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Debbe Poitra on Learning and Storytelling

North Dakota Native American Essential Understanding Number Two is about learning and storytelling. It states, "Traditional teaching and the passing on of knowledge and wisdom was done through storytelling, song, ceremony and daily way of life, often incorporating specific gender and age-specific responsibilities. These continue to be some of the best modes for learning for both Native and non-Native learners."

In this episode of Dakota Datebook, we'll hear Debbe Poitra, enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, share a bit about the importance of storytelling in the Michif culture and how those stories help to express important ideas, values, and the history of a people.

Debbe Poitra:

I believe in that because I grew up with my paternal grandmother, like I said, and she was a great storyteller and she had a lot of stories that she told, and she also told some of those stories through song. So she was very musical, and growing up on the reservation, we have actually two cultures where we have the Chippewa culture and we also have the Michif culture. I grew up predominantly in the Michif culture, and so I grew up with the jigging and the fiddling and all of that kind of music and the mixture of the language, which was Chippewa and Cree and French.

And so it was a combination of all of those different heritages that brought together the Michif culture, and so that is the way that I grew up, and I believe that that's very important. I'm not a storyteller. I wish that I were, but I have known some great storytellers in my time, and it was a good way to be able to talk about traditions. It was a good way to talk about folk lore, and to be able to express just the values of life through storytelling. And so I think that it is important.

If you'd like to learn more about the North Dakota Native American essential understandings, and to listen to more Indigenous elder interviews, visit teachingsofourelders.org.

Dakota Datebook: Teachings of Our Elders is produced with support from and in collaboration with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

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