HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — Every place has its stories - from the Greekmyths, to Ireland's UlsterCycle to Japan's Kojiki. In North America, though, most of the population is only familiar with tales from other places, carried over during a few centuries of immigration. Circle of Stories introduces surfers to the original North American - which is to say, native American - narrative, and shares some of the earliest stories told in this particular place.
Launched on October 1, Circle's home page reveals a layout familiar to anyone who spends time at PBS websites. But while the navigation bar may have you thinking that this is another companion site for a television broadcast, Circle (like the recently reviewed FacetoFace) is a Web-only presentation of the Independent Television Service - a PBS-funded organization, "committed to programming which addresses the needs of underserved audiences." Like Face to Face, Circle of Stories offers content of interest, and probably of more benefit, to the wider audience as well.
Based around four native American stories taken from different locations and tribes across the country, the first obvious target on Circle's home page is a stylized compass rose - which launches multimedia presentations of each tale. This Stories link is accompanied by the advice, "Best viewed with a high-speed connection," and they're not kidding.
Getting to the interactive Stories index takes about two minutes on a 56K modem, but the stories themselves (offering about 6 minutes playing time) take more than 10 minutes each to download. Being Flash presentations, you can of course just busy yourself with other activities while each file feeds into the browser, but that's a less practical procedure when accessing a series of files, and unfortunately, there's no provision for downloading the stories to your hard drive for more convenient viewing.
On the bright side for dial-up surfers, apart from a series of 'animated collage' presentations, all the content available through the Stories link can also be found in different formats elsewhere onsite. The first of Circle's main sections, Storytellers includes RealAudio and text versions of all four stories, as well as profiles of the artists and their tribes - a Lakota/Dakota elder from Northeastern Montana, a Dineh (Navajo) spiritual leader from New Mexico, a Shoshone elder and spiritual leader living in Death Valley, California, and a Narragansett/Blackfeet performer from Rhode Island. (As an added bonus, an audio version of the Dineh story is also available in the speaker's native language.)
Many Voices examines the various types of stories, from tales of creation, to narratives explaining nature and ritual or providing practical instruction, to the Mojave Creation songs - a 525-song cycle, performed so the deceased can journey to the next world. An interactive gallery links images to a collection of quotes, poems and stories, including (in case you thought that all native American stories are old stories) one postcolonial tale, which describes television as, "the box that separates the dreamer from the dreaming."
Speaking of post-colonial, We Are Here views native issues from a modern context, not only in terms of land disputes, but also cultural and natural preservation. The subject is further explored through another interactive gallery, while a map revealing the meanings behind Native place names across the country (from Massachusetts -"at the range of hills"- to the recently contested Klamath "the people"- River) illustrates how one culture can leave its imprint on another.
Community carries the interactivity a step further, by inviting visitors to contribute their own stories and take part in an online Forum. Both these features are lacking in posted responses at time of writing, but contributions should start multiplying as the site becomes more widely known. A list of Recommended Resources is also included, and in the final section, For Educators, teachers can put those resources -and the site itself- to work with the help of three impressively thorough lesson plans.
As a Web-only presentation, Circle of Stories won't get the mass exposure that a television broadcast might expect, but it is available year-round, at any time of the day or night - which is something that even the most syndicated of syndicated shows can't match. And, while it does its small part to preserve a culture for those familiar to it, Circle also gives North Americans who aren't native Americans a chance to learn a few stories from the place where they live.
Circle of Stories can be found at http://www.pbs.org/circleofstories/.