Gabriel Dumont Institue


Story Telling: A Métis Way of Visiting

By Karon Shmon, Director, GDI Culture & Heritage

Jan 30, 2023

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Long before a bureaucrat suggested February become Storytelling Month annually, the Métis were telling stories. All cultures were oral cultures to begin with so everything was shared through stories. After written communication became an option, many peoples continued to share via what some call the “oral tradition,” a fancy term for sharing the use of our voices for the telling, and our ears and minds for the listening.

All cultures also experience seasonal changes and, in the lands where there is a stark difference between summer and winter, the weather dictates when and what we will be harvesting as well as the kinds of risk we may face as we do so. Canadian prairie dwellers knew the winters could be harsh, so a lot of effort went into food preparation and preservation, collecting wood to provide fuel for heat, and making sure our attire was suited to the climate changes. This was a labour-intensive work and our lives depended on it.

The need to stay out of the cold, coupled with the challenges nature brought with the seasonal change, including shorter days, meant people were indoors more. This provided the time for stories to be shared, a welcomed form of entertainment for many. The stories could vary in length and in purpose. Those with traditional beliefs would share sacred stories, such as those about creation, only “when the frogs were in the mud” or “when snow was on the ground” as conditions that preceded the sharing of these stories. 

Storytelling is a means of cultural transmission, a way of passing down our histories and cultures. But not all stories have to be so purposeful, or contain deep meaning. For many families, the stories are more personal. This is a way to share family history; milestones that are celebratory or sorrowful. It is a way to make people feel they belong to a family and a community and to remember those who have gone before us. The stories can be about any stage of life, childhood, youth, adulthood, and so on. Traditionally, stories could tell a lesson, be humourous, and sometimes they were just entertaining. Often, stories were embellished, allowing a more fulsome expression of the imagination and phrasing of the storyteller.

The Métis never need a formally designated time to tell stories. Every time we visit with one another we are sharing our stories. So if you haven’t thought of yourself as a storyteller before now, you are invited to see yourself differently, as one who will contribute to your personal legacy, your family legacy, and our legacy as the Métis. The stories are endless. Enjoy!

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Gabriel Dumont Institue

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