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Tales of the true and traditional

Aboriginal Story Telling Festival

An eager crowd, ready for a good story, filled the Sechelt Indian Band Hall on May 1 to hear speakers spin tales old and new in a presentation from the shíshálh First Nation and the Festival of the Written Arts.

The Xwamstut dance group opened the second annual Aboriginal Story-Telling Festival with a welcome song, and Coyote sang his family’s special healing song.

“We are here as witnesses to human beings who have dedicated their lives to telling a story,” said master of ceremonies Kerry Mahlman.

She said that every school on the Sunshine Coast received a visit from at least one story-teller over two days in order to share the tales with a younger generation.

Mus-swiya (Jamie Dixon) told of the significance of the talking stick, used at meetings to indicate which person has the right to speak. It was an eye opener for those who had not realized how many layers of meaningful symbols appear in the stick’s carving.

A group screened an inspiring film about Valrie Bourne, who dreamt about her great-grandfathers. In the dream they chided her for her ignorance. She realized that she had lost her native language so she successfully set about learning it again.

Author Christy Jordan-Fenton introduced elder Margaret Pokiak-Fenton who read an excerpt from a children’s book. All her stories were based on Margaret’s own experience as an eight-year-old who lived at a residential school for two years before returning to her northern family. All of the schoolgirls had their braids sheared ruthlessly by the nuns when they entered the school. The book Fatty Legs has had wide distribution in the schools and is a hit with kids, but its title is based on a taunt from a teacher. When Margaret returned home at the age of ten, her own mother did not know the thin, sad girl she had become.

“But she stayed strong of spirit,” said Jordan-Fenton, adding that there are yet more stories to be shared.

Winadzi (Simon Daniel Jones) is a carver, fisherman and also a teller of tales, many of which he has recorded. He told the story of an outcast older woman, her special son Snot Boy, and how the boy managed to thwart the evil force who steals children to eat them.

Kryshan Randel screened his film Pulling Together, made during a 10-day canoe journey that takes place every year in B.C. RCMP and Aboriginal people join together to paddle and visit settlements along the Coast. Randel gave thanks to the project’s instigator, Coast ex-RCMP member Ed Hill.

Richard Van Camp, creative writer, lightened the evening with his pocketful of contemporary stories such as we might hear from a neighbour. Some were funny and some entered the realms of the spirit world. Van Camp is a proud member of the Dogrib Nation from Fort Smith, NWT, a land of strong medicine. Stories of significance to Van Camp were the moving accounts of parents who had “met” their babies before they were born. Van Camp’s book, Welcome Song for Baby: A Lullaby for Newborns, was the official selection of the Books for BC Babies program, and a copy went to every newborn in BC in 2008.

It was a hard act to follow, as Haida heritage performer Kung Jaadee (Roberta Kennedy) acknowledged. She told a traditional tale of creation then followed it by a story of personal pain. The evening closed with a wild audio-visual journey from two artists of Skookum Sound System, accompanied by drumming.