iiši peesintamankwi aalhsoohkaana ‘How we Listen to Winter Stories’

Jim Richardville telling a Paapankamwa ‘Fox’ and Mahweewa ‘Wolf’ story at the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma’s Winter Gathering in 2020.

In a normal year, our Myaamia community usually spends early January preparing for our Winter Gathering events. One of the highlights of those gatherings for many of us is getting to spend time together listening to Aalhsoohkaana ‘Winter Stories.’ COVID-19 has forced our community to cancel face-to-face gatherings this winter, but we still want to find ways to share our stories with each other. Be sure to follow the official Facebook pages of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Eemamwiciki for updates on how to attend virtual storytelling gatherings this winter. One major benefit of hosting virtual storytelling gatherings is that Myaamia people who live far from Miami, Oklahoma and Fort Wayne, Indiana have more opportunity to attend.

We’ve written this blog post to help remind our community of the important context of our Winter Stories. Over the years we’ve found that storytelling events are more enjoyable for everyone when our community understands the background and context of our stories.

For our people there are two major types of stories. Aacimoona are ‘historical narratives’ that focus on historical events and the lives of our ancestors. Aacimoona are usually connected to specific places in Myaamionki ‘Myaamia lands’ and can be organized chronologically from oldest to newest. Aacimoona have a different structure and form from an English language historical text, but in Myaamia culture we treat them as ordinary stories that do not have any restrictions and can be told or read aloud year-round. 

Aalhsoohkaana ‘Winter Stories’ are different from aacimoona in a couple of ways. First, Winter Stories often involve beings that are treated with special respect by Myaamia people. Humans also show up in Winter Stories, but in these stories humans are not the only beings who can talk and cause meaningful change in the world. 

Another important difference is that Aalhsoohkaana should only be told during the wintertime. The reasons for the seasonality of Aalhsoohkaana are complicated. One reason for this restriction is that we demonstrate respect for the animals by telling stories about them only during the winter when they are less active, hibernating, or have migrated away. There are other reasons for the restriction, but they’re harder to explain and not appropriate for discussion on a public blog. 

For our Myaamia community, our Winter Storytelling window opens when the hard frost in the fall puts the small frogs into hibernation and their singing ceases. The window closes in the spring when the frogs wake up and begin singing and the first thunderstorm of the year arrives. We regularly tell a story that warns us about what happens if you are disrespectful and tell these stories out of season. If you attend one of our storytelling sessions you’re likely to hear it.

Aalhsoohkaana can include a diverse set of personalities including Paapankamwa ‘Fox’ and Mahweewa ‘Wolf,’ Eehsipana ‘Racoon’ and Saakiaki ‘Crayfish,’ Eeyeelia ‘Opossum,’ the ever-battling Waapanswa ‘Rabbit’ and Mahkwa ‘Black Bear.’ There are another set of stories that recount episodes in the war between Ciinkweensaki ‘Young Thunder Beings’ and Lenipinšia ‘Underwater Panther.’ Many Myaamiaki’s favorite personality is Wiihsakacaakwa, a being of immense power and unequaled foolishness. Wiihsakacaakwa stories are filled with a unique Myaamia humor and careful insights about the world that continue to inform our community just as they informed our ancestors.

Aayaalhsoohkiaki ‘Storytellers’ at the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma’s Winter Gathering in 2020

We’re grateful to the generations of storytellers who carried these stories forward and taught them to their children and grandchildren. In the late 1800s and early 1900s a large cohort of Myaamia and Peoria worked with linguists and ethnographers to record our stories. We want to be sure to recognize these folks by name: Wiikapimiša ‘Sarah Wadsworth’ (Wea); Kiišikohkwa ‘Elizabeth Vallier’ (Myaamia/Peoria); Soowanaahkihkwa ‘Nancy Stand’ (Peoria); Sarah Jane Cass Keiser (Myaamia); Waapanaakikaapwa ‘Gabriel Godfroy’ (Myaamia); TawaahkwakinankaGeorge Finley’ (Piankashaw); Lenipinšia ‘Frank Beaver’ (Peoria); Nkotikaapwa ‘William Skye’ (Peoria); Ciinkweensa ‘William Pecongah’ (Myaamia); and Waapimaankwa ‘Thomas Richardville’ (Myaamia).

We’re also grateful to our friend Dr. David Costa who recovered these stories from the archives and worked diligently to process the archival documents produced by the scholars Albert Gatschet, Truman Michelson, and Jacob P. Dunn. For over 22 years, David worked with the written forms of these stories to produce printed materials that our community uses today to share these stories again in our community. 

When we share our Aalhsoohkaana in our community we’re sharing generations old narratives that embody who we are as a people. These stories help us explore our place in the universe. Within these stories are the philosophical foundations for how we as Myaamiaki can wrestle with our present day challenges. As wellsprings of deep collective memory, Aalhsoohkaana resist simple moralistic interpretations. When we gather to tell Winter Stories, we remind our audiences that each individual has the inherent intellectual right to interpret these stories for themselves and that they should expect these interpretations to change over time. But we also mustn’t forget that Aalhsoohkaana are alive with a joyful humor that entertains and always leaves us wanting more when storytelling season comes to an end in the spring. Until that spring thunderstorm, we hope you find a way to attend one of our virtual storytelling events or pick up our storybook and read some of the stories out loud to your family. Aalhsoohkiitaawi! ‘Let’s tell Winter Stories!’

Our storybook, myaamia neehi peewaalia aacimoona neehi aalhsoohkaana: Myaamia and Peoria Narratives and Winter Stories, is available for purchase from the Myaamia Center Store.

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