The Power of Stories

In our first full day at the Global Solutions Forum, students, course instructors, and Global Liaisons all had the opportunity to attend a series of sessions dedicated to learning about both the experience of students on Shoulder to Shoulder trips and the work being done by the organization’s nonprofit leaders around the world. Three of the sessions I attended this morning spoke to the power of stories and the act of storytelling in forging our human connections and reinforcing the work we do both internationally and here at home.

 I began my morning with Cambrie Nelson, educator and coordinator of United Story. She engaged her audience in an interactive session in which we shared stories about school, neighborhood, community, or health, listened to one another, and considered what could be drawn from seemingly minute details.

In my next session, Ethleen Iron Cloud Two Dogs of the Knife Chief Buffalo Nation spoke to a different kind of story. In her work with youth camps on the Pine Ridge reservation, Ethleen and her team strive to reconnect members of the Sioux to their nation’s traditions, namely those focused around buffalo. The Lakota term Wotakuye conveys the importance of kinship to the Sioux people. She asked us, her audience members, to line ourselves up by age, and we discussed the roles that different age groups took on in her nation’s traditions. Importantly, the group aged approximately 21-50 were responsible for protecting their young, the way buffalo guard their young within the interior of their herd, and also with transmitting to their own children the stories and traditions of their people.

Ethleen’s discussion of these roles was reinforced in my third session, a presentation by two students who attended SStS’s program at Pine Ridge. Ben West of Kent Denver High School and his fellow participant explained that one of the first interactions they had with their Oglala Sioux host community was receiving a lesson on the the Lakota words for mother, brother, daughter, and sister. The importance of family was immediately apparent, but only after they became closer with their hosts did they learn first-hand the importance of storytelling at Pine Ridge. Listening to people talk about their stories and their past — and how they connected to that past — became central to the relationships they formed. Though students participated in traditional ceremonies, built and raised tipis, played softball games, and celebrated July 4th during their time on Pine Ridge, the presenters explained that the highlight of their experience was one evening when a particular woman opened up and told the students the story of her life.

Stories are powerful tools. In reuniting with students from my course in Peru and reminiscing about our own shared experiences, I’m proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to build our own stories together.