BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH – For the fifth year in a row, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians tribal member Janelle Adair will be hosting “Stories on the Square” every Wednesday in June and July starting at 10 a.m. at the Peace Pavilion in downtown Tahlequah.
“It’s free and open to the public,” said Adair. “We just invite people to come out and listen to us. You can come out every Wednesday and never hear the same story twice.”
For the Cherokee people, storytelling has always been its own form of entertainment that goes beyond simply reciting a story from memory, according to Adair.
“I don’t think people understand, it’s different than just hearing a story and remembering it and reciting it. A storyteller is different,” she said. “It’s a performance. You take people somewhere else. I know if an audience is with me because they’ll be transported somewhere else and as the story ends, you see them wake up. You feel it. It’s really powerful to see that happen.”
Adair said she first started storytelling in 1999 after running in the Miss Cherokee pageant.
“You had to have a traditional talent for the competition,” she said. “I had a little talk at the beginning that kind of tied in baskets and then I went into the story about the waterspider and the basket bringing the fire back. I had never done storytelling before in front of people, so it was affirmation kind of, of my talent. After I won, I got to go out and do my talent. For that whole year I went out and told stories and it was good practice to get in front of people and it wasn’t scary to me.”
Adair, who has also worked as an interpretive guide for Cherokee Nation Businesses for the past five years, now uses storytelling as a way to share the Cherokee culture with others.Her specialty is sharing Creation Stories with her audiences.
“Through storytelling I’m able to share my culture, the Keetoowah culture and the way that I grew up,” she said. “My stories are mostly about animals or how come something came to be the way that it is. Maybe something in the sky or on the earth or an animal and there’s always these moral stories that go along at the end of them. There’s always some kind of a lesson about how you should be with each other and how you treat one another.”
Over the last five years of Stories on the Square, Adair has also invited numerous other community storytellers to join in on the fun, including Robert Lewis and Choogie Kingfisher.
“It feels good because I can invite them out and continue to learn about my own people from those who are just as passionate about perpetuating our culture and keeping it alive as I am,” she said. “You have to be careful where you get stories from and credit those who have told you stories, too. You can find a story in any book, but there are those stories that came from other people and their families. You have to acknowledge that. It belongs to them. They’re very personal.”
With each year of Stories on the Square, Adair continues to learn and grow her talent.
“As the years go by, I just get more comfortable and confident with it. When you’re comfortable with it, it’s like finding who you’re really supposed to be as a storyteller. You don’t have to worry or think about it. It’s constant learning. I feel like storytelling is my craft. It’s my art. I love it.”
Adair will be present for every Stories on the Square event except for June 26 and July 10. Free admission to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma's Supreme Court, Cherokee Prison, and John Ross and Sequoyah's Cabin Museums will take place after.
For more information about Stories on the Square, visit www.visitcherokeenation.com.