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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America



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A Conversation with Joseph M. Marshall III


by Wilhelm Murg / Correspondent / Indian Country Today


credits: Joseph M. Marshall III. (Photo courtesy The Penguin Group)


BISMARCK, N.D. - Joseph M. Marshall III is a teacher, writer, actor and traditional storyteller who celebrates his heritage in his book and CD "The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living" (published by Viking Compass and Makoché Records, respectively). The CD version of the Lakota stories won the 2004 Audio Publishers Association "Audie" Award for Best Spiritual and Inspirational Recording.

Marshall’s new book is set for release in October, "The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History", which is based on Lakota oral history about the great leader. An excerpt will be published in the September issue of Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

One of the most striking concepts of Marshall’s work is his stance on the storytelling tradition of the Indian people. He rejects the concept that only written history is correct because he knows the care traditional storytellers take in keeping track of tribal history. "With the stories in ‘The Lakota Way’ more than one person knew all of the stories and sometimes someone would have a slightly different version," Marshall told Indian Country Today.

"They are stories that all of the old people, the elders knew and they would talk about the stories and how their version compared to how someone else told it. As a child you don’t realize what’s really happening, but looking back on it as an adult I wish I would have paid more attention to it, or that I had a better memory for certain details. But they were simply carrying on a tradition they learned from their parents and grandparents, the tradition of imparting knowledge through stories."

Marshall said he was drawn to Makoché records because they put out not only American Indian music, but spoken word CDs also. The album became an audio representation of the book with sound effects and music provided by such major Indian performers as Keith Bear, Joseph FireCrow and Andrew Vasquez.

"We felt that we didn’t need to enhance the stories, but we needed to make it more interesting and appealing," Marshall said. "I don’t play flute myself, but I have always been fascinated with it, especially when it is coming from someone like Joseph FireCrow; he knows what he’s doing, he’s aware of tradition, and he is aware of the storytelling process, so it became a natural connection.

"The whole intent of the CD was to put those stories in the oral form, the way they should be heard. The people who originally told me the stories inspired me with their style, how they told the story, and how they used words as a very visual mechanism. I try to copy those types of things."

Marshall used his skills as a storyteller to create the new biography of Crazy Horse, and he compared his stories to recorded history, but he doesn’t accept the idea that only the dominant culture’s views are correct.

"It’s a biography of Crazy Horse from our viewpoint, the Lakota viewpoint, and I’ve recorded that as well, so a CD will come out at the same time as the book," Marshall said. "I try to use that same style of a storyteller to tell the story about this man’s life. It needed to be a biography, and it needed to be based on the facts, but I didn’t want to write it in that dry, historical, point-by-point style; those kinds of books lose me after awhile. So as I am a storyteller, I decided the best way to tell the story of Crazy Horse was as if I were in a room or under a tree, telling the story to a group of people.

"A lot of people assume that the only information about Indians that is reliable is the documented information; and they say that memory is unreliable, but that’s not true. In any Native culture, anywhere, there are stories that white historians have never heard and will never hear, because we are very guarded about such things. I grew up hearing bits and pieces of things about Crazy Horse from many different people, and that’s my source."

On Oct. 11 Viking/Penguin will publish Marshall’s sixth book, "The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History." The author is also working on an on-line novel, "The Archer" which can be read at

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