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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Conference Promotes Native History Through Narration
by Keith Purtell - Muskogee (OK) Phoenix Staff Writer

Choctaw storyteller Tim Tingle remembers the first time he tried to tell an audience about the Trail of Tears.

He used historically accurate facts. The entire front row walked out.

Tingle was one of the organizers and presenters at the 5 Tribes Story Conference at Bacone College. The event started Friday and ends today.

The conference brings together renowned authors, storytellers and professors. Throughout the two days, tribal historians and Native speakers are discussing a wide range of topics, from the Trail of Tears to the boarding school experience.

Tingle, from Canyon Lake, Texas, said he has learned better ways to convey Native American history and culture.

“I tell the story now from the mouth of an 8-year-old boy,” he said. “My first line now is ‘I remember my mother.’ I talk about her long dark hair falling in my face, and how I would pull on it, and we would play a hair-pulling game.”

Tingle said he gets 15 minutes into the story before his audience realizes he is talking about the Trail of Tears.

“No one has ever walked out on that one, because I tell about a little boy,” he said. “As a writer and storyteller, then what happens to the character in the story happens to the audience.”

Tingle said the conference started as a discussion between him and fellow Choctaw writer and storyteller Greg Rodgers. Mary Robinson, educational director at Muskogee’s Five Civilized Tribes Museum, caught the vision and began the process of securing grants and funding for the two-day celebration of Oklahoma Indian stories.

“I’ve been telling stories since 1990,” he said. “Some times we go to academic conferences and hear the Trail of Tears told with accurate details. Then we go to storytelling events with American Indians telling fictional accounts along with poets and novelists.

“We asked ourselves, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to bring all these people together to talk about the Trail of Tears and the boarding schools?’ The conference isn’t just about the facts, its about how the teller makes it palatable by framing tragedy in family.”

The conference features award-winning authors such as Pulitzer finalist Linda Hogan (Chickasaw), Diane Glancy (Cherokee), and Phillip Morgan (Chickasaw) and Joan Bear (Muscogee Creek). Among the speakers are Dr. Les Hannah (Cherokee), poet, professor, and well-known storyteller; Richard Adams (Choctaw) elder language instructor; and Dr. Pete Coser (Creek), assistant vice president at Bacone’s Center for American Indians.

Storytellers include flute-maker Choogie Kingfisher (Cherokee), Phillip Harjo (Seminole), Lorie Robins (Chickasaw), Stella Long (Choctaw) and Ryan Mackey (Cherokee). Humorous stories are be included.

For tribal members, the conference offers a chance to share family experiences, while non-Native Americans can enjoy a rare close-up look at history and fiction through American Indian eyes.

Roger Scott, assistant director of the Choctaw School of Language in Durant, said he was at the conference to participate in the storytelling and talk about the Choctaw language.

“I think storytelling and language certainly go together,” he said. “This was something that is part of our tradition. A lot of the stories that are told today in English our elders told in their own language, which to me are the real stories. They not only told the stories in our language, but they acted them out.”

Scott said storytelling has been one of the foundations of Native American culture.

“They always had a meaning to the stories that they told, because they were about how we should conduct ourselves as Choctaw people,” he said. “The reason I’m here is to encourage language. I believe that we are probably one generation away from losing our language. It should be promoted.

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