Thomas Doty – Storyteller

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Ancestors and Elders

Each time I tell stories, I thank those storytellers who kept the stories alive for centuries.

It is my work as a storyteller to not only perpetuate the Old Time myths with integrity, but to add new stories to the collective basket of folklore, just as tellers before me have done for a long, long time. Storytelling is an ancient tradition as well as a living art.

As I started sharing native stories in the 1980s, I listened to elders and learned from them: Chuck Jackson, Caraway George, Edison Chiloquin. I poured through reams of field notes from linguists and anthropologists who collected stories from elders who would soon become ancestors: Frances Johnson, Molly Orton, Sargent Sambo. And over the years I became friends with elders I continue to learn from: Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, John Medicine Horse Kelly, and so many others.

Here in the West, much of our native mythology was fractured in the 1800s. With the arrival of Europeans, disease, war, and following the many Trails of Tears to the reservations, many of our stories and cultural traditions were scattered to the winds.

When I was a young college student, I immersed myself in the writing of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats. It impressed me that through his poems, plays, essays, and collections of folk and fairy tales, he helped bring Irish mythology back to the Irish people. His work became a model for my own life's work: putting our traditional myths back together as well as creating new stories that dramatize our culture, our history, our folklore ... bringing our local mythology back to the people. And making the stories available to everyone: to those who celebrate their Native American heritage, to those who feel native through their deep connection to culture and place, to those who are experiencing the wisdoms of native stories for the first time.

Thank you, ancestors and elders, for the stories you have passed along. I feel honored to continue your work.