Storyteller of Cherokee descent encourages people to follow their ‘heart-song’

Storyteller Robert Lewis incorporated children to act out his stories at the Mayborn Museum Complex. Lilly Yablon | Photographer

By Ashlyn Beck | Staff Writer

Robert Lewis, a Native American storyteller, author and artist, encouraged listeners to do what they love, treat others kindly and preserve heritage Wednesday at the Mayborn Museum.

Lewis, who is of Cherokee, Apache and Navajo descent, shared stories passed down from the Cherokee and Navajo tribes during “Storytelling with Robert Lewis of the Cherokee Nation.” He said he seeks to preserve the heritage and culture brought about by Native American stories.

Using children in the audience to act them out, Lewis told many stories that included explanations about the stars in the sky, how raccoons came to be and how to let one’s heart-song sing. According to Lewis, everyone has a heart-song, which is the gift they are given.

“Every person sitting here has been given a gift by the creator,” Lewis said. “What you like to do, what you wish to do, want to do — follow it.”

Lewis said his gift is storytelling, which he began doing when he was in fourth grade and “hasn’t stopped since.” He said he didn’t expect to pursue it as a career but has used it to bring joy to others.

“These traditional stories … are a vital link to preserving the history of rich oral traditions,” Lewis said. “And I find myself fortunate to be one of those storytellers retelling this knowledge and humor that is passed down through time.”

Lewis began with a story about a grand creator who gave a bag of stars to a coyote in order to paint the sky. In the end, the creator had to create the stars himself because the coyote became distracted.

“My dad took me on a trip to Arizona,” Lewis said. “We stopped in the panhandle of Texas, and he said, ‘Do you know how the stars got into the sky?’ And he told me that story.”

Lewis ended with a story about the rabbit with a heart-song. Many of the animals were having a meeting, and the rabbit would not stop singing and dancing, even when they stuffed feathers in his mouth, tied his hands behind his back and tied his feet up. In the end, the animals asked the rabbit to teach them his song because they could see it came from his heart. Lewis said he loves telling this story because it reminds him that everyone has a heart-song.

Cindee Millard, public and community engagement manager for the Mayborn Museum, said it’s important to foster relationships with sovereign Native nations and Indigenous communities in order to preserve heritage and culture. She said the museum and Baylor are thankful for Lewis’ stories and his willingness to share his heritage.

“We are honored to be a part of Native American Heritage Month and bring programs like this to [the community],” Millard said.

Lewis said he hoped listeners could learn from the stories, because they are not only ways to preserve heritage and culture but also ways to teach life lessons.

“Make [each day] a little bit better,” Lewis said. “Treat each other with a great deal of respect. Take care of each other like he would like to be taken care of.”