said. According to the U.S. Census, Native Americans make up just more than 1 percent of Sedgwick County's population, about the same as 10 years ago.

"We are a group of people that are willing to go out and help teach others about preserving, keeping our cultural ways," she said.

The Elders Council has about 60 members. It meets twice a month at the Indian Center, 650 N. Seneca St. On the first Wednesday of each month, the group gathers for breakfast at 9 a.m. They meet for lunch at noon on the third Wednesday.

Storytelling sessions usually follow each meal.

Johnico said the group wants more young people to hear such stories. They've held a few sessions for youths and hope to hold more.

Young people like Daniel Hull who have heard some of the storytelling sessions know the elders' words are important.

"It's just a record of history," said Hull, 21, who has videotaped some of the sessions, although he wasn't taping Zavala's speech last week.

Zavala talked about friends who had given him "priceless" gifts. One of the gifts was a bright red sash, worn in dances by a man who was a Navajo Code Talker. Code Talkers were the people whose code, based on their native language, couldn't be broken by the Japanese during World War II.

Zavala said stories such as his give a glimpse into the lives of Native American elders in the community and give people a bit of a culture and history lesson.

"We want to teach our ways, our culture to all people that are willing to be brotherly, come together," said Zavala, who says he's in his "upper 80s." "We want this as a legacy to our younger people."

Mid-America All-Indian Center

The public is encouraged to come to the Mid-America All-Indian Center to participate in, and learn about, the rich heritage of our Native Peoples

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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