Discovering Our Story


Lower Elwah S’Klallam storyteller and educator Roger Fernandes shares his thoughts on the power of storytelling in our lives:

A long time ago, before reading and writing, humans used storytelling for teaching, learning and sharing. Stories were told for the knowledge they imparted and for the wisdom they revealed. These stories explained the world and how it worked, and demonstrated how human beings were to live in the world in balance with each other and all living things. The Coast Salish people of the Puget Sound region called stories “the Teachings” and relied on them to convey a multiplicity of meanings to the listener.

The power of story is revealed through repetition and reflection. Before books and films and television, stories were told constantly and repeated over and over again. At a certain point, the listener, whether child or adult or elder, knew the story well enough to tell it, as the story was now a part of them and their memory. They knew the story “by heart” and it flowed from them as they told it, no longer reliant on memorization. When they knew the story well enough to recite it they would also reflect upon their own meaning or teaching gleaned from the story. They would ask themselves questions that arose from the story or compare the story or characters to their own lives, or philosophize as to the deeper meanings hidden within the story. They would then lead their lives in accordance with the teachings within the story unified with others from their family or community or tribe who also lived by that story.

Storytelling, when used in counseling or teaching settings allow issues to be seen and discussed metaphorically and opens the doors of meaning and analysis. For example all Native cultures tell monster stories that at first might seem like simple ways of warning children about the real dangers in the world as well as scaring them into being good. When we look at the stories metaphorically, wherein something lesser represents something greater, we might see that the monster could be seen as a great problem and the story a powerful way of showing how great problems could be solved.

An example is the Klallam story of Slapoo, the horrible witch woman who hunts for children in the forests at night. In each story she is portrayed as a terrible creature whose powers are so great that none can escape. But invariably the children in the story overcome the monster by doing certain things such as working together, using their brains, asking for help, or changing their ways. One metaphorical interpretation could be that we humans are meant to overcome problems, no matter how great, assuring us that we will survive difficult obstacles. Another might say that by confronting the monster or problem, we are transformed.

Storytelling speaks to the heart or spirit of the listener. The teaching involved in traditional storytelling is difficult to explain to the modern mind, and often frustrates the rational listener who does not consider the power of story and metaphor. Reason and logic are seen as the ways to teach important lessons. The modern mind considers storytelling to be a performance or entertainment or at worst, a primitive effort to explain the phenomena of the world which has been proven wrong by science and rationality.

About the Lessons

The accompanying lessons use several strategies designed to help you find the direction and strength to live a life of personal wellness.  Before you begin, spend some time exploring the Website and become familiar with these strategies.  Take time to learn about the Sacred Circle and the Hero's Journey.  Both are frameworks that will help you to organize your thoughts and actions, and will help you in your life journey.  Finally, review the section on Historical Trauma in order to better understand how the life history of your ancestors may have influenced your own life.

Discovering Our Story is a collaborative project between Wisdom of the Elders, Inc.
and several Portland Oregon area partners that serve Native Americans. These include:

Native American Rehabilitation Association (NARA)
Cowlitz Indian Tribe Health & Social Services, Vancouver WA
Lewis and Clark College's Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program (IWOK)
Northwest Indian Storytellers Association (NISA)
The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)
Portland State University's Native American Studies Program
Westview  High School English to Students of Other Languages (ESOL) Program
Roger Burt, Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant
and Portland Community Media.