Storytelling & Storytellers

In many cultures, with short days and long nights, winter is the time of stories. Traditional tales provide entertainment on long winter nights, but were important for the lessons they teach and Indigenous knowledge they impart. Centuries-old oral stories teach cultural customs, values, history, relationships, rituals, and ways of life. Narratives have cultural context specific to a locale and community. Storytelling can be song, dance, and reenactments. Stories include non-spoken communication such as petroglyphs and artistic mediums: pottery, paintings, sand art, body painting, carving, and weaving. Modern storytelling can take the form of comics, graphic novels, and video games.

Certain stories are only told during certain parts of the year. Joseph Bruchac (Nulhegan Abenaki storyteller and writer) says “a good story is so powerful that everything wants to listen to it, including the snakes who are awake in the summer time. So, if you don’t want snakes in your house, you don’t tell these traditional stories when the days are long.”

Helen Cordero (Cochiti Pueblo) is a renowned artist of storyteller figurines. A traditional seated female figure form holding a child became known as the “Singing Mother.” Cordero attempted to make this figurine and kept seeing her paternal grandfather, Santiago Quintana. “That one, he was a really good storyteller, and there were always lots of us grandchildren around him.” She shaped a male figurine and placed numerous children on him; she called him Storyteller. Her innovative figurines won her awards and have been exhibited across the United States and Canada. A segment of ¡Colores! on PBS features an introduction to Cordero.

BOOK: Old Father Storyteller
Written and illustrated by Pablita Velarde (Santa Clara Pueblo)
Six traditional stories with paintings by Pablita.

Carol Lucero Gachupin: Telling a Story of Walatowa Storytellers

Inspired by memories of her grandfather telling stories around the fire and dinner table, Carol specializes in storyteller figures made from hand-gathered clay and natural pigments.

• Commissioned by Missouri State University Museum of Anthropology in 2017 to create a large storyteller for permanent exhibit
• Best of Show, San Juan Bautista Fine Arts and Quality Crafts Festival, 1996
• 1st Place, Southwest Indian Art Fair, Arizona Museum, 1996
• 2nd Place, New Mexico State Fair, 2002

Nobel Prize Day

December 10: observed annually as Nobel Prize Day. In 1992, Rigoberta Menchú (K’iche’ Mayan), a human rights activist from Guatemala, received the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy and social justice work for Indigenous peoples in Latin America. She advocated for the rights of Indigenous people during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) and promoted Indigenous rights internationally. Menchú was the first K’iche’ woman to run for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011 as a candidate for Winaq, the first Indigenous-led political party she founded.

Teaching Resources

Coyote and the Sky: How the Sun, Moon, and Stars began

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center’s Indigenous Wisdom Curriculum provides New Mexico K-12 educators with unit plans to serve as a counter-narrative to the NM history currently presented to students. Created by Trisha Moquino (Cochiti, Ohkay Owingeh, and Kewa Pueblos), a K-1 unit titled Science through Story: Pueblo Creation Story: Our Awe Inspiring Cosmos was inspired by the children’s story, Coyote and the Sky: How the Sun, Moon, and Stars Began. “This unit includes a creation story retold and written by a Santa Ana Pueblo author to remind us of the beauty of Pueblo culture and the universe we live in. This unit connects to the core values of love and respect for our universe and provides a foundation for understanding how maintaining balance in our environment is a critical need in today’s world.”

Winter Solstice

December 21, 2020 – Also known as midwinter, the winter solstice is the day of shortest daylight and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The term “solstice” comes from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). During the solstice, the angle between the Sun’s rays and the plane of the Earth’s equator (called declination) appears to stand still. For those in the Southern Hemisphere, it marks the summer solstice.

All across the world, cultures have feasted and celebrated this day. The sun has been observed and tracked as it “traveled” across the sky. Architectural structures like Stonehenge and the Cahokia Woodhenge in modern day Collinsville, Illinois appear to align to the movement of the sun. These structures were likely calendars that had been built over a period of 200 years (A.D. 900-1100). The Chaco Astronomy Book documents the research of the “Sun Dagger” at Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon.

Emmett Garcia and Native Roots

Fun Stuff

Stories by the Fireside
Each Saturday in December, join the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for storytelling by the fireside. Our first event on December 5th featured Emmett “Shkeme” Garcia (Santa Ana Pueblo), children’s author of Sister Rabbit’s Tricks and Coyote and the Sky: How the Sun, Moon, and Stars Began. There is also be a special acoustic performance by Shkeme, John L. Williams (Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux) and Native Roots. New stories will be posted to the page every Saturday in December.

Christmas Books by Native Authors


The Christmas Coat
Written by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (Rosebud Sioux)
A picture book based on an event from the author’s childhood.
Winner of the 2012 American Indian Library Association (AILA) Youth Literature Award

Circle of Wonder: A Native-American Christmas Story
Written and illustrated by N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa)
“Circle of Wonder centers upon a world that is so dear to me as to be engraved on my memory forever. I was a boy of twelve when my parents and I moved to Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico in 1946. … My first Christmas there was beyond my imagining. … This is the moment of the story of Tolo and the circle of wonder. It was, in the long life of the world, a moment of joy and exaltation and deep belief. It was the moment of Christmas and of a spirit that transcends time.” – N. Scott Momaday


About the Author

Jonna C. Paden, Librarian and Archivist at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) Library and Archives, is a tribally enrolled member of Acoma Pueblo.

As part of the Circle of Learning cohort, she holds a Masters in Library and Information Science from San José State University where she focused on the career pathway of Archives and Records Management. She is also the archivist for the New Mexico Library Association (NMLA) and the 2019-20 chairwoman for the NMLA Native American Libraries – Special Interest Group. (NALSIG)

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