A study of storytelling practices in hunting and fishing that can strengthen human-nature relationships

Russell, J. . (2020). Telling better stories: Toward critical, place-based, and multispecies narrative pedagogies in hunting and fishing cultures. The Journal of Environmental Education, 51, 232-245.

Storytelling can alter one's place-based connection and feelings towards those experiences. Narratives and stories are deeply embedded into the practices of hunting and fishing. In some cases, the author noted, hunters and anglers spend more time talking about the hunting and fishing experiences than actually hunting or fishing. This article is a perspective piece in which the author explored how narratives can shape people's views of hunting and fishing. Drawing on a range of perspectives including psychology, anthropology, morals and ethics; his own personal experiences; and his perspectives as a qualitative researcher; the author argued that critically examining the ways in which hunters and anglers remember and talk about their experiences may reveal pathways to strengthening human-nature relationships.

Part of the methods of this perspective piece included an assessment of 15 interview transcripts, hunting curriculum materials, and YouTube videos of young people hunting and fishing. For instance, the author reviewed a YouTube video and described how the video highlighted certain aspects of a hunter's bear hunting experience, such as deep knowledge of the landscape to find the bears, or excitement and drama associated with hunting the bears. In the author's analysis, he posited that such an experience is atypical of hunting and fishing, and in this case, the narrative misrepresented the experience. In another example, the author described a passage from Jane Goodall's experience fox hunting, in which she was similarly swept up by the excitement of the hunt, but ultimately empathized with the fox as being exhausted right before the dogs finished him off. In juxtaposing these two examples, the author pointed out that the narratives reflect differing orientations toward wildlife, as well as can teach new audiences very different perspectives on hunting and fishing. From this work, the author argued that stories can be at once reflective and instructive in the context of hunting and fishing. That is, they can reveal aspects of personal or shared orientations toward wildlife, as well as teach new participants what it means to be a hunter or an angler.

The author also argued that the critical examination of hunting and fishing stories may have important implications when thinking about how we build children's relationship with the non-human world. In another aspect of his research, the author examined how children talked about stories they had heard as well as how they told their own stories. He asked the children in the interviews to think about the animal's point of view. The participants were primarily suburban or rural, white, American children and adolescents who hunt and fish. The children's narratives about hunting focused mostly on specific people, places, and processes (e.g., I always go fishing with my grandfather when we visit him on the lake), but rarely considered the perspectives of the non-human participants in the stories. Most participants did not address the morals or emotions in relation to the act of killing and very few stories involved understanding of individual animals' stories. Ultimately, the author suggests children should be offered plentiful opportunities to practice storytelling in supportive, yet critical, environments to foster this skill and build relationships with the non-human world.

The study was limited in that it was observational and relied on accounts from the author and children engaging in the activities. As such, bias emerged, but was also being studied. The interviews were conducted with only 15 individuals, and there was no specificity of the number of other materials collected.

After considering the different ways narratives are used, and the importance of narratives for children's development, the author considered how best to encourage connection to animals through storytelling. The author encouraged stories to be ecologically and ethically appropriate to that time and place, give a voice to the storyteller, and make people care. This would help people relate more to the animals being killed and places the stories involved. It would also make it easier to approach and understand morally and politically challenging topics. The author also had recommendations for hunter education. The author noted that hunter education should encourage hunters think more about the animal to create a connection to it as an individual and create more of a place-based and ecological connection. The history of the land should be elaborated on in education materials, and Indigenous culture and land should be addressed as an important part of the history of a culture. These cultures engage in hunting and fishing practices with significant place-based connection while also viewing animals as individuals and should therefore be involved in a framework for bettering stories through acknowledgement.

The Bottom Line

<p>Storytelling is a well-known educational tool in environmental education used to engage children or even check for comprehension after a lesson. This study emphasized the importance of narratives in learning and offered suggestions for how to craft such narratives, and how they can strengthen human-nature relationships, with a focus on hunter and fisher storytelling. Narratives can help children develop their moral perspectives and show how they connect with animals, and the opportunity to practice storytelling in a supportive environment should be offered frequently. Narratives should ethically and ecologically appropriate, make us care, and give voices to whose story is being told- particularly animals in this case.</p>

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