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Storyteller working to keep Abenaki tradition alive

staff report • Jul 7, 2012 at 7:29 AM

American Indian Joseph Bruchac, a renowned storyteller who specializes in tales from the Abenaki nation, will offer a week’s worth of performances as the next teller in residence at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough.

While Bruchac has strong ties to his Native American lineage, he was not brought up within that tradition.

“I was raised by my grandparents, the Abenaki side,” he says. “It was a time when people here in the Northeast did not talk about being American Indian.”

“When I was a child, the one way that people could visibly be American Indian and not put themselves in an awkward situation or be treated in a prejudicial fashion was by being a professional Indian,” he goes on to explain. “By that, I mean working in a tourist attraction. There were places like that all around the country, tourist attractions where American Indian people could be themselves or at least represent themselves as they were in a previous century.”

As a result, many of Bruchac’s closest friends and mentors were elders from the Abenaki, Mohawk, Pueblo and Apache nations who worked as paid staff at places with names like the Enchanted Forest and Indian Village. As a teenager, Bruchac learned more about the “hidden” side of his heritage.

“When I had my own children, I wanted them to be raised with the stories I didn’t hear when I was a kid,” he says. “Somehow the thing that you don’t learn is the thing you find yourself most interested in — sort of like that second generation after immigration, where the immigrants are trying to fit in and their grandchildren want to know what it was really all about. They’ll go back and try to find that connection. That was what happened to me.”

Still, it’s not as though there was a shortage of stories in Bruchac’s household, where his grandparents often talked about their own childhoods. Today, the storyteller still lives in the house where they raised him, so his stories have a strong sense of place.

The Adirondack logging tradition, a huge part of life in Bruchac’s hometown, was another important influence during his formative years.

“My grandfather was a logger, and he ran a little general store,” he says. “We had no TV in those days — just a radio. And at night, especially in the wintertime, people would congregate in this general store around the potbelly stove. They’d sing logging songs and tell tall tales and reminisce about the past. I was the little kid who was crouched down behind the soda cabinet listening to every word.”

The week of his residency, July 10-14, Bruchac will perform at 2 p.m., daily in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall. He’ll share tall tales, ghost stories and personal yarns as well as original music on the drum, the Native flute and guitar.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children under 18. Ticket stubs will save audience members 10 percent on same-day dining at The Creekside Restaurant, The Dining Room or Main Street Cafe.

The Teller-in-Residence series (also known as Storytelling Live!) is a seasonal program that invites a new storyteller to Jonesborough each week through the summer and fall.

A detailed schedule of the 2012 season is available at www.storytellingcenter.net. Season passes that offer nearly 50 percent savings will be available for a limited time while supplies last.

The International Storytelling Center is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Storytelling Live! is sponsored by Mountain States Health Alliance. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW4, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Jonesborough Herald & Tribune and Cumulus Media.

For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.

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