Pasar al contenido principal

The Importance of Indigenous Oral Traditional Storytelling: Part 3

By Chad Valdez (Diné)

Listening to stories and sharing our own is how we will learn to live in a world that is constantly in motion– changing and evolving with the people in it. With technology in every facet of most people’s lives, stories are more accessible than ever. That means stories can change as well. They can be enhanced to better immerse a listener into the story. As noted in part 2, stories are experiences in which we gain knowledge. Storytelling is based in tradition. With new modes of understanding and listening to these stories, Indigenous Peoples can have more access to these traditional ways of knowing. 

While studying at New Mexico State University, I took a class titled Sound Writing and Sonic Rhetoric. In it, we studied how sound, in all its ways from noise to voice, is connected to different areas of study and research, such as culture, gender, and race. I had the idea for a project where I would continue with my interest in traditional storytelling, but think of it in a contemporary way and use the technology provided to me in the course. With the help of my professor and some friends, I created a fictional story where I narrated, my friend's voice acted for different characters, and audio samples helped to better immerse the listener in the story. It came out rougher than I would have liked, but I loved it. In creating it, I felt I was able to better practice the art of oral storytelling and sharing experiences with others. I wanted to enhance the atmosphere to set the listener in place. An expert oral storyteller will be able to easily transport you to the setting of the story they are telling. With the tools I was provided, I attempted to do this as well but using more audio components. 

There are many places I took inspiration from that are doing this same type of work. The YouTube channel Navajo Traditional Teachings is an amazing place to continue hearing Navajo (Diné) stories and knowledge, from a wonderful oral storyteller and historian named Wally Brown (Diné). Another source of inspiration was the podcast This Land hosted by Rebecca Nagles (Cherokee). Discussing Native American issues such as land rights, sovereignty, and court cases, Nagles uses a mix of her narration, interview clips, and atmospheric sounds to better place the listener in the story. Cultural Survival also has the Indigenous Rights Radio which has a broad range of material that includes public service announcements, interviews, and reports. These are just a few places where Indigenous Peoples share their stories and experiences using the technology readily available to many. I hope that more and more Indigenous Peoples continue to use new ways to reach broader audiences. Our stories deserve to be heard– by anyone who wants to listen and learn. 



A car pulls up to a stop with the idle fading away. 

MOM: Are you sure you want to do this?

I was a sophomore in a small high school that only had three sports. 


Ball being kicked


Ball being dribbled

And track and field. 


I hated basketball, it just felt like running back and forth, and my failed attempt at soccer in elementary school haunted me every time a ball was kicked my way. Throwing the shotput in field was an option but the throwers still had to run constant laps with all the track people, which I grudgingly scoffed at. The most running I did was from the kitchen to the couch during commercial breaks of a TV show.

Canned laughter

Day by day I was slowly gaining weight, getting picked on by my older brothers, defenseless when they would come to beat me up. The TV was playing an ad for a big boxing match that was coming up, it showed a preview of the fighters, moving out of the way of punches, throwing some back until the other was on the ground. The last hit from my brother 


solidified what I wanted to do. 

MOM: Remember I already talked to the coach here. They said you can come in to try it out. 

The gym was in the back of a rundown police station. We had to drive through three different gates to get here and the top of each of them had barbed wire. Some spots were crushed down as if someone had made it out. I wanted to make that same escape. The tension between my parents lately had me choosing who to ask what.

Grating metal

I asked my dad about it, but somehow my mom was the one bringing me. I don’t think she wanted to. I told her I was sure, and to not forget me here. 

MOM: I’ll be back in two hours to pick you up. 

Two hours? 

MOM: I love you!

Gate closing

Large door opening and closing

The first shock when you walk into a boxing gym is the smell. 


The salty scent of sweat lingers no matter how well you clean, and this gym was no exception. Down a small hallway and in the windowed office to my right were two older men, sitting and talking. 

Muffled talking

They scowled at me, waved at me to go around, and come in. Just past their office was the cold room with three lines of different-shaped bags hanging from the ceiling. The walls were covered from bottom to top with mirrors. Near the mirrors were a line of speed bags hanging from platforms, and some kid was working one expertly. 

Speed bag being worked

The rat-a-tat echoed off the walls. In the center was a huge boxing ring, up high enough that some homemade stairs had been erected. Weights and machines sat against another wall.

Weights being lifted

Punching bag being hit and swinging

Among all of these bags and workout equipment were seven boys and one girl. One kid from the Navajo reservation, only a few miles from where we were, noticed me – I recognized him from another school. I thought I might have found a friend here, but when he looked at me, he scowled like the others and hit the bag as hard as he could.

Hard bag hit and swinging chain 

Bell rings

They all stopped what they were doing and stared at me.

That bell, I learned later, meant that everyone had one minute to rest. They were silent, watching my every move as I entered the office. As soon as the door closed,

Door closes

the bell rang again 

Bell ring

and the sound of punches being thrown and bags swinging resumed. 

Muffled punches and bag-swinging

The one sitting closest to me was a small man with a thick mustache and forearms that were too big for his body. His ear was puffed up and curled in, as if it was filled up with water and was stuck too long like that. I nodded my head. 

BILLY: Guess you’re our newbie huh? Get on the treadmill. I’ll set the speed and tell you when to stop. 

I stepped on the black rubbery lane and started to run while he continuously upped the speed. 

Running on treadmill

BILLY: My name is Billy. This is Joe. 

He pointed to the man sitting in the metal folding chair watching me. His face was blank and made no movement or sound when introduced. He was smoking a cigarette out the window. He was heavyset and much taller than me, a white beard and a thick head of hair hid any expressions. 

BILLY: If you want to just work out here, I’ll be your coach. If you want to compete, Joe will be your coach. 

He watched me struggle to keep up the run. 

Heavy breathing

BILLY: Do you want to fight? 

I nodded my head and tried to keep running, my lungs were on fire and I felt like my heart was beating through my shirt. 

Heart beating

JOE: You can stop. 

Treadmill stops. 

Heavy breathing.

JOE: Come on. 

He led me out of the office and into another room. It was full of boxing gloves, headgear, waist protection, lockers. While looking around he shoved two rolls of fabric into my chest. 

JOE: Do you know how to wrap your hands? 

I told him I didn’t. 


He pulled my hands out and proceeded to wrap them, quickly and proficiently. My hands were snug and wrapped tightly. It reminded me of old Bruce Lee movies my dad used to watch. He pulled a box from the top of a locker and dug around until he pulled out a mouthpiece. He grabbed some gloves, headgear, and a waist guard that looked like a large diaper. My stomach dropped as if I’d already been punched. 

Joe: Try these on. And put this mouth guard in.

I did what I was told, and tried to act tough, but I’m sure he saw right through it. 

Joe: Now, you’re going to go in there and spar. It’s going to hurt, but I want you to try your absolute hardest. I’ll guide you along while you’re in there and yell out some tips. I assume you know the basics?

I thought about fighting my brothers and gave myself false confidence that I knew at least a little. He slipped the puffy gloves on to me and then called over a boy named Oscar

JOE: Oscar! Come here.

 who looked older than me, a thin goatee ran around his mouth and he was tall and lanky. I knew I had to outweigh him so I figured I’d be okay. He hit the bag he was working on one last time and sauntered over. I put my hand out for a bump but he ignored it. 

Joe: Work easy with him Oscar. It’s his first time. 

He turned to me.

JOE: This is going to let you know if you should stay or not. Being in the ring is a choice, and many people say No. It’s difficult, it hurts, and you’re going to be constantly tired from getting the shit kicked out of you. Do you still want to do this? No shame in backing out. 

I willed myself to nod my head, knowing that if I said no I would sink into myself more. More self pity, more time at home ignoring the yelling, more anger. My stomach kept turning as I stepped up into the ring. 


The other kids began to migrate toward us, standing on the sides of the ring. Oscar stood across from me and was hopping in place.


I figured whatever he threw at me wouldn’t hurt that bad with all the protection I had on. There was a timer on the wall ticking down to zero from ten. 


Bell rings


Oscar rushed towards me. I backed up and went right into the ropes. I tried to push him away as he shuffled towards me again and feigned throwing a punch to my stomach. I put my hands down to block what I thought was coming and was met with a punch to the face. 

A river of red flowed in front of my eye as I tried to blink and felt another numb thud on the side of my head. 


Oscar threw punch after punch to my face from seemingly all directions.

Punching combinations

I put my hands up and tried to move away and get off of the ropes, but he put his hand on my side and pushed me back to the corner.

Something being pushed against

JOE: Ease up Oscar. Dance around more. 

My lip busted open with the rough leather of his glove when the next punch landed.


 I felt more liquid flowing down my chin and under my shirt. He danced back and let me step forward as I threw a punch, but it felt like I had lead in my gloves.

I had never been more tired in my life and I felt like I was swimming in concrete. I advanced again trying to bullrush Oscar, but he quickly moved out of the way and snapped a punch into my ribs that made my legs shake.


 I laid back against the ropes to try and rest and felt a hand push me back forward.

UNKNOWN: Get back over there!

Oscar threw a hook to my head. I ducked and managed to avoid that one. He was close to me, first on one side, then the other. He put his hands on my shoulders and had me sway with him. He let go while I kept swaying like a drunk trying to keep their balance. I put my hands up in front of me to protect my face. Oscar pounded on the outside of them like an intruder at the door. 

Banging on door

I had no idea how much longer I could go and kept waiting for the sound of the bell, but the yelling from the other kids was the only thing getting through.

Indescribable yelling

 I finally pushed back hard, making Oscar misstep and fall a little. It seemed like he was falling in slow motion and trying to catch his balance, and without thinking I threw my right hand as hard as I could, downward like an axe, and I hit him directly on the jaw. 

Loud punch

He immediately retreated and smiled as he slid around to the other side of me. The bell finally rang 

Bell ring

and I fell to the canvas with a loud thud. 

Loud thud

My lungs were on fire, my shirt was soaked in blood and sweat. I felt cold liquid cascade down my face. 

Water being poured

Joe was pouring water over my head and pulled my gloves off. Another loud thud 


reverberated in my aching head and body, Oscar was sitting next to me, smiling. He put his hand out to shake, then pointed at the other fighters getting into the ring. They were smiling too. One of them put a hand out to help me up 


and held the ropes open for me to get through. 

JOE: You told me you knew the basics. 

He gave me a towel to wipe my face and poured more water on my head. 

More water being poured

The shock of the cold had my eyes fluttering. I told him I guess I was wrong. He smiled at me. 

JOE: We’ll teach you.

Clock ticking

We could hear the muffled voice of the announcer calling out the winner of the last match. 

ANNOUNCER: The decision goes to—

In amateur boxing, the heavyweights go last, and that meant, despite this still being new to me, that I was the last fight of the night. 

ANNOUNCER: Will our next fighters please step to the ring at this time?

I had been shadowboxing with Joe, practicing every technique I was taught since my first sparring session.


 Now I was sparring the air, winning in my head. I stepped around Joe and he followed me out of the room we were in. 

JOE: All warmed up?

I gave him a thumbs up and he lifted the curtains that cut us off from the auditorium where the fights are held. 


My mom sat on one side of the large auditorium. My dad sat on the other. Although their divorce was now final and they’d promised that everything would be fine, I was still anxious whenever the two were in the same place. They shot looks at each other from across the ring, and I knew this wouldn’t be the last fight of the night. My opponent walked opposite of me and walked up the steps into the ring. 

Walking on creaky steps

He was much bigger than me, from the military school in New Mexico. 

Announcer: Fighting out of Gallup, New Mexico, the Indian Capital of the World, making his debut fight—

JOE: Ignore it all. Focus on what’s in front of you. You know what you’re doing now. 

I stood in the middle of the ring with the other fighter. The referee was talking but I couldn’t hear him.

Muffled speech.

 I kept looking to my parents on either side of me. They were mouthing words to me and waving. I was feeling pulled in each direction.

REFEREE: Protect yourself at all times. 

Clock ticking

That night, on the couch in my teammate's hotel room, I held a bottle of tequila to my reddened eye, hoping it wouldn’t turn as purple as I knew it would. Oscar took it and traded me a washcloth with some ice in it. 

OSCAR: Sucks you lost. One judge ruled in your favor though, that’s good. A split decision. 

Our other teammate, Mario, was snoring in the corner of the room, exhausted from his match and too much tequila.


OSCAR: So why’d you stay here with us tonight? Aren’t your parents in town?

I responded by taking the tequila back from him and sipping from it. He nodded his head. He was celebrating his 3rd win in a row but was happy to sit in the quiet with me. I leaned back and let the alcohol flow down my throat. My phone was getting text notifications from my parents in the corner of the room that I was ignoring. I was thinking about the split decision. And the loss. 

--Chad Valdez (Diné) is a 2023-2024 Cultural Survival Indigenous Writer in Residence.


Photo by