A tradition of storytelling brings together family stories across generations for newly published book

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Storytelling has always been a part of Walter LaBatte Jr.’s life. Growing up in the Upper Sioux community, Walter says he spent many childhood evenings listening to his father’s stories. “When I grew up we didn’t have electricity and the only entertainment we had was my dad telling us stories,” recalls Walter. “We have a mythical creature called Unktomi, which means spider, and he’s a trickster. There are tons and tons of stories and he was telling us these Unktomi stories at night. These stories had a moral in them. Because he was a trickster, he was doing bad things, and by telling these stories, they were sending a message about how to act, how to behave.

These aren’t the only stories Walter has heard over the years, as he remembers many times he heard stories from the Elders, as well as his own grandfather, Fred Pearsall, telling stories he had heard from Elders. “We hadn’t known for a long time that my grandfather wrote some of the stories. When he died, I remember all the adults in the family and extended family – their common lament was that they wished they had written Grandpa’s stories. We didn’t know he knew it. My aunt found them and made a book of them. I self-published it, ”he recalls.

It is a combination of all these stories that gave Walter’s niece, Teresa Peterson, the idea to rework all the Fred Pearsall stories, the stories of his Uncle Walter and the stories of his Aunt Cerisse in one book. . Teresa initially approached the Minnesota Historical Society with the idea of ​​reworking the stories of Fred that were in the possession of the Historical Society almost 20 years ago. this. I didn’t want to rewrite the stories, just to create some kind of framework. I knew I felt a very deep connection, especially with the stories of my great-great-grandmother, and they said they were interested, ”Teresa says. Eventually a different idea began to form and Peterson approached his uncle Walter to ask him to share his stories. “I could see a theme in all of his random stories. It was about telling stories, and storytelling is about the land, and it’s about values, transmitting values ​​and traditions, ”says Teresa. So she submitted a proposal to the Minnesota Historical Society with her new idea, and after a long process that included her ideas before the Historical Society’s Native Advisory Committee, a contract was made.

Over the next several years, the niece and uncle scoured the stories, organized, and wrote, with Teresa telling the beginning and end to tie the theme of the stories together. Now complete, the book, titled Voices of Pejuhutazizi: Dakota Stories and Storytellers, is available on Amazon in softcover and Kindle editions. The stories inside begin with recollections of Walter’s grandfather, Fred, stories from the elders, including his own personal experiences as a white man who lived for 50 years with the Dakota people after marrying his wife. . “He was fluent in the language and worked for the government as a translator. And in this way it was exposed to the Elders of that day, in the early 1900s. A lot of the stories have to do with the post-war period of 1862. My great-grandmother, his mother-in-law told him many stories of his experiences after 1862, escaping Minnesota and wandering in North Dakota and Montana following the bison and eventually settling in Canada. When she was older she decided to come back here where she died in 1927, ”says Walter.

The stories move into other time periods, including stories from Walter’s childhood, the present day, and his memories of stories from the Elders. “When I was growing up listening to these Elders talk, none of them ever said it was important, now remember that. I don’t think they even had the feeling that I was listening or recording this in my head, ”he said. “If someone had asked me when I was 40 if I knew any stories, I would have said no. I’ve reached a certain age and then these stories are falling out of my head. I remember that 50 years ago rather than what happened last week. So there’s an interesting phenomenon about memory, the way we store these memories in our brain for 50 years and then all of a sudden they start to come out. I don’t know if it’s the elders who choose me to share the stories. If that’s true, then I feel honored that they chose me to be the one to carry the stories.

Teresa also included her own stories in the book. “I tell people it was a healing journey for me. The role storytelling played for me – these stories were really missing from my upbringing, from my upbringing. The stories really shaped who I am today and filled in the gaps that I was missing and really, in essence, made me feel like I belong, ”she says. “I’ve spent a lot of time over the years with my great aunt Cerisse, interviewing her and hearing about her life and her sisters, one of them being my grandmother, and I think it was really nice and something that I really treasure. I made a commitment to her many years ago. She passed away two weeks before her 101st birthday, so when we finally did, I say in the acknowledgments, hope you can see it from above.

Teresa peterson

A few excerpts from the back cover of the book provide more context in the pages inside:

Since the 1970s:

“My cousins ​​and I rode up and down the deer and people trails, bringing them to the stream to quench their thirst… As long as we ate our egg and spam sandwiches and came back in the evening, we could to be wild children, exploring the hills and valleys along the Minnesota River. ”

~ Utuhu Cistinna Win / Teresa Peterson

For a few days :

“It is not uncommon to see Germans at summer powwows. Several times I came up to them in my dance clothes and asked them in German if they were from Germany. At first there is that second or two of stunned silence, and I can see that their eyes and ears are in conflict.

~ Wasicunhdinazin / Walter “Super” LaBatte Jr.

For Walter, the process provided an enjoyable experience. “I got to read the stories again, and it was nice. I’m interested to see what people’s reaction is and what questions they have. It really is just a cultural book. There is no political thesis or diatribes, it is just about telling stories. I speak only for myself and my grandfather and I speak about what our experiences are. We’re not claiming this is Dakota history because it encompasses all Dakota, but this book is a small aspect of Dakota life, ”he says.

For Teresa, the book was an important way to promote the sharing of stories. “I have a track in the epilogue that really challenges people to think about their own individual stories. It’s really important for us to share our stories, and I think part of the process, too, disrupts the great narratives. I think a lot of my upbringing and mainstream education has been spent on master storytelling and sometimes our education systems don’t really provide a sense of belonging when we can’t relate to it personally. I feel like stories have a way of doing it, and they have a way of connecting us all on a human level. Stories provide this understanding. My hope is that people share stories and understand that we all have a story to share that is part of our American history. No matter what type of forum you find yourself in, each of us has something to contribute, ”she says.

This book is the second edition of Teresa. She has also published a book titled Grasshopper girl, which is a children’s book published by Black Bears and Blueberries Publishing. “It’s a bit the same theme, but it’s at the children’s level. This is our trickster Unktomi, and he tells a story within a story. Some parts are historical fiction, but some parts are correct in terms of history. It’s a little bit about my growing mother, ”she says. Additionally, Teresa has published poetry in The question of racism of the Yellow Medicine Review, and contributed to Rising Voices: Indigenous Women Writers.

For more information on Voices of Pejuhutazizi: Dakota Stories and Storytellers or Teresa’s writings, visit her website at teresapetersonwords.com.


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