Student stories: Igiugig's storytelling workshop

Feb 11, 2020

In his review of a recent storytelling workshop in Igiugig, an eighth grader reflects on what he learned about the art of storytelling, and why it's important.

A storytelling workshop in Igiugig, Jan. 16, 2020.
Credit Myron Longview

During the week of January 13, world-renowned storyteller Brett Dillingham came to Igiugig to teach the students how to tell stories in a captivating and interesting manner. He gave some examples of what professional storytelling looked like. And if I do say so myself, it was the MOST fun I have ever had listening to a story. He then taught the students how to write their own stories. After the stories were written, he taught us the most important things in storytelling: sound, movement and expression. Then, we did something he called "storytelling wall". It’s literally telling your story to a wall, actions and expression incorporated, followed by some performances to the entire classroom.  He also taught us how to critique each other so that we knew what we were doing to make our storytelling good, and what we could do to make it even better.  That way we began to teach ourselves and we “owned it”.

On January 16, the community met for a chili and moose soup dinner. Then the Makuryat Dance Group performed a few cultural dances for the community. Next, over 50 people (over 70% of our entire village!) crammed into the high school classroom for the highlight of the night: storytelling. The performances by students and community members were captivating. It was a huge success, and several students and community members asked for another storytelling night, saying it was the most fun that they have had at a school/community event. 

Why? I asked Brett Dillingham this very question and he said, "The most recent archaeological evidence indicates that modern humans have been around for about 300,000 years.  During that entire time, the only way we had to teach each other and pass on information was by storytelling.  In recent history, humans developed writing about 5,000 years ago, radio about 125 years, television just under 100, etc.  Interestingly, all of these inventions were created to… tell stories. Storytelling was, and has always been, what humans crave, what drives us: the stories we hear from others, the stories we tell ourselves in our brains, the stories we tell others. Humans eat, make things with our hands, we do many things to exist. But through it all, we listen to and share stories. It is what we are. Even when we sleep, our dreams are stories.”

This storytelling workshop was made possible through a grant from the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation.  Head teacher Tate Gooden learned of the grant opportunity through the Igiugig Village Council.  About the storytelling workshop, Gooden said, “Brett Dillingham inspired every single student in our school through his process of storytelling. The importance of this medium is the source of all of what it means to be human. He covered all the bases of literacy — reading, writing, speaking and listening.  Then, he did us another good turn by hosting an evening of storytelling bringing the community together to fellowship, laugh, and enjoy the goodness that only storytelling can teach.”

The next day, Brett Dillingham left with a final story, before his plane carried him back off to his home in Juneau (just because his last name is Dillingham doesn’t mean he lives there). It was loads of fun learning from him and hearing his stories. Many of the students went up to him as he left and asked if he would be back. All in all, it was a VERY fun week.

Walt Esai Gooden, 13, is an eighth grader at Igiugig School.