Program 101: Turtle Island Storytellers

Mary Louise Defender Wilson

Mary Louise Defender Wilson

The World Never Ends

Mary Louise Defender Wilson tells the Dakota legend of the old woman who lives in the sacred earth in an ancient cave with her dog. At the end of her story, she discusses the importance of storytelling to younger generations, “that each generation will carry something from the previous one, that will make them become more civilized and more high-minded and able to be kind, gentle and helpful to each other.”


Arle Neskahi:
Native people of North America have created countless ways to preserve our knowledge and transmit our values and traditions. One way is the storytelling tradition. Here on Wisdom of the Elders, we’ll be featuring stories from many tribes across North America. Join us now with Mary Louise Defender Wilson as we enter the world of the Storyteller.

Mary Louise Defender Wilson: (Mary Louise speaks in Dakota) Somewhere in this part of the country is this cave. And in this cave there is a very old, old woman. She is so old she looks like she is ready to crack. She lives in this cave with her big black dog. In this cave is a fire that they keep burning all the time. And on this fire is the food that she is cooking for herself and this dog.

But she is sitting there and she is doing quillwork on this long strip for a robe. But when the fire looks like it is going to die down, she stands up. But she is so old, has a hard time getting up from the ground. She walks very slow. And very slow picks up this stick of wood, very slowly takes it to the fire. When she gets up to get that wood, her dog goes and it rips out the quillwork that she did. And then the dog lays back down. So by the time she comes back to her quillwork from putting wood in the fire, she doesn’t remember how far she did.

So then she does the quillwork again. This goes on and on and on. She does the quillwork. Has to put wood in the fire. Is very slow getting up, getting the wood, putting it in the fire. The dog goes over there and rips out what she did again. And according to the story if she ever finishes that blanket strip, then the world will end.

And I remember then somebody making reference to the fact that the world is not going to end. Because this makaka and her sunka, her dog, they will continue to do that unless something very very drastic happens. And I don’t think it is going to happen. So my relatives, it has been the practice of all people to tell all the coming generations stories. Each generation learns something new. It seems to be the way of people that they will try to understand what happens in each generation how that will help the people. Then these stories come into place. And then they are told so that people will live like human beings when they listen to these stories.

It seems that that is the way that we should go, that each generation will carry something from the previous one that will make them become more civilized and more high-minded and able to be kind, gentle and helpful to each other. That is the way it is supposed to be and that is what we hope will be.

Neskahi: You know, stories teach us so much about ourselves. Thanks to Mary Louise Defender Wilson for her story and her wisdom today, and to Makoche Records and the North Dakota Council on the Arts. This is Wisdom of the Elders, a weekly show that brings you stories and songs of teachers and elders from the Native nations of North America. I’m Arlie Neskahi.