Through stories, tough topics can become easier to discuss
By Mitchell Roland - Staff Reporter
Roger Fernandes sees simi- larities between Colin Kaeper- nick and a little rabbit in an old Native American story.
The Highline professor and storyteller told stories to a packed Mount Constance room on Tuesday as a part of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Week.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Week is Highline's annual event to honor the late civil right's leader. Fernandes teaches a class Monday and Wednesday nights on Native American storytelling.
The first story that Fer- nandes told was about a little rabbit.
In the story, all of the ani- mals in a village were meeting to discuss a very big problem when they heard singing and drumming from outside. An animal went outside and saw a little rabbit who was singing, and they told the rabbit to be quiet. But as soon as the animal went back inside, the rabbit be- gan singing again.
One by one the animals went out and took different limbs from the rabbit to try to get it to stop its singing and drumming. First one arm, then another, and then both legs. But each time, after they went
back inside, the rabbit would continue.
Finally, one of the animals removed the rabbit's head, yet the rabbit continued to sing faintly. At this point the ani- mals realized that the song was coming from the rabbit's soul, and that they wouldn't be able to stop it. The animals put the
rabbit back together, apolo- gized and then joined in the song.
After the story, Fernandes said that "I told you that story for a reason," adding "you have to figure it out."
He took suggestions from the crowd about what the story meant to them. One person theorized that it was about perseverance; another suggested it was about hearing everyone's ideas; and another said it was about if a simple apology was enough.
For Fernandes, the story is about hope and courage. He said that he hopes he can be a little rabbit.
"I hope that I have the courage of a little rabbit," he said.
Fernandes says that he sees little rabbits around him — Colin Kaepernick, Martin Luther King Jr., the Standing Rock tribe, Black Lives Matter protesters at a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. In each example, Fernandes said that he looked at them and realized they were the little rabbits.
Fernandes said that Colin Kaepernick gave up his football career to kneel for the national anthem; the Standing Rock Tribe faced the police and water cannons to try to stop an oil pipeline; and the protesters were ridiculed for days for interrupting Bernie Sanders. But in each case, they were standing up for what they believed in, Fernandes said.
"We need little rabbits," he said.
A member of the Lower Elwha S'Klallam Tribe, Fernandes said that the stories were not meant to entertain the crowd, but to teach.
"I'm not here to put on a show for you," he said. "I'm teaching."
At the beginning of the event, Fernandes said that he would not use a microphone for his presentation because that was what he was taught.
"When I speak from my heart to your heart, I want nothing between us," he said.
The stories told were passed down from generation to generation as a coping mechanism for the trauma Native Americans have endured, Fernandes said.
"Trauma never goes away. Trauma stays with you," he said.
Fernandes said it was estimated that 80 percent of his tribe was killed when white settlers came, which created trauma that has lasted for generations. But this trauma is not something that goes away on its own.
"Trauma is not a condition —'You take a pill and it's gone'," he said.
But storytelling is an activity that "relieves some of the pressure," he said.
When people think of teaching, they don't often think of storytelling, Fernandes said. But Fernandes said that in reality, humans have always learned through storytelling. These stories also allow Fernandes to talk about issues that are otherwise difficult to discuss.
The second story comes from Africa and was also about a little rabbit.
In this story, a little rabbit left its house and a caterpillar snuck in and hid up in the rafters.
When the rabbit returned and saw that someone was inside, he opened the door and asked who was in there. The caterpillar said that he was a "great big terrible monster."
The rabbit left, telling a jackal that there was a monster in his house. When the jackal came, the caterpillar repeated the same thing, and the jackal ran away. Same with a lion and an elephant.
Finally, a frog went into the house and insisted that the monster show himself. The little caterpillar crept out of the shadows and showed himself.
Fernandes said that to him this story was about society being afraid to confront people.
The final story came from the Snoqualmie people. In this story, the sky is about four feet off the ground which means people are unable to walk or even see where they are going.
One day, a little girl had an idea. She tried to push the sky, and it moved upward a little. The little girl then convinced her whole tribe to push the sky, and it moved a little more. The tribe called all of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest to try and push the sky, but there was a problem: they all spoke different languages.
The tribes went to a village elder to seek guidance. After four days the elder gave all of the tribes one word that would mean push. The tribes all pushed the sky at the same time, and the sky was moved to where it is today.
After the story, Fernandes again asked what it meant. One person suggested it was about everyone coming together.
To Fernandes, the sky represented oppression and depression.
"We cannot move forward until we lift the heavy sky above us," he said. "Ask for help. Help one another."
The stories he told the audience are personal to him, Fernandes said.
"I tell those stories because they come from the heart," he said.
And by telling them, Fernandes said he hoped it inspire would others to look at their own stories.
"I hope I challenge you to look at the stories of your ancestors," he said.