Stories are one of the biggest ways we pass on our culture and values. For many of us, Aesop’s Fables and Disney princesses and Dr. Seuss are the first things to imprint upon our young brains, and these stories, or versions of them, are what we’ll tell the next generation. Mainstream American fairytales are a cultural hodgepodge, mostly from European folk legends and Greco-Roman myth. The rich and varied stories passed down by tribes indigenous to North America should have a seat at the table, too; tales about characters like the trickster Coyote or the Woman Who Became a Horse.
There’s been a recent push from Native American activists and storytellers to keep these traditions flourishing. One such activist is the seemingly tireless Julie Cajune, a University of Montana-educated actress, documentary producer and Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal educator.
Cajune stars in the upcoming one-night-only Missoula performance of Belief, a play where she’ll tell Salish women’s stories and poetry, backed by live musicians. Belief, co-written by CSKT member Jennifer Finley, is a small production that’s gone big places. It premiered in December 2012 at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts, and most recently was performed at the 10th World Wilderness Congress in Salamanca, Spain, where it was live-streamed to an international audience.
Belief is presented by Npustin, a nonprofit advancing indigenous art and culture, and the KwKwusm Theater Project, which has staged readings on the Flathead Reservation for a few years now. Plays and readings may not, on first glance, seem that radical; but amplifying the voices of indigenous people—especially women—who have been oppressed is still daring. Stories still have power.