Trevor Thomson, a member of the Karuk tribe, shared some traditional stories from his tribe with students on Wednesday in the Ludwick Center for Spirituality, Cultural Understanding, and Community Engagement.
The room was filled with 40 people who all sat in an intimate circle as if they were around a campfire with a fire blazing in the middle, keeping everyone warm, but the warmth was from the comfortable environment of singing songs and passionate storytelling.
“Storytelling is a way to connect our souls and spirits,” Thomson said.
Thomson wanted the audience to engage and get the authentic experience of what it was like growing up as a Karuk. He delivered many personal anecdotes, but the mood was set when he prompted the audience to engage in song.
Thomson faced each direction while chanting, which he said he was “Calling the Ancestors.”
The group engaged with the activity with smiles on their faces as Thomson circled around the room hitting his hand with a stick made of elderberry his mother gave him at 17 years old.
Thomson provided soothing sounds as he hit the hand drum that was passed down to him from many generations before him.
Students focused on him as he danced around the middle of the circle passionately singing the songs that were special to the Karuk.
A crowd favorite was the “Rain Dance.” Thomson explained that songs like this were sang to thank Mother Earth for her greatest gifts: water, air, fire, and all the resources that give us life today.
With this in mind, he transitioned into one of many stories that he was told as a young child.
Thomson told these stories while holding two large bald eagle feathers to symbolize the Great Spirit.
“About 12,000 years ago, the Karuk came out of the earth, the belly of the Mother,” Thomson said.
Students were captivated by the imagery of animals roaming the earth and the idea that everything came to be from the people that walked before us, such as the story of how Raven released the sun, the moon and the stars that we see everyday.
“You could hear the passion in his tone and actions, and the smile he had on his face the entire time,” Elizabeth Galioto, senior sociology major, said.
The audience laughed, smiled, and gasped as Thomson told these stories in a way that felt as if they were there.
Valerie Trujillo, senior education major, asked Thomson when we went from hearing the stories to telling them.
Thomson explained that he learned from his elders and that it is something he began to feel as he was present for many traditional ceremonies.
“A lot of these stories were passed down from my mom too,” Thomson shared with a smile on his face.
The students shared their appreciation for all that they learned from Thomson, and he invited others to tell stories too, no matter where they come from and where they’re going.
“The words that we speak can be medicine. Bring good medicine, tell good stories,” Thomson said.
Thomson ended the night with a blessing by burning sage and calling out to the Karuk ancestors for safe upbringing and healthy life.
Deja Goode can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.