Indigenous stories share common-sense understandings and moral teachings; they function as spiritual and mental medicine. Storytelling is a widely practiced and celebrated part of Indigenous culture for connecting Indigenous peoples to their culture and spiritual identities. It serves to heal traumas such as cultural genocide, racially motivated hate crimes, various types of substance abuse, and intergenerational traumas.
Many Indigenous people rely on the practice of talking circles as a way for them to heal their mental scars. Trauma victims need to connect with other community members to feel less isolated by sharing similar experiences. This helps them to form meaningful connections, share advice, and give words of encouragement amongst each other. This gives them a robust support system behind them through their path to recovery. Storytelling, through a talking circle, is an excellent way for people to connect through shared traumatic experiences and gain strength through the seven grandfather teachings.
For example, when someone is brave enough to share their story, it helps them reach a sense of humility, and it helps them continue to live a life of honesty and truth. J. Stewart reinforces this impact of storytelling as a coping mechanism since it is “… a way to connect with others, sharing stories can facilitate the healing process for us and those around us through a collective sharing of experience” (Stewart). For survivors, growing their spiritual connection through storytelling creates ties to their cultural roots, which helps them find their regained identity.
Possessing a sense of belonging and identification is essential for mental health, and having a cultural sense of identity and being connected to your culture is a massive part of that. During a five-year study, Chandler and Lalonde discovered a startling difference between Indigenous communities that had control over their own health services and cultural practices and those that did not. The communities that lacked their own health services had significantly higher suicide rates and rates of mental health crises amongst the communities.
“… in communities that lacked markers of cultural continuity such as…control over health and public facilities, and cultural facilities, there was a death by a suicide rate of 137.5 per 100,000 peoples…In contrast, communities with all six markers of cultural continuity reported zero suicides within the five-year study period” (Chandler & Lalonde).
Indigenous people struggle with mental health in their communities due to a lack of control over their physical and mental health services. This makes them more vulnerable than those with autonomy since Westernized medicine may work for members of Western culture but not for Indigenous people. The Canadian government should allow more freedom and individualism within the healthcare system and local communities to help resolve mental health issues and promote better healing.
Storytelling provides spiritual answers through its teachings and allows Indigenous people to gain an understanding and awareness of the world around them. This sense of acceptance causes one to feel less alone and understood by others within their communities. Seren Friskie describes storytelling’s spiritual and healing advantages as a way for, “… us [to] learn about the tragic and comedic nature of life and make us feel less alone, confused, and anxious.
Our stories impact our life choices, emotional state, and relationships” (Friskie, 6). Our stories help others understand those around them and to better relate to similar struggles and experiences. They help them to find a different perspective on challenges they face through the use of cultural belonging. The art and practice of storytelling are vital for conveying lessons and values to listeners by fostering a sense of cultural belonging among fellow Indigenous peoples through shared experiences. In turn, storytelling is an essential tool in Indigenous culture for providing knowledge and a healing outlet for individuals to channel their emotions and help their mental state.