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Dorothy Rhodes says she took for granted the stories, songs, dances, customs and ceremonies she learned from her elders growing up on several reservations. Now that she’s approaching middle age, she fully understands the importance to preserve her peoples’ history.
“The elders are dying, and as time goes on, much has been lost. However, the voice of an elder is forever engraved in your soul,” Rhodes said. “It is through this wisdom that you pass it on to the next generation and why there is a strong oral history among indigenous people.”
As Native Americans settled throughout this country, storytelling became an important and useful tool in passing down the history of its people, religion and language. It was also essential in letting generations know how to live off the land and survive in the natural environment in which they lived.
Rhodes, along with Denelle Prieto of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Darius Enos of the Keli Akimel O’odham and San Carlos tribe, will present “Native Peoples of America: Creativity, Creation and Storytelling” at 6:30 p.m., April 9 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, 555 N. Central Ave., room 128. The event is free and open to the public and will conclude the spring 2015 Humanities Lecture Series sponsored by the College of Letters and Sciences.
“This presentation is essential in providing indigenous peoples to speak for themselves about their worldview,” said Dr. Mirna Lattouf, series lecture organizer. “The storytelling of creation is one of the most creative expressions of the human condition. It symbolizes our dreams, hopes and fears about who we are, from where we came, where we are going and how we are all truly interconnected.”
Rhodes, who will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in American Native Studies, said almost every tribe has its own version of creation and that they slightly differ from one another.
“We all believe there is a creator, and we refer to him as a someone who is an elder brother,” Rhodes said. “We also believe in the idea that if you take care of Mother Earth then Mother Earth will take care of you.”
Rhodes said there is a strong push among Native American elders to continue to teach young tribal members about customs, traditions and beliefs through oral history.
“The competence (continuity) of culture is important, and these stories convey our lives,” Rhodes said. “It’s important that we continue for the generations to come.”