To further celebrate Native American Heritage Month, The Library’s Storytimes during the last week of November will reflect on and explore Native American history.
The Library’s Indigenous American Book Lists suggest a wide array of enlightening and informative titles for all ages. Adults looking for insight might consider Rez Life by David Treuer, or Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s Memoir, Crazy Brave. Teens can try Before Columbus or Jim Thorpe: Original All-American. Suggestions for kids include Kunu’s Basket and the timeless Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Native American Heritage Month: Storyteller Dovie Thomason Returns to Enrapture Library Audiences
Dovie Thomason was in Arizona, giving a program for college students when she caught the rare sight of a road runner coming toward her.
“I haven’t seen these guys in so many years,” she said. “And here he is, walking across the yard in the desert in front of me. I can’t not notice how lucky I am, how blessed I’ve been to be at the right place at the right time with the right people. This road runner today is reminding me, ‘Be grateful.’”
The lessons nature teaches us are essential to Thomason. By popular request, the nationally renowned storyteller, who lives in Lower Paxton Township, helps The Library celebrate Native American Heritage Month with “Lessons from the Animal People,” two presentations earlier this month.
Thomason said she imagines herself as a river fed by multiple streams – her life experiences in rural and urban America, her family and elders, and her Lakota, Apache, and Scot Traveller ancestry.
Thomason didn’t grow up thinking of storytelling as an “other” function told in isolation or in performance. She learned from her grandmother, who wove storytelling into her canning, gardening, and cleaning.
“It’s not an art,” she said. “It’s a social action. It’s something we do to come together. When we come together and we share stories, or we share the attempt to explain our place in the world together, it makes us stronger and kinder and more cohesive as a society.”
Thomason’s career has evolved from Native American settings such as pow-wows, potlucks, and Head Starts, where she shared storytelling with Native American children. She is also a career teacher who recognized that young Native Americans knew little about their heritage or its containment in oral traditions. She started appearing in libraries and schools, and today, she is a sought-after presenter and educator nationally and worldwide.
Her work dovetails with The Library’s mission to promote literacy because “you can’t understand literature unless you know storytelling,” she said. “Mark Twain owes a debt to us.”
Thomason keeps her audiences rapt – even young children, said Library Programming and Outreach Administrator Tynan Edwards.
“Listening is a skill, and it’s crucial to understanding the written word,” he said. “And it’s important for parents to see that you can tell these stories and get your kids engaged. You don’t need a phone, and you don’t even necessarily need a book, to get your kids engaged and thinking and aware.”
The reaction to Thomason’s programs is always positive, from parents, children, and staff.
“They’re just great stories,” said Edwards. “She’s a gifted storyteller. She tells stories that her grandmother told her, so they have a lot of resonance. Parents love the morality of the stories without it feeling forced.”
Celebrating Native American Heritage Month offers the chance to spotlight the oral storytelling traditions that are central to so many cultures, whether Native American, African, American Southern, or Irish.
“It’s one of those programs that translates for every age group,” said Edwards. “There’s something different about oral storytelling that captivates everyone. Everyone’s in quiet-listening mode. Everyone is focused on the person telling that story.”
For Native American Heritage Month and year-round, Thomason hopes that her programs raise awareness of Native American traditions and culture. Children are often surprised to find out, for instance, that Native Americans are funny – not the sad or dour people seen in movies. And she wants listeners to know that Native Americans share universal truths and “are not museum pieces.”
She likes to repeat the saying that when you teach about a culture, you’re not only opening a window into it but also, if the image is clear enough, holding up a mirror. And although her work takes her all over the country, the local resident whose home library is East Shore Area Library gets a lift from the impression she can make at home.
“It’s so exciting to be in touch with my own library system,” Thomason said. “It’s wonderful to go abroad, and it looks great to say on your resume that you won awards from state councils, but I love being in the vegetable aisle, even if I’m in sweats and it’s a bad hair day, and some little person looks at me and said, ‘You’re the story lady!’ That’s cool.”
To further celebrate Native American Heritage Month, The Library’s Storytimes during the last week of November will reflect on and explore Native American history. The Library’s Indigenous American Book Lists suggest a wide array of enlightening and informative titles for all ages. Adults looking for insight might consider Rez Life by David Treuer, or Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s Memoir, Crazy Brave. Teens can try Before Columbus or Jim Thorpe: Original All-American. Suggestions for kids include Kunu’s Basket and the timeless Island of the Blue Dolphins.