Cherokee Stories of the Turtle
Island Liars' Club
Christopher B. Teuton
University of North Carolina Press | 264 pp | $19.80
There is a humorous scene in the 1998 "Smoke Signals" film,
written by Sherman Alexie, when Suzy Song, played by Irene Bedard,
asks Evan Adams' character, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, "Do you want
lies or do you want the truth?," and he responds, "I want both."
The line is both funny and real in that in life many times there
is a fine line between truth and fiction.
Old American Indian storytellers knew the concept well and the
concept has been passed down through generations.
"Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars' Club," published
last month by the University of North Carolina Press, is written
on this premise storytellers are indeed liars. With the Cherokee
language there is no one word for storyteller. Instead the Cherokee
use the word, "gagoga," pronounced: gah-goh-gá. Gagoga is
literally translated as "he or she is lying."
Several years in the making, "Cherokee Stories of the Turtle
Island Liars' Club" introduces readers to a group of four Cherokee
storytellers: Hastings Shade, Sammy Still, Sequoyah Guess and Woody
Hansen. The four were the core of the original Turtle Island Liars'
Club. The club has no formal set of by-laws, nor does it have an
organizational structure. It is the name given to about a dozen
core group of four was interviewed by the book's author, Cherokee
scholar Christopher B. Teuton. The result of Teuton's effort is
a presentation of the interviews with actual Cherokee stories. So
many times, the public may hear the rich Indian stories told in
an auditorium, but goes away without knowing much about the actual
storytellers. The interviews in the book provide a rare glimpse
into the lives of Indian storytellers. In that regard, "Cherokee
Stories of the Turtle Island Liars' Club" is a treat.
The interviews contained in the book are fascinating because
they discuss the history and culture understood by the four storytellers:
Hastings Shade, Sammy Still, Sequoyah Guess and Woody Hansen.
Hasting Shade, who passed away in February 2010, was the senior
elder of the Liars' Club. He had served as the deputy chief of the
Cherokee Nation. In 1991, Chief Wilma Mankiller of the Cherokee
Nation declared him a Cherokee National Treasure.
Sammy Still is the editor of the "Keetoowah News" tribal newspaper
of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, where he is a
tribal citizen. "I've learned all this from my elders. I give all
credit that I know - the stories, everything I've learned heard,
everything I've said - I give credit to the elders," Still tells
Sequoyah Guess, also a tribal citizen of the Keetoowah Band
of Cherokee Indians, is a novelist, filmmaker and Cherokee language
teacher. Guess reveals his grandma who lived to be 98 decided she
would pass her Cherokee stories on to him so that he would pass
them on to future generations of Cherokee people.
Woody Hansen has worked as a community health and wellness advocate
for the Cherokee Nation. He is an unassuming man who is not interested
in titles, but his stories are those of survival of having been
near death several times in his life.
All have been accomplished storytellers for years. The storytellers
learned the Cherokee language and teachings. The formed what was
known as the Turtle Island Liars' Club.
It is easy to see why Chief Mankiller declared Hastings Shade
a Cherokee National Treasure. His stories were filled with powerful
"Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars' Club" is an amazing
book that will delight Cherokees, other American Indians and others
because it is a book that reveals so much about the art of Indian
Readers will sense the storytellers have a sense of responsibility
to pass down the true meaning of life within the context of tribal
culture - even if you wonder if there are some lies included in
for Advanced Research
The School for Advanced Research, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization,
was established in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1907 as a center for
the study of the archaeology and ethnology of the American Southwest.
Since 1967, the scope of the Schools activities has embraced
a global perspective through programs to encourage advanced scholarship
in anthropology and related social science disciplines and the humanities,
and to facilitate the work of Native American scholars and artists.