November 29, 2017
Native American Heritage Month – Digital Storytelling
By: Randella Bluehouse

National Native American Heritage Month pays tribute to the rich traditions of Native Americans, and one of those traditions is storytelling. For the past month, the National Indian Council On Aging (NICOA) has been sharing the most recent stories from the Native Elder Storytelling Project to help celebrate that tradition.

Click above to watch our latest videos. They can also be found on NICOA’s YouTube channel along with our first round of videos.

Native Storytelling Importance

Shannon Smith from the Native Daughters Project beautifully paints the picture of the importance of Native storytelling:

Storytelling is a diverse and powerful medium of imagery and description, and continues to provide the foundation of understanding Native culture through the diffusion of ideas and history through themes, as well as give guidance to the role of women as protectors of culture and values.

Storytelling is both the key and the door to another time, people and culture. For cultures with no written language until post-contact, stories illustrated the lives and values of Native peoples. The stories provide perspective on life in America before contact, and stories reflect the dramatic changes to life after outside influence. Storytelling’s role in piecing together the past is important, but also, modern storytelling’s continued importance in Native culture shows the significance of changes to values, daily life and perspective.

NICOA’s Native Elder Storytelling Project

The concept of modern storytelling in relation to changes in daily life and perspective is what NICOA has focused on in developing the Native Elder Storytelling Project videos. NICOA’s collection of digital stories created by Elders, with the expertise of nDigiDreams, shares personal stories and experiences related to current issues, programs, and how to integrate them with Native ways of life. The stories were created, written, and voiced by an Elder and paired with their personal photos and other media to provide a visual storytelling aspect to the traditional oral storytelling.

Through this project NICOA seeks to help educate and encourage Tribal Communities, the Aging Network, and policy makers to positively impact the future of American Indian and Alaska Native Elders.

NICOA’s Native Elder Stories

The first round of stories that NICOA presented shared Native Elder stories with a focus on current federal programs such as the Older Americans Act, Social Security, healthcare, and the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). The stories helped to highlight the value in the services and programs NICOA was providing which include workshops and educational materials on social service and health programs, as well as NICOA SCSEP.

The second round of stories, released this month, focus on financial capability and the resiliency of Native people, opening up difficult but important discussions about finances, debt, and budgeting. In these videos Native Elders share their hardships, lessons, and successes related to money with beautiful words and imagery. These stories help to provide insight into NICOA’s current Elder Equity program adapted from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Your Money, Your Goals toolkit. The program was developed to build American Indian and Alaska Native Elders financial capability and help them avoid financial exploitation.

NICOA gratefully acknowledges the participating Elders for being an inspiration and for their contribution to the life of our people.



The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.