by Julie E. Rucker, Administrative Manager, Smoki Museum
In the heart of the holiday season, just after Christmas and before the new year, there exists a respite from the hubbub and the hectic holiday flurry: Storytellers.
Storytellers at The Smoki Museum of American Indian Art and Culture is a peaceful oasis for families and individuals of our community. It is an annual event for everyone, from every culture, to revisit a cherished tradition of winter. It celebrates the time when families gather inside to recall stories that have been told throughout the generations.
Tales of old teach heritage, origins and practices, and embody the very nature of existence for both human and nonhuman forms that occupy this great blue marble upon which we live.
Some people wonder why we hold this event so soon after Christmas when it is clearly one of the busiest times of the year for a great many people. The answer is quite simply that it is the tradition of the Native people. Many of the stories shared are creation-based accounts that (within the scope of Native religions) may not be spoken until after the winter solstice.
It is, coincidentally, or perhaps not, precisely when the busy among us need a therapeutic break.
At the Smoki Museum, we admire this tradition shared by the indigenous cultures of the Southwest. So, for several years, we have hosted a family event aptly named Storytellers. Friends from a variety of Native nations graciously accept our invitation to speak to our museum visitors: children, parents, grandparents — people of all ages and from all national origins.
They first arrive at the museum, and then walk a short distance to the Pueblo Building. Crossing over the threshold of the historic stone structure, they leave behind the crisp winter air as well as the chaos of the holiday season.
The welcomed visitors are greeted by the sweet aroma of hot apple cider and the crackles and pops of juniper and pine logs, which cast an orange glow upon the hearth. They are invited to partake in complimentary and wholesome refreshments and treats and choose their seats, which have been arranged near the fireplace. Some stay throughout the duration of the event, while others come and go at their leisure. All listen attentively, focused on the storytellers and the wisdom in the stories they convey.
The stories are as varied as the assortment of delicious cookies, lovingly homemade by Smoki Museum volunteers. Tales are frequently a marriage of lore and morality, truth and purpose.
Animals are often among the main characters. Their attributes and behaviors are humanized to emphasize and explain their origins or to enlighten the listeners. Mysteries are revealed. Caution is transmitted. Lessons are learned.
For Native families, stories are a mechanism used to teach the young about their ancestry from creation onward. Through this oral tradition, the children come to know the past and to realize the importance of behavioral choices, their potential rewards or their inevitable consequences.
In our Pueblo Building, our guest storytellers impart the knowledge of the ages while endearing themselves to those gathered, often by sharing bits of their personal experiences. The audience acquires a heightened understanding of the family of humankind, its relationship to nature, and its role in the universe. Storytellers at the Smoki Museum is a heart-warming event for all.
Some of our storytellers return annually, and there are always some new faces among them each year. In 2017, featured storytellers were Duane Tawahongva (Hopi), Gary Keene and Noah Keene (Diné and Acoma), Nicole Estrada Lucero (Yaqui), Manuel Robert Lucero IV (Cherokee), Michael Goodluck (Diné), and Twix Ward (Apache). Each brought their genuine spirit, wit, delightful whimsy and captivating solemnity. As special treats, Michael played his flute and Twix demonstrated basket weaving. This year will be delightful as well, with friends from several Native nations already booked and eager to participate.
The staff and volunteers of the Smoki Museum cordially invite you to join us for Storytellers on Thursday, Dec. 27, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Regular museum admission rates apply — there is no additional fee to attend Storytellers.
As always, Natives, Smoki Museum members, and children younger than 13 are free. Complimentary refreshments will be served. Escape the rush of the holiday season and embrace the comfort of a time-honored tradition.