From ancient teachings to contemporary modes, story in a variety of artistic expressions was the theme of the second annual New Sun Gathering on May 26, at Blue Quills First Nations College.
“Story is dance, image, word, voice,” said Sherri Chisan, coordinator of the Indigenous Artists Program. Ancient stories inscribed on the landscape, fables told in the oral tradition, story as written word, story discovered in image and story expressed through the body spanned the breadth of Aboriginal storytelling.
Following the traditional pipe ceremony, Willie Blake, a disciple of the late Peter O’Chiese, shared traditional wisdom.
“The Creator,” said Blake, “instilled within us four natural laws to guide us how to walk in this life: kindness, honesty, sharing and strength.”
Stories recorded in petroglyphs marked the coming of the first settlers and foretold of communities plagued with problems such as those the Aboriginal people experience today. The petroglyphs, said Blake, also forecast that women would ultimately lead the way, marching off and taking the children with them.
Lousie Profeit-Leblanc, a storyteller and keeper of stories from the Nacho Nyak Dun First Nation, paid tribute to Angela Sidney who devoted her life to preserving the stories of the Tagish of Southern Yukon. Profeit-Leblanc, who grew up listening to stories told by her Kookum, captivated the audience with a fable about jealousy. She prefaced her story with words about truthfulness. “Honesty, the teaching of honesty, of being true is what love is about,” she said.
Drew Hayden-Taylor, an Anishanabe writer, playwright, film-maker and journalist, also grew up listening to stories around the bonfire. He shared his story of becoming a writer in a time when there were no role models. When Tomson Highway invited him to a playwright-in-residence program at Toronto’s Native Earth Performing Arts, theatre proved to be the next logical progression of storytelling.
“It was my art finding me,” said Hayden-Taylor. Having just published his 23rd book, Motorcycles and Sweetgrass, Hayden-Taylor offered two pieces of advice to aspiring writers: be a reader and lead an interesting life.
Bert Crowfoot, founder of the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society and CFWE radio, and renowned powwow photographer, described how the attitude toward recording culture and ceremony is changing. With the loss of knowledge keepers, Elders have changed their view.
“They recognize if it isn’t recorded, it will be lost,” said Crowfoot. In this electronic era, recording of culture can be used as a tool. Crowfoot also shared personal experiences of discovering story in photographic images of fire and sweetgrass smoke.
Geraldine Manossa, a Cree choreographer and performance artist, brought the gathering full circle, from images and the written work back to the body. Manossa showed videos of three pieces she had choreographed based on the poetry of Louise Halfe: Earthwoman, Firewoman and Flight and Feast.
Chisan hopes that the presentation of storytelling in many forms will have an impact.
“I hope that it will inspire the talent that lives in our people,” she said. “Story is life, the vessel that carries who we are.”