Keeping culture alive through stories and songs |

Keeping culture alive through stories and songs

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Ralph Burns, a Paiute storyteller from Nixon, Calif., entertains the audience at the Nevada State Museum on Saturday.

Ever wondered why a raccoon’s eyes are black? Or how the pine nut trees came to the area? Maybe the reason the coyote cries at night is something that peaks your curiosity?

Saturday afternoon at the Nevada State Museum, more than 80 people received information mixed with a dab of entertainment and a smattering of culture through the stories and songs of the Northern Paiute tribe.

“Stories are a good way to put children to bed at night but they can also bring together and inspire people,” Andy Allen, a member of the Walker River Tribe, said.

Allen, along with Ralph Burns and Marlin Thompson, took turns telling stories and songs, first in Northern Paiute, then in English.

Burns said the stories are meant to pass on a tradition or teach a moral to future generations. Story telling is used as a way to continue to keep the culture, and the language, alive.

“There’s not many people that speak the language anymore. We are probably the last generation and these stories need to be told. If we don’t continue to tell them then it will be the last time they are heard,” Burns said.

Thompson has also taken the tales and created paintings inspired by some of the most well-known stories.

“Each of the presenters for the Paiute stories and songs event are master storytellers, well versed in the traditions and lore of their people,” Deborah Stevenson, curator of education, said. “They truly bring the legends of their heritage to life through the skilled recitation of their native tales.”

Stevenson also said she requested that all stories be told in Paiute first and then in English to allow those who haven’t heard the language to get a feel for its rhythm and sound, in addition to getting the understanding of the stories.

“No matter what culture you come from … all cultures have stories that need to be told. We need to ask our elders about our stories because that’s how we pass on our morals and traditions.

More than 100 people were turned away from the event because of safety and fire code restrictions.

“When I first planned this event, I thought it would be a sleepy little winter program. But the fact that it’s standing room only shows the need for these stories to be told,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said the popularity of programs like “Traditional Winter Stories and Songs of the Northern Paiutes” shows the need for a bigger speaking space, something the museum is working toward.

“We are not there yet but we know we need it and we are getting there,” Stevenson said.

— Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.