The past meets the present


Traditional tales are told through speeches, computer animation

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - ;'The stories that I want to tell you tonight come from the Haudensosaunee people,'' Perry Ground said as he began the family-oriented Native American Animation and Storytelling event at St. John Fisher College Feb. 15. ''A lot of people call us the Iroquois - but Haudensosaunee, the people who built the longhouse, is what we call ourselves.''

In an effort to show both the traditional and a more modern take on Native storytelling, Ground first served as storyteller and then as host for the showing of three animated films. The presentation was the third event in a three-month-long series spanning several college campuses for the Rochester Native American Film Festival.

Although this event focused on the stories and the various ways they could be told, Ground interjected background information throughout his presentation.

''[The Haudensosaunee], that is the family that I come from,'' he added. ''The Haudensosaunee come from a very large family - not just mom, dad, brother and sister, but lots of people - aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents; it might even be people you're not even related to, but they might be part of your clan.''

Dana Nichols, an assistant English professor at SJFC and a member of the committee that helped organize the event, said she wanted to make the event family-oriented because ''it's easy to organize events or festivals such as [the Rochester Native American Film Festival] and lose sight of this demographic.''

Ground, project director of the Native American Resource Center in Rochester, has more than 15 years of experience as a public speaker, Nichols added. ''He learns most of the stories he shares from the elders of various Native American communities and feels that practicing and perpetuating the oral traditions of Native people is an important responsibility.''

The first story, ''The Turtle's Race with the Bear,'' an old tale about how Turtle outsmarts Bear and makes him so tired that he sleeps all winter, was told in a traditional way. Ground told the tale as he moved around the audience and interacted with the children before asking them questions about its moral.

''This is one of my favorite stories to tell because it is about a turtle - a very smart turtle - and I come from a Turtle clan,'' Ground said. However, the traditional method of storytelling does not have to apply only to stories that have been around for generations, he said.

''I also think it's important that we still make up stories about what happens now,'' said Ground, as he introduced a story about a college friend and his ''brother'' Needles - a porcupine that eventually becomes a member of the family.

Ground then got the children excited to see Native stories told in a new way, through computer animation. ''I couldn't tell stories this way because I can't draw,'' he said.

The animated films ''Raccoon and Crawfish,'' ''Raven Tales: How Raven Stole the Sun'' and ''Raven Tales: Raven and the First People'' tell traditional Native stories with computer animation that range from five to 25 minutes in length.

Ground once again began talking to the children about the moral of the story after ''Raccoon and Crawfish.'' ''Raccoon and Crawfish'' is a Haudensosaunee story about a crawfish who brags about killing the raccoon. He later gets eaten by the raccoon, which was only pretending to be dead.

''Do you think he should have been telling that story?'' Ground asked.

''No!'' the children answered in unison.

''When we win something, maybe we shouldn't tease or we might end up in the belly of the bigger person,'' Ground said, making several of the adults in the audience chuckle as the children continued to look on in awe.

The audience of approximately 50 people was so enthralled with Ground's stories and with the animated films that almost everyone stayed, even though the event went on 30 minutes longer than planned. Many stayed after to speak with Ground about the stories, something he encourages.

''A story is never just a story,'' he said. ''There's always something we can learn.''

For more information on the Rochester Native American Film Festival, visit