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Lakota Storytelling Tradition

A conversation with Joseph M. Marshall III

BISMARCK, N.D. - Joseph M. Marshall III is a teacher, writer, actor and
traditional storyteller who celebrates his heritage in his book and CD "The
Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living" (published by Viking Compass
and Makoche Records, respectively). The CD version of the Lakota stories
won the 2004 Audio Publishers Association "Audie" Award for Best Spiritual
and Inspirational Recording.

Marshall's new book is set for release in October, "The Journey of Crazy
Horse: A Lakota History", which is based on Lakota oral history about the
great leader. An excerpt will be published in the September issue of
Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

One of the most striking concepts of Marshall's work is his stance on the
storytelling tradition of the Indian people. He rejects the concept that
only written history is correct because he knows the care traditional
storytellers take in keeping track of tribal history. "With the stories in
'The Lakota Way' more than one person knew all of the stories and sometimes
someone would have a slightly different version," Marshall told Indian
Country Today.

"They are stories that all of the old people, the elders knew and they
would talk about the stories and how their version compared to how someone
else told it. As a child you don't realize what's really happening, but
looking back on it as an adult I wish I would have paid more attention to
it, or that I had a better memory for certain details. But they were simply
carrying on a tradition they learned from their parents and grandparents,
the tradition of imparting knowledge through stories."

Marshall said he was drawn to Makoche records because they put out not only
American Indian music, but spoken word CDs also. The album became an audio
representation of the book with sound effects and music provided by such
major Indian performers as Keith Bear, Joseph FireCrow and Andrew Vasquez.

"We felt that we didn't need to enhance the stories, but we needed to make
it more interesting and appealing," Marshall said. "I don't play flute
myself, but I have always been fascinated with it, especially when it is
coming from someone like Joseph FireCrow; he knows what he's doing, he's
aware of tradition, and he is aware of the storytelling process, so it
became a natural connection.

"The whole intent of the CD was to put those stories in the oral form, the
way they should be heard. The people who originally told me the stories
inspired me with their style, how they told the story, and how they used
words as a very visual mechanism. I try to copy those types of things."

Marshall used his skills as a storyteller to create the new biography of
Crazy Horse, and he compared his stories to recorded history, but he
doesn't accept the idea that only the dominant culture's views are correct.

"It's a biography of Crazy Horse from our viewpoint, the Lakota viewpoint,
and I've recorded that as well, so a CD will come out at the same time as
the book," Marshall said. "I try to use that same style of a storyteller to
tell the story about this man's life. It needed to be a biography, and it
needed to be based on the facts, but I didn't want to write it in that dry,
historical, point-by-point style; those kinds of books lose me after
awhile. So as I am a storyteller, I decided the best way to tell the story
of Crazy Horse was as if I were in a room or under a tree, telling the
story to a group of people.

"A lot of people assume that the only information about Indians that is
reliable is the documented information; and they say that memory is
unreliable, but that's not true. In any Native culture, anywhere, there are
stories that white historians have never heard and will never hear, because
we are very guarded about such things. I grew up hearing bits and pieces of
things about Crazy Horse from many different people, and that's my source."

On Oct. 11 Viking/Penguin will publish Marshall's sixth book, "The Journey
of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History." The author is also working on an on-line
novel, "The Archer" which can be read at www.thunderdreamers.com.