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Modern Practices Rooted in the First Nations' Oral Tradition
Fortunately, more and more Aboriginal authors are not only telling their stories, but also recording and publishing them. Since some of the elements critical to understanding a story are contained in the language, communicating the story properly often depends on the storyteller's understanding of the Aboriginal language in which the tale was originally told. For example, "Glooscap," the name of the legendary Mi'kmaq cultural hero, means "the first who spoke." This important piece of information will escape anyone who does not know the original language in which the stories of Glooscap were told. Unfortunately, the original meaning of the words and names often risks being lost in translation.
The same is true for objects rich in historical information, such as condolence canes, wampum necklaces and totem poles. If the speaker does not realize the significance of the symbols or the context in which the object was created or exchanged, the information it contains remains silent and risks being lost.
Storytellers play a crucial role in helping audiences understand a story in all its complexity. Although it is common today to publish traditional stories, ideally, they should not be completely separated from their oral form. Since knowledge of the traditional language is needed to communicate the story in all of its "etymological subtleties," storytellers are the ones who bring it to life through their presence, intonation and gestures. Moreover, a story is rarely an independent thing like a book that people can read by themselves. For a story to be fully appreciated, it must be told to the right audience at the right time. For example, a story that praises a hero's courage will be more meaningful if told in front of someone who is grappling with major challenges.
While some authors use modern media to pass on traditional stories, there are many others, such as Tomson Highway, Shirley Cheechoo, Michel Noël and Basil Johnston, in particular, who write original works. Although they are creating new stories, they also draw from their cultural experiences, their childhood memories and Elders' stories. Some writers, such as the indefatigable Thomas King, demonstrate a wonderful sense of humour, while others, such as Alanis Obomsawin, winner of many awards for her moving documentaries, show the events that have influenced the life of their people.
Certain authors combine their community's recent history with old stories-as Lorne Simon did when writing about the 1930s-giving their work a poetic nature and greater depth. Anthologies like Spider Woman's Granddaughters reveal the wide variety of both traditional and contemporary stories.
Lastly, the tales of various storytellers, particularly Elders, are recorded so that the full wealth of their experiences and knowledge are not lost, or they are compiled and presented like Edith Josie's very colourful radio programs describing everyday life in the Yukon. Some say that every time an Elder joins the spirit world, an entire library of knowledge goes with him or her. Fortunately, however, modern sound and video recording techniques let their grandchildren, their community and the public benefit from all the knowledge they have gathered over the years or received from their own grandparents.