Native American Oral Tradition

When European explorers and settlers first arrived in America, there were hundreds of different American Indian nations. Although these tribes had different languages and cultures they shared a rich oral tradition.

The stories that these nations passed down recorded everything from history to cultural beliefs and even to science and technology. Studies by anthropologists David Pendergast and Clement Meighan have shown clear evidence that Native American oral traditions contain real history, and Stephen J. Augustine, the Hereditary Chief and Keptin of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, has said about the oral tradition that

“(The Elders) did joke with each other and they told stories, some true and some a bit exaggerated, but in the end the result was a collective memory. This is the part which is exciting because when each Elder arrived they brought with them a piece of the knowledge puzzle.

They had to reach back to the teachings of their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. These teachings were shared in the circle and these constituted a reconnaissance of collective memory and knowledge. In the end the Elders left with a knowledge that was built by the collectivity.”

Many of the newcomers to America came from cultures that preferred written factual documents over spoken storytelling, and contact with the natives soon blended the two traditions. Now most education and oration in the US contains both forms of information: anecdotal and factual.