Stop me if you've heard this story before.
This is the story of how the porcupine got its quills. Or maybe it's a book about puppies at a summer powwow. Maybe we'll learn how to draw maple sugar from the trees. Or read the adventures of a little girl named Mai, walking around Lake Superior with her family to try to protect its waters from pollution.
This is Ojibwe Story Time.
Every Wednesday, children gather around storyteller and museum assistant Abby Johnson in the Depot, an old train depot-turned-museum in downtown Duluth.
They come to listen to stories they haven't heard before, by authors we haven't listened to enough.
"They're learning about the people they're living with in this community," said Michele Hakala-Beeksma, a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who serves on the board of governors for the St. Louis County Historical Society.
"We were never taught this at school," people tell her after they listen to the stories. "Nobody told us any of this stuff."
They're telling us now. How the trickster Nanabosho stole fire to warm the people shivering through winter in the Great Lakes. How it feels to sit in a birch bark canoe with your grandfather, listening to the loons and watching the morning sun burn away the mist.
"Sometimes we look at the world differently," said Hakala-Beeksma, who worked on the advisory committee that helped select books for story time at the museum.
In-person story time at the Depot takes place in a large, airy space with room for social distance.
"The kids drop by, I read them a story or two, and they just get a little taste of the culture," said storyteller Johnson, who entertains small groups of young listeners three times a day on Wednesdays.
When organizers began researching stories for story time, they found a growing trove of children's literature by local Ojibwe authors.
"Traditionally, storytelling was just our sacred stories," Hakala-Beeksma said. "There's been a takeoff in children's books, which we haven't had before in our culture."
Stories like "The Forever Sky," about love and loss and what comes after, by author Thomas Peacock, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
In the book, two little boys look up at the stars, missing their grandmother. Their uncle tells them the names of the constellations and the legends behind each one. He points out the bright swirl of the Milky Way and explains that it is the Path of Souls their grandmother's spirit followed to the afterlife. He points to the glow of the northern lights and explains that these are the spirits of the ancestors — happy, whole and reunited with those they love — dancing across a sky that stretches on forever.
"We need to know the stories," one little boy tells his brother, "So when we are uncles we can teach them to our nieces and nephews. So they will teach their nieces and nephews. In that way the stories will go on forever."
Then there's the crowd pleaser, "Bowwow Powwow," by historian Brenda Child of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe. A lovely, dreamy account of a little girl named Windy Girl and her puppy Itchy Boy, and their trip to the end-of-summer powwow.
"When a powwow is very good, and people are happy to be together singing and dancing, it sometimes lasts until late at night," Child writes. "Fortunately, all children and dogs love to fall asleep under the northern lights while listening to the steady heartbeat of a drum."
To learn more about Ojibwe stories, history and traditions, visit the Ojibwe learning guide at thehistorypeople.org. Story times at the Duluth Depot are Wednesdays at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.