Story Stones: An Indigenous Game With Many Lessons
Updated: Apr 27
Looking for fun activities to do at home? Learn how to make your own set of Story Stones or ENTER TO WIN a completed set (see below for details)! This fun, educational activity is a hit with children and adults alike. As taught to the author by the International Traditional Games Society.
April 26, 2020
Authored by: Andrea Deleeuw
In 2012, I attended a land-based training event led by the International Traditional Games Society. This inter-tribal organization was founded by cultural directors, tribal college presidents and spiritual leaders near the medicine line between Montana and southern Alberta. Their mission is to recover, restore, and re-introduce Indigenous "games". When the training was over they encouraged each of us to return to our home communities to share what we had learned with others.
You may have noticed that I put the word "games" in quotations. That is because when the International Traditional Games Society set out to do this work in 1999, they could find no direct translation for the word game in any Indigenous language- the translation does not exist!
For the original founders of the society, the search for an organizational name highlighted key differences between Indigenous and western world view. What they found was that in western world view a game is something that is done just for fun...but in Indigenous world view, everything has a reason. For Indigenous peoples, even activities done in leisure teach deep cultural values such as respect for the earth, working together, and caring for the collective.
"...when the International Traditional Games Society set out to do this work in 1999, they could find no direct translation for the word game in any Indigenous language- the translation does not exist!"
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a global movement towards collective care. Traditional Indigenous games promote exactly that: collaboration and partnership to holistically enhance the spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical well-being of our communities as a whole. For this reason, I can't think of a better time to share these teachings and activities with T8GP.com subscribers!
Creating and Using Your Story Stones
Supplies Needed: -A collection of smooth, small rocks -Acrylic paint & paint brushes or permanent markers -A small piece of cloth or tea towel (for the Story Stones activity)
Making Your Story Stones:
The first thing you'll need to do when setting out to create your own set of Story Stones is to put tobacco down and pick your stones. We offer tobacco in thanks and prayer so that these stones will be used in a good way to teach what they are meant to. If you do not have tobacco, you can also make tea, and offer the earth a drink to thank her for always providing.
Next, you can set out on an adventure to find your rocks. Small and smooth rocks tend to work best. Children have a special connection to the natural world, and they will be able to find stones well-suited for this activity. Bring them along to help scout the best stones!
Once you've got your stones, rinse them well with warm water to get any dirt off, and let them dry. You can also cleanse them with smudge if you choose.
After your rocks have dried, paint or draw small images on the rocks. You may decide to use pictograph type symbols or create small paintings as pictured above. Create a full storytelling set by including a variety of images in different shapes and colors.
Using Your Story Stones:
The activity that goes along with your set of Story Stones can be played in pairs or small groups. Assign one participant to the role of Storyteller - the remaining participants are there to listen and observe.
The Storyteller begins by laying down a small piece of cloth or a tea towel on the ground. Using the Story Stones, the Storyteller will arrange the rocks on the cloth. Once the rocks have been arranged, they will tell a story, using all the different rock symbols to tell the story. Don't make the story too elaborate- you'll understand why when I tell you what happens next!
When the Storyteller is finished telling their story, the other participants will gather up the rocks and the cloth, and choose a new spot about 6 feet away. The participants who were in the role of listener now have to position the rocks just as they were before they moved to the new spot.
Everything matters. The direction the cloth is facing. How far the rocks were from the edge of the cloth. Which rocks are next to each other.
They will then repeat the story to the Storyteller, just as it was told to them.
This activity helps to sharpen listening skills and strengthen memory, as participants work hard to remember what was told to them.
Through this activity participants also learn the significance of Indigenous oral history. Our ancestors had to have a keen memory and sense of awareness to survive the harsh conditions of the land. For example, if a hunter was to follow directions given to him by another member of the community, he would have to pay very close attention to what was told to him. A wrong turn on a cold winters day could mean the difference between life and death! In this way, we can see that the Storyteller has a responsibility to tell an accurate story, and the listener has a responsibility to listen closely to what was told to him.
Western Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)
Stories told with scrupulous exactness have been passed on across generations, and western science is only beginning to catch up to knowledge contained within them. One such instance is when scientists worked with Elders from the Yukon to better understand Caribou migration. The Elders kept circling the mountain tops as an ancient hunting place, but scientists were hesitant to believe the story because they could not understand why First Nations in the area would expend so much energy climbing the mountains to get to the caribou. It wasn't until archaeological evidence was discovered on the mountain tops that their stories were verified. If you're interested in learning more, CBC's The Nature of Things did a great documentary on the topic.
ADDITIONAL LINKS ON INDIGENOUS ORAL HISTORY
University of British Columbia https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/oral_traditions/
Learn Alberta (Aboriginal Perspectives PDF) http://www.learnalberta.ca/content/aswt/oral_tradition/documents/oral_tradition.pdf
⇻ INSTAGRAM GIVEAWAY! ⇺
T8GP.com is hosting an Instagram giveaway! Enter to win a completed set of Story Stones and a "Returning Home" print by Cree-Métis artist, Aaron Paquette!
HOW TO ENTER:
1) If you aren't already, follow @T8GPdotcom on Instagram
2) Leave a comment on the giveaway post about who your favorite Storyteller is!
3) Tag three friends so they can enter too!
(Open to US and Canadian residents only. Giveaway is in no way endorsed or sponsored by Instagram, and is solely an initiative of T8GP.com. Giveaway will be closed at 11:59 pm MST on 05/03/2020. Winner will be announced May 4 on Instagram!)
T8GP is an acronym for Treaty 8, Grande Prairie. The website was created in 2019 as a way to amplify Treaty 8 voices, share information, and educate the broader population about Indigenous topics. There is currently an open invitation for community members to submit culturally relevant stories, poetry, and photography to the T8GP Community Blog. And occasionally, there are fun activities, like this one!
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