Cedar tree branches

Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories: Relations and the Seasons

Forum Overview

Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories is a series of forums designed to convene Native American and Alaska Native students and families to inform efforts to create an education system where Native students can thrive in Washington. The Region 16 Comprehensive Center (R16CC), one of the 19 centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education to support states in enhancing student success, sponsors these forums. R16CC, which comprises a network of 29 educational service districts throughout Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, has a Tribal advisory board for the state of Washington that specifically focuses on enhancing well-being and opportunities for Native students in Washington. The R16CC Washington Tribal Advisory Board hosts the Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories forums in collaboration with Kauffman & Associates, Inc. (KAI).

On December 13, 2023, R16CC and KAI delivered the first Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories session of the 2023–24 school year. This forum explored the theme of Relations and the Seasons.

Forum Agenda:

  • Opening words
  • Introductions and overview
  • Grandfather’s Lessons – Elaine Grinnell
  • Small group discussion
  • Witnessing
  • Next steps and closing

Opening Remarks

The forum opened with comments from Ivy Pete (Pyramid Lake Paiute/Blackfeet), environmental activist and 2022 Champion for Change for the Center for Native American Youth. Ms. Pete described storytelling as a path for carrying hope in challenging situations. By teaching others through stories, we build community, strengthen one another, and share our values with younger generations. Ms Pete shared that storytelling perpetuates the resilience of our people. Beth Geiger, WA Director for R16CC, then welcomed the participants to the first Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories session of the current school year.  

Next, Ms. Geiger reviewed the background and purpose of the ongoing Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories series. She explained that the intent of these forums is to create a space for Native American students, families, and community members to discuss the well-being of Native American students and reflect on teachings shared by a storyteller. Since September 2020, R16CC and KAI have held four of these sessions per school year.

Dr. Iris PrettyPaint (Blackfeet/Crow), the meeting facilitator, greeted the participants and briefly reviewed the meeting agenda and practices for making the best use of the meeting time. She then introduced Elaine Grinnell (Jamestown S’Klallam), the storyteller for this forum.

Storytelling Session

For the storytelling component of the forum, Mrs. Grinnell shared a story about a grandfather and his grandson. She introduced the story as being about “how you keep something alive and bring it back to the community.” A telling of Grandfather and Grandson by Mrs. Grinnell can be found here

Breakout Discussion Report-Outs

Participants divided into virtual breakout rooms, where they reflected on the story above and responded to the following discussion questions:

  • When in your life have you been the one learning from Grandfather? What were some of those lessons?
  • When in your life have you felt like Grandfather—leaving lessons behind for others to follow?
  • What could schools take on from this story? 

When the participants returned from their virtual breakout rooms, they shared what they had discussed. The following sections summarize key themes from these report-outs.

The Role of Grandfather

Each breakout group recognized the positive influence of Grandfather on the boy’s life. One participant highlighted the “sacredness of the relationship between teacher and student” exemplified within this story. In the story that Ms. Grinnell shared, Grandfather was the teacher, but educators and others within the community can also fulfill this important role. 

Another participant noted that to impart meaningful teachings, educators must share stories and lessons in a way that honors the students’ individuality and agency. Grandfather provides an excellent example of this approach when he asks the boy if he can share one more teaching. 

Participants observed that we are in Grandfather’s role, and we have the following responsibilities to our families and communities:

  • Having the courage to reach out to others and share stories and encouragement 
  • Perpetuating culture, values, and resilience for future generations to carry forward
  • Recognizing when we are called upon to share stories, songs, or teachings
  • Offering help, care, and love not only through stories but also through simply being there for our relatives

As one participant put it, “Being a storyteller, a cultural teacher, there’s no such thing as retirement because these things are a way of life.” Another attendee said that having even one loving role model like Grandfather is often enough for a child to feel supported.

Additionally, a participant commented on the importance of recognizing students as whole humans and acknowledging that these young people have many other roles within their families and communities—as siblings, grandchildren, friends, and so on. Recognizing this context will help educators support the success and well-being of their students—not just in the classroom, but in life.

The Role of the Grandson

Many of the participants recalled fond memories of listening to stories shared by Elders within their families or communities. Several described the sensory experiences that accompany these memories, such as the sensation of sitting on a braided rug while listening to a story. 

One participant observed that being an adult or Elder does not mean our role as a learner is over. She remarked, “Children teach us lessons all the time.” She added that Ms. Grinnell’s story reminded her to tell her own children what she has learned from them and how these teachings have shaped her life. 

Changing the Course of the River

A participant noted that the part of the story about changing the course of the river teaches us to “remind young people that they don’t necessarily have to do anything grand to make a difference.”

Another attendee remarked that listeners often take away different lessons from the same story. Just the same, these teachings can redirect the course of a student’s life. By sharing stories in the classroom, educators can give students the opportunity to take away the teachings they most need to hear in that moment. As another participant observed, lessons often arise in unexpected ways, and we may not recognize these moments as teachings until later, when those valuable lessons have already altered the course of our lives.

Next Sessions

Share Our Voices, Hear Our Stories will be back on February 21 and April 24, 2024.

THE R16CC WA TRIBAL ADVISORY BOARD:

  • Anthony‌ ‌Craig‌ ‌(Yakama‌ ‌Nation)
  • Cindy Kelly (Delaware Nation)
  • Mary‌ ‌Wilber‌ (‌Osoyoos Indian Band)
  • ‌Patsy‌ ‌Whitefoot‌ ‌(Yakama‌ ‌Nation)‌
  • Shandy Abrahamson (Confederated Tribes of the Colville)

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