Aaron Bell– Ojibaway Storyteller

What made you want to become a storyteller?


My path to becoming a storyteller was a round about one.  I went to college for Classical Animation at Sheridan College in Oakville, but realized that I didn’t want to sit in front of a desk all my life.  I found work at the Woodland Cultural Centre (Brantford, Ontario) where I participated in a number of workshops geared towards script writing, stage performance and set design.  One of the workshops was a storytelling workshop led by a well known Ojibway Storyteller named Ferguson Plain.  From there, I eventually found work at Kanata Native Traditional Village (Brantford, Ontario), where I designed tour curriculum, lead tours through the site and shared our culture with people from all over the world as well as right here at home.  Ever since then, I kind of combined my artistic skills, stage performance and First Nations teachings in to what I do today.  I now own my own business called “Ojibway Storyteller” where I share the history and culture of our people through storytelling, historical interpretations, dance performances and workshop facilitation.

Was the journey difficult? 


My journey towards becoming a storyteller was pretty much normal for a First Nations Storyteller.  I listened to my elders share their story’s and I read others and I finally decided to stand up and try it on my own!  That was fourteen years ago.  Now I use hand drums and hands-on materials, such as, wolf pelts, turtle shells and fox tails when I share the story’s of our ancestors with the youth of today.  When I say youth, I mean those young at heart, too!  Adults have the exact same imagination as a child, but they have just forgotten how to use it like a child!

What were some of your favorite stories growing up? 


When I was growing up, I was an only child, so I didn’t have any brothers to bother or sisters to bug.  I had to come up with things on my own to play with or just to keep myself from being bored.  I wasn’t raised in a traditional native family, so I didn’t hear any of the First Nations Story’s that I share today until after I was twenty years old.  The story’s I grew up with were on the big screen, the small screen and books!

My favourite story’s growing up always had something to do with fantasy or science fiction.  Star Wars was a great influence on me as well as Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian story’s.  Another great influence was the Elfquest Series by Wendy and Richard Pini.  All of these stories motivated me to become an artist and put my thoughts onto paper in the forms of comics and drawings.

What made these stories so special was that they took me from my quiet little room to places where my imagination could run wild.  When I read a book or watched a movie, my thoughts would turn from everyday things to things that wouldn’t happen any day, and that was what I found so cool.

When I share the story’s of my ancestors now, with audiences of all ages, in schools, performance venue’s or where ever, I can see the look on their faces as their imagination takes them from the everyday world to a world where there were no computers,  Playstations or Xbox’s.  Taking the audience to a time when storytellers were actual people traveling from village to village sharing the stories of their journeys and their people.  Hopefully, I am continuing that tradition today!

Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story?


I believe that there is a difference between writing a story and telling a story.  When you are telling a story, you can see your audience and judge how your words are affecting them and adjust accordingly.  For example, if I’m working with younger students in (Grade Two), the story I share would be more attention getting and lots of movement.  If I am telling the same story to University Students, the words would be the same, but the physical presence of the storyteller would be different.

In writing, I find that you have to create the emotion of the story within the words themselves.  You don’t have the opportunity to use your physical body to help express that emotion!  Either way, you can still access a child’s imagination through written story’s or storytelling.  They are both ways to share the teachings of our ancestors with our youth today.

What is the difference between a fable, a parable and a fairy tale?


A fable is a story that is made up to teach a lesson while a fairy tale is usually an untrue story dealing with characters that are made up such as fairy’s, elves, trolls and any other character you can think up.  A parable is a short story that shares a teaching or a truth dealing with morals.

First Nations Storytelling deals with all three depending on your point of view.  In our culture, there are beings that have lived in this land longer then we have that can teach us things that we will need in order for us to lead our lives properly.  There are also other story’s that help us remember our history and our laws within our culture.  Most of the First Nations Story’s however teach a truth or a moral lesson that our youth would need in order to be successful amongst our people both today and yesterday.  Discipline, Morals, Responsibility and Friendship towards all beings were often the common teachings weaved within the words of the storyteller.

If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why?


Most First Nations People have a trickster within their story’s.  For the Ojibway (Anishinabe) he is known as Nanobush!  He is a shape shifter, a teacher and a trickster.  Through Nanobush’s experiences, we learn How Turtle Got His Shell or How Fire Came or How The Bees Got Their Stingers.  Children have the gift of imagination and are always asking questions.  First Nations Storytellers answer these questions in the form of stories.  By accessing the imagination of a child, teachings of Morals, Friendship, Discipline and Responsibility were shared without the child realizing that they were being taught!  This, I believe, is one of the best ways to teach a child!

If I was anything within the story’s that I share, I would choose to be Nanobush!


If you could have coffee with one famous storyteller, who would if be and why?


Basil Johnston is a very well known Ojibway (Anishinabe) storyteller.  He is knowledgeable in the ways of sharing stories as well as actually telling them or writing them!  There would be so much I could learn from him and I would love to sit down with him and just listen, although, I don’t think one coffee would be enough time.  I don’t think ten years would probably be enough time!

I would also love to sit down with George Lucas (Star Wars, Willow, Indiana Jones) and ask him questions about character choices since he transferred most of his characters from old European Fairy Tales and Greek Mythology about hero’s and what they are and should be.

What inspires you as a storyteller?


Being a storyteller is a fun job as well as an educational one!  Every telling of a story is different even if the words remain the same.  I love being up in front of people and sharing the teachings and the history of our ancestors.  After all, we have lived side by side for the past five hundred years and a lot of people don’t know anything about First Nations People and their contributions to the history of North America (Turtle Island).  So what inspires me to be a storyteller would be the sharing of our culture and seeing the understanding and the wonder within the faces of the audience I am sharing with.  Plus, I love to travel and see new places, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, someone will request that I travel to them to share my gifts!

What advice would I give to a storyteller with writers block?


My advice would be to just get up in front of people and tell away.  Often times, you can read a story and you have it in your head that you are going to tell one way.  But as soon as you get up and start telling, the story will take a different path and you find a new way to share old stories!

My elders have told me that making a story your own is one of the most important skills you could have.  Remembering the teachings within the story is very important as well.  Remembering the words, word for word is not always as important as the teachings between the words.  Although some First Nations Story’s are meant to be said word for word and for some First Nations cultures, this is proper way.

What stories are you working on presently?


I have just finished recording my second Cd “Painted Imagination” with the help of my kids, Joey, Kierra and Chelsey!  There are several First Nations Story’s on the Cd from both the Iroquoian People as well as Ojibway Peoples.  There are also three Nanobush story’s!  Presently, I am out sharing the story’s from this Cd, such as The Gift Of Spirit (Iroquoian), How Bear Lost His Tail (Ojibway), How Butterflies Got Their Colours (Iroquoian / Ojibway) and others with as many people as would like to have me!  I just recently performed at the Brantford Tale Tellers Festival on October 7th!

Finally, what advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in storytelling?


My advice would be to listen to your elders share their story’s.  You don’t have to be First Nations to be a storyteller!  All those movie makers, book writers and actors are all storytellers in their own unique way.  One thing I think we all have in common, however, is that our imaginations are still looking for an escape from our quiet little rooms even if we are thirty, forty, fifty years old.  Another thing would be to just get up and try sharing a story.  Any story!

Where can kids and parents find out more about your work?


“Painted Imagination” is available for anyone would wish to hear the story’s that I share and can find out more information about my Cd by emailing me!  Anyone who has any questions or would like me to come out to their school, organization or venue can also reach me through email!  I am currently working on my website and it should be up and running hopefully by the New Year!



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About Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

Jolene Owen is an interactive journalist working in the transmedia sector. View all posts by Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

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