Tlingit storyteller brings tales to life

During the second day of the Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage, Tlingit storyteller Bob Sam spread his arms, and slowly flapped, mimicking the flight of a bird in front of nearly 50 people.  

In the story “How Spirit Came to All Things,” Raven asks various animals to help carry the sun. When the sun touched various objects, it infused each with spirit.  

His words are slow and deliberate, a measure of their importance.  

“It’s important to pass down values and traditions to future generations. I went through kind of a struggle of going to elders, listening to elders, and going to them for wisdom and advice,” he said. “One day they weren’t there anymore. They all passed away.”

Sam was raised in Juneau. He was sharing stories with Mount Edgecumbe students in Sitka, when one student suggested he find more young people to tell his stories to.  

He encouraged the young people in the room to learn from his mistakes and to stay away alcohol and drugs.  

As he told stories, he walked between the tables, his steps and motions as deliberate as his words. He said he almost lost those words when he was younger. 

“It was back in my late 20s I became a cemetery caretaker and I started reburying human remains,” Sam said. “That changed my whole life even to the point of losing my speaking because I stopped talking to people.”

Sam said the elders noticed his quietness and complemented his voice. And they wanted to train him to speak in front of people about the work he does. 

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