Updated: Dec 21, 2022
For 2022, Wednesday, December 21 marks the start of the astronomical winter, also known as the winter solstice. For most North Dakotans, including this year, winter starts well before this date. The winter solstice, which falls between December 20-23 depending on the year, signifies a moment that the northern hemisphere receives the most indirect sunlight due to the earth’s tilt on its axis wherein the sun is overhead the Tropic of Capricorn. In other words, it is the shortest day and the longest night in the Northern Hemisphere (fewest hours of sunlight, when the sun takes its lowest, shortest path across the sky). The reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere, where the shortest day of the year occurs in June.
The winter solstice is an event that has been observed for hundreds of years by many of our Indigenous ancestors. Some Tribal nations have retained various teachings of the cosmos and solar system to include the sun, moon, stars and other planets wherein they highly activate during solstice time. Other tribes are attempting to revive ceremonies and practices that were taken from them by force. These are a reminder of indigenous peoples’ understanding of the intricacy of the solar system and how lunar phases may influence us.
For indigenous people, during the longest time of darkness of the year, it is a time to go within oneself with deep intention, and to give attention to the spiritual self, the physical body, the mind, and relationships with family and loved ones. In addition, with this deep intention, it is the goal to prepare for the longer winter days.
The winter months are a time of traditional storytelling for indigenous people. The reason for this is indigenous people were/are busy growing, gathering, and hunting food during the other seasons. With the long, dark evenings and the fervor of winter weather outside, children were/are taught and entertained via the telling of traditional stories, wherein many characters were/are animals. Out of respect to the animals within these stories, indigenous people waited until their less active period or hibernation to talk about them, so they could not hear it.
Many indigenous communities in North Dakota will hold various ceremonies honoring the solstice and family time together on December 21.
Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”
Goal: Students and teachers will understand that storytelling had many benefits and was used for many purposes. Indigenous peoples used oral tradition to pass on historical knowledge to the next generation, to teach social rules, and for entertainment. However, benefits also include:
· unifying members of the group
· increasing cognitive development
· honoring the elder knowledge of the tribe
· fostering listening skills, imagination, and social skills.
Lesson - Students will listen to a storytelling, Getting Ready for Winter: https://teachingsofourelders.org/getting-ready-winter-angeline-fourth-iron-road/
Step 1 – How did people long ago prepare for winter? How does that differ from today? What other cultures celebrate winter solstice?
Step 2 – Students will pick a culture other than their own and complete a short research paper that includes answers to the questions in Step 1.
Step 3 – Students will present their findings to another class or within their own class.
Wintertime is a wonderful time for storytelling and playing indigenous games.