In Kiss of The Fur Queen by Tomson Highway and Lightfinder by Aaron Paquette, storytelling by elders to a younger generation is shown to be a significant part of Indigenous culture and life. In both these novels storytelling portrays the lack of knowledge the younger generation have of their history, and how in some instances it can be an outcome of western influence. In Kiss of the Fur Queen, the Okimasis brothers Jeremiah and Gabriel are misinformed of the history of their village, and Aisling in Lightfinder has no knowledge of her family history.
Jeremiah and Gabriel encounter Amanda’s grandmother Anne-Adele Ghostrider who informs them of the authentic story. Similarly, Aisling’s grandmother Kokum teaches her of the powers and history in their family. In both novels, the children are attending residential school or a westernized school, and live in a western society. This ensures that they have limited access to their aboriginal history. This results in a lack of understanding and knowledge of Indigenous stories, as well as stories of their own family.
Both Jeremiah and Gabriel, and Aisling are similarly informed however they elicit considerably different reactions due to the past exposure they have received to the story. Jeremiah and Gabriel believe one version their whole life until that point while Aisling has never heard of those stories in her life. The act of storytelling by their elders is a way for the younger generation to learn of their roots. It is an important custom for them to be able to spread word of their history through the telling of stories and is integral to their culture and lives.
In both Kiss of the Fur Queen and Lightfinder, the younger generation is influenced by westernized education and also figures such as the Catholic Church. Jeremiah and Gabriel are required to attend residential schooling beginning from a young age. They are assimilated into Western culture, language and religion. The Catholic Church is a significant presence in both their home village, and Catholics ran the residential school that the brother’s attended. Furthermore their parents are firm believers of Catholism.
Frequently throughout the novel the brother’s parents remind them to go to church and pray, and that, “The Catholic church saved [their] people. Without it, [they] wouldn’t be [there] today. [They] follow any other religion and [they] go straight to hell. That’s for goddamn sure. ” (Highway 109). This depicts the unwavering faith in which Mariesis and Abraham have in the Catholic Church. In the novel Jeremiah and Gabriel are told by their parents that the woman called Chachagathoo, is an evil woman (Highway 90).
Yet later on in the novel when they are attending an Ojibway powwow, Amanda’s grandmother Anne-Adele Ghostrider recounts the same story at a campfire. In her version she portrays Chachagathoo to be a misunderstood hero, the last woman priest in that part of the world (Highway 246). When questioned by the brothers she exclaims, “Your parents’ generation? In the north? Lied to and lied to and lied to! ” (Highway 247). Through Catholic priests, this woman who is regarded as a shaman, medicine woman, and a priest is portrayed to be a witch. She was attempting to cure a man possessed by the Weetigo.
However the priest present, misunderstanding her Indigenous way of healing stopped her, and the man died as a result (Highway 246). Through fear of the unknown, and a closed minded perspective they misinterpret and twist her good intentions into something hated and feared. As the brother’s parents harbor complete faith and trust in the Catholic Church, they do not question the priest’s rendition of the event. This lie is then passed down resulting in a distorted story. In Lightfinder, Aisling’s grandmother Kokum tells her version of the story of Father Sky, Mother Earth, Sister Mars, the Moon and the Raven.
Before she does Martari says that, “[He doesn’t] even speak [his] own language so all [he] knows are the English versions. [He] can feel that something gets lost in the translation. ” (Paquette 76). Martari feels that the English renditions are missing something, which is lost when translated from Cree to English. The same emotions and mood a story or poem may evoke in one language is nearly impossible to replicate in another. The original may capture an essence that cannot exist in another version. Though this does not insinuate that the translated version is not worthy, it may still be able to grasp the meaning of the story.
Both Martari and Aisling cannot speak or understand Cree therefore they are only able to hear the English version. When Aisling sings for her choir class, her classmate Jake later on says, “I’ve never heard anything like that and I bet no one else has either. ” (Paquette 19). Her current high school is predominantly Caucasian, and Indigenous students are in the minority. Through a westernized style of schooling on the reservation and then moving to her father’s apartment to live in a western society, Aisling learns English instead of her family’s language.
In both Kiss of The Fur Queen and Lightfinder, grandmothers tell Aboriginal stories to an audience by a campfire. Yet these two instances elicit very different results and reactions. In Kiss of The Fur Queen, the authentic version explained by Ann-Adele Ghostrider, is a true story twisted and misunderstood by the Catholic priests. The story of Chachagathoo is first revealed by the priest to the brother’s parents, and then passed down to Jeremiah and Gabriel. The brothers hear this rendition repeatedly throughout their youth.
Chachagathoo’ is mentioned in several occasions throughout the novel and in a vast majority of the mentioning’s as a warning story or with slight fear, as she is portrayed as a witch. When Ann-Adele Ghostrider tells this story at the campfire this elicits a very emotional reaction from Jeremiah who says, “Witch,” Jeremiah whispered. He had to get out of here, right this minute. “Witch,” He repeated, louder this time. “She was a witch. Chachagathoo was a witch. ” His mind, his heart were on fire. ” “(Highway 246).
Upon hearing the grandmother’s story he becomes enraged. This reaction from Jeremiah is a form of denial. This story that he is sure he had known his whole life has been a lie, twisted by the Catholic Church who does not understand the Aboriginal way of healing. The two brothers are not the only affected by this; his parents are the ones who passed down this twisted version of the event. He says, “[His] parents told him she was an evil woman. ” (Highway 247). However he now knows that this is not true, they are all affected by the product of a Western interpretation.
In Lightfinder, Aisling’s grandmother Kokum tells the tale of Father Sky, Mother Earth, Sister Mars, the Moon and the Raven to the search party in the forest. All her life, her parents and grandmother withhold an extensive portion of their lives from her life for her own protection. This withheld knowledge causes Aisling to be unprepared in times of danger. Aisling attended an elementary school on her reservation in which she learned English not her family’s mother tongue. She also moves away from the reservation after elementary school to attend a high school where the students are predominantly Caucasian.
Consequently she cannot speak or understand her family’s Cree language. This leaves her at a disadvantage. Before Eric runs away neither of them are aware of their powers. During the search for her younger brother Eric, Aisling discovers her heritage and the past of her family. This tale told by Kokum is one of an old Aboriginal myth. During this story Aisling learns of the existence of the important beings the Raven, Mother Earth as well as others. As opposed to Jeremiah, her reaction is one of curiosity. She has never been exposed to this side of her heritage and culture and is interested to know more.
In both novels, storytelling by elders is a manner in which the younger generations can learn of their Indigenous history. Jeremiah and Gabriel learn of the true story regarding Chachagathoo from Ann-Adele Ghostrider, while Aisling learns of her past and history from her grandmother Kokum. These recitals of the stories are unheard of by the Okimasis brothers and Aisling until told by their elders. Through storytelling, they discover bits and pieces of their history. It is shown to be an intrinsic part of their culture; a way of passing down accounts of authentic stories that are a part of their Indigenous roots, and their identity.