Community Storytelling

Last week, I attended two programs involving groups of people gathering sharing the history of a site – though the scale of the two contrasted radically.

Thursday evening, I attended a “Neighborhood History Storytelling” sponsored by Our United Villages, an organization that “inspires people to value and discover existing resources to strengthen the social and environmental vitality of communities.”  People told stories that shed light on Southeast Portland’s history, whether it be stories of growing up African American in the Cleveland High School neighborhood in the 1950s, church histories, struggles over parks and community spaces, the history of Bob’s Red Mill and People’s Co-op.  The idea that people would gather together to share these stories as a way of revitalizing community and building connections was unique and effective, simple and powerful; I can easily imagine a role for schools and students.  The Our United Villages guide to hosting neighborhood history storytelling program is posted here.

Saturday’s official opening of the Fort Vancouver Village was community history storytelling on an altogether different scale.  The Village was home to Hudson Bay Company employees and their families – a thriving multicultural community made up of Metis, Hawaiians, different Native American peoples, French Canadians, Scots, and others.  The celebration recognized the development of new interpretive centers focusing on this rich history, allowing visitors to enter newly constructed and furnished Village houses, observe and talk with the archaeology field school, and interact with other living history reenactors (including young people from the Dame School and Young Engage School.)

It was the circle gathering at the beginning of the program, though, that was most similar to the community history program.  In addition to the many dignitaries who spoke, many individuals stepped forward to share their relationship to the story:  There were descendants of Hudson’s Bay Company employees, visitors from Hawaii, members of the Cowlitz Nation, representatives of the Metis, and people whose ancestral lines followed multiple paths to this site.  It was an exciting day to be at Fort Vancouver.

Fort Vancouver Mobile has an excellent short video capturing the ceremony posted at http://vimeo.com/12706800.

Over the last year, I’ve been working with teachers and Fort staff to develop curriculum that helps students uncover Village history through artifacts.  I look forward to posting that work soon.

UPDATE 7/15:  More video from the opening of The Village is posted here.

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